Heading north on their stretch run, the Pretty Lights Music “Twilight Frequency Tour” rolled into University City area of Philadelphia on December 5th. The Blockley welcomed Break Science, Michal Menert, Paul Basic, and special guest Null on a brisk Wednesday night. Deathwaltz Media put the word on the streets and a healthy turnout of all ages packed the club midweek, ready to dance and excited to import this great collection of artists to town. Fans across our great nation were able to view a live webcast of the entire night’s festivities courtesy of upfulLIFE and ChannelBlockley.
Paul Basic began the Pretty Lights Music showcase just before 10pm, taking the stage after local band Null warmed up the audience steadily filing in. One half of the wildly popular, Colorado electronic duo Half Color, the young upstart moved the crowd with the touch of a cagey veteran on the decks. Basic provided a gritty and determined hour-long set; bonding through focused movements, each track uncovering furtive possibilities as he layered and lathered concoctions. His approach to beat-making and delicious drum sounds are drenched in golden-era hip-hop; classic samples cry out to boom-bap of yesteryear. Yet his melodies mount, swirl, and drive the intoxicating mixes. Basic’s is a welcome addition to the ever-broadening Pretty Lights Music sound palette. Tried-and-true head-nod rap-attack is not his own creation, but Basic separates his steez with an affinity for chunky, dirty bass runs and piercing, muscular synth comps. Indeed it is only the beginning, but Paul’s cache is anything but Basic.
Basic’s Half-Color’s partner-in-crime, Michal Menert took the stage and promptly delivered a live production set for the ages. The Polish-born, hulking, ghost-mastermind of Pretty Lights’ tremendous debut record Taking Up Your Precious Time, Menert exhibited why he’s a worldly ambassador of electronic dance music in the psychedelic live setting. Menert has steadily ascended the (Front) range in Colorado’s bustling EDM scene, and he showed Philly who’s hot in the streets. Menert drew a crowd equitable to the New York-based headliners, and the youthful audience responded in kind.
Animated and fiery from jump, Menert mainly forwarded selections culled from his two proper albums, flowing collections of sample-based sound collages. Unlike many “producer” type DJs, Menert convincingly transmitted his music in real time, with integrity to boot. Holding court from behind a traditional Mixmaster set-up rear-center stage, Menert manipulated an array of ammunition: two turntables, laptop(s), drum machine, synth and Ableton Live, re-creating his prodigious conceptions with furious handiwork. In an era littered with bedroom producers, and clones upon clones of would-be EDM artists, Menert was demonstrative in his delivery, music manufactured live and direct, passing by before our very eyes, travelling at a frequency wholly his own.
Pulling Eastern European themes from blissful trip-hop passages, Menert blended hip-hop organics thru drum and string samples, underscored by emotional cinematic overtures. Tracks found on his ethereal debut album, 2010’s Dreaming of a Bigger Life, resonated with the kids in the audience who visibly connected with Menert’s earliest hopeful, blissed-out vibes. As the energy and tension raised the temperature on the dance-floor, Menert mixed in strong renditions found on his sophomore full-length, Even If It Isn’t Right (released in April 2012). The massive follow-up to Dreaming… is a logical progression, a bit harder-edged, more diverse and sophisticated. A definitive juxtaposition between the two collections that were created one thousand days apart, yet blended together with trimmings as one elongated sonic expedition, and furthermore a search for new land. Evening the keel were several teases of obscure (non)-releases that dot his career, like the undeniable dopeness found within snippets from Rust (A Collection of Forgotten Hip-Hop Instrumentals.) Menert’s tremendous solo set culminated in a raucous finale; Michal came out from behind the DJ table and grabbed the microphone. As Adam Deitch got on the wheels of steel, the Polish dreamer spit a stream-of-consciousness verse steep in passion and venomous verbal jousting. An explosive ending to a mind-blowing set of original music from Michal Menert; he would be back…
The conclusion of Menert’s otherworldly performance saw a seamless changeover; Break Science stormed the stage at quarter til’ 1am and charged into the terrifying dancefloor dub “Beaming Up”. The steamy, packed venue erupted, Borahm Lee worked gleeful synths atop Deitch’s corpulent lower registers. From the get-go Break Science delivered updated takes on most-recent EP Monolith Code. Not merely content to just “ride like G’z on a drive by”, colossal versions of “Forest of Illumination” and “Victory” announced their arrival to Illadelph and that Royal Family was in the building!
For longtime faithful, a few select bangers from debut Further Than Our Eyes Can See were permitted to run riot. “Zion Station”, remains one of the strongest forwards the duo created; its spooky, down-tuned swagger challenged the capacity of the Blockley’s ample subwoofer system. “Words of Antiquity” was its glitchy, trip-hop self, triggered samples deftly navigating tech-step drum patterns. Lee’s dissonant synths and beautiful acoustic piano runs revealing the innate lyricism within diametric melodies. The always-devastating “High” raised the spirits and energy of the swarming, boiling audience with the help of ragga-styled vocal triggers from Bajah & the Dry Eye Crew. The Just-Blaze blackout style was executed in fine fashion on this one.
Once-predictable dub-drops effortlessly transformed into menacing TRAP rumbles, Break Science was genre-hopping with nary a care; mixing the unmistakable cadence of D.C. Go-Go with Tony Allen-inspired afrobeat – all the while employing hypnotic melodies from the Far East. Along with a Yardie attitude, yet still hip-hop to the core. A nod in the rearview for the path taken, Break Science accelerated onward to newfound planes of boundless possibility. Their focused approach, and collective progression evidenced in white-hot new joint “Whole World Locked”, which straddles the established Break Science sound and the search for new land.
Borahm Lee played mad mixologist, a veritable Lee “Scratch” Perry for the new generation; blending elements for the sonic planetarium. Evanescence’s gothic hymns floated atop the stratosphere, awash in emotive synths and patches of harmonic convergence. Meanwhile, Adam Deitch mixed in classic Clyde Stubblefield drum & bass breaks for the Philly jump-up, summoning ‘Apache’-mode percussion swells with exactitude, “Doin it in tha’ Park, doin it after dark” circa Bronx 1981. Always one to ‘Follow the Leader”, triggered James Brown calls egged on Deitch’s domineering drummer twerk-out. Deitch promptly followed orders and “got up n’did his thang”; a brand that only the Boy Wonder can provide.
The duo seamlessly wove through tracks old and new with aplomb the choice verse from Talib Kweli empowered “The Alliance”, representing the borough of Brooklyn with authority. Femme fatale vocals drenched in promethyzine were employed to maximum effect. Nikki Minaj’s “Moment for Life” was given its usual Break Science business; engaging the emotional tone of the crowd, as they imbibed, Break Science obliged… and uncoiled, and eventually detonated into full rage. Harnessing the vocals tracks of an array of singers and emcees, Break Science did not merely remix established tracks, but wholly reinvented them. I’m talking cut, chopped, screwed and glued back together so they often barely resembled the original blueprint. Case in point was the colossal take on Rhianna’s “Talk That Talk” featuring Jay-Z. Rhianna’s seductive, eerie vocal tones beckoned shoulder-brushin’ bombast from Hova, but it was Deitch powered the expressive undercurrent to serve the song with an excellence that would make Jay and RiRi proud. The song remains the same, yet the cocky toxicity that each duo brings to the table made for weighty amalgam of pure heat rocks.
The duo’s considerable progression can be mapped-out within a song’s evolution; namely “Move Ya Body”. Quintessential to the Break Science canon, the song was written and conceptualized by gifted labelmate Alex B (Botwin) (who produces and performs on PLM as Paper Diamond). Penned and gifted to Break Science (with the help of Gramatik and vocalists BLAM and Julexa) long before Alex first polished his first track as Paper Diamond, “Move Ya Body” evokes everything that is glorious about Break Science, Botwin’s glitch breaks, and the Pretty Lights Music brand. On this night the track continued its rapid path skyward, expanding on its tech-step template; it morphed like Bob Digitech into a sensual, lurid come-on. The beat locked in stutter-step dynamics, at once frightening and danceable, with an accidental dash of B-More guttah music rumbling in its core. Confidently and with reckless abandon, Deitch and Borahm laced luscious layers atop a caked-up joyride; a theme park coaster- the Post-Apocalyptic Orgasmatron; a ride positively thrilling whilst providing a seductive crip walk betwixt panache and panic.
Borahm Lee then brandished a melodica, and the snarling growl of classic “Shanti”, which set off low-end thunderclaps in the dub chamber, underscoring the cradled shake-charming hymns They paid homage to Arkology, Sly & Robbie, Augustus Pablo, and the countless bass-mechanics that carved out topography over the past two-plus decades. Each familiar song shed some of its dubstep identity yet retained its essence, having trimmed the fat and struck a match to its Molotov cocktail sensibilities, modulus rumble with surgical precision. As the new songs employed a less is more methodology, the newest element in the Science Lab was cook-pot hot trap muzik, the bastard breakfast of T.I. and Trick Daddy, 808s and trunk rattlin’ vibrate, hi-hat triplets as Deitch just killed it! Lee uncoiled jagged, obtuse melodic synth patterns and mind games. At a moment’s notice, classic hip-hop and soul themes rose from a low-rider bass line. When Break Science blessed Philly with its newest banger, a sizzlin’ joint with Redman, it was a full Trap Takeover! Reggie Noble brought his Brick City Committee to the new phenomenon that was on full display. This raw energy permeated throughout Break Science’s triumphant set and barreled into the Twilight Frequency collaboration with Michal Menert that was instantaneously the stuff of legend.
Whether classic Break Science bangers or experimental trips to fresh and dangerous frontiers, evolution was in the air. The duo broke free of any preconceived conventions that they may have (unknowingly) imposed on themselves in hopping on the runaway freight-train that Nissan commercials now call ‘dubstep’. Unshackled and liberated, Lee and Deitch have again set off on a search for new land, a new day, twilight in frequency, had arrived over the horizon. For the final three songs they welcomed back Michal Menert for a run through some tracks on their tremendous new collaboration EP Twilight Frequency. Filled with driving, meditative grooves, and opulent emotional soundscapes, the songs were like riding shotgun in a convertible to dreamland. But just to keep the heads ringin’, as the Twilight Frequency was steady peaking, Menert dropped the gigantic, classic hood-rap banger “Whoa” by Black Rob, on full-blast to send the kids off into the Philly streets, homeward bound, heads still bobbin’ like… whoa.