Derrick May, Stuart Hodson: Constellations, Liverpool

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Derrick May at Constellations

With Liverpool’s electronic music scene undergoing something of a renaissance, Getintothis’ Robert Alcock gets giddy with one of techno’s original pioneers, Detroit’s Derrick May.

With the Baltic Triangle as the epicentre of Liverpool’s electronic music resurgence, promoters 303 are building a solid reputation for pulling the biggest names in underground dance music to headline blazing nights in its venues.  Having previously hosted Andrew Weatherall and Dave Clarke at Camp and Furnace, last Friday it was the turn of Derrick May to top a 303 night at Constellations.

Lauded – without irony – as ‘the Innovator‘, May is one of the ‘Belleville Three‘: the holy trinity of first wave Detroit techno artists whose pioneering of ‘high tech soul‘ during the 80s proved musically revolutionary – and by a process of cultural transmutation helped spawn the UK acid house explosion.

Sets by 303 and Hold It Down DJs primed the crowd, ensuring a busy dancefloor long before May‘s three hour turn on the decks. A broad spectrum of ages were in attendance – from old-schoolers who were no doubt raving to May‘s Strings of Life (under his Rhythim is Rhythim alias) back when losing it in warehouses on the edge of the city was first in the ascendant; to a younger set perhaps not even born when May went on a prolonged sabbatical from production work in the early 90s.

303’s Stuart Hodson provided a suitably banging lead-up to the headliner, a re-edit based around Snap’s The Power pumping up proceedings before cuts from the likes of Hot Since 82 and Green Velvet.  A slowing in the pace of the night’s musical continuum came courtesy of the sublime disco-infused electro of Danny Howell‘s Right Off.

As a producer, May‘s aesthetic was crystallized on his 1987 debut track Nude Photo, the subtlety and richness of his compositions rendered by the stark technological palette of their time. (As an aside, to this writer’s ears the snaking counter- melodies of Liverpudlian producer John Heckle‘s awesome recent releases, such as his Blues for a Red Giant EP, bear shades of May‘s abstract yet eminently danceable techno).  As a DJ, May‘s approach is eclectic but similarly wired for maximum dancefloor impact, his mixing less frenetic than, say, Jeff Mills, yet with judicious build and release – his dropping of Sebastian Mullaert’s Recapturing the Radical Self, with its relaxed bpm and bubbling lushness, being one such tune that took down the pace.

May’s own track Salsa Life fused synthesis with Latin rhythms – tonight he opted for the psychedelic samba of Sean Miller‘s Come June. Later, the darker soundscapes of Steve Huerta‘s RomComCrime gave way to the aloof sexiness of No Compromise by Magit Cacoon.

An airing of Schatrax‘s I Hold You Precious – with its echoing synth lines over a deep jackin’ groove – made perfect sense given the intertwined genealogy of house and techno – which was hammered home by May‘s  deployment of a mix of Armando‘s Chicago classic 100% of Dissin’ You. The final run of tracks included the tribal pulse of Berghain Drum Jack by Deadbeat and the rugged four-to-the-floor of Deep Down by Dast.

Far removed from ‘superstar DJ’ egocentrism, May was largely unrecognisable behind the smoke shrouding the DJ platform.  Not that it really mattered – tonight was ultimately about dancing to great music, selected and mixed by a legend.  Roll on to 303’s next big catch – Josh Wink at Williamson Tunnels in September.

Pictures by Getintothis’ Martin Saleh.

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