Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
Up until the 21st century, the geography of American dance music was fairly centralized: New York City was the birthplace of disco via David Mancuso, Nicky Siano and Larry Levan; Chicago could claim acid and house music due to the sets of icons like Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles; the Belleville Three in Detroit (Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins plus Carl Craig) invented techno. And while at the height of disco fever in the late ‘70s nearly every major U.S. metropolis could boast a healthy dance music scene, as the ‘80s wore on, such local scenes shriveled up altogether. And even when the first wave of electronica hit American shores in the ‘90s with its attendant hype, it was mostly via imported music from London and Berlin.
Slowly though, such homegrown electronic music scenes have started cropping up in out-of-the-way cities like Pittsburgh and Boston, two towns not exactly known for their dance music heritage, garnering critical notice, cropping up on DJ charts, in mixes and the like. “Pittsburgh had a very rich jazz music tradition in the first half of the 20th century, but it lost a lot of the talent due to economic factors caused by the decline of the steel industry,” says producer Preslav Lefterov, a member of Pittsburgh Track Authority, a recording entity and record label started up in 2010 by Lefterov, Thomas Cox and Adam Ratana. “Pittsburgh didn’t have an equivalent to Motown or any massively successful acts in the ‘70s or ‘80s like Detroit did. But there has been an artistic turnaround happening since the early ‘90s.” Previously, Lefterov and Ratana released drum’n’bass tracks as Sight Unseen, while Cox ran the influential InfiniteStateMachine.com dance music blog. They started PTA in 2010 to “focus on classic American dance music, as molded by our own set of musical influences and our hometown.”
PTA has dropped four singles and EPs so far, their most recent 12” a collaboration with local producer Nice Rec and early ‘80s electro producer Craig Peyton, the latter lending an elegant touch of vibraphone to the plush and rhythmically-tricky “Rotunda.” PTA’s first self-released single did sleek Model 500-esque techno on one side, while on the flip, “Monongahela Rainforest” evoked Theo Parrish at his most drum-drunk: woozy, percolating and spacious across its seven minutes. Name-checking two esteemed Detroit legends isn’t entirely coincidental. “The connection between Pittsburgh and Detroit is strong and we certainly look there for inspiration and lessons,” Lefterov says. “We looked to places like Detroit and our musical heroes and how they took things in their own hands.” So far so good, as their singles showcase a singular voice versed in techno, deep house, electro and other styles, never beholden to a single genre. That malleability also arises from having such a small insular scene, according to Lefterov: “Pittsburgh isn’t really a big enough place to have separate scenes for house, techno, disco, electro, so for the most part, the same people attend events that play all kinds of music, usually in the same night and quite often in the same sets.”
Cross-pollination also figured into the music made by Boston’s B-Tracks, producers/DJs John Barera and Soren Jahan. “I played in bands as lead guitarist and songwriter and I was in a soul band as well, playing bass and learning about finding the pocket,” remembers Barera. “And that’s when I first heard house music from DJs KC Hallett & Bob Deisel, they would come on after us at each gig on our residency. There was a whole scene and a lot of different people were coming out to dance.” Around that same time, Soul Clap began throwing their parties as well and the future proprietors of Brooklyn’s infamous Dope Jams record store used to host parties in Beantown, too.
Barera hooked up with Jahan, and they soon started making tracks together as B-Tracks, their first release on their own Supply Records label catching the ears of deep house heads here and abroad. Their first single squeezed together five tracks that veered from Detroit techno to big room hand-raisers, some shot through with laser effects, others with cavernous bass drops. The follow-up single tightened up the tracks even more, reworking a boogie classic “Come Back Lover” and in the process landing the duo a gig at Panorama Bar in Berlin.
Recently, the duo’s Supply Records label released Jahan’s first full-length, Pechorin, recorded under the alias of René Audiard, which suggests he’s a Lord Byron fan in addition to being an adventurous and adept producer. While rooted in techno, each of the seven tracks on Pechorin range wide: Dubby minimalism, scuffed-up house beats, flute tweets, lush synth beds, amorphous Villalobos-esque bass tones, and more. It’s the type of debut that raises the bar on American techno producers, regardless of the city. Until it catches on though nationally, Barera and Jahan will keep plugging away, with Supply Records cueing up Barera’s new single, yet another B Tracks release, and more. “There is always a feeling of trying to put Boston on the map,” Barera tells me of the label endeavor and B Track’s own productions. “And we want to help do that for sure.”