It turns out that Glasslands has been redesigned since I last stepped foot in there. The stage is now in a corner of the room – the signature cotton and wire cloud that hangs above it has been redone as well. The bar is about twice as long as it previously was, allowing easier access to alcohol. There’s an air conditioning unit, thank the Lord, although it unfortunately leaks onto the dance floor. Some new art happily juts from the walls. Overall, Glasslands feels more spacious, and more like the popular venue – no longer really underground – that it is. But it still retains its unique ambience, that of a wood and scrap-metal wonderland, a bohemian concert space where seeing a concert is to step into a work of art. I’m very happy that the redesign hasn’t changed that a bit.
In fact, the new position of the stage is a definite improvement. It’s more easily seen by the entire audience, and seems even smaller and lower to the ground, more intimate. That came in handy last night, when the sold-out crowd was clawing its way forward to get as close as possible to the blissful beats of the DJ known as Shigeto.
Shigeto (real name Zachary Shigeto Saginaw) creates mid-tempo tracks that are as complex as they are groovy. His textures are thick and thorny. Main samples stick in your head, and are surrounded by an aura of warm sounds, often moving at different speeds until they’re snapped back in line at the beginning of the measure. Watching him at work, twisting knobs and pushing buttons to create these crazy beats was like watching a master magician pull a rabbit out of his hat – and was as astonishing, enjoyable, and beautiful.
The crowd thought so too – Glasslands was quickly filling up, and by the end of Shigeto’s set the gallery was full to bursting with twenty-somethings bopping with the beat. I’ve usually found that hip New York crowds feel too cool to dance, so I was amazed and delighted to see this sea of Brooklynites get down to the music.
Interestingly, the crowd’s favorite moments came when Saginaw put down the digital work stations and picked up the drumsticks. Next to the table with the DJ equipment was a real live drum set, and it turns out Saginaw is an amazing drummer, in his own way. He played loud, jumping in and out of beats and polyrhythms, and took some incredibly fast, exhausting solos. In essence, he was a live drum machine, playing backup band to his pre-mixed electronic beats.
What made the live drumming so enjoyable is that it turned an electronic process into something visceral. We could easily see when, for example, he switched from the bell of the ride cymbal (that little dome at its center sounds thin and super metallic) to its rim, a little change that probably would have been lost if we hadn’t been able to see it done physically. By acting as a manual drum machine, he teased out, for the audience, the art of creating a beat.
Despite the visual beauty that Glasslands has to offer, I enjoyed Shigeto’s set best when I closed my eyes and let the music overwhelm me. His music gave me enough to make that type of listening possible. But he also gave beats big enough to dance to and an onstage persona exciting enough to watch. His live music is great at each of those levels: that was the real magic of Shigeto’s set.
Mux Mool, a DJ from Brooklyn, took the stage next. And later on, SBTRKT (pronounced “Subtract”) donned his signature tribal mask and, appearing out of nowhere, rocked the house with down-and-dirty beats. SBTRKT’s been shooting off this year, rising out of literally nowhere: he writes, records, and performs anonymously. He’s got mysteriousness and an awesome music video on his side, but for my money, Shigeto’s the act to see.
Unfortunately, it looks like he isn’t DJing live again anytime soon. We might just have to wait for Bumbershoot in September. In the meantime, check out his discography at Ghostly International. His 2010 full-length release Full Circle is killer, as is what I’ve heard of his EP, What We Held On To. If you’re like me you’ll be stalking his myspace page and his website for live show updates. I’ll let you all know if anything comes up.