A salsa club other nights of the week, Los Globos in Los Angeles became the church of label Hessle Audio on a Thursday night in late September on behalf of the venue and its partner bar, The Melt.
The easy, blinking red lights that announced the club along a tight curve of West Sunset belied the UK label’s promotional style, which was anything but ostentatious or overstated.
Even so, the DJs who founded the label knew how to make people move. The club’s tile floors, emblazoned with floral designs, became home to shuffling feet that crisscrossed with circular red lights. Ben UFO, Pangaea, and Pearson Sound mixed their sets in an area significantly elevated from the dance floor so that the audience typically was looking up, cheering, and applauding at nearly every breakdown.
Acts of worship.
The crowd was attentive and respectful, and there were some stretches, even in the middle of the show, when nothing could be heard outside of the music.
The three producers went back-to-back, taking turns at the decks for 15 to 30 minutes, and typically no more than two people were in the DJ booth at one time. Outside of the three DJs, there was also a photographer and a promoter patting them on their backs in thanks.
When not on the decks, whoever was the off-duty Hessle Audio-er would be sipping on a beer, nodding, or checking levels.
At one point, Ben UFO, monitoring the output, tapped the elbow of a headphones-wearing Pangaea, possibly motioning to push a bit on the record he was introducing. But usually Ben would stare into the audience, chin slightly raised, like a proud father.
Indeed, he and his colleagues had much to be proud of.
In an e-mail interview, I heard from Ben (Ben UFO), David (Pearson Sound), and Kevin (Pangaea), and in particular we talked about the role of geography in music. I was namely curious about the fact that all but one of the producers who have released on Hessle Audio are British, and asked if that was an intentional decision.
Kevin filled me in, noting, “We were able to build closer relationships with people that we can meet up with regularly, and it’s easier to maintain those relationships if you work with friends.”
And those friends are what make things tick. Through their releases, the Hessle Audio directors have drawn on, and in turn, fostered a tight-knit community of musicians. But they are reluctant to admit to a distinct Hessle sound. For instance, the style of Elgato, a label affiliate and producer whose tracks veer towards a lower b.p.m. than most Hessle releases, is just fine with Ben.
“I don’t think the aesthetic of his records is out of step with what we’ve released at all,” he said, “but I’m not certain that would be the case if I didn’t know him as a person and if I wasn’t familiar with his DJing.”
Reception to music is certainly dependent on geographical context, and Ben recognized an enthusiasm for electronic music among US listeners. Americans respond to the UK acts, and actually “make a little more effort to go and see an act when they know they might not be back for another year.”
David compares these circumstances to the UK, where nights like the one at Los Globos are far more frequent than this occasional LA show.
“People in London sometimes can’t be bothered to travel 30 minutes to go to a night!” said David.
But in LA, even if club-goers have to wait in traffic to reach their venue, the journey itself is a reward, for you can even hear the act in your car on the way to the show. Ben offers, “Driving around a new city listening to music that you’re already very familiar with can totally transform the way you hear it.”
But what happens when the listeners finally reach the club? Perhaps even richer rewards.
Back at the LA show, the Hessle Audio DJs showed that percussion and bass could become their own sort of language.
At one time, the music seemed to be exhort the crowd to “Bounce! Bounce!” But whether those words were actually part of the tracks was uncertain. Much of the show embodied the spirit of Blawan’s track “Iddy,” released on Hessle Audio in 2010. It’s a tune in which drums emerge out of a few people’s whispers, and words that sound like “Pass the…would you…?” repeat for effect.
“Iddy” is practically a recording of a party.
The hushed vocals mixed in nicely, since the first third of the music played was actually vocal-less. The set was fired up instead by the driving, militant percussive tracks that comprise a large portion of Hessle Audio’s output. Pangaea offered a stretch of half-step and then patiently sketched the percussion into the empty spaces, gradually bringing the mix back into more familiar 4×4 territory.
The second third incorporated more re-edits of vocal tracks. “Yo DJ pump this party!” came and went frequently. Another voice repeatedly murmured “show you how to dance.” Pearson Sound showed an ear for the more industrial techno sounds in which Blawan and Pariah engage as Karenn, but still integrated the mournful vocals that feature especially in Pearson Sound’s earlier releases as Ramadanman.
But do the Hessle Audio directors spot these influences? Are they readily tracing the evolution of each of their roster-mates’ sounds?
Kevin proposed, during the interview, that these “narratives” are constructed.
“It’s something that’s very difficult to analyze from our [managerial] perspective,” he said.
Later that night, the crowd swayed and jacked, starting at a distance of around eight feet from the wall of the DJ booth to where they progressively closed in. It was a symbolic reflection of Hessle Audio’s vision and ideals. As David said, “we try and program nights in such a way that they feel like cohesive experiences.”
That is, there is constant movement and purpose throughout the room.
Ben echoed the sentiment. “I don’t want my DJing to feel directionless,” he said.
And it wasn’t, as it guided the crowd as easily together as apart. As the night closed, tracks lost their vocals again, and the mostly male crowd thinned as fans reluctantly retreated from the outskirts of the DJ booth.
No doubt talented as selective label managers, the H.A. trio had demonstrated a deft ear for what club music is, what it should be, and the audience relished it.
Article by Bryan Cockrell