What do people look for when they go to raves? Is it just the obvious – sex, drugs, loud music and the chance to set aside your day job? Or is there something else, some kind of communion with every dance music fan who wanted to feel something new for a while?
"In Colour," the new album from the U.K. producer Jamie xx, has a nostalgia for a time in music he barely has been alive long enough to have experienced. The 26-year-old producer came to prominence as a member of the moody, minimalist trio the xx and on a collaborative LP with the artist and activist Gil Scott-Heron. But since the release of "In Colour" in May, he's come into his own as an artist bridging decades of dance music: songs played on today's fleshy club floors and tracks from '90s London raves and '60s soul-clap parties just barely remembered.
At the Echoplex on Tuesday night, despite some shaky moments with his sound, his set illuminated the basic human need to come together and dance -- and the sense of implacable loss that goes with it.
Tuesday's sold-out crowd was one of those cauldrons of L.A. hype that can coronate a young artist. Was that Florence Welch tossing her wavy red hair in one corner or Robyn slipping in through a side door to dance in the darkened back? The model-to-civilian ratio at Echoplex approached Leo DiCaprio birthday party levels.
But Jamie xx is a more sober, serious producer interested in the emotional potential of a great night out. While his set functioned like a DJ gig, his stage presence and the sheer range of material re-imagined and re-contextualized showed that his artistic goals are much broader.
If only the sound system had obliged him. The beginning half of his set got knocked around by unexpected cuts in volume and tone. Who knows if it was his rig, the PA or some glitch in between, but after two or three conk-outs, the crowd's attention flagged, which must have been excruciating for an artist so dedicated to sound design and the narrative arc of clubbing.
But when he finally locked in and found his rhythm, the set was one of the most creative nights of dance music L.A. has seen recently.
Jamie xx's original material from "In Colour" is much more musical than utilitarian, but it seamlessly grafted into this club-focused arrangement. The pitched-down, jittery two-step of "Gosh" moved in and out of a synth and drum fog, the same one parted by the heads-down clatter of "Sleep Sound." Singles like "All Under One Roof Raving" took on a new incandescence when played here, in their natural setting.
In between, Jamie xx wove in bits of dance music's arc to this point. It's fantastic to hear the clean filaments of '70s disco guitars laced with free jazz and the vocal from Hardrive's insistent old house hit "Deep Inside." Jamie is a stellar student of club music, but it rarely felt wonky in his selections.
Whatever he decides to do next -- a new album with the xx, a turn toward refining his solo stage setup for bigger crowds -- right now he's a rare voice in club music with the right mix of the heartfelt and the virtuosic. When he finally brought in the hook from his sleeper hit "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)," it was a reminder that all good music is dance music. Or it should be, if you're feeling it right.
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