There are plenty of great new artists worth discovering, but sometimes it’s nice to also show some love for the long-standing legends of the scene, because after all there’s a reason why they’re still at the top of the game. And that’s exactly what Tell No Tales – itself a collaboration between three stalwarts in the form of Hardware, Return to Rio, and Paul Strange Presents – set out to do. Although the lineup featured some up-and-coming superstars of the global house and techno scene, this party was really a love letter to the artists who have been plying their trade since before some of the people in the crowd were even born.
Sydney’s own version of Derrick Carter, Illya, warmed up beautifully for the Chicago house icon with his trademark mix of funky, jacking house and deft turntablism. It really was wonderful to hear some proper house music again – and even more exciting to see it received so well – especially after the influx of finger-twirling Ibiza “tech house” fodder we’ve had to endure for the last few years. Meanwhile, Agents of Time were laying down an enjoyable, if not particularly ground breaking, live set of their melodic blend of progressive house and techno. Don’t get me wrong, it was perfectly fine and inoffensive, but that’s all it was: fine. It wasn’t especially memorable or unique.
Unfortunately, due to the last-minute cancellation of Detroit techno luminary Robert Hood the two biggest legends on the lineup, Derrick Carter and Laurent Garnier found themselves facing off with three-hour sets at the same time in different rooms. But hey, having to decide which of two hall of famers you want to see isn’t a bad problem to have. Derrick Carter was on top form as always. One thing that is so endearing about him is that he has never cynically followed trends, and never will. The guy loves that uniquely Chicago style of house, with all its swinging, jacking, and quirky charm, and that’s what he plays regardless of whether it’s perceived as “cool” or not. And he plays it so damn well, constantly layering across three decks with a level of precision a lot of DJs can’t even manage on just two, while also working the crossfader and effects and dropping cheeky acapellas. It was three hours of a consistent groove that never took its foot off the accelerator.
If the boompty-boomp of Carter wasn’t your thing, Laurent Garnier, the very epitome of consistency displayed exactly why even after two decades he’s still considered a tastemaker and “the DJ’s DJ”. Taking into account his set time and the fact he was playing outdoors in Australian Summer, Garnier delivered a beautifully programmed three hour journey that weaved its way through a variety of flavours of techno, from deep and stripped-down to warm and melodic, with the occasional forgotten gem thrown in for good measure. And best of all? He didn’t play Man With The Red Face. Yeah yeah, call me a killjoy. Call me a snob. Call me whatever you want but playing it would have just felt like pandering and one of one Garnier’s biggest strengths is that he has always subverted expectations and played to the height of his intelligence.
Undeniably, the dark horse of the day was Scan X. Although probably the least hyped international on the bill, he’s a pillar of the techno community and thankfully he got the respect he deserves on the day. It says a lot about just how good an artist is when people who have never heard of them wander into the room and end up staying for the remainder of their set, and when even the other headliners come to watch them play. His one hour live set worked its way through both new and old material, from the distorted TR-909 workout of 1994’s Earthquake to last year’s acid-tinged neo-trance belter Alien Symphony.
Barring a mid-set surprise in the form of Joy Kitikonti’s classic Joy Enegizer (which Amelie Lens was playing last year anyway) Pan-Pot were bland and monotonous. It was the kind of Beatport Top 10 “techno” that offers little by way of originality or intensity. It wasn’t hard enough and took itself too seriously to just be silly, slamming fun, but also wasn’t unique or challenging enough to warrant the aforementioned seriousness. Thankfully, Wild Fox and Nine One were laying down a great selection of darker progressive house sounds at the same time following on from Scan X, cementing their place as two of Sydney’s finest up-and-coming DJs.