As one of the original developers of the now ubiquitous Ableton Live software, Robert Henke has established himself as something of a producer’s producer. Not only are his studio efforts - recorded under the revered Monolake monikier - impeccably executed, masterfully EQed and buffed to a lustrous sheen, his approach to performance and command of the software as an honest to goodness instrument is second to none. When we caught wind of this special edition of the Bunker featuring a set by Henke in surround sound alongside Scion, DJ Pete and René Löwe – which is to say the classic Chain Reaction roster – we simply couldn’t resist.
Despite a last minute venue change that left the Bunker crew scrambling to secure a new location, the evening started off smoothly. The sound system was perfectly tuned and the vibe was relaxed and positive right from the outset. Even the crowd seemed pumped, which if you’ve ever spent much time going out in NYC, is indeed a true rarity.
Ken Meier, a local Brooklyn stalwart with affiliations to Fear of Music, started the evening off, plunging things into the deep end right from the beginning. He delivered a deftly mixed blend of shadowy techno that gracefully arced from slightly chilled to immersive and upbeat over the course of his set. It was an ideal warm up for Scion, who brought to bear their signature dub techno sound, all oozing bass, rolling echoes and shimmering reverb anchored by a stoic 4/4 pulse. It was hardly the sort of ‘hands in the air’ fare one might expect from one of the most respected outfits operating in techno today, but it was tastefully understated and expertly structured, locking the dance floor in from the start. The only quibble we had with their performance was its brevity; they could have played for 5 hours and nobody would have minded a bit.
As Scion brought the fader down on their last selection to rapturous applause, Henke and his accompanying visualist, Tarrik Barri, took their positions behind the mountain of laptops and gear that had been sitting patiently in the middle of the dance floor. The set started off in decidedly abstract territory, cycling through a selection of broken rhythms and chirping atmospherics before settling into a real groove; but once things warmed up, there was no denying that Henke’s primary intention was to bulldoze the dance floor.
For the next 90 minutes or so, the room was a mass of movement as he doused us with wave after wave of unrelenting techno. There were bits of rhythms and melodies peppered throughout the set that could be identified as having been lifted from Henke’s studio recordings, but Henke managed to achieve a loose, off the cuff sort of feel, lending the performance an improvisatory air. Paired with Barri’s visuals, which echoed the imaginary shapes and futuristic urban landscapes that grace the covers of many of Henke’s releases, this became less a mere dance party and more an immersive multimedia experience.
It was a bit of a disappointment to learn that the cops were on their way as Monolake’s set drew to a close, but it almost seemed to be for the best. Sure, DJ Pete’s set was cut short and René Löwe never even got to play, but after the masterful display put on by Scion on Monolake few in the room really had much left in them. We stumbled back out into the Brooklyn streets, minds blown and ears muddled. While there was no denying that Henke had lived up to his reputation, he also managed to reaffirm that there is, in fact, still life left in techno. Indeed, from where we stood, the genre seemed just as vibrant and fertile as ever.