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Exploring the contours of underground dance music in the Twin Cities

Minneapolis DJ and producer TML (Too Much Love)
Minneapolis DJ and producer TML (Too Much Love)

by Michaelangelo Matos

August 08, 2018

It’s been a busy summer for underground dance music in the Twin Cities: An increasing number of club nights devoted to house and techno, a handful of memorable weekend parties (most memorably, the recent warehouse do featuring masked German techno headliner Headless Horseman), and lots of creative DJ sets. The two best I’ve heard this year appeared last month, only a day apart, and both through major outlets for this sort of stuff—a small but still significant milestone. Even better, heard together, they outline some of the music’s wider tonal and emotional range.

In DVS1’s case, Dekmantel Podcast 169 is the July 9 edition of the weekly set from Amsterdam’s highly regarded DJ festival (which happened just this past weekend, in fact). DVS1, born Zak Khutoretsky, is an old hand at spinning (and making) techno. Though he’s spent most of the last few years in Berlin, where he’s a resident at Berghain, which has been techno’s bellwether club for much of the 2000s, DVS1 is a native Minneapolitan; it was here he spent the early 2000s throwing warehouse raves—not to mention under a St. Paul highway bridge—and he still comes back and throws private parties from time to time.

Minneapolis DJ and producer DVS1 (Photo by Yonathan Baraki)

When you spin these kinds of records for long time, you get to know their contours well, and you can build specific types of arcs with them—and in a DJ set, an arc is definitely the goal. DVS1’s Dekmantel Podcast is a smooth ride, but it shifts consistently and beguilingly, and even at its darkest. The set starts off by glinting menacingly, in a fetching sort of way, and a slow-winding menace prevails over the first half. The synth fanfares tend toward the ethereal, long the primary mode of Detroit techno—not just a nod to where so much of the best techno is made (and, indeed, where it was invented), but to the stuff imbued with its specifically plangent, futuristic feel. But rhythmically, the tracks continually buoy, rather than pound; the hi-hats accent the rhythm, giving your limbs (or your mind, should you wish to concentrate) another place to go.

The transitions, too, are full of small but perfect jolts. Around the fifteen-minute mark, DVS1 cuts away a few times, on beat, to nothing—the flickers of silence jolt your attention just as it might have wandered off, a common trick to goose a dance floor. (Works in the background, too.) At 28:30, a big kick drum comes bounding out of the mix—a new track horning in on the old, the kind of jolt that brightens the whole set up, and when the hi-hats go triple-time, they add to that brightness. (Not all the titles have been made available, but the DJ-tracklist website Mixes DB has about half.)

The hour mark is a real transition—over a minute, a gleaming, shimmering synth wash opens the whole thing into brighter terrain, a hands-up moment on the floor that translates nicely to audio-only. And around 1:28:30, a straightforwardly hurtling, kick-drum-focused track is suddenly visited upon by a flickering little high-pitched synth pattern, then a repeated syllable (“wait, wait, wait, wait” is what it sounds like); another door inside another door.

TML (Too Much Love)’s July 10 mix wasn’t delivered through a podcast but over the air, as the first guest of episode 946 of Beats in Space, the weekly show hosted by Tim Sweeney on WNYU-FM in New York City. (He has yet to miss a week after nineteen years.) It’s been a consistently reliable showcases for good new DJ sets over the years, and this is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the best sets the show’s hosted this year—and it’s hosted a lot of good ones.

TML is Peter Lansky, formerly SovietPanda, host/resident of First Avenue’s long-running Too Much Love dance night, which ran for seven years, until 2014. He’s since moved into the producer’s chair—something he wasn’t doing while promoting that night—and the Beats in Space set opens a couple of his own tracks, on Always Human Tapes, the label Lansky runs with Josh Bestgen and Ryan Wurst, and they’re dank, wriggly, and severe—the exact kind of techno he plays. (Five of the 23 tracks he plays are his own.)

The arc of TML’s set is markedly different than DVS1’s, and so are its sonic parameters. Instead of the smooth glide of the Dekmantel set, the Beats in Space mix is more jittery rhythmically and roomier-sounding; rather than the Technicolor spray of the synth washes that give DVS1 his light and shade, TML offers stark black-and-white. There’s a determined embrace of inorganic old drum-machine sounds; a track by Russell E.L. Butler treats a detuned 808 kick (the one that goes boom) as decoration over the rhythm, not as part of the rhythm itself, and it’s followed by one by Unit Moebius that features a drum pattern being fed through a filter that sends its pitch into slow fluctuations.

TML’s set, in a word, is freakier—right in the middle is a 1993 record by one Jack Master, titled “Manic Danser,” featuring a small riot of disturbing little wobble-tones, and the sliding, dry tones of Steffi’s “IE-4” are psychedelic without bringing glowsticks to the mind’s eye (yay), and bringing in the undulating organ-synth of Pearson Sound’s “Crimson (Beat Ritual Remix)” under it ups the sci-fi factor. But the latter pairing is preceded by something notably sharp and fierce. It’s an untitled, unreleased TML track—good news for Minneapolis techno, and good news for techno, period.

TML will perform at Even Furthur, a techno campout taking place August 10-13 in Highbridge, Wisconsin, with dozens of other DJs and electronic performers. Info here.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.