Lost in the Night: The Genius of Harvey Bassett
Face and Public Works present DJ Harvey
Kahley Avalon Emerson
Friday, Nov. 2, 2012
Better than: No better than, that would be unfair.
The volume levels dipped and the club went dark; only the exit lights glowed a muted neon green from the corners. We drifted along weightlessly, waiting to be brought back down. Then, right on time, the music slammed back in and a wailing disco diva belted out a chorus over an extravagant symphonic arrangement. Who knows what the record was, but the DJ was Harvey, and he was in the middle of yet another excellent set at Public Works.
"Dynamics man! They're like the true lost art of DJing!" said a friend who was dancing nearby. He's right: if there's one current that runs through my most positive reviews, it's that the best DJs I've seen know how to reach out and affect that dancefloor by manipulating a record with EQs (or sometimes islators, as was the case recently with Body & SOUL) and volume. Harvey is really good at this, but he's also good at controlling the overall dynamic flow of the evening, stringing together scenes of records and breaking them up with static moments. In this way he's able to jump between genres with relative ease, sneaking in baffling selections that seem entirely appropriate (and sometimes even anthemic) in the context of his set. Another friend of mine, who was in the middle of seeing Harvey for the first time, expressed it best: "He's a master story teller. It's like, he doesn't let you leave the floor. Other DJs play some good ones and some bad ones, but every single one he plays, I just want to dance to it."
Contrasted with his last appearance at Public Works, Harvey's opening on Friday was less dramatic. This may have to do with the DJ abilties of Face resident Eug, who played a near-perfect warm-up that slowly grew from mellow Balearica into mid-tempo house and really hit its stride with Maetrik's "I Walk Alone (Maceo Plex Revenge)," one of the bigger records of Fall 2012 in San Francisco. This time there was no five-minute rock drum solo. Instead Harvey got in front of the mixer and began with a some '80s New York electro, which started with the full 12" version of Planet Patrol's "Play at Your Own Risk." From here he took a while to warm-up the floor further with some moments in Italo and Idjut Boys-style dubbed-out breaks. Looking up at the booth, Harvey showed some signs of exhaustion, possibly from his recent intense tour of the UK, as he pushed his glasses up and cued what would shortly become Nightmoves' "Transdance."
Kahley Avalon Emerson
Then we were all transported to Germany. Resonant kick drums pounded the floor and flanged hi-hats sizzled across our hair as he leaned heavily into the pure drive of Ostgut Ton-style techno. The walls themsleves seemed to drip onto the floor as the menacing interior superstructure of Berlin's Berghain nightclub began phasing in like an invading dimension. I heard someone say, "Oh my god, I feel like I'm back at Panorama Bar. You know? Everyone puts their hand up and yells like this, 'AAAAAAH!'" Waving hands and loud screams pierced through this strangely conjured cocoon of sound. This was definitely a different Harvey than any other time I've seen him, but then again, he's played at Berghain twice (if not more?) since his last appearance at Public Works. Swirls of white noise fizzed through the room -- somehow we had arrived there from Planet Patrol. Yet, Harvey doesn't stay in one place long; his parties are multidimensional in a way that few can even touch. So the techno vanished in a sea of white noise dropping us right back to San Francisco in the middle of a set that was classic Harvey through and through.
A galloping four-to-the-floor house sprint pumped air out of the speakers as shards of spinning red light gleamed off the disco ball. The dancefloor was in full motion, with a wild vibe making the air thick with potential. The beats continued without accompaniment, you could feel every person in the room wondering what was next. "DON'T MAKE ME WAIT." Blared the speakers. "DON'T MAKE ME WAIT, ANOTHER NIGHT." Some girl in front shreeked out, "HAAAARRRRVEEEEYYY!" as he let the acapella of The Peech Boys' "Don't Make Me Wait" slide out and ride across the top of the running percussion.
Kahley Avalon Emerson
He did this sort of thing throughout the evening with other classic acapellas and pieces, all to great effect. For instance, the peak of the night came after last call, when the drinkers began to disappear. Grabbing the first bar from Chilly's Italo cover of The Yardbirds' "For Your Love," he looped it and let it play uninterrupted for what seemed like two minutes. Some girls jiggled around infront of him on an elevated platfrom as the loop zapped the crowd like some primitive form of techno. He turned his back and began flipping through his bag looking at records. The girls kept going, too excited to step down. On paper it sounds boring, a one-bar loop, right? But its minimalism was amazing, and in context it worked like a vortex, spinning around and gathering energy for some ultimate climax. Working the controls between the legs of the elevated dancers, he tweaked the EQs a little and slammed the track back in with all of that energy spilling out as power chords, chugging synthesizers, and a screaming '70s rock solo doused the room in a euphoric ecstacy of disco sleaze.
From there it was just about riding the crest of the wave on down into the morning. Somewhere along the way he played a track that I swear sounded like Phil Collins or Genesis (as the saying goes, "What's That One Again, Harv?"). Finally, he brought the house lights on by tweaking the last track so only the highs remained like the final thread of some metaphorical string holding the night together. The diehards clapped and shouted out for "one more song!" Harvey smiled and then disappeared beneath the turntables. And that's how it's supposed to be done.