Untitled: Red Spectral, Jesse Walker, Mi5terE @ Salt Haus 10.11
Stepping into the ill lit, graffitied Salt Haus Friday night was exactly like what I imagine it would feel like to be dumped off in the middle of some European ’90s underground party. Having never ventured to this particular venue before, I was genuinely stoked to find myself getting lost in the enormous warehouse and engulfed in an even bigger sound. Untitled’s debut, six-hour event, produced by Canvas and Unified Chaos, was a night filled with some of the hardest minimal house and techno sounds provided by some local talent you need to keep on your radar.
The steady pulse of the bassline is the first thing I hear once Cody Layton, aka Red Spectral, takes his rightful place behind the decks. He looks so damn cool and collected up there, ordering around sound guys from the venue to help adjust his levels and move the speakers into battle position. It does seem like he isn’t quite satisfied though, and once they leave him up there, I can see him slowly turning his knobs and listening while the sound becomes louder and louder until the volume is the perfect chest-filling intensity. The DJ booth has a pretty minimal set up, with one long table covered in mixers, CDJs, laptops and trays of tea candles for an added touch of mood lighting. It’s all drowning in an eerie, blood-red glow from the exposed bulbs hanging from the ceiling.
EDM shows are always interesting to me. It can take a while for the dance floor to fill up while people build the courage to peel themselves off of the walls, to stop mindlessly chatting before really letting the music take center stage for the night. As attendance starts to grow in the venue, so does the energy of Red Spectral’s set. His light, minimal house sound begins to crescendo and evolve into something much darker and complex. Mutilated vocals transmit over minor chords and carry throughout the crowd, who all appear to be unconsciously bobbing their heads at about 125 BPM. Stylistically, Layton’s set is clean, cohesive, and spacey. I feel like I’m riding a rollercoaster on Mars that’s slowly pulling me up into the cosmos, only to plunge back down towards the ground again.
About an hour into Red Spectral’s set, the booze is flowing and things are getting groovy. I caught up with the event’s coordinators Julie Sachs from SLUG and Hank Mastain with Unified Chaos Productions. Sachs told me enthusiastically that the idea for the Untitled event was to provide audiophiles with a “laid back, living room atmosphere” where you can bring your own drinks and have plenty of room to dance, chat or mingle free of charge. Mastain wanted to “bring the burning man philosophy” of self-expression and communal inclusion to the event, while primarily promoting the intensive energy to “get people up and off the couch.”
Back inside the warehouse, Red Spectral slowly starts cutting more and more out of the techy track that’s playing, eventually leaving just a simple bass kick and some off-beat hi-hat cymbals until Jesse Walker steps in and seamlessly brings in his first track. It’s so organic and fluid, and if you aren’t watching closely, you would never even know the two DJs have exchanged places on stage.
One of the greatest things about going to a dance party or rave is that generally, a talented DJ knows how to keep a party going. Some people talk a lot of bull on techno and house music for being repetitive and monotonous. I say “eyeroll” to that. Part of the beauty of the genre is having the ability to listen to a set that is consistent and flawless. It’s an element that you don’t have at a lot of other shows since you’re usually waiting 30 minutes in between sets, watching the next band switch out their gear, rewire their amps, do an awkward sound check and on and on. It’s a lot of down time when there’s no music being played and it can be really hard—and boring.
As Jesse Walker begins setting up his equipment, which consists of just two CDJs and one massive CD case containing almost his entire library, it almost seems as if he’s forgetting half of his gear. He has no laptop in front of his face, no Beats by Dre dangling around his neck, and no other types of distractions a lot of DJs use to cover up a lack of skill. But Walker is known for his ability to educate and provide the masses with house, techno and disco music since before I was born, so I don’t think he needs much help from cheap tricks. I’m pretty star struck just being in his presence. He tells me after his set that not even he had the slightest idea of what he was going to be playing. He just flips through his CDs and vibes it out? Now that’s some real talent.
I’ve seen Jesse Walker perform several times now around Salt Lake, and every time I’ve seen him, it’s an entirely different experience. So I didn’t really know what to expect from his set tonight. Sometimes his sound is light and easy, sometimes dark and complex. Regardless of his mood or venue, he is an artist who really understands his audience and knows how to cater to them. His set does not disappoint tonight. He starts out strong and rides the wave of energy that Red Spectral has created, dropping some dope, ass-shaking tracks.
Deep, punchy kicks and funky drums fill the room for the next two hours during Walker’s set, but time seems to fly by the longer and harder I dance. Everyone listening seems to think it’s turning out to be a pretty kick-ass event. Eric Maughan reflects, “The venue is good [and] the dance floor is good.” His only qualm is the fact that the warehouse only has a single bathroom. At least he is fortunate enough to possess the proper tools to piss anywhere he pleases. This was pretty much the consensus of the night based off the huge line at the bathrooms, but if that was the evening’s biggest drawback, I think Untitled is doing something right.
Eventually, Chris Mullins, stage named Mi5terE, replaces Walker. Up until this point, I think the night has seamlessly transitioned from DJ to DJ with no unexpected turbulence. The music has been minimal and atmospheric and I’m feeling exhilarated and energized by Walker’s synth-infused house music. All of those warm-fuzzy vibes leave my body when Mi5terE starts to play. His set up is much more elaborate than either of his predecessors—incorporating several different touch pads with numerous buttons and knobs, none of which he really seems to know how to use. His sound is way more generic and chaotic and doesn’t really fit in with the theme of the night. It’s a bit too abrasive for my taste.
I see Walker outside and he seems extremely pleased with the event, the venue, the organizers and optimistic about the future of underground electronic music in Salt Lake. “I was curious and interested in this space, [but] I’ve never played here before. More than anything though, I’m happy someone was interested in throwing a party for this style of music with a sound system that’s capable. As long as something were happening monthly, we could get a line out the door. This is what I started out doing in 1994 at Playscool, which was in a warehouse under the freeway,” he laughs and shrugs. “I know it can’t last forever, but for now it’s what I want.”
The night begins to finally wind down after a long, six-hour run. Mi5terE is still at his controls blasting full-speed ahead, not really noticing that others aren’t quite keeping up. His set is definitely the hardest of the evening, filled with bangers and Top 40-esque hits, but he finally realizes that the dance floor is now empty besides a few stragglers who keep looking at each other confusedly. I’m not grooving as hard, but it’s entertaining to watch at least until he abruptly breaks off his set and ends the party.
It seems nearly impossible to attempt to contain something as fluid that’s constantly evolving like EDM, and it’s even harder to accurately describe an event that focuses primarily on the mood rather than just the sound. I really appreciate what these guys are doing for our community with the new Untitled event. I thank them for providing a space for electronic DJs and producers to showcase underrated and often-unappreciated music from around the world. When you get down to it, that four to the floor beat is something so primal and archaic it has the potential to be understood by people everywhere. The night was a high-energy experience, the people were welcoming, and I loved that it was free. If you’re down for a good space cruise and the opportunity to be exposed to some pretty groovy tunes, be sure to stop by the next Untitled event. Trust me, your body will thank me.