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Review: Mark Henning, Zeina @ Stereo April 12th 2013

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It’s impossible to talk about this event from April 12th without mentioning the snow storm that concealed the city under a thick layer of slush. That is not to say people in Montreal are unfamiliar with such occurrences, but rather it serves as somewhat of an explanation why a few of the indecisive party folks might have preferred staying cozy at home instead of invading the nightlife.

To be fair, any event offering true underground Techno music as its main course will attract small crowds, and this is especially true when the sound signature is leaning towards the Minimal end of that spectrum. Let’s start there, where we find Stereo blank like a white page. None better to etch upon that clean slate but Zeina, the sublime artist behind the upcoming “Muffled Love” EP to be released on Coal later this month. The excitement from her close supporters is tangible as it’s been building over a felt absence from the scene these last couple of months.

Thus we agree there is no need to fiddle around with unnecessary formalities; her game is on with open cards. The beat is steady and subdued, the percussive elements always crisp. What operates in this simple formula is the way the artist proves the obviousness of verses written with enough silence to detach each note against its canvas. Zeina’s set remains subtle and on point. The melodic incursions add flavors that range from blues and jazz, to funk. For example, I found myself under the spell of a mood that recalled “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors.

From the quiet beginning that allowed friends to converse joyfully, we slowly dipped into grooves that are clearly inspired by a desire to move the dance floor; a suggestion that is answered by a busier crowd now showing some foreheads with beads of sweat. Bursts of high impact rhythms become more frequent, yet it still feels as though we are continuing a great descent. Of course the image of an Alice as she toppled into the rabbit hole comes to mind; in the same fashion we travel through Zeina’s music as we shuffle between the sounds encountered in order to discover the hidden  treasures which require this sort of introspective free fall to unveil.

The beauty in any unconventional adventure is only discernible to those who’ll willingly exit their comfort zones. It’s a seemingly smooth transition to Mark Henning, even though we’re entering a different register that shows its affiliation with a Tech House vibe. The strongest reaction is elicited by his choice of the Steve Rachmad’s Jack mix of “Ghetto Kraviz” by the Rekids artist who’s been thrown in the cauldron of DJ drama since  appearing in one of RA’s “Between Beats” episode. Cheers exploded with much applaud to signify a support, or simply an understanding of that inside joke. One can’t blame Mark’s set for not following with more clever intrusions into clubland politics; but one can be perplexed by the lack of that kind of punctuation in the rest of his musical journey. He kept trimming his tracks into a slim frequency spectrum and quickly the loss in dynamic translated into a more passive dance floor.

Thankfully, here and there were scattered some tracks with more of a progressive structure and these melodic endeavors paid off. So while the magic moments did occur, the energy in the room just wasn’t sustained. A bit like a fabric falling off at the seems. Was Mark out of his element, with too big of a gap (5 years) since his last visit, we wondered… somehow, the cues and pleas from a crowd begging for this party to lift off were not picked up and the oomph lost its breath. Since the dance floor was thinning dangerously, I stepped back to observe. The slow development exemplified in Mark’s own “Big Ride” stretched every track he was selecting for us to much appeal for the head boppers. It was nice to recognize a similarity to Radio Slave’s trademarked endless remixes, but by that time my body could no longer be coerced into rhymes of any kind.

I left by 7:30 to make sure the Spring would take care of melting our frozen landscape.

Written by: Étienne