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Minimal Effort imports underground techno veterans to a major LA setting [Review]

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Techno has been an unshakeable force in American electronic music culture since its stateside inception in 1980s Detroit. In recent years – particularly since the unofficial “EDM boom” of 2010 – techno has served as an underground resistance of sorts to many of dance music’s more commercial iterations. Since assuming this role in the US dance music dichotomy, techno has appreciated a substantial surge in popularity. As taste-makers become compelled to form their own events, and as event producers become more tasteful themselves, there has been a visible push to elevate the sounds of the underground to a broader stage.

In Los Angeles, Minimal Effort stands at the forefront of this endeavor. Founded in 2013 by industry veterans including Cyril Bitar, Minimal Effort set out to create something “raw,” that would appeal to the underground tastes of seasoned club connoisseurs, but would also attract broader audiences in an effort to expand the Los Angeles techno scene. As Bitar puts it, “Our vision is to instill the existence of awareness and appreciation of sophisticated dance culture in LA—but above ground so it’s accessible to all.”

Three years since its establishment, Minimal Effort continues to grow as a major influencer in the LA techno renaissance. The company’s success – particularly with their benchmark Halloween and New Year’s Eve mini-festivals – has been the result of their resilience, adaptability, authenticity, and most importantly, their tasteful bookings. Though inevitable complications led Minimal Effort to switch their NYE 2016 event to Downtown LA’s Globe Theater at the last minute, the show was resoundingly successful in bringing the underground to the city’s surface.

Henry Saiz Live Band. Picture by Chris Soltis.

Henry Saiz Live Band. Image by Chris Soltis.

For their New Year’s Eve event, Minimal Effort refashioned the Globe Theater into a three-tiered manifestation of club culture’s different facets over the course of a 12-hour party. Upstairs, nestled just past the VIP viewing balconies, the Space Yacht stage hosted the lineup’s most widely-accessible acts in the venues most upbeat setting. Evoking the essence of a lounge, Space Yacht recruited the talents of tech house and deep house fixtures such as Amtrac, Kastle, and Sacha Robotti, offering respite to those wishing to socialize or take a brief break from the warehouse sensibilities below.

The Basement stage, as its name suggests, provided quite literal representation of underground house and techno. Led by Mikey Lion, Porkchop, Lee Reynolds, and Marbs, the Desert Hearts Crew took command over the party’s subterranean level. The Southern Californian collective reveled in the darkened cavern’s sonorous acoustics, taking advantage of the warehouse ambience afforded by its minimal lighting as the ideal forum to promote their core mantra of “House. Techno. Love.”

Minimal Effort Basement Stage Photo By Jamie Rosenberg

Basement. Image by Jamie Rosenberg.

Desert Hearts bookended the Basement stage’s itinerary with a diverse blend of house, techno and wildly divergent samplings throughout their intermittent tenures. From 7:00-9:00, the cabal of performers heightened attendees’ energy for the tribal stylings of South American luminary Nicola Cruz, the eldritch techno of the quickly ascending German bellwether &ME, and dutifully-woven, electro-infused offerings from legendary British duo Simian Mobile Disco. From 1:00-4:00, Desert Hearts returned to their post, allowing underground carousers to continue the Basement’s bacchanalia well into the wee hours of 2017.

Minimal Effort’s main attraction for the evening was, of course, the Theater stage, which allowed attendees the rare opportunity to see icons of techno’s underground in a full-fledged concert setting. As the bulk of attendees filed into the venue in the hours leading up to the ball drop, Human Resources (Bitar’s own duo with Ahmed Elwan) and Francesca Lombardo took center stage. Lombardo would reprise this role the following day, presiding as the headliner for Minimal Effort’s New Year’s Day recovery event, to which concertgoers were given complimentary access.

Audion drops the ball. Picture by Chris Soltis.

Audion. Image by Chris Soltis. 

The sacred responsibility of ushering in the new year was bestowed upon Audion, the experimental techno alias of veteran DJ Matthew Dear. Indeed, no performer on the festival’s bill could have proved to be more fitting than Dear for two reasons. Firstly, Audion’s electrifying brand of techno matched the raucous energy of the NYE countdown far better than the more somber tones of his successors would have. Secondly, there is an ephemeral, perhaps epochal nature to any Audion set; Alpha, Dear’s 2016 album under his alter-ego, came after a decade-long hiatus from the Audion project. Among the crowd, there was a tacit appreciation for the ability to catch the Texan techno maverick in 2017, as it may be quite some time before the opportunity re-emerges.

Recondite provided the Theater stage’s first set of 2017, and likely, the event’s most-anticipated. In November, the German producer purveyed an EMOTY-nominated Essential Mix consisting entirely of his own music, cementing his status as one of the year’s most fervently-acclaimed techno artists. Amid the uninitiated, Lorenz Brunner’s primely-slotted set invoked a palpable sense of wonderment regarding how he would translate the essence of his definitive BBC Radio 1 set into a live context. Indeed, Recondite did not disappoint, as he transported his audience into an abyss of ominous, cerebral, and deeply mesmerizing techno. Arguably one of the night’s most scintillating moments revealed itself in the climax of Brunner’s “Warg,” as the crash of its inaugural snare pervaded throughout the venue in a cold, sonic eruption that would not leave spectators’ spines until the next day’s hangovers arrived.

Stephan Bodzin. Picture by Chris Soltis

Stephan Bodzin. Image by Chris Soltis.

If Recondite was Minimal Effort’s darkest act, then Stephan Bodzin was the festival’s albatross – guiding wayward listeners back into the light with his utterly transcendental instrumentations. Yet, this light would prove to be beguiling, as Bodzin plunged into more sinister realms. Evoking the essence of Mercury, Bodzin’s minimal, yet shimmering visual backdrop set an awe-inspiring stage for the legendary techno pioneer’s auditory journey. Standing solemnly behind a Moog synthesizer, Bodzin traversed a wide range of emotions and sensibilities, never pigeonholing his performance to one reductive essence.

Minimal Effort’s attendees concluded their night at the Theater stage with the psychedelic visuals and celestial stylings of the Henry Saiz Live Band. Providing the most ethereal set of the night, the outfit’s live instrumentations displayed a different facet to the techno festival, and offered a hope-inspiring transition out of the festival and into the new year.

At the end of the 12-hour dance marathon, it was clear that techno is continuing to become a much larger force in the Los Angeles club scene, and Minimal Effort is going to be a large part of this ascension.

 

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