On Saturday night at Strange Allure, Ge-ology performed one of the most powerful and grounded sets I have seen. His track selection and execution was meticulous. He provided an evening that spoke volumes to where we stand on both a united and disenfranchised front, all the while working those turntables with an undeniable precision and rhythm.
The whole evening was a blur and went by far too quickly. But I must say the disco ball was shining harder than usual that night. And beneath it, we danced.
We danced for those that we have lost. We danced for the never ending fight. We danced for the hope to gain ground. That we can for one second catch a break. We recognized the unfairness of it all. Why this? What now? Who? Okay.
On a daily basis we are pummeled with anxious twits and fiddles as we make our way along. We hope to find resolve. In some places we do. Like Saturday night, on that black and white checkered dance floor.
For several hours some of us don’t touch our phones once. Completely wrapped up in the moment we are not bottoming out into self-consciousness and drowning ourselves in the falsehoods of social media. We let our nerves work themselves out, sweat ourselves clean and breathe easy.
This mess of a year has left us rattled and torn but we continue to spot one another. We check in to see if each other is OK, taken care of, and comfortable. We make sure that if someone is in need, we help. We protect one another. We love.
So yes on that dance floor we pushed straight forward through the vortex and the gunky build up of where we’re at right now. The tired days and long nights and inability to find work. Accepting submission because on a structural level, we have to. Dealing with the pressure to go to college followed by crippling anxiety that we now have thousands of dollars indebted to our name with a degree that doesn’t get us much. The apartment we leased that’s falling apart. The flags that represent what we are being stolen from our porches and burned. The violence was strong this year and for some reason society started believing false news sources instead of seeking reliability. It’s all tearing us apart.
Our anxiety and panic is growing stronger but authorities tell us that those issues make us incapable and unacceptable, and doctors push pills on us to heal. Many of us have forgotten how to heal ourselves. Slowly we continue to numb ourselves. We indulge in our vices to keep ourselves afloat, or we slowly inch our way to the edge and consider the leap. But no one talks about that because perhaps we’ll be committed, maybe someone will confirm that we’re just insane. Suicide rates are high, but why do we ignore that and push it off into the dark when someone is feeling isolated. When the feelings bring us to drugs and maybe those substances start to hold an unrelenting clutch on our lives, feeding off of our hopelessness. We have seen each other lost to the fray, and so we will throw on black dresses and shirts and tend to our empathetic hearts at funerals and wakes.
Many still do not understand that sexuality is on a spectrum and gender is not binary. Spaces like this, beneath that disco ball, we create with a purpose. We build these places from nothingness to fill with music and art and freaky people. It’s a space to remind us that we are not wrong, we are not alone, we are wonderful the way we are.
We, the Women, are still embedded with fear as we walk the streets alone. We keep our rape secret. We hide our tears because if we don’t we may not be taken seriously. Our fellow female and female-identified peers are still dealing with our long history of oppression.
We as Men are emotional beings but must maintain our masculinity otherwise we fear we’ll fade into a void and stand for nothing. Do this, do that. Some of us are unaware of the pure terror of embracing femininity, so we overcompensate with masculine aggression. We forget it is okay to cry, but tear ducts remain backed up and if someone else shows their emotion and vulnerability we push it off. Yet, we somehow forget that society has groomed us this way.
We, as gender-nonconforming people, are often in a state of identity battle, striving to reach an understanding through the haze of dysphoria.
As young students we were taught about racial segregation and although much has changed since then the discrimination is evermore prevalent. Maybe there aren’t separate water fountains anymore but our news stories and human interactions show that balance has not yet been achieved. We all have our own heritage. And we make our dance floor special because each of us stays present in our own unique way.
We now live in a country being run by a reality TV star. Our environment is on a disastrous path. Our rights are being questioned and in some cases taken away. Borders seem to be a constant theme. We watched white supremacy bubble back up to the surface and for days at a time, we would weep in the arms of our loved ones. Swastikas were found emblazoned on public surfaces and terrifying hate messages were being spread. We didn’t want to leave the house.
I hear some of my favorite lyrics ring through my mind – “he pulls out a stack of books. And I said, ‘excuse me brother, you said you were gonna arm me.’ And he says, ‘excuse me young brother, I just did’.” Those words resonate so strongly with me lately as I see my fellow brothers and sisters uniting now more than ever. Educating themselves. Fighting with love. Pushing forward.
This is why we do what we do. We find comfort and home on the dance floor. Through movement we shift that energy that’s stuck inside of us and we feel it vibrate. We teach one another. We hug and love and smile and cry. We push our bodies. We don’t stop.
Looking back and celebrating one year of Strange Allure parties in Buffalo we can see how Western New York house and techno has grown. We are not a big city scene with plenty of resources available at our fingertips. We are born from rust, growing after collapse and must embrace the DIY attitude. In the past year we can see the ways we have become stronger as individuals and the changes that have brought us to this place in time and to this space.
I found myself bathed in rainbow light and then Ge-ology put on this one record that started to burrow it’s way into that hidden part of my heart. It didn’t bring me down per say, but it drew reality closer and opened me up. This is the world we live in. This is a true American dance floor. I separate from the sparkling light just briefly and find myself dancing alone toward the corner in front of the left speaker and as my pent up frustration with it all bubbles up I want to cry. For the people we’ve lost and the pain we all feel. For the stupidity that I see everyday. Knowing that regardless of all the progress we have made there are still so many people – those in power – who have not shifted their perception in decades. But then I look around me on that floor and I see those familiar faces and I remember: we’re all doing this together. Feeling it. Living it. Being it. This is why we’re under this disco ball tonight. And then, with that thought, I find myself smiling.
As the world seems to be crashing down around us, we will dance. As the light reflects off the mirrored ball as do bits of ourselves refracted among one another. We’re grooving through it. We’re striving toward it, but inherently by coming together as a group with an intention for a better tomorrow, we achieve just that.
We did it. And we will continue to do so.
I was initially drawn to Seattle label ¡Viva! because the art direction was so superb with a wonderful sleeve by Todd Omotani. Going solely on the artwork has proven to be a good bet only half the time, but it’s always a wonderful feeling to take a gamble on a release and be pleasantly surprised by good tracks. It’s one of the best ways to discover forgotten gems yearning for a second chance, or to detect some heat right under your unassuming nose.
For Farmyard Flavours Volume 2 by The Rurals the artwork is of a large monochromatic barn and the typeface is bold sans serif font. Reminiscent in the design, the idea that there are some simple country-folk out in the fields by day who return to their barn studio at night to produce the smoothest house music imaginable is very charming. This is exactly the case – maybe not the barn studio, but that’s what I like to picture. The Rurals have been incredibly prolific too, releasing mounds of EPs and full lengths since the mid-’90s. One member of the group is Andy Compton, whom most deep house aficionados will be familiar with.
Producers with an indelible groove rooted in classical jazz with impeccable taste for true, soulful house music have it figured out. The formula has proven effective on the dance floor and in our headphones time and time again, but these boys really hit the mark – it would seem – on each and every release. What is so especially tasty about this record is a representation of different electronic jazz styles in the deep house arena. All three tracks have their own vibe. The structure of each is stylistically an exercise, from slow and vocal-infused to heavily looped and upbeat. Nonetheless rather than samples each track uses live instruments.
On A1 “River” is definitely the shining star of the release – a real relaxed and sprawling number. Hypnotic swung out drum pattern slug along with a single chord and sparse bass. The kick itself has been shaped down to have no low end at all, which shifts the attention from what would be a dance floor ready pattern to the warm, succulent scale solos of the electric piano that swoops in after a few minutes. The beauty of this track is in how expertly stripped back it is. However, the danger of pulled back tunes is lacking the magic to really draw you in, but thanks to skilled mix downs and arrangements, this track puts the emphasis in all the right places. This is the kind of tune you’d put on over wine with your dinner date, or long after the sun has come up at the after party. Each time I play it, someone is always inquiring after – stamped and certified.
“Dub Eye” on A2 sets us up for a more dance driven house number. The skittered and spread out percussion from the flip is traded for a more classic Chicago four on the floor pattern and prevalent bass that has the release knob on the synthesizer cranked all the way up. The amazingly warm synths and that delicious electric piano appear again, but in a more classic and repetitive manner. Halfway through groovy bongos push the energy forward even more. If A1 was made for the lounge, A2 was crafted for the club.
To complete the perfectly balanced trifecta, on A3 “Fallin” was a cut that I long ignored because I hadn’t yet realized the power of downtempo, chillout/instrumental, RnB and other sub 100 BPM genres. When you’re freshly addicted to house, it feels slow and uninteresting. Taste inevitably grows though and I think most people come to embrace these styles of music in house partly because they provide so much soul and funk through their influence. This track sounds like the best night in a live jazz club you’ve ever been to. It’s very easy to close your eyes and see the band recording this jam. Soft female vocals over live bass, sprightly sax tangents, and a fat old guitar solo all over a more hip-hop influenced drum pattern. The kind of tune you make that “ooooof” face to as you bob your head to the vibe – it’s the perfect wrap up to a super tight record.
So the moral of the story here, friend, is to grab any ¡Viva! release you come across because they’re mostly fantastic, and absolutely scoop any work by The Rurals. These boys know exactly what they’re doing. Both are kicking around used bins here and there so keep you eyes peeled. Sadly, vinyl on the label stopped in 2004 after 17 releases, but they’ve taken to releasing digital in recent years to remind the world that they are still dedicated to the craft.
There is an undeniable passion that drives Derek Plaslaiko, a Detroit native who calls Berlin home base. With more than 20 years of touring internationally, playing extended sets, and producing tracks – in addition to balancing family life – he continues to grow as a beloved head in the scene.
Growing up just 20 minutes outside of Detroit proper, Plaslaiko’s youth was spent exploring and becoming heavily involved in the city’s circuit. He got his start around 1994 when Detroit’s house and techno scene was on a heavy up and he became crucial to both the Analog and Poorboy Parties, along with comrade Mike Servito.
An experience that really brought him into the realm was picking up a job at Record Time. Opened in 1983 by Mike Hime, the acclaimed music shop was a staple for local music lovers. With a couple different locations it became a place where many would converge to explore and discover the multitude of local sounds and music from abroad.
Plaslaiko started working at Record Time around Christmas 1996, he vaguely recalls. Hired by Mike Huckaby he says “I was only supposed to come on for the holidays, but then was kept on until summer 1998, I think? Somewhere around there.”
Other former employees include familiar names Claude Young, Rick Wilhite, Magda, Dan Bell and Rick Wade. The Dance Room at the Roseville location became known as a hub for collecting and selling records from numerous local house and techno producers. Plaslaiko says “the space was was usually pretty hilarious, too. Guys like Gary Chandler & DJ Dangerous would come in and crack jokes with Huck. Have you rolling on the floor laughing.”
Eventually, “I got let go for the same reason 99 percent of the people working there did: being late. They were super strict on it. Even if you were one minute late, then that would be strike one. I then went back to work at the Ferndale location around the spring of 2000 until spring of 2002,” he says. During his time there he was ordering for the dance catalog and remembers it being fun, seeing a range of characters walk through its doors. He commended the staff of Record Time saying it “was nice to see the hard work build into something special.”
The shop was influential in many facets for young Plaslaiko as his passion for music began to transform. “Working there was incredible! Both locations were phenomenal. This music was a lot harder to come by back then. So, working at the source really helped shape my musical tastes. Not to mention working around Mike Huckaby,” he says.
His employment at Record Time helped him earn his weekly residency at Family. Held at the pivotal Motor club tucked away in Hamtramck, this venue played an important role for the scene’s growth and was one of the longest running clubs in Detroit. Jason Kendig and Jeremy Christian were original Family residents. One night at a party in 1998 Plaslaiko found out Christian was leaving his spot and the event’s promoter Adriel Thornton had an opening to fill. Plaslaiko took to the helm and was a regular there for the next four years or so.
It was this residency that convinced Carl Craig to ask him to play the inaugural Detroit Electronic Movement Festival [DEMF], which eventually transitioned to be known today as Movement.
Throughout the years he has found himself playing the annual festival, other parties throughout Memorial Day Weekend and as a resident he can always be found at the otherworldly after-party No Way Back. That is of course with the exception of 2014 when he basically took the year off from DJing altogether with his son’s birth just four months prior. Regardless, experiencing basically every year since the millennium he has seen the festival’s evolution, which is now a pilgrimage for music lovers from around the globe.
“The festival has changed in so many different ways. I mean, the obvious one is that it used to be free. But that was never going to be able to sustain itself. Even still, you can’t beat that first year. The thing about it being free that made it so special was that people from absolutely every walk of life came down to check it out. Every race, every age – you name it and they were down there. But, you start putting a price tag on that, and it’s obviously going to change.”
Prices began increasing, but he says the biggest benefit to Paxahau taking over in 2006 and the higher price tag means a larger scale of production. “Doing something that big down there is a feat unlike any other. I’m super proud of all those guys for doing what they have done with it. And they really do strive to make it better and better every year. I often think they are going to plateau even with the sound systems, but they just keep getting bigger and better … It’s always going to be a super special weekend for me, and I don’t even plan to skip it again unless something major prevents me from going.”
In the summer of 2004 he needed a change of scenery and moved from Detroit to New York City. Eventually he met Bryan Kasenic and went on to become a now 10-year resident of The Bunker parties. During time spent in the city he started producing; his debut output xoxo, NYC was a 12″ released in 2010 through Perc Trax. During that same year, he packed up again to move to Berlin and has since remained. In 2011 he spent a summer residency at Club der Visionaere and frequents the notable and legendary Tresor and Berghain/Panorama Bar among many others in Germany.
Although Berlin remains home he continues to travel extensively playing festivals such as Dimensions in Croatia, Communikey in Boulder, Harvest Festival in Toronto and Decibel in Seattle. He’s shared his music at beloved venues such as Smart Bar, Hot Mass, Good Room for The Bunker, Marble Bar – the list goes on and on.
Still, he maintains his traveling lifestyle as a DJ and balances life at home with his wife Heidi and his son Elliot. Such dedication is no easy feat and I find incredible appreciation for people who are so passionate about their music and are still growing a family. Someone else whom I admire for exactly that is Chicago’s Sam Kern, otherwise known as Sassmouth, who is also good friend of his. I couldn’t help but wonder what sentiments parent DJs must share with one another.
“God, I love Sam Kern. She was actually just in Berlin with Ryan [her husband] and Amelia [her daughter] and we got some great hang time in. I really try my hardest to not let my ‘career’ affect my family life in Berlin. I’ve definitely been more selective of my gigs these days and also very cautious about spending too much time away from home. DJing might be considered a job that I’m doing, but there is no denying that there is quite a bit of fun being had. I tend to feel a bit guilty about it, and feel it’s maybe a bit unfair to Heidi if she’s left to all of the parental duties while I’m out partying in multiple cities for 2-3 weekends in a row. Despite all of that, she is incredibly supportive and is even encouraging me to go out on the road more this next year.”
Elliott will be three in January and since he spends time in daycare and preschool (Kita in Germany) Plaslaiko says things are becoming a bit easier to manage. His wife is able to work consistently at her day job, “so me being gone doesn’t affect her like it would have a year ago,” he says. “Though, I’m sure the early mornings every single day probably wear on her a bit. But, all in all, I’m just trying to weigh everything out so that I’m still doing my part, so to speak. Elliott is at an age where he’s constantly doing new things that are super impressive, so it hurts to be away and missing a lot of these first time moments. I also miss them terribly within two days of being gone. Even writing this, I’ve been gone four full days and it feels like weeks. And I have eight more days to go. So, in short, yeah it’s quite hard to be away from them. Luckily with Skype I can stay a bit connected to them while I’m touring. I have no idea how people would’ve done this 15 years ago!”
For the last stop on his tour he will hit Rochester, NY for the first time at Signal > Noise, which has seen the likes of The Black Madonna, Claude Young, Norm Talley, Mike Servito and more. For a man with more than 20 years of dance floors under his belt he has seen a variety of spaces and crowds. I inquired about his reflections on small city scenes.
“I have never been one to shy away from playing someplace just because it’s scene is ‘small’. In fact, I’m always looking for more cities that fit that description. For years, I have had the approach of hoping to help build something somewhere. It’s important for a scene’s growth to have people come in from outside of the local community and (hopefully) provide a different experience, and possibly inspire those in that community.” – DEREK PLASLAIKO
For almost every DJ that has spoken with Sequencer regarding their insight on intimate crowds and concentrated music scenes the consensus seems to continue. “And smaller scenes usually have some of (like you said) the most passionate crowds. The first two that come to mind are Pittsburgh and Philly! Small scenes for the most part, but I can come in and do seven hours at Hot Mass, or thirteen hours at Inciting HQ and have some of the most engaged dancers I have seen anywhere else in my life! I’ve heard nothing but great things about what has been going on in Rochester, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months now.”
What can we look forward to seeing from Plaslaiko in the future? “I have The Bunker 14 Year Anniversary coming up in January! Definitely looking forward to that. Also, I did a remix for TB Arthur that will be out in late January. I’m also going into the studio with BMG right after I finish this interview, so that’s exciting too!”