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Derrick Carter @ smartbar (concert review by Zach N. and Ethan B.)

House music would not be quite what it is today without Chicago, or smartbar, or Derrick Carter. Last Friday, these forces all aligned, and I was lucky enough to be there as well.


Derrick Carter was a major contributor to the evolution of house music in Chicago in the late 80’s and onward, and has remained at the top of the underground house scene ever since. Although its popularity never really died down at any point, house has been undergoing a recent surge within the United States, with Beyonce and Drake among many others recently releasing heavily house-inspired tracks. This span of time was definitely represented in the crowd, with a heavy smattering of people from their early 20’s up through their 40’s and 50’s. There was also a wide range of scenes present, drawing everybody from the t-shirt and jeans crowd to the nothing-but-a-little-bit-of-leather crowd to the unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and urban outfitters sunglasses crowd. Regardless, everybody was clearly enjoying the set very much, and the full, but not overly crowded dance floor was full of moving feet and smiles.


The impressively long (6 hours!) set was comprised primarily of funky Chicago house music sitting around 126-128 bpm. Derrick Carter tossed in a number of fun remixes and vocal-heavy tracks, including Lemon by N.E.R.D. and Rihanna, and my second favorite Dua Lipa song, Break My Heart. It was all relatively bouncy without a super overpower or blaring bass, and the sound system translated this beautifully.


What truly defined the set as a display of profound skill was Derrick Carter’s masterful usage of dissonance and negative space. I’ve heard it analogized that good DJing is like pulling a string from both ends, letting it wobble, and then having it settle completely taught at just the right moment. This set certainly exemplified that analogy. Over and over, Derrick Carter would build dissension between two tracks as he was mixing, often using the echo and reverb effects on the mixer to accomplish this. Beats would misalign and waver, falling in and out of place. At first it would sound like a mistake, unintentional chaos. The hairs would raise slightly on my arms and I would be shaken from the state of trance that a four-on-the-floor kick drum can so deftly lull you into. But then, invariably at the perfect moment, just as the discordance reached a tipping point between intriguing and irritating, he would bring the tracks together in a way I never could have foreseen. It injected such a powerful and positive energy onto the dance floor; nothing is more gratifying than the perfectly timed dissolution of the threat of disaster.


The show was an artful demonstration and utilization of the deep ties between dance music and the psychology of the subconscious. And so, so much fun.


Photo by Ethan B. and Review by Ethan B. and Zach N.


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