Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival (BEMF) 2010 Recap (12.18.10)

    Written by Elisabeth Fertig and Jen Zipf


    When you hear the words “music festival,” sunburn, tank tops, cold beer, and a twinkly night sky are probably a few of the things that come to mind (aside from, you know, music). So it was a bold move on the part of the organizers of the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival (or BEMF) to schedule their third annual event smack in the middle of December. The issue of cold weather was neatly sidestepped by booking the event at two adjacent venues (Williamsburg’s Public Assembly and Music Hall of Williamsburg), thereby allowing for continuous music over eight hours on three stages, with more than 30 bands and DJs participating. (The recently opened Cubano Social technically separates the two, and was turned into “BEMF Café” for the night, replete with live DJs.)

    Held from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. (or slightly therafter), the late-night/indoor nature of the event eschewed some festival mainstays, like food stands and large-scale art exhibits (though there was a photobooth and merch table). Overall, things ran pretty smoothly, with no apparent drama save for a 30-or-so-minute chunk of time at Public Assembly when the doors were shut due to overcrowding (during Treasure Fingers and Penguin Prison’s sets). The crowd was overall tolerable and diverse, though by late-night it was apparent why the lines for drinks had been so short all night, and why there may have been so many damn glowsticks. (Actually, we can come up with two reasons, but let’s just leave it at that….)


    Here are some of the acts we witnessed, in order of appearance:


    The Glass
    Playing early at festivals usually means playing to a sparse crowd, and though this event started after dark, an 8:30 p.m. set time was apparently still a bit too early for most dance fans to make it out. But it was their loss: The Glass’ darkly disco-friendly live set was polished and totally danceable, including DJ favorites like “I Wanna Be Dancin’” and the current single “Four Four Letter.” The duo may have been slightly subdued due to the awkwardness of playing for just a handful of hardcore folks in the spacious Music Hall, yet they still gave it their best shot. A nice way to ease into BEMF, though a later start time would have ensured a great deal of sweaty dance-floor action.  (J.Z.)


    French Horn Rebellion (FHR)
    Probably the most memorable thing about FHR was the self-consciously goofy, choreographed sketch-comedy act they worked into their show, complete with a mock death match using their instruments as weapons. Cute, to be sure, but on the whimsical and gimmicky side, especially since their music is captivating enough to stand alone: energetic and sweet, in a “D.A.N.C.E.”-era Justice kind of way. This show was packed, and deservedly so. Expect to see more FHR in the coming year. (E.F.)

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    The tribal sound of Lemonade’s percussion is even more apparent live: While they were frantically wailing away on the drums, the brightly colored wasted youth in the front rows were whipping their bodies around in what might have been their idea of a rhapsodic sacrificial ceremony. It all felt intoxicating and a little dangerous. (E.F.)

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    I’d heard much about the popular and buzzed-about Javelin, but admittedly didn’t know too much about the band before catching their BEMF set. So it was a most pleasant surprise to find the duo ultra-fun, charming, and highly innovative onstage. Leaning heavily toward the indie side of what’s considered dance music today, Javelin take familiar elements of retro-pop, hip-hop, throw them into some kind of virtual blender, then churn out contagious tunes like nothing you’ve heard before (though I completely see why they’ve opened for Girl Talk). Sprinkling their set with easygoing banter and a few personal anecdotes and playing all sorts of unconventional instruments only added to their overall appeal and converted me into an instant fan. (J.Z.)

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    Azari & III
    Hands down, Azari & III were the highlight of the festival for me (and one of my favorite live sets of 2010). A late but oh-so-welcome addition to the BEMF lineup, they were pitted opposite Kid Sister, effectively splitting the crowd and avoiding a major clusterfuck at either venue. Toronto’s Dinamo Azari and Alixander III took backseat to their more flamboyant frontmen, who hypnotized the crowd with a upbeat, hi-NRG, nonstop singing/dancing stage show. More raw and, dare I say, sexy live than their oft-compared musical brethren Hercules & Love Affair, Azari & III made standing still virtually impossible. Perfect versions of their nu-classic dancefloor tracks included “Into the Night,” “Reckless for Your Love,” and “Hungry for the Power,” taking old-school house/disco ingredients and blasting them into the future. I’ll be counting the days until a return to NYC, and suggest you do the same. (J.Z.)

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    Kid Sister
    One thing that doesn’t really come across in Kid Sister’s recorded music is her commanding stage presence; she looms over the audience in sort of a bouncy militant crouch, gesticulating and glittering all over the place. As an MC she’s very effective, using her athletic energy and brassy manner to animate the crowd. The set was heavier on that grimy dubstep oscillator wobble than the poppier tracks off Ultraviolet might lead you to expect, but it contributed an interesting edge, and by the time she took the stage around 1:15 a.m., that was just what the DJ had ordered. (E.F.)


    Penguin Prison
    As a prior fan of Penguin Prison, I was really looking forward to seeing them live for the first time. However, apparently I was not alone in that idea. Though I did see a handful of songs – technically great, with tasteful stage presence – I made the mistake of leaving the venue for a minute to look for a friend and found myself effectively locked out for the next 30 minutes (due to the overcrowding mentioned in the intro). By all accounts, ‘twas an amazing set … [insert sadface here] (J.Z.)

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    Treasure Fingers
    As the claustrophobically clustered line at the door indicated, the start of the Atlanta-based DJ/producer’s set marked the beginning of the reign of the back room at Public Assembly as the location of the wildest dance party at the event. Treasure Fingers’ feel-good, funky, nu-disco tracks are buttery soft and easy to love in a Chromeo kind of way, a warmly glowing house sound that was a safe place to hide for a minute from the brooding dubstep of Falty DL and the more jagged, abrasive beats of Tittsworth,which bookended this set. (E.F.)


    All the sweaty raver-kids dripping neon and flailing glow sticks (where did they even come from?) had clearly been waiting for this moment, whether they knew it or not.  Tittsworth’s (yes, it’s his real last name) set was a thump-y and muscular assault: frenetic, hyperactive, darkly ecstatic. The Baltimore Club mainstay existing somewhere at the convergence of house, rave, even hip hop, drum ‘n’ bass, forged what might have been the most frenzied, exuberant dance floor of the night, and kept it flowing with panache. (E.F.)


    Star Eyes
    The First Lady of Trouble & Bass had no trouble attracting a big local crowd of bassheads, a most-appropriate way to follow Tittsworth. While I can appreciate heavy bass, the soundsystem was a bit too heavy for me to take in large doses, so I ended up checking out the other room at Public Assembly for … (J.Z.)


    The Knocks
    The production duo took stage with their usual live-show dancers and props. While things looked a bit cramped on the small stage as compared to when I saw them at Bowery Ballroom, they plowed through their set of energetic, summery tracks. I appreciate what they are trying to do; however, their songs seemed a bit too radio-friendly to fit in with the overall BEMF vibe, and the choreographed sunglass-wearing scantily clad dancers scream Miami-Beach-cheesy a little too loudly for my taste. (J.Z.)


    Dave P & Sammy Slice
    Half of the famed FIXED NYC promotion/DJ duo in NYC, Dave P is more widely known for throwing virtually every amazing party Philly has seen in the last 10 years, in addition for being one of the most versatile and proficient DJs around today. Though I was hoping for a more typically disco-electro-indie set, his placement in the schedule had him following several sets of bass and dubstep in Public Assembly’s back room — perhaps in order to keep the kids dancing, or perhaps to show his range, he ended up playing a much harder set and even brought a surprise DJ partner up from Philly with him: the popular Sammy Slice. The two of them definitely brought a proficient set that kept the hardcore on the dancefloor straight through until the end, despite my own genre preferences. (J.Z.)


    Brooklyn’s PUNCHES are pretty much guaranteed to turn out at any big dance party in NYC, so it was pretty appropriate that they should close out one of the BEMF stages. Crowds had thinned considerably, but the Bresnitz twins and their singer/hypeman Alan Astor gave the remaining dance fans high energy and lots of upbeat vibery. The set, which stayed close (if not identical) to others they’ve been playing around the city as of late, included disco-flavored tunes like their remix of Au Revoir Simone’s “Only You Can Make You Happy” and their own “Sleepless City.” As usual, they ended things with their crowd-pleasing extended version of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” encouraging a sing-along and lots of jumping up and down. Yes, some of the onstage dancing is … “awkward” … and yes, some of the mic use borders on excessive … but because the trio’s infectious enthusiasm comes off with good-natured sincerity, it’s pretty hard to hold those things against them. (J.Z.)


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