Steven Tang Gets Freaky at Acid Test

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Kahley Avalon Emerson

Acid Test presents Steven Tang
222 Hyde
Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012

Better than: Reading the comments that came with that recent Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence/Joe Arpaio story.

The ceiling powered up and a lone flash shot off, illuminating the brick-lined basement at 222 Hyde. For the past hour we'd been standing in darkness, surrounded by the chatter of a dancefloor populated by heads more interested in conversation than really dancing. Another flash went off -- this time I could see some people in front staring intently at Steven Tang as he loaded another brutal rhythm track onto one of the three turntables on the console. The room went dark again and the drums got louder. Another flash -- this time off beat.

"I love those lights. If I get drunk I want to just keep pushing the buttons. Have you pushed the button?" said a friend of mine who was bored and looking for ways to entertain himself. "You've got to push the button. Trust me, it feels great." It's astounding that the whole lighting array at 222 Hyde is controlled from a small accessible box that could easily double for a drum pad. I looked at the black surface dotted with rubber squares and thought about it. My finger touched down and the lights shot back on. I'd timed it so that the strobe hit right at the end of a measure. The room was momentarily illuminated, Tang conjured vortices of swirling, bit-crushed vocal samples and ragged engines of gut-punching drums. It felt amazing, but something was missing.

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Kahley Avalon Emerson

"They're all standing around, waiting for something to happen. Just trying to give him one more chance," said the same friend a little later. Looking around I could see he was right, nobody seemed that enthusiastic. Instead there was an equal divide between stone-faced trainspotters transfixed by his extended blends and small talk, as the familial crowd became acclimated to Tang's intense drive. It was only 12 a.m., few people were dancing, and he was running at full throttle.

This would normally be a bad thing -- and for my friend, it was enough to send him home early -- but there really was something graceful about the way Tang layered his tracks. Those degraded basement rhythms and rough melodies glided in and out of the speakers with a glacial speed. And though he started at a somewhat inaccessible pace, it was only a short while later that he downshifted to a wavelength everyone else seemed to be on.

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Kahley Avalon Emerson

It's hard to say when that transition occurred, but at some point the music became lighter and more melodic. I have no idea what any of these songs were, but the moody splashes of pads and occasional psychedelic flourish began to shape a more lively dancefloor. At first it was only a few: there was the man in a tie freaking out in a corner, a new couple that alternated between jostling around and feeling each other up, a house dancer that appeared to know martial arts, and an energetic tattooed man in a wig and pearls. Later I looked back from the middle of the room and realized that an entire new wave of people had more than doubled the attendance. Apparently spurred by the more open mood, Tang continued, and began ramping back up to where he was before. However, this time his more raw tracks worked to amplify the energy in the room. The odd vocal screamed out over the percussion, effectively jumping away from restraint to hit small peaks that found a visual foil in the elaborate ripples swimming around the multicolored ceiling. Track after relentless track, he was hitting his stride and carrying us along with him.

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Kahley Avalon Emerson

As he played the Chicago Skyway remix of his own "Mmmmmusic," I looked at my watch and wondered where we were headed. It was 1:45 a.m. and Tang was now in his element. Loose and ready to go, he started playing with the mixer. He pulled the volume out on one track only to slam it back in for dramatic effect multiple times. As he put another record on, I saw one of the bartenders run up to the booth and knew we'd be hitting a brick wall soon. Swept up by the momentum he'd established, Tang kept going and so did the dancers. Yet, just as he was reaching another crescendo, the house lights turned on, effectively pulling the handbrake at 60 mph. Tang faded out the music, glanced at his phone, and then looked out at the dancefloor apologetically. I overheard someone say, "Fuck, can't they go just a little later?!" I couldn't help but agree. There was a really good feeling at the end that I wish could have gone on longer -- and apparently it was continued, though I didn't make it to the second location.

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Kahley Avalon Emerson

As we were leaving, I noticed Tang had brought a bunch of records with him to sell. What a great idea -- I wish more DJs that owned labels did this. As I was pulling some money out, local celebrity and Honey Soundsystem resident Jason Kendig walked by and said, "Are you going to the after-party, or does this one end when you two step outside into the night?" I laughed. Then we stepped outside and waited 45 minutes for a taxi.

-- @DerekOpperman @AvalonEmerson




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