The Bunker New York
15 Years In The Making

The Bunker New York is more than just a party. It is a world-traveling, party machine that is connecting people and creating relationships through music curation and production. What started out as an intimate basement rave has grown to become a staple in the techno world.

It’s mission? To push the limits of what techno can be.

THE ORIGIN

The Bunker’s origin story begins in 1995 with Rod Smith and Mike Wolf throwing parties called the Polar Bear Club in Minneapolis, Minn. These lounge parties had a “free-for-all” approach when it came to music programming. Chris Sattinger [Timeblind] eventually became resident after bonding with Wolf while working at Rev 105 FM.

Sattinger reflects on the early days of PBC. “I remember going to one in 7th Street Entry with tables and tablecloths and everybody dressed up formally. They played lounge and exotica which was a really interesting thing to do in a grunge bar. After a while they veered into deeper weirder music (both Rod and Mike are deep and weird). I DJed at some events that Rod set up in 7th Street Entry. Rod was also involved with Depth Probe and the acid and techno parties that Kevin Cole pioneered. Even in the late ‘80s those guys were throwing acid house parties in warehouses.”

TONIC, 107 NORFOLK STREET, MANHATTAN

In early 2000 Wolf moved to New York City and started the East Coast chapter of the party; Sattinger soon followed. The party continued in the basement of Tonic on Norfolk Street, a Lower East Side venue that was once a kosher winery. The main floor of the space was home to a variety of shows. Polar Bear Club nights (which were known for eclectic sound) were held in the venue’s basement, subTonic. The space itself was a freeform, dirty underground with plenty of room to chill or dance. The DJ booth was crafted from wine barrels that someone cut a door into.

Enter Pittsburgh native Bryan Kasenic who moved to the city when he was 19 in 1997 to study filmmaking at New York University. In the early 2000s he was booking parties for Openair and at Halcyon on Smith Street, he was assisting with theAgriculture Records, as well as putting on warehouse parties. He explored sound while working as a music director and hosting two shows for WNYU radio.

On his radio show Beyond he would read a list of events to highlight local parties. These listings would also be sent out to emails which he collected the old-fashioned way – by paying someone to take a clipboard out to parties to gather contacts. As a regular at subTonic he was consistently pushing the venue’s events, which got him on the Polar Bear Club’s radar.

Sattinger and Wolf invited Kasenic to play at one of their final parties as a thank you for helping to promote their events. Eventually, Wolf left the Polar Bear Club in the hands of Sattinger. Although the eclectic sound brought an energy of unpredictable fun to the table, he was inspired to keep a consistent and steady dancefloor which meant more focused programming. He asked Kasenic (monikered Spinoza) to become a resident for this new endeavor. In January 2003, The Bunker was born.

Becoming The Bunker

I honestly can’t remember a ton about that gig, but I know I got some people to the party and there was dancing, which I think maybe convinced Timeblind I should be his new co-resident,” Kasenic says about his first time playing a PBC party. “I just remember being super stoked when Chris asked me to join him to throw the new weekly! subTonic was my regular hang and after four years of having a Sunday residency playing chillout music at Halcyon, I was pretty excited to have the opportunity to do a more late night Friday thing that had a small dancefloor.”

Until 3 a.m. the inaugural party brought the sounds of Radius and Paul Patterson. The description: “Tonight is the debut of the Bunker, a new weekly party I’m throwing with Timeblind. Timeblind and I will be playing eclectic ecstatic sounds that you can shake your ass too (or sit in an old wine cask and zone out to … the choice is yours).”

EARLY BUNKER FLYERS

The party’s new name was inspired by the atmosphere of subTonic – a dark, bunker-like basement. It became a favorite for so many because it was an affordable spot with a different vibe, a good crowd, and a meeting ground for great music; a recipe for regulars who considered the space as a second home of sorts. Kasenic says, “It was underground and it really did feel like a bunker. Now, if I knew that The Bunker would become my life’s work, I think I would have given it more thought and tried to come up with something more unique (there are a lot of techno Bunkers around the world), but at the time we were very excited when we picked the name.”

He continues, “I think the early days of The Bunker, we were very much in the spirit of the vibe and musical direction of PBC. We kept things very eclectic. We always knew things would have more of a techno / dance music slant though as that was very much a common ground between Timeblind (who was actually a Midwest techno legend) and I.”

klevervice

SHEL KIMEN [KLEVERVICE], 2008 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

Even though programming for the parties became more focused, they maintained a diverse range stretching anywhere from experimental to 4×4 heaters, and the sonic crevices in between. After Sattinger moved to Berlin in July 2003, Kasenic asked Karl Erhard [DJ Movement] and Shel Kimen [kleverVice] to join as residents.

Both residents of Undercity, Kimen and Kasenic met at the old Halcyon. “We started playing other parties together, mostly underground warehouse type things. And had a few trials with our own parties in random bars. I’d been a guest DJ at most of the Tonic parties including Polar Bear Club,” Kimen says. “It seemed like a natural evolution and it was super exciting. It was such an unusual space and known for experimentation, of every kind. So that was perfect for me. I could play noise and Dutch electro pop and Outkast and ‘70s German electronic in one night, in one set, and somehow it worked. I played early, kept things weird. And Bryan was/remains one of my musical shamans. He always finds the best of the best and played it in unique ways, regardless of genre. So it was a lot of fun.”

She reflects on those early days. “While we did have a few dead nights, pretty much something amazing happened every week. If the energy was right Bryan would tease the crowd with a record he would only play if the energy was right. And it was thrilling to watch people just go nuts. But I also liked when we started organizing the ‘rock’ parties upstairs and suddenly we had this extreme cross-over of audiences listening to Animal Collective or Japanther upstairs and accidentally ending up in a techno party downstairs. I honestly hadn’t seen this kind of crossover since Medussa’s in Chicago the ’80s.”

The bunker brings change and yet feels like ‘home.’ I think it has (at least) two really powerful dimensions. It is exceptionally progressive, knowing how to stay ahead and avoiding ‘trendy’ while respecting and honoring roots and the intimacy required for strong community. That feels pretty good to me.” – SHEL KIMEN

Bunker started to really pick up steam in 2004 as they incorporated both floors of Tonic. In September that year for Kasenic’s birthday the sounds of Dan Bell, Perlon’s Sammy Dee, Delia & Gavin, and Blood On The Wall took over the basement and main level of the venue. The crowds would mix and in turn would grow.

Derek Plaslaiko made the move to NYC by way of Detroit in the summer that year. The Bunker, he says, reminded him of early ‘90s raves in Detroit. “I don’t remember who played that night or anything like that. Somebody had brought me there, though I can’t quite recall who,” he says about his first Bunker. “I just went there and looked around and listened and was like, ‘This is where I want to be’. From the fact that it was in a pretty dirty basement, to the wine casks converted into semi-private seated areas: it just felt perfect!”

derek plaslaiko bryan kasenic

DEREK PLASLAIKO & BRYAN KASENIC, 2006

He was hooked. Plaslaiko was one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave. Those early days “I liked how diverse the music was. That some nights you would go and get your face blown off with just fantastic dance music, and then on other nights it could be completely ambient/experimental. And the crowd that came embraced that! It really felt like the DIY aspect of the Detroit scene that I left behind to move to NYC.” This dedication (and blossoming friendship) brought Kasenic to ask Plaslaiko to be a resident.

In 2005 Ivy Feraco [Unjust] played at Bunker. “My friend Adrian Michna (from Secret Frequency Crew and Ghostly’s Michna) got me the gig. Bryan seemed to really enjoy the set I played and afterwards when I moved there, I think I played again and Bryan asked me to be a resident and help out – like when Bryan went out of town I’d host. From then on I was playing just about every week,” she says.

SubTonic, she says, “wasn’t very big and you could connect with the crowd easily. It was also unique in that it had wooden barrels which you could sit inside, and that also helped the acoustics.” The space was small and intimate – a bar with a dancefloor, she explained. “You knew you could easily meet with someone and hang with the people there. Bunker was a party where friends could meet and get loose to good music. People would just go every week to hang out drink and dance.”

Her list of favorite Bunker moments is extensive. “Some highlights were having heroes of mine like Akufen and Zip play the same night,” she says. “Prosumer playing ‘Funk Dat’ at a limited party? It felt very gratifying to hear that, like confirmation. Surgeon playing when the night was at Public Assembly and just playing an unreal set, going from Patrick Cowley to Moodymann. BMG DJing an unreal set at Trans Pecos. BMG and Sal Principato saying they enjoyed a set I played.”

Since her time with Bunker she has been living in NYC. She has continued playing parties like Electro Strikes Back before subTonic closed, as well as throwing two parties in the last year. She is working to move to Lima, Peru to “get more time to produce and keep speaking Spanish, but I hope to keep coming back to Brooklyn and Miami for friends, family and music.”

eric cloutier

ERIC CLOUTIER, 2006 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

More folks started to enter the fold around 2006 and the list of residents began to grow. After Eric Cloutier played Bunker in December that year he was convinced NYC is where he needed to be and one month later moved from Detroit to the city. “When I first started going out, and especially playing in Detroit, there was a serious energy and vibe to everything – a community of sorts, for one, but just wholehearted love for the music,” he says. “Part of the reason I left Detroit was because that all seemed to have faded away – people were growing up and moving on, moving out, getting kids and families and such – and when I went to play at subTonic I was like ‘holy shit, this is exactly what I’ve been missing.’ It just struck a huge chord with me and I had to get myself to where I was feeling more connected.”

Cloutier and Berlin’s Jan Krueger [Hello?Repeat] became residents in 2009. And although the Bunker family has grown exponentially over the years, the core residents of today include NYC-based Kasenic, Mike Servito, and Patrick Russell, with Plaslaiko and Cloutier hailing from Berlin. 

Being a resident of The Bunker means quite a lot. Not only has it been great to align with a New York techno institution, but also to join the ranks of talented residents Derek Plaslaiko, Mike Servito, and Eric Cloutier, who were all friends of mine back in Detroit. It just makes sense,” Russell says.

Cloutier adds, “It’s family at this point. Bryan’s been one of my closest friends since damn near the time I moved to NYC and still since I’ve left, but everyone that’s a part of The Bunker is a brother or sister at this juncture. I couldn’t be more proud to be a member of something I believe so strongly in and wear as a badge everywhere I go on this planet to play. I’m well aware of the responsibility and I would never want to let The Bunker down. And, to be honest, there’s a comedic irony that every single resident DJ, save for Bryan, is from Detroit, so…there’s that connection as well.”

But in 2006 there was one very influential person who joined the team: Seze Devres. Not only did she work the party as hostess but she was Bunker’s photographer and graphic designer. For years she documented every event, as well as created each flyer and poster.

The Look

Before her photography career really blossomed, Seze Devres was a freelance graphic and web designer for about 15 years. She originally taught herself HTML, WordPress, and Photoshop to promote her photography and party Kiss & Tell. Kasenic needed a designer so Devres stepped in to take on that role for Bunker.

“It was still a weekly party at subTonic then, I mostly used my own photography as a base and then we had multiple weeks listed in the same flyer. The initial images we used were my fine art work, abstract camera-less images, called photograms. They were very psychedelic images overlayed with blocky text. Eventually, I made a separate flyer for each party. Those were especially fun to make; I would take a new studio still-life image for each one. We would hang the new flyer at the party to announce the new lineup and it would be awesome to witness people’s excitement.”

seze devres

SEZE DEVRES, 2007

Looking back at the flyers now I am still pretty happy with the images I used even though the fonts seem kind of a bit dated to me now. My favorite flyers showcase my cats and botanical images, obviously. I also had a blast designing the Blood & Thunder flyers, a debaucherous New Years Eve 18-hour rager we threw a few times. I created an iconic crest for each DJ, which was great for the promotion. Another design I am especially fond of are the Unsound Festival postcards I created by scanning vintage Polish stamps from my stamp collection. I also really love the brutalist font and abstract grainy images I used for the Ostgut/Berghain residents collaboration we had.”

In addition to constructing the visual aesthetic of the parties she worked as Bunker’s photographer and hostess for ten years until her divorce with Kasenic. Devres became the eyes and mirror of the party’s dancefloor. She documented each party with photos, and would also take resident portraits in her at-home studio for visiting artists who would stay in their loft.

STUDIO PORTRAITS BY SEZE (CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER LEFT) ANTENES, TIN MAN, CARLOS SOUFFRONT, ERIKA, ROMANS, JUSTIN CUDMORE, MIKE SERVITO, ATOM AND TOBIAS

Taking photos at the party gave me really amazing creative outlet that defined how the party was represented online. It helped me socialize, feel less awkward at the party by giving me something to do or escape to. I often met people many years after I took their photo at the party. For most people who didn’t live in NY, it was a way for them to live vicariously through my photos. Shooting and editing the party photos every week really trained me to get super good at my craft and learn how to take well exposed photos in almost total darkness, even if I wasn’t remotely sober. I can take a photograph in any lighting situation now. Most of the time I caught people dancing and they were not even aware I was there. I was always respectful and tried not to post any unflattering images, since the guests were often high or deep in their dancing vibe. I even edited out some incriminating stuff, let’s leave it at that,” she says with a laugh.

But as Bunker began to evolve and grow, as did she. “Social media started to consume us more, and people wanted to tune out, dance, and become more anonymous when they went out. The need for the photos of each party seemed less relevant,” she says. The audience became more concentrated with “heads” and nightlife photographers became more popular which made her role feel less special. Eventually, “I wanted to just go to the party and enjoy myself without having to carry my precious camera and worry about taking photos all the time.”

She adds, “I have a photo of almost every single artist that played The Bunker. My images have spanned through so many avenues and it is wonderful to be a part of the fabric of the music I love and enjoy so much. I am proud to have this huge archive of images, and it also helps me trigger my memory of what happened each night.”

Not only did she experience the ebbs and flows of the party itself, Devres was witness to the growth of Bunker’s infrastructure. “I loved seeing younger guests eventually start to make music influenced by the party and become quite successful. Kids who would help Bryan carry speakers and break down at the end of the night became residents and some are now artists on the label. Basically if you want to be a part of something, roll up your sleeves and help make it happen. The Bunker is and was a special community of so many people working together.”

Devres let go of her role as Bunker’s designer in 2012. She says, “The silver lining was that by no longer doing design for anyone but myself, I was able to focus solely on my portrait and event photography. Eventually, I created new press photos for all the residents, many of which are still being used today.”

By January 2013 Common Name took over Bunker’s graphic work. The New York-based design company, comprised by Yoonjai Choi and Ken Meier, create all of the event flyers, images for podcasts, label artwork, and did a re-design of the website and logo. “It’s been super nice to see their system develop, and to have a look that is consistent across everything we do,” Kasenic says.

The Bust

Although Bunker felt right at home at subTonic they began outgrowing the space and most weeks it would become uncomfortably packed. Manhattan at the time, Kasenic adds, became an unwelcoming space for parties and subTonic was “one of the last decent places you could really party in Manhattan.”  

There was one fateful party at subTonic during February 2007 that changed everything and impacted the Bunker evolution. Matthew Dear was playing; NYPD shut the party and the basement space down as it became apparent it was operating illegally for about seven years. Bunker threw parties upstairs at Tonic for a few months until the entire venue was shut down for good.

CROWD AT MATTHEW DEAR, SUBTONIC, 2007 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

The crew relocated to Lunar Lounge in Williamsburg. Kasenic and most of his friends lived in the area at the time “so it just felt like a really natural move (even though quite a few people told me I was crazy for moving to Brooklyn at the time.” Shortly thereafter the party moved to Galapagos “which was really just the perfect fit for the natural evolution of the party.” This era was also when Kasenic bought a soundsystem, and each week for about five months he and Plaslaiko would setup and teardown. It spurred a new timeline and growth of Bunker’s attention to impeccable sound.

By 2008 Galapagos sold and became Public Assembly, where Bunker continued to refine their parties. The decor got darker, the crowd got bigger, the parties went later, and began to engage dancers with two rooms of music.

Public Assembly Shuts Down

Public Assembly was an integral venue for the party. But after a six-year run the venue closed in May 2013. Kasenic approached Shawn Schwartz of Output to help transfer all future bookings to the Williamsburg club.

Still never leaving the underground entirely, that year Bunker threw some parties at Trans-Pecos and K&K Buffet, a Chinese restaurant in Ridgewood. To this day Bunker has a keen eye and understanding for space. Solid venues stay in rotation depending on what works best for their programming.

In the past few years most of their local parties have been frequently hosted at Good Room, Nowadays, Elsewhere, Bossa Nova Civic Club, and Trans-Pecos, to name a few. Output and Good Room and all the other venues opening in Williamsburg came years later, and I’m honestly not sure any of that would have happened without The Bunker proving techno could succeed in the neighborhood,” Kasenic says. The multi-faceted party is not limited to one space, as Kasenic chooses venues based on the needs of the party.  

Most clubs that are going to present the kind of music we do at The Bunker tend to bring me in to check out the space before they open and Good Room was no different. I immediately liked the layout of the space and the folks who were working there. Right around the time Output really started to feel like it was no longer the right fit for The Bunker, Good Room opened and I moved my bigger events over there. It’s been really great to watch the space evolve over the years and become much more organized. I don’t feel like we have a single space I’d call home base at the moment, it’s kind of a roaming party. I try to put each party in the space that feels best for it.”

The Sound

While the location shifts made things interesting, it kept the crew on their toes and into a state of fine-tuning. Although not everyone knows Bunker’s entire origin story, there is one characteristic of the party that is blatantly apparent: a dedication to high-quality sound. The process to get to their current state all started with the “Beyond” system.

We used my personal soundsystem that I bought when we left subTonic, because we moved to bigger venues that didn’t really have sound that was up to our standards,” Kasenic says. Chris McNaughty [McNaughton] became Bunker’s sound guru after they met in 2005. With a dbx DriveRack and an ear for speaker placement at Galapagos “he really helped tremendously.” During this time they stored the system at the space and set up each week. “It was a huge pain in the ass but I think it was worth it. In retrospect the system wasn’t much compared to what we play on these days, but it was probably the best system in town where interesting techno was being played every week,” Kasenic continues.

BUNKER 8 YEAR ANNIVERSARY, OPTIMO, 2011 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

The biggest difference between Bunker then versus now according to Cloutier? “I don’t have to load an entire SUV with Bryan’s sound system and set it up at 8 p.m. anymore,” he says with a laugh. “Seriously though…if I never have to build those stacks ever again I’d be thrilled. But to be completely honest, that was actually one of the things that really brought me, Derek and Bryan together every week – the sweaty work making something from nothing in the backroom of Public Assembly and feeling massively connected to the party from start to finish. I’m not as connected that deeply because I’m in Berlin and not at every event, but I’m still a part of the team, obviously, but its one thing to toil it out, then weekly and eventually monthly, as hard as we did compared to a bit more hands-off with Tsunami sound and ‘real’ clubs with their own staff. But definitely one thing that has never changed is Bryan’s unending love for the party, his residents, his staff, and the attention to detail that makes every person that comes through the door feel like they’re welcomed in to his home.”

Nik Grabowski (aka NikSound) helped engineer sound for Blood and Thunder III and every party following until 2015. Taking things to the next level, Kasenic says “Nik was a true professional and I still think about how amazing he made that back room of Public Assembly sound from then on out. He really set the tone and set us above and beyond our wildest expectations of what The Bunker could sound like.”

Lately the parties mostly take place in venues with established professional systems. Sometimes Bunker will bring in some extra sound. “We’re very lucky to have a group of venues we can use in Brooklyn now that all have great sound, so we rarely need to supplement or provide a system, but that was just a far off dream when we first got started,” he says.

The Collaborations

The tiny basement party has since grown not only in size at home in NYC, but has partnered with numerous high-caliber institutions and festivals.

A transcontinental connection in 2010 became a pivotal moment as Bunker started a collaborative effort with Berlin’s Berghain/Panorama Bar. Kasenic reached out to Ostgut with an idea for a quarterly showcase series. “I was just really enthusiastic about everything they were doing at the time (and I still am), so it just felt like a great fit and those parties were very successful. I think it started a bit of an exchange between The Bunker and Ostgut, which continues to this day and has always felt perfectly natural.” One of the highlights of his entire DJ career, he says, was being asked to play Panorama Bar alongside Plaslaiko and Cloutier in 2012.

The series itself took place at Public Assembly, with two rooms dedicated to reflect the two spaces of the legendary Berlin venue. Guests have included Germany’s beloved residents Marcel Dettmann, Steffi, Ben Klock, nd_baumecker, Surgeon, Marcel Fengler, Ryan Elliott, Tama Sumo, Tobias, and Prosumer.

 

berghain bunker

BERGHAIN x BUNKER (CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT) SURGEON, ND_BAUMECKER, TAMA SUMO, RYAN ELLIOTT, TOBIAS, PROSUMER, MARCEL FENGLER, BEN KLOCK, STEFFI [PHOTOS BY SEZE]

I think that both Ostgut and The Bunker appreciate a proper party in the right environment that puts the quality of music first, so the relationship has always worked,” Kasenic says.

Switching roles in February 2015 and 2016 Bunker residents made their way to Germany for a full label showcase for Klubnacht. Those bills included Kasenic, Voices From The Lake, Peter Van Hoesen, Plaslaiko, Cloutier, Marco Shuttle, Len Faki, Mark Verbos, Romans, Løt.te, Patrick Russell, Function, Clay Wilson, DJ Nobu and Efdemin.

“Those were just tremendous honors, really special nights that are impossible to put into words. I do remember having a conversation with Derek at the 2015 one where we were both just kind of like, ‘Holy shit can you believe The Bunker has come this far??? We NEVER would have believed this was possible when we started this thing!’” – BRYAN KASENIC

During 2010 Bunker’s reach stretched even further, as Kasenic started working with Unsound (a festival based in Kraków, Poland) to host a sister event in NYC. This experience, he says, was eye-opening. “Mat and Gosia from Unsound taught me a lot about working with cultural institutes to get grants to make things happen, which is something I’d barely thought about until then. It also kicked my production chops up a few levels as accommodating so many artists in town at once provide challenges on a level I’d never experienced before. I think doing those bigger Unsound events proved to me that I could do even bigger events on my own, and helped the party grow.”

And it truly did.

Bunker started to really spread on a global level. After falling in love with Montreal’s MUTEK Festival, Bunker hosted an annual Brooklyn preview party for three years in hopes of inspiring others to make their way up North. Those lineups included names like Claro Intelecto, Andy Stott, Pangaea, Efdemin, Vincent Lamieux, Cheap & Deep, Akufen, and Stephen Beaupre, to name a few. There were a few collaborations nights with Netherland-based Clone Records, also. Bunker itself was being showcased internationally at Air Tokyo as well as Stereo Montreal. Even back at home, Bunker teamed up with the critically acclaimed Unter to host a 36-hour party at Paperbox and the Market Hotel in March, July and September 2016.

Russell says, “The Bunker filled a significant gap in NY when the underground techno scene was somewhat in remission, so in a way Bryan helped keep a particular part of the scene alive and thriving during those times. In addition, he brought in global talent that the run-of-the-mill clubs weren’t quite hip to yet, and helped make them household names here in the US – artists like Donato Dozzy, Demdike Stare, and the Ostgut Ton crew, just to name a few.”

The list goes on, with events at the Compound in San Francisco, Communikey in Denver, a partnership with Osgut Ton, a 6-hour showcase at Sustain-Release, Concrete Paris, and also Inciting in Philadelphia. Not to mention Bunker had its first full label showcase during Denver’s Great American Techno Festival in 2014. That evening in October featured live sounds from Clay Wilson, Leisure Muffin, Løt.te, Zemi17, and DJ sets from Servito, Ulysses, and Kasenic.

Most notable, though, is the long standing relationship between Bunker and Interdimensional Transmissions. The energy and connection between these two crews is symbiotic. With many Bunker nights in the caverns of Detroit, or the Midwest bringing No Way Back to the East Coast.

ERIKA SHERMAN, 2011, BRENDAN GILLEN , 2010 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

Interdimensional Transmission’s Brendan Gillen says, “We really get along on a creative level, they recognize what we do that’s unique and we see that in them. We share much of the same taste, especially for heady jams and incredible Midwestern DJs.” When it comes to the compatibility between the two crews he says, “It’s effortless. We just happen to love so many of the same things, that it just makes sense to collaborate. And through the collaboration we’ve become good friends.”

The New Year Parties

Ringing in the New Year with Bunker became a staple for many. On one of the biggest party nights of the year (especially in NYC) their aim was to provide a party space for friends and family free from amateurs. Sattinger and Kasenic continued the tradition from the Polar Bear Club into the first year of Bunker with a very intimate party. 

Then on the first of January 2007 they hosted the first in a series of parties called “Blood and Thunder.”

BLOOD & THUNDER FLYERS [ARTWORK BY SEZE]

Derek Plaslaiko came up with the name. The idea seemed pretty ridiculous at the time: to do an 18 hour afterparty on New Year’s Day,” Kasenic says. It followed an all-night party he threw at 12-turn-13 with Wolf + Lamb. “Basically, Seth Troxler, Derek Plaslaiko and Taimur Agha played together for the entire 18 hours [of Blood and Thunder]. If memory serves they took a break at some point so Function could do a brief set, and that was shortly before he moved to Berlin and the whole Sandwell District thing kicked his DJ career into overdrive. This one really set the tone for the next few years to come and is one of my most memorable NYEs. I actually met my current girlfriend Catherine Eberhardt for the first time that night. It seems like we were all so young at that point and there weren’t a ton of crazy afterhours, especially public ones happening in NYC at the time so it really caught NYC by surprise in a way.”

The following year “another pretty legendary” Blood and Thunder took place at Galapagos, the former Public Assembly. By 2009 the third edition of the party expanded to both rooms of Public Assembly. The fourth and final Blood and Thunder took place in 2010. Kasenic says it was “a good time, but it felt like the party had really run its course and competition had become pretty heavy with lots of other late night afterhours things in Brooklyn, so we ended it with that. The Alex Smoke set was particularly amazing and was for sure the highlight of the night.”

BLOOD & THUNDER 2007 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

But this did not keep Bunker from continuing the annual toast to auld lang syne. Newworldacquarium played for the first NYE edition of The Bunker Limited. “Mike Servito blew the roof off that night and I think it’s when I decided he HAD to become a resident DJ. He accepted that offer and the rest is history,” Kasenic recalls.

From 2013-2015 the New Year’s parties were held at Trans-Pecos with lineups limited to family and friends “and the crowd was always the best mix of our close friends and mega fans, so those were all amazing and the perfect way to spend a nice NYE away from the crowds.”

In a constant state of balance, as the party grows Kasenic understands and pushes to maintain a space where roots can be revisited. The early days. When Bunker was an intimate community.

The Bunker Limited

BUNKER LIMITED 2011 [ARTWORK BY SEZE]

As big as things were growing, the crew knew it was important to keep alive that tight-knit atmosphere that the party was born in. It was November 2010 when Kasenic used the 70 North 6th Street Loft to throw a party. Just above Public Assembly became home to the Bunker Limited. These loft parties – which would run from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. – kept Kasenic in touch with the original vision of Bunker. Narrowed down to a maximum of 150 presale tickets, Bunker Limited allowed DJs to really take the dancer on a journey with an extended set in an intimate setting.

A lot of my closest friends and biggest fans (and myself) were missing the earlier, more intimate days of the party,” Kasenic says. “So the idea was born to charge a higher ticket price, just bring in one DJ for the entire night (something I had grown to love in my early days of NYC clubbing), and limit the number of ticket sales to keep it from getting too crowded inside.” No cameras and no guestlist.

The concept was a huge hit with my core audience and I continue those parties to this day whenever I have an appropriate venue for it,” he continues. “I think the energy and vibe of these parties really kept things interesting to my closest friends and biggest fans of the party and breathed some new life into it.”

The Podcasts

Since 2008 The Bunker Podcast has been churning out music, with a total of 169 episodes released. Each mix of the series can be found archived and available for download.

We started it at a time when very few techno podcasts existed (before SoundCloud made things a lot easier). It was originally made up of recordings made of sets at the parties,” Kasenic says. “Now the podcast is mostly recordings people make at home. It’s really just meant as a way for people around the world who can’t necessarily make it to the parties to hear the kind of music we present at The Bunker. With the growing label roster over the past few years, it’s become a really nice way to keep everyone from the family in the mix. We also often present podcasts now from artists not in the immediate family who will be performing soon at one of our events. As a whole, I think the podcast really does a great job of tracing the musical evolution of the party over the years.”

Additionally, in 2016 Bunker New York launched a “a trip through psychedelic electronics“ radio show on Red Bull Music Academy. Airing every first and third Thursday of the month past shows have hosted residents and artists that exude that Bunker energy. 

I always do somewhat extended interviews with the artists on the radio in addition to their DJ or live sets. I think this really gives our fanbase who don’t personally know all of these artists like I do to get a view into their personalities and learn more about them,” he continues. “I was a bit skeptical about starting a radio show, but found out I missed doing it (I started out doing many years of college radio), and really enjoy producing the show.”

The Record Label

Kasenic always wanted to start a record label but couldn’t find the right time until his motivation became serious in 2012. That year Bunker parties were being hosted frequently at Output which helped lighten the load enough to get the project going. In the hopes of forming a deeper connection than just throwing parties, the creation of the label helped Bunker’s concept grow in complexity. Two years later the label launched.

Throughout 2013 he was reaching out to artists (both established and unfamiliar) asking for productions. By year’s end he had four EPs ready to release. Now, there are 31 records, including one digital-only compilation for the 15 year anniversary of Bunker.

Conceptually, the record label really stretches beyond itself. Each release is like a snapshot of what The Bunker is while somehow simultaneously creating the evolution of its own identity with each new production. Pieces of wax and soundwaves become fragments of a whole, constantly morphing while somehow still maintaining a core essence. Even beyond the dancefloor, there is still a kinetic energy unfolding.  

Creating this label continued to teach Kasenic even more about the meaning of the creative process, how relationships with each artist vary, and how each connects to their creativity in a totally different way. The label has always served as an outlet for music from artists who feel inspired by what they’ve experienced at The Bunker parties,” he says.

The Agency

In addition to the parties, the label, and everything else Bunker entails, Kasenic also runs a North American agency – Beyond Bookings – along with Michelle Erfer. The growing list includes 28 resident DJs and label artists that Bunker represents. 

The Celebration – 15 Years In The Making

This year The Bunker celebrates 15 years of music, parties, and memories. To commemorate the anniversary the label released 15 Years Of The Bunker [BK-031]. The 26-track digital-only compilation was released in January this year featuring work from some usual suspects and more.

I really think the music speaks for itself on that one, I’m incredibly proud of how well that turned out and super grateful to my family of artists for doing such an amazing job,” Kasenic says.

Of course The Bunker will also be toasting the milestone with parties around the world. Coming up during Movement weekend in Detroit, Interdimensional Transmissions will host Bunker on Monday night at Tangent Gallery for the second edition of 313: Return To The Source – a three-day party series. “It’s our third Monday night party produced by Interdimensional Transmissions at Tangent, and it’s been great fun to evolve the concept of the party with Brendan and Erika each year,” Kasenic says.

This year the party will run from 10 p.m. – 6 a.m. on Monday, May 28. The Dance Room will present specially curated DJ pairings from Jane Fitz and Eric Cloutier, Function and Adam X, and Mike Servito with Bryan Kasenic. A new addition will take form as The Come Down Room where dancers are invited to take a breather and chill-out. Seating will be available for music that is “not quite beatless ambient music, but not really pushing the dance floor either, exploring the mind via incredibly strange music. We’ll be exploring the more downtempo and straight up demented side of The Bunker, the stuff that falls between the cracks of boring genre distinctions.” Sounds will be provided by Gunnar Haslam, Abby Echiverri, Clay Wilson and rrao, Beau Wanzer, and Stallone The Reducer.

Gillen says he is most excited for “all the collaborative sets, from the closing set of Jane Fitz & Eric Cloutier, to whatever happens for the Function & Adam X thing, we look forward to hearing those sounds, but also in the Come Down room hearing what Beau Wanzer & Stallone the Reducer have chosen to blow our minds.”

I.T.’s Erika Sherman adds, “We just saw Abby Echiverri deliver an amazing live set at the Gays Hate Techno campout, and really looking forward to hearing what she comes up with for this context.”

What is it about The Bunker that has inspired 15 years of creativity? For one: serious dedication and undying passion as the foundation.
Plaslaiko says, “I think a lot of it has to do with the underground aesthetic, even though the parties are all thrown in legal venues. The music is always stellar, and Bryan really doesn’t want to just get whoever is the hottest thing in dance music. He’s very careful about who he decides to bring out. Nearly all of the artists who play The Bunker are of the same mindset when it comes to this music, and they’re not trying to be superstars. And we all seem to make new friends when someone comes out. I know that’s more about our experience with the artists, but I think that same mentality gets transmitted to the people who attend the party. So, when you’ve kinda been doing things the way Bryan has for the last 15 years, the right people seem to notice.”
People have, people do, and will continue to notice. Join the celebration if you find yourself in Detroit this weekend. Pre-sale tickets are still available and can be purchased through Resident Advisor.

Sequencer asks: Did you ever expect Bunker to become what it is today?

“Well no, but I invited Bryan to take over because I knew he would do something with it. Mike and I just liked to play records. Occasionally I would make a flyer. We did book some great artists though.” – Chris Sattinger

“You know, I’m really not sure! I guess I’m not surprised that it’s still going strong, but I’m somewhat surprised (and proud) that it’s gotten to where it has. It’s been a long journey! And Bryan has done a fantastic job of keeping it up to code for the tenure of the party.” – Derek Plaslaiko

No.” – Ivy Feracco

I don’t think you think about the future when you are enjoying the moment. In hindsight, it’s not surprising. Bryan has an incredible work ethic. Has spent his life building up a community and surrounding himself with great people. And he loves what he does. Passion and dedication typically make big things. But no, If you had asked me then I couldn’t have guessed.” – Shel Kimen

Yes, Bryan always had a very clear vision to promote a specific group of artists through the radio show, booking agency, party, record label. It is exactly what I envisioned it would become. The only surprise is that I am no longer a part of it all. And I am ok with that.” – Seze Devres

“I don’t think I realized what I aligned myself with at the time. I knew it was special and I knew a connection was made early on with The Bunker New York. I think we are all in that kind of ‘surprise!’ moment by the growth and success it’s having after all these years! I also believe it was inevitable that The Bunker would evolve and make its mark. I think we all believed in the establishment and what it stands for. You don’t have this kind of longevity just by luck. Bryan Kasenic is brilliant and intelligent and has a vision that’s being realized. I think The Bunker New York is a very special work in progress with ideas and intentions that stay true to it’s sound and aesthetics. I think we are all looking forward to the future of it all.” – Mike Servito

Honestly, yes, totally. I’ve seen how Byran has slowly and steadily built the brand in a very calculated yet entirely genuine way, and those kind of honest maneuvers resonate with people worldwide easily. The whole aspect of The Bunker has been to tell our musical stories truthfully and without outside influence and I think Bryan, and every one of the residents and artists on the label, have done just that, and thusly its become a ‘thing.’” – Eric Cloutier

The first Bunker I attended was in 2006 at subTonic, and it’s been great to watch it grow larger and stronger over the last 12 years. With the addition of the label and now events all over the globe, I can’t wait to see where it goes next.” – Patrick Russell

Yes of course, the concepts are strong, open minded and they get the message out there. Also, the group of people they’ve cultivated in their home city that attend their events and make them so special… you would just expect the waves of this to resonate.” – Brendan Gillen

ANTHONY PARASOLE, MARCEL DETTMANN, SEZE DEVRES, 2009 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

DEREK PLASLAIKO, DANIEL BELL, BRYAN KASENIC, 2007 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

MIKE SERVITO, 2010 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

DONATO DOZZY, 2010 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

BLOOD AND THUNDER, 2008 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

PATRICK RUSSELL, 2011 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

BUNKER 6 YEAR ANNIVERSARY, MARCEL DETTMANN, 2009 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

BUNKER CREW, 2011 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

TIMEBLIND, 2007 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

303 PARTY, CARLOS SOUFFRONT, 2006 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

BRYAN KASENIC, 2009 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

WOLF & LAMB AT GALAPAGOS, 2007 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

DEREK PLASLAIKO, 2010 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

BLOOD AND THUNDER 2007 [PHOTO BY SEZE]

Signal > Noise Mix Series Shines Light On WNY

The I-90 might be just a stretch of pavement but it has served as an influential link in the growth of the Western New York dance community. When told there’s a scene Upstate, those who don’t know might respond with a look of surprise. But Rochester and Buffalo in particular have a strong rave history and future. These two cities are filled with pockets of people absolutely passionate about house and techno, and everything the music entails. There are folks throwing parties that leave DJs in awe. There are DJs in these cities that are deep diggers and ripe with talent. There are dancefloors in these symbiotic scenes that are intensely energetic.

Signal > Noise is a party in Rochester, N.Y. that really helped fuel the WNY scene to its current state. The first party was in 2015 and they have since booked high-octane artists such as Shawn Rudiman, Claude Young, Noncompliant, DJ Minx, Derek Plaslaiko, Eric Cloutier, Norm Talley, Bill Converse – the list goes on.

Joe Bucci, one of the founding S>N crew members, delves a little bit deeper and shares his perspective of the WNY network, its history and its current significance.

“The role we are playing as a region has grown immensely. I know that historically WNY played a huge role in the community. During the ‘90s and early 2000s this was a hub for the rave community. Hosting parties connecting cities. Caravans of heads driving from Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo to the Midwest and beyond. This predates my time here in the community but the guys who make up S>N with myself were part of that scene – that was their coming of age. It’s what helps fuel what we do now,” Bucci says. “What our community has morphed into is a powerhouse in my opinion. In four short years WNY has went from EDM, Bass parties, almost exclusively to what we have now which has evolved into a harmonious community. While those events still dominate the landscape just underneath that, you’ll find a rich scene. With ourselves and Sole Rehab operating out of Rochester and in Buffalo you have REDUX, Strange Allure, Aural Shift, and Pyramid. That’s not even including the one-off local nights, and Rufus Gibson‘s other venture at Gypsy Parlor with his monthly.”

He continues, “What I’m getting at is the local scene is on fire right now, each crew pushing the other to up their game in the friendliest of ways. We all try to work together to balance calendars, bookings. Trying to support each other. While bringing in some of the finest talent that is out there. At first it took some selling to get artists to come play our corner of the state. Perennially overlooked for NYC or Toronto. Now tours are being booked with WNY in mind. That is a quick change in four years. Each crew puts in work to create their vibe and aesthetic. But if the people do not show up it might as well be done in a vacuum. That hearkens to the people who attend the events and make up the community. They are the fabric of it all.”

Don’t Trust Humans, based out of Chicago and Portland, published a run of mixes that showcased each cities talent. Inspired by this Bucci established the Signals mix series about a year ago. It is “a great way to learn about what the local artists sound like and gives you almost an overall vibe of what is defining the local sound,” he says. “Our local community is made up of primarily Rochester and Buffalo artists; let me tell you there are some really talented people between these two cities.”

Each week for the month of April Signals hosted a “/WNY/:Love*” series showcasing five artists from Buffalo and Rochester. “Everyone we chose for this are fantastic artists in their own right. Each has the ability to craft a set and move a party,” Bucci says. “It’s fun to listen to how each artist can craft a mix. Is it just grab what I’m diggin’ right now and enjoy? Is it more of a journey? To see what story is told by each contributor is exciting.”

BFLO LYDIA [LYDIA WROBEL]

Bucci: “I absolutely love Lydia’s style. Energy, knowledge and an ear for great tracks. She’s played a few of our parties and we consider her close family. Watching her move from vinyl to digital has been fun. I was surprised when she cut the mix it wasn’t all vinyl. Her ability to craft a set is on full display with this one. A lot of fun. Lydia truly is a foundation member of our community. It was only fitting to have her contribute.”

What do you love most about the Western New York dance community?
Lydia: I love that there are layers (generations) of people who’ve experienced the WNY scene who may not have known each other at the time they experienced it, but that WNY still provides that connection as people move on to other/different/bigger scenes. Example: I might tag a friend living in Berlin or Toronto or wherever who I met through the Buffalo scene because another DJ with WNY roots is playing a night there in that city that I think the first friend needs to check out. I also love that while we go out in our scene for the music, I feel a lot of times in Buffalo the dj or the music is an excuse to catch up with friends we’d not otherwise see. Obviously we go for the music always, but here it’s also quite a bit about meeting up with the good friends, despite or in spite of whoever happens to be playing. That’s what my nights were about when I threw them – getting the locals together for a raucous night of dancing and yelling and joking around.

 

NEW SPHERE ELECTRIC [ALEX FRENCH]

Bucci: “I asked Alex to contribute because his curating with Strange Allure is fantastic, their parties are fantastic and a not miss. Always bringing in amazing artists who are just flying under the radar or bringing in strong innovators like BMG and Erika. I wanted to showcase the local talent but as well the people behind the parties and what they dig. This guy knows music. He performs as New Sphere Electric on his own and as a duo in Pure and Supreme. Very talented guy. I was very excited to hear what he put together. It was most certainly a journey mix. Which I love – take me on a ride. Mission accomplished.”

What do you love most about the Western New York dance community?
Alex: I’d say my favorite thing about the WNY dance community is how unpretentious it is. You get folks from a variety of backgrounds, some with little to no knowledge of underground dance music, all coming together simply to get down. The artists get to cut loose and the music can get as weird or wild as they want it to. It’s a very unifying experience as everyone gets to take chances and share in a unique experience that couldn’t take place in a lot of other cities.

 

NICKL [NICK GIORDANO]

Bucci: “I don’t know where to start with Nick. He is easily one of my favorite people. Very loving person who has a vibe about him that is magnetic. He does a great job putting together very danceable sets. High energy with a healthy dose of Diva. Nick has played for us a few times. Opening for Black Madonna as well as appearing at our Sunday Shit Show last year. Nick’s collective Sole Rehab throws killer parties. Great underground location, fantastic guests, thick vibe with a ton of raw energy. We are also fortunate to call Nick and the rest of his Sole Rehab crew as co-conspirators. For the last few years we’ve joined forces to help put on an unofficial Rochester Gay Pride event. Much like Jim and Lydia, Nick has been one of those people who are in the fabric of our WNY community.”

What do you love most about the Western New York dance community?
Nick: The dancers (both the new and the veterans) trust the DJs. They are totally along for the ride. Which of course, makes for some really fun trips!

 

UVB76 [SHERRI MILLER AND MARIO FANONE]

Bucci: “I’m going to be honest these two are a mystery to me. I know I fucking love them both. I met them both at one of our first parties and have stayed friendly with them ever since. Sherri and Mario are each members of the Buffalo collective Strange Allure. Sherri has a magnetic energy about her and a very creative perspective. Mario: I know he is a strong well-rounded musician, but he is also a man of few words. That being said when you see the soon-to-be husband and wife duo together it all just flows. So the music they make together as UVB76 is represented of that. All live gear oriented style. I approached Sherri if they would be interested in doing anything after I heard a few things they had put together. Almost a year later here is the finished product. I’m pretty sure her and Mario went up to a cabin in the woods one weekend and recorded a bunch of stuff. This is the finished product of that cabin session. A 45 minute live belter of a mix.”

What do you love most about the Western New York dance community?

Sherri: I love that our WNY dance community consists of some wonderful sweeties who are genuine, unpretentious, and pure fun. Our dance floors are happenin’ and the sound is on point. There’s a reasonable variety of quality events in interesting non-club spaces.

Mario: Even though the community here in Western New York may be smaller than other bigger cities I’ve visited, I feel like the passion and excitement for events is greater. I believe people tend to appreciate what we have, and don’t take the experiences we offer for granted. And we have so many talented people in our area that always inspire me to create music and art, and be more engaged in the scene myself. It’s a wonderful creative cycle that I hope continues for a long time.

 

JIM KEMPKES

Bucci: “S>N member and resident Jim also holds a title that I personally hold him to. Best DJ in WNY. He tells me ‘whatever,’ whenever I tell him this. But it’s my opinion. This guy is a encyclopedia of music. From Jazz to hip-hop to electronic. His ear for a track is fantastic and a hell of a technical DJ. When I relocated to Rochester from Chicago, Jim was one of the first local DJs I heard. After I heard the first five mins of his set, I knew I was going to be OK. At least there were guys like him around to keep me dancing. The fact that he is a S>N resident, color me lucky. Needless to say Jim, like Lydia, is another foundation member of our community who has been at this since the ‘90s. No better person to help represent what Rochester has.”

 

What do you love most about the Western New York dance community?
Jim: The intimacy, family-vibe, collaborative spirit, and authenticity.

 

Head on over to the Signal > Noise Soundcloud and dig into these stellar mixes, or perhaps one of the live recordings from their parties like when Sassmouth and Shawn Rudiman rocked a warehouse space, when Gay Marvine brought sounds for Pride, or Derek Plaslaiko‘s 6-hour set. Keep an eye on Western New York, and if you get a chance to hit one of their dancefloors – you should take it.

Wax Runoff: Jerome Syndenham [irc122]

It was a wonderful feeling to recently uncover the 2013 release Sun Ark EP by Jerome Syndenham. This record has seen countless parties partly because it’s versatile but more so because the phenomenal overall production really sounds marvelous over a good sound system.

jerome sydenham

irc122

For anyone who has spent time crate digging in New York City, that name Ibadan should be well familiar. Started by Syndenham himself at the height of the New York City house era in 1995, the label has consistently pushed out solid New York house, but also has taken chances on darker or tribal influenced tracks on many releases.

A1 belongs to Jerome’s Special Edit of Carl Craig’s “Angel” and is probably the reason for the record’s quick rise. “Jerome’s Vocal Dub” of the track was released on Planet E about four years earlier and had seen much public praise and heavy club rotation. This special edit is something else; raw drum cuts are layered with minimal reverb or delay and one extremely off-beat closed hi-hat loop. The track is characterized by a single bass note that climbs four notes in the scale repeatedly. The creepy dark vocal is not lost either, but rather further distorted and cut. This tune is actually frightening if I’m being honest; there is a certain tangible discomfort that comes across, and yet it’s still difficult to turn it off.  

The second cut on the A-side is my personal favorite. “Sun Ark” is the only original mix from Jerome on the release, and it certainly holds its own against some of his best productions. If A1 was made for transcendental out of body dark basement experiences, A2 was crafted strictly for sweat. There is no real bassline, just one massive kick that barrels through subs. The genius of this track is the drum arrangements. About eight or nine different drum loops come in and out of play with one another, often away from the down beat. Most low-end percussion cuts out for a few bars periodically to let a rushing atonal sort of air synth oscillate before descending back in heavy stomping club beat. It definitely has a heavier vibe that needs the right time and crowd, but at its core it’s simply an excellent conception

Flipping to the back end, B1 is titled “Route 303” by Japanese duo Lo Hype. As you could imagine, the track makes extensive use of the legendary Roland 303. The vibes are so different on the B-side – it’s incredible. The front two are sort of grand productions; they make statements and stand out in the mix. However, “Route 303” is understated, hypnotic, and refined. Various 16-bar phrases from the drum machine exist in different forms throughout the eight minute track, with the only real musical elements coming from ethereal synthetic pads. It’s a delightful ride that tricks you into its peculiar song and is perfect for those 5 a.m. excursions.

B2 finishes up with a nod to the ’90s house culture of New York. Though not “Bonus Beats” in the traditional sense of that idea, the nod tickles me and the association is apropos. It is a full track in its own right – just over five minutes long. There are minor changes made, with the same foundation there, but instead of the eerie pads there is a focus on only drum machine and 303 workouts. It truly does change the sound from dark and looming to up front and energetic. This track would do well in any minimal techno set at peak hour.

This record is relatively scarce, and finding a new copy would be quite the feat. With a heavy have:want ratio on Discogs, good copies tend to get snapped up. There do tend to always be at least a few if you’re willing to pay, though.

And even if you can’t track down this particular gem, keep an eye out for that iconic Ibadan center label that has not changed in 22 years. All the releases come recommended, and all of them trade at a fairly decent price as well. Good luck!


Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.

Wax Runoff: Fitzzgerald [TGE1211]

Coming up on the end of September, I rounded up my favorite releases of this past month to find the destined pick for this week’s Wax Runoff. Overall a wonderful month for excellent tunes, but there is one record that I have consistently been coming back to.

tugboat edits

TGE1211

Fitzzgerald was a new name to me. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to learn that his recent 12” on Tugboat Edits is actually his first release. In truth, Tugboat Edits Vol. 11 sounds as if it had come from a much more decorated veteran. It’s a deeply jazz-infused carpet ride through sexy house loops and gourmet samples that vary in flavor for diverse hours and moments.

A1 “Starfruit” is a precipitant introduction to the record. Lo-fi jazz licks and warm pads accompany a classic disco bass guitar line while a Rhodes piano goes on seemingly endless G# scale tangents. The drums are forward; a jackhammer 4/4 kick rhythm gives an undeniably groovy feel to it, but that’s not to discredit the hand drums solo around the five-minute mark. Ultimately this jam comes off polished and tight, ready for a sunny terrace near you. This track sounds like how a Mister Saturday Night party feels.

The second cut on the front, “On Your Side”, takes things a bit farther left from center. Slowed down and with a noticeable bossa nova influence this one features some great marimba scales. It takes about four minutes, but eventually a more house-centric rhythm does start to command things as  memorable disco strings create a wonderful classy vintage type vibe. While maybe not for the prime time hours of the night, this is still an amazing piece of music that certainly has its time and place.

Someone once told me the best tracks are always on the B-side. That superstition seems to be true as my favorite tune by a long shot is “Mysterious World”.  It’s essentially a really done house re-work of the title track off MFSB’s 1980 jazz-fusion release Mysteries of the World. Devastating for me because I actually had sampled my copy of that 12” earlier in the year and was halfway through an edit of my own when I bought this record. This re-work seems better than I could likely do, with just the right amount of delicate percussion and an extra funky synth line that was written for this edit. Serious party stuff when the vibe calls for it.

The clean-up spot on the roster belongs to “Shaka Joe”; a nice mix of tribal and deep house, it’s less experimental for sure and yet still easily avoids being forgettable. As with the other three tunes, there are plenty of punchy and improvised jazz scales, this time coming from an unidentified organ synth. It sounds great with lots of loop layering variation, along with points where the mix clears out making this one a favorite that creeps onto your table more as you begin to wear out the other three.

All in all this record is a must have if you are really into the jazzy lo-fi house that is popularized by well-known taste maker labels Razor N Tape or Mister Saturday Night. And I would say a nice record to have if you like really solid and well-mixed house and disco tracks that carefully measure to never venture into the realm of over-production. This slab would be particularly valuable in a bag for early morning after parties and late afternoon BBQs in my opinion.

I encourage you to scoop this great record straight from the responsible party. There are of course is Discogs  and the usual main online competitors: Juno, Deejay, Redeye, etc. If you want to support a smaller online retailer who have a great team and really care about this music on a personal level, I recommend grabbing a copy from Downtown304. The press is limited, and if you were going to buy new from retail, I would act fast before this release is comfortably sitting in other people’s record collections the world over.

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.

Wax Runoff: Chez Damier [mojuba g.o.d.2]

While at my local record shop recently I was flipping through the new arrivals when a paper sleeve Mojuba stamped 12” caught my eye. It appeared to be a re-press of the 2009 deep house smasher Time Visions 2 by Chez Damier. I handsomely paid the clerk and headed home to enjoy the sweet sounds.

chez damier

mojuba g.o.d.2

When I checked the Internet later, sure enough I couldn’t find much on this mysterious release. Discogs only has the various 2009 releases listed, and a google search yielded essentially one result at a Russian online record store where it appears to be sold out. I started to become a bit more skeptical now, but when I placed the record on the platter and set the needle to it, instantly it was clear that this was a high quality, top notch repressing that if not official is one of the best bootlegs I’ve come across.

The record is soaked in creamy deep house goodness from beginning to end. The A side “Why (D’s Deep Mix)” is a marvelous 10 minute slugger that loops and swerves way down at 113 BPM. This is classic Chez, with a glowing and pulsing chord loop setting the mood and never falling from the mix as bongos and tight bass blips repeat bar over bar. Eventually, a legitimately groovy harmonica solo cuts through that’s not hard to love.

On the flip side “Help Myself (Unreleased Reshape)” stylistically brings things back to popular ’90s house fare. Fitting as it’s Carl Craigs unreleased edit of the classic KMS tune. A 16 bar live drum sample sequenced rhythm with resonant synth melody loops with perhaps the most tasty upright jazz bass samples. Something about the crash cymbal ending phrases in classic house tunes just feels so right. The tune is atmospheric while remaining organic and would burn down any 21st century dancefloor.

The record closes with what is probably the crowd favorite of the trio, “Soul Minimal” on B2. As the name suggests, it’s a fairly stripped back soulful house number, but there’s a bit less depth compared to the other two jams. This one is more strictly party material with the main feature being a fat and round bass synth that bounces up on swung out 16th notes. The sharp reverbed pads behind everything start to mix with sax samples and a lively bongo line. The tune works quite well in 2017, as it’s structured in a way where the core of percussion never leaves the mix. In so doing, it lends itself well to the driving syncopated rhythmic adventures popular in minimal and house right now.

I wish I could tell you how to find this record. While I’ve never owned any of the previous presses, the sound quality is excellent on this one. Even the website for the store I bought it at never listed it online. Keep your eyes peeled for the all-text red stamp center label seen in our picture here. If you do fancy the slab and want to purchase a 2009 copy from Discogs it trades at a pretty agreeable price depending on which version you’re after (the limited red translucent press will cost you). However you come across it – repress or not – this piece comes highly recommended. It’s thoughtful, heady, and just the right mix of tech and deep; new and old.

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.

Wax Runoff: Jean-Luc Ponty [SD 18163]

Who is this scruffy dark haired man always popping up in the P’s section of the record store? That would be French-born, LA-dwelling, and crucially funky jazz violinist and songwriting savant Jean-Luc Ponty. Most people know him for his work with Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention, before he stepped out on his own. Aurora follows a variety of more straight-ahead jazz and collaboration records, and is effectively Ponty’s second solo jazz fusion LP.

jean-luc ponty

SD 18163

In addition to Ponty the line-up features a young Patrice Rushen on keyboards, Darryl Stuermer on guitars, Tom Fowler on electric bass, and Norman Fearrington on drums and percussion. Save for Rushen, this fairly unknown ensemble delivers a wide array of world-class cuts, ranging from blistering and virtuosic to emotive and pensive.

The uptempo “Is Once Enough?” kicks off the record, complete with solos from Ponty, Stuermer, and Rushen on Rhodes piano. “Renaissance” follows, a track featuring Ponty on auto-harp as well as violin. This is a highlight of the record for me, and apparently for others who draw inspiration from it. Stuermer and Ponty’s almost bouzouki sounding acoustic guitar and violin harmonization is so on point that its skill and technique can accidentally be overlooked. Sit back and enjoy this one.

The title tracks begin with a semi-atonal 5/4 based groove, complete with bass fills from Fowler. Part 1 does a wonderful job of setting up the funk to come in Part 2. Stuermer and Ponty duke it out again before the rest of the band joins in for the fun, resulting in quite possibly the stankiest 7/4 groove cut to wax. Play this one for the floor and watch people get weird.

The B-side follows a similar pattern to side A, but it certainly stands on its own. It leads with the blistering jazz rock of “Passenger Of The Dark” and is followed by the goosebump inducing “Lost Forest”. Of course Ponty and Stuermer’s counterpoint stand out, but Fowler’s borderline psychedelic phased out electric bass, complete with some power chords, really add a thick element to this cut. You might need to put this one on repeat.

“Between You and Me” sounds like if Yacht Rock musicians could rip, and I mean that in the best way possible. Proper sunshine grooves. It serves as a phenomenal penultimate track, before “Waking Dream” takes us into space with a variety of synthesizers, guitars, and effected violins.

Ponty’s Aurora is over 40 years old this year, yet it continues to stand the test of time. You can snag a copy on Discogs but can also probably find it in your local record store from $2-$15. Don’t sleep on it.

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Peter Croce is a Detroit-born and now Chicago-dwelling deejay, producer, and label boss. He owns and operates Rocksteady Disco, Mr. PC Versions, and MotorCity Wine Recordings.

Wax Runoff: Peaches [Peaches 004]

Flipping through my collection this week I wanted to find something contemporary, yet very forgotten. It’s been a while since I really shuffled the sleeves to near completion, and Mint Julep [Peaches 004] pulled ahead when it flooded my mind with fond memories of a time when this record seldom left my bag.

PEACHES 004

PEACHES 004

Peaches is a sneaky little New York label that ran 13 “official” 12” pressings between 2002 and 2008, as many of the records contain samples without any sort of permission. In fact Jager Bomb EP is banned from sale on Discogs presumably because of uncleared Prince samples.

There’s a wonderful thematic allure to Peaches. The label branding was slick with most EPs named after spirits and malt liquor, and reworking primarily hip-hop and RnB songs into rolling house were their principal mainstay. The first several releases I suspect were mostly throw away bootlegs made strictly for the club. With the recent advent of the CDJ, it was now very easy to instantly start working them into your set.

But the tracks worked, so they pressed them. Peaches 004 ended up being the most sought after release, and for good reason. It’s got 4 solid tunes that span a good diversity of house, but with a central focus on flexing basslines and attentive rhythmic layering.

The recording sets out on A1 with “Iz It Luv” by Dandruff Truckers. A jacked out shuffle of drum samples lay a sturdy foundation for smooth female vocal swoons and a much deeper 808 bassline than expected. Eventually the track breaks into a dance between warm and fuzzy triplet chords and a verse from the vocalist. It really gets moving, but has all the characteristics of a more chilled-out and deep style of house.

A2 “Slide” by J Tilla admittedly sounds out of place following the initial track and the record as a whole. It’s angrier than the other tunes, with distorted and snapping drums that remind me more of club techno than anything. The Missy Elliot verse is irresistible at times, and there’s probably a scenario where this tune would go off, but it’s just so intentionally rough that it ends up being a novelty.

The first cut on the B-side makes up for any wrongdoing on A2 with the pearl of the bunch, “Passin Me Byte” by Guided Methods. It features crowd pleasing samples from the classic Pharcyde track that the title is a play on. Combined with sharp and layered top rhythm lines and a very memorable bassline, this track always gets two thumbs up. The groove builds and drops quite effortlessly and it pairs well with almost any other track in the same key.

And on B2, “One Love” by Tahm solo rounds things out with another jackin’ Chicago-infused house bootleg. Reminiscent of where things began on A1, the drums are well-paced and wet. It’s the emergent fuzzy chords that really make the tune shine, and the rap verses that go over the core of the track can be cheesy in some circumstances, but there is a three minute groove at the back of the record if you don’t want to deal with it.

Peaches is definitely a label I try to keep an eye out for when adding to my collection. Just the factor of intrigue that people get when they hear these mainstream hip-hop artists that they are familiar with over a skillful house beat is reason enough to snatch them. All the ones I’ve found have come out of dollar bins so they’re definitely easy to hunt. As for Peaches 004, your best bet may be Discogs.

Perhaps the best place to find them may be as it says on every Peaches center label: “Get your Peaches in the Bronx.”

 

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.

Wax Runoff: Fatback [SP-1-6721]

Earlier this week as I sat in my chair at my dreadfully dreary office day job, a groovy song crept from my memory caves into my head. I strained to recall what it was as I lightly tapped my foot to the riff now endlessly looping in my brain. After about an hour of trying to figure out what it was, it finally hit me; “Hesitation” from the 1979 Spring records release Brite Lites, Big City by The Fatback Band, or more colloquially – Fatback.

SP-1-6721

I purchased this gem earlier in the year from an old funk-gangster Vietnam vet who sets up crate-after-crate of forgotten and rare funk and disco grooves every weekend at the local market. The art direction for Fatback releases was consistently superb and I had seen their albums before, but never made a purchase because I never agreed with the price. It was only because this gentleman priced this album for a single dollar.

Within minutes of popping the plate onto my platter, I was blown away for a few reasons. This record absolutely does not sound like it was produced in 1978/1979. During that time, recording engineers really weren’t using heavy compression in the studios. Most funk and soul tracks were much more organic sounding – like a live recording of a band. Furthermore, the drums would be mixed down below a sonic focal point. This record was doing the opposite: loud and compressed drums very foreboding of how house and hip-hop music would be produced 15 years later. I was so curious why these jams were so uniquely different and forward thinking than their peers of the time.

The answer was very simple: no recording engineer was used. All production credits go to the Fatback Band itself and likely many of the creative decisions were made by mastermind and front man of the band, Bill Curtis.

It wasn’t just technical originality that set this record apart for me but the unique musical theory behind each track. There is a very heavy reliance on repetition and loops, again reminding me of dance music that would come many years later. In addition, rather than having lyrics in the traditional sense, much of the vocals on the tracks are spoken word, a future trend that Curtis and his band heavily utilized before others.

In fact, it is not just “Hesitation” that has been randomly stuck in my head. Each of the six tracks on the album have an infectious groove.

The A side is more of a funk affair, though all the tracks are written in 4/4 time signature which was more common for disco at the time, and indeed there is much disco influence. “Freak The Freak The Funk (Rock)” kicks it all off with a fat distorted guitar riff and structuring similar to many of the classics made popular by George Clinton. Much like the other tunes, it is an incredible fusion of funk and disco styles. “Let Me Do It To You” comes next and stands out the most with slick guitar plucks and a tambourine line that always causes a case of the head-bobs. This one is more slanted to the disco side of things and really works for a dance floor. Then the final A cut “Brite Lites, Big City” flips the tempo down to 95 BPM with a pure funk take. Of notable mention is the ripper of a sax solo by band member Fred Demery during which Bill yells “Keep the wine flowing!” and claims he lost his voice because the party was so good.

The B-side is definitely where the disco shines through brightly. B1 “(Do The) Boogie Woogie” is a classic late ’70s jam. What makes many of the tunes from that time unplayable today, though, was how overly cheesy the horn sections and vocals could be. Fatback stays true to form while taking all the classic elements but strictly adheres to the repetitive style. “Hesitation” on B2 is an absolute jam with the 1/8 note closed hi-hats we know so well. This is the only tune that truly has lyrics but is still as sweet as the fruits and the rolling big disco bassline that plays during the bridge phrases always impresses me. The release wraps up with “Wild Dreams” on B3. Another heavy disco influenced number, but slower and most importantly – jazzy as hell. Jazz influence is actually prevalent across Fatback’s discography but it really only shows on the final cut. If it had existed at the time, I would say I hear so much lo-fi jazz sample house influence in this track. But it’s just another example of how this album was ahead of its time.

Fatback was insanely prolific. From 1972 to 1988, Fatback released 23 full-length studio albums and tons of singles. Surprisingly to me, Brite Lites, Big City was one of their least regarded albums. But if you listen to the other albums before and after this one, there is not as much of an experimentation with sound design or music theory. This album was less safe, and in turn not as popular, but from a 2017 perspective, it was massively genius. It avoids all the major pitfalls of funk and disco of that era, while pushing the envelope of innovation and achieving stunning originality.

It’s somewhat tough to snag a mint copy of this 12”, but there are certainly some options on Discogs for varying degrees of quality and price. More likely, you stumble across this record while flipping through the crates and searching for the lost grooves. Ideally, you meet an OG funk-gangster of your own who can supply you with this and countless other long lost heaters.

 

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.

Bandcamp Initiative Supports Trans Rights

In response to the current state of affairs and long-standing struggle for trans rights, Bandcamp is pushing an advocacy initiative this Friday, Aug. 4. All of Bandcamp’s revenue shares for that day will be donated to the Transgender Law Center.

As a music platform Bandcamp encourages direct support for artists and labels. The company’s platform allows artists or labels total control to sell directly to fans, with only some of the shares paid to Bandcamp. Music style on the site ranges from garage punk bands, grime, singer-songwriters, and more. Shops for underground house, techno and electronic-focused labels and artists can be found there as well. Music lovers frequent the site for digital, vinyl pressings, and other merchandise. According to the website, “Fans have paid artists $230 million using Bandcamp, and $5.2 million in the last 30 days alone.” Bandcamp makes money through revenue share on sales: 15 percent for digital and 10 percent for merch.

According to a Bandcamp representative, “When we say we’re donating our share of the sales on Friday to the Transgender Law Center we mean that we’re simply choosing to do something different with our share (this does not affect artist revenues in any way, except perhaps to increase sales on Bandcamp generally).”

Friday’s fundraiser is in support of Bandcamp’s LGBTQ+ staff members and trans artists who express their passion and work on the site. For each sale made 100 percent of Bandcamp’s shares will go to the Transgender Law Center. As a non-profit organization the TLC has a stated mission to change “law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression.” The organization’s core values resonate in justice, empowerment, self-determination, integrity, and fierce compassion for the rights of individuals. It does so through action by providing policy advocacy and litigation, healthcare assistance for trans veterans, providing support for trans youth and immigrants, as well as defending incarcerated trans people from abuse within prison and detention centers.

Director of Communications Jill Marcellus spoke a bit more in depth with Sequencer about the TLC. “We were founded in 2002 and are based in Oakland, Calif. and also have an office in Atlanta, GA.
Following the election, we launched our 2017 Plan of Resistance … We scaled up a lot of the work we were already doing: legal support, community training and organizing, policy advocacy, and public education. This included the launch of our Trans Immigrant Defense Effort (TIDE), the continuation of our impact litigation like our recent victory on behalf of trans student Ash Whitaker, our leadership development and storytelling work with trans youth and with trans people living with HIV through our TRUTH and Positively Trans programs, and the launch of our Legal and Community Resistance Networks expanding volunteer opportunities with the organization so we can harness community power to meet increased community need.”

If you’re looking to help the TLC directly, she says, “In addition to donations, we are looking for volunteers with our Community Resistance Network.”

To participate simply purchase music from Bandcamp on Friday, Aug. 4 from 3 a.m. – 3 a.m. (EST) or midnight – midnight (PST). Bandcamp is also encouraging artists/labels to donate some or all individual shares on Friday directly to the TLC.

For fans, consider saving any purchases you were going to make for Friday and help support trans rights. The list is innumerable and there is so much to explore, but if you’re new to Bandcamp here are just a few of Sequencer’s favorite underground artists and labels:

L.I.E.S. Records
Octo Octa
Argot / Tasteful Nudes
Blank Slate
Honey Soundsystem
Interdimensional Transmissions
Shawn Rudiman
Make Mistakes
Ariel Zetina
Honey Dijon
The Bunker NY
Umfang
Max McFerren
Eye Teeth
Bill Converse
Rocksteady Disco
Star Creature
Wayne Snow
Austin Boogie Crew
PotionsNYC
Athens of the North
Gretta Cottage Workshop
Firecracker Recordings
Proibito
Copenhagen Underground Posse

Also, check out this Trans Lib Comp Vol. 1a collection of tracks by trans/gnc/nb artists mostly based in Chicago, Ill. such as Eris Drew, Red’s Garden, Riglow and more.

Trans rights are human rights.

 

Wax Runoff: Simba [MATE 010]

From lots of repressings for old classics to excitingly fresh original releases this summer, it was honestly hard to pick a record for this week’s post. Through it all though, the 10th release from Intimate Friends, Goodbye Miss Misanthropy produced by Simba, seems to keep finding its way back onto my turntable.

MATE 010

Intimate Friends is known for washed out and jazzy forays into realms of house, disco, afro, and funk with plenty of leftfield influence. It is pretty original stuff coming from the imprint and remarkably groovy for how traditionally broken they aim to be at times. This particular 12″ pressed in the Netherlands has a lot of commitment to deeper, dreamy shuffles. Simba brings a great variety of vibes on the record, making it a great slab to take in your record bag when space is limited and you need four versatile tracks. That being said, it is mostly early night and mid-morning design featuring downplayed elements and spacey moods. It does a great job of remaining grand in presence while being trimmed on the sides.

First cut on the record is a solid brick-laid 4×4 journey way down at 113 bpm. “Remind Me Of Dancing” has grown on me a bit. At first the vocal samples seemed a bit corny and off-putting to me, but the low-end presence of this track coupled with the non-stop airy kick and light claps is really quite delightful over a quality system. As seems to be a theme throughout the record the drums shuffle, mixed way down below the samples and synth elements. Rather than pure rhythmic appeal, the arrangement compliments the open envelope synth sweeps sloshing around the vocals. More synthetic and hypnotic than the other cuts, but still fitting wonderfully around its siblings.

On A2 “ITB Jam” flips to a house styled number away from the dark club floor I picture when listening to A1. There’s a greater focus on interesting manipulation of samples here; if I had to guess I would say only one or two of the elements were actually recorded for the tune. Bouncy upright jazz bass carries the dancefloor push while somewhat inharmonic piano chops are very reminiscent of late ‘90s jackin’ house. As with A1, drums never intend to be the focus. They are well compressed and washed out, a perfect mix to create an after-sunrise sound. Most enjoyable are the drum changes happening on the 2/4 and 3/4 beat. There seems to be intention on having some of the samples so incredibly swung out that things seem dangerously close to offbeat, but it toes the line well and is remarkably composed.

Things switch to a more heartfelt deep sort of business on the B-side. “Love Letter” is a broken kick pattern tune saturated with different woodblocks skittering around big piano chords. There are eerie ghost synths that really cement the vibe, and the soul sample pulled for the spoken word vocals is reworked in a very delicate manner. The tune is a goosebump-giver for sure, and comes fully approved for party wrap up duties.

The final cut, “Last Time”, closes things out perfectly. Preserving the deep feel from B1, this tune is probably my favorite on the record. Looking past the extremely over-used Nina Simone sample, this is an incredibly beautiful track. The themes created on the other tracks are still present here, but the rhythm is more dancefloor focused and attentive. Friendly snaps replace clap samples to keep the vibe more cool and collected, and the bassline is again sampled from upright bass in a jazz setting. Most alluring perhaps is the exploration of the different pianos on the track – they tend to flare up in random scales and flicks of notes lend the track a very organic improvisational aspect to the music. Perfect for building vibes early in the night.

Overall, the record is remarkable for the main reason that it uses soul and jazz samples in a very interesting and engaging way. This practice is not new to house music but it is often hard to do it in a way that stands out in 2017. What’s even harder is making deep, passive tracks that rely on samples but lack the louder mixed drums to cover up frequency inconsistencies. These deeper tunes tend to be more synthesized because the need for control of the sound is paramount. Hitting the sweet spot as Simba did here was impressive and inviting to me.

Intimate Friends is still largely growing a name for itself. The first release came in 2013 and they seem to be curating very carefully to match this sort of sound they have carved out for themselves. This particular release is mostly under the radar; stocks are low on Decks if you prefer their service. Juno is still in stock as well, though, and much cheaper. And of course, there are some copies up on Discogs as well.

Regardless who you like to buy from, Intimate Friends is at the turning point that all labels eventually face when costs increase, so if you dig the tunes consider buying the record to support the label I think will give us many more gentle gifts down the road. I would also keep an eye on Simba who had an equally as impressive release on Shadeleaf Music label.

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.