Home Is Where The House Is 4. detritus @ Bram, Cluj-Napoca 18/02/2018
Sunday 18th February 2018
*I've just about got over the weekend now to feel I can publish this.
A low, solitary synthetic rasp fills the cellar like a sodium-pentathol mist extracting the truth from all who take it in. The curtain falls on the stage, and each of the players drop their character, the performance over, and embrace their reality. No applause. No bouquets. No autographs. But what we all inherit is felt deeper than those shallow offerings. We are given freedom. We are given our identity.
The rasp changes, turns into a higher warble and we are aware of our gift. I take my first steps as myself, all before: an act. The truth serum still coursing through my vessels, my shoulders are led by the beat, my hips follow like a younger brother at the cricket; but my feet are leading all above, drawn to something. Parting waves, tearing through unchartered waters, a lighthouse occasionally glimmers in the distance. I wade towards it. Breaking against the rough, unforgiving tempest that ebbs and flows and makes no exception, takes no notice of me, I finally reach my lighthouse. I finally reach: her.
Minimal techno - if you're not sure about this, imagine a mod-con completely unfurnished inner-city studio apartment decorated only by a bottle of Schnapps in the middle of the floor - is Europe's emerging market it seems, picking up the slack from the Greeks and definitely the Spanish. With that emerging market, most consumers' eyes have fallen on one pop-up stall in particular: the thinking man's answer to Moldova: Romania.
The often forgotten about EU member state was never historically acknowledged for its electronic and techno production prowess, but there's a strong feeling that a lot of this comes down to geography. Bucharest and other major Romanian cities never received the house or techno funding that the Dirty Danube 3 (Budapest, Belgrade, Bratislava) were given so evidently. For more of an in-depth report on the misallocation of funds to those capital cities situated near the Danube, definitely give Gheorghe Pancu's 'Shut Your Piehole and Give Me My Wonga' (trans. Into English) a read.
[Image 1 - Cluj-Napoca, 2018]
However, despite missing out on a cumulative £16 Billion since 1995 from H.A.T.S.O.F.F. (House And Techno Services and Official Funding Federation), Romanian electronica continues to prosper and I had a chance to visit one of its most-celebrated literature and dance music nights on a weekend trip to Cluj-Napoca, the largest city in Transylvania.
A gothic air, a fog if you will, and you will because it was fog exactly, hung thick and long in the Romanian air. I had two days to grow accustomed to it but even then there was a veil over the place, an uncertainty. I asked an enchanting concierge at the Double Tree Hotel by Hilton in Cluj what she thought of the undeniably, unsettling fog, pointing it out for her outside the reception windows, but when I turned back for her answer...she was gone...
I asked the receptionist for the concierge's name, he told me that there hadn't been a female concierge in that Double Tree Hotel by Hilton for sixty years. I asked if maybe there had been a male concierge with feminine features (she did have short hair), but he had to take a phone call.
Weird. Too weird.
Cluj-Napoca's minimal techno gigs are famous for two things: 1) being off the bloody chain, 2) legally lasting for a minimum of 20 hours.
So being the law abiding and imbibing citizen that I am trying to be, I arrived at the venue around 11.30am, just as things were coming to the simmer. I knew full well that I was about to see one of the most pioneering minimalist technician's east of the Rhone, but what is more, my son, is that I was going to the opening of one EM's most anticipated venues - Bram.
Bram is a homage to the Dracula's Dublin-based writer Bram Stoker, who has given Transylvania its cultural identity and caused its people more problems than he solved. With a capacity of forty three standing and nineteen seated, Bram promises to give Transylvania's literary and techno fans intimate gigs that seek to emulate the brooding imagery and starkness of Stoker's writing in the synthetic, isolated beats of some of Europe's most challenging DJs and producers.
[Image 2 - Bram Stoker (1847-1912), coming down like a pensioner for the morning post]
My personal top 5 things about Bram:
1. Shoeshi - on entering Bram, each member of the crowd most take off their footwear and place them on the electronic conveyor belt that meanders its way around the venue. By the end of the night, you do not know whether you will get your own shoes/boots/trainers/flip flops back or a pair that are several sizes too big or small.
2. BYOB - Bram has a license that means you can still bring your own berries.
3. Dyedays, I'm in Love - a visual living reminder of the sacrifices Romania's 1998 World Cup Squad made. You can get your dyed peroxide blonde for the equivalent of just 45p to raise awareness for the now retired team members' families.
4. Slush Puppies - genuinely the only place I've been to in the last three years that serves these beauties. Blue, red, green, it was an all-you-can-slurp buffet. Tango Ice Blasts eat your hearts out (and then probably get brain freeze you frosty bastards)
5. No Pets - security rightly won't allow one member of the Pet Shop Boys in Bram.
The night proceeded like one would expect, the walls were decorated with enough vampire imagery to warm even Kristen Stewart's lifeless cockles and the decks were adorned with some of the finest local and international DJing talent that, I got the feeling, a lot of the other patrons had ever seen.
First blood was drawn by Bucharest funk-electro-R'n'B-pop duo The Brothers Grime. I had heard their manufactured spiel before and I wasn't no more impressed now than I was back in Warrington last year. You could tell that the pair nearly damaged wrist ligaments when they tried to wow the twenty three person strong dancefloor with a house edit of 'Call Me Malcolm. Mr. Allen's My Father's Name'. It was an hour of my life I'd possibly never get back.
After sets from two DJs who I presume had won their opportunity to play on the back of a Cheerios packet, I won't name them because I don't want to embarass them more than they already have been, I checked my phone. 10.21pm. This was not quite the afternoon-evening-night sesh that I had bargained for.
I traversed the venue's totally unnecessary second stage dance-floor and popped to the smoking area for a rollie, and to get started on what I presumed would be this unfavourable review of Bram and its offerings.
"Scuzati-ma", said a woman brushing bruisingly past me in a voice that could only be described as Romanian. In a magician's haze she disappeared, her grey suit and matching top hat sweeping into the venue. My arm was sore, though not as sore as my eyes. They were sore with what they surely saw. The cold Transylvanian air didn't help either, I headed back into Bram, expecting better.
With a bottle of Argentinian Malbec that I begrudgingly purchased from the bar (I'll always try to avoid Argie vino after you know what) I made myself listen to the tones of the penultimate act of Bram's inaugural gig: Iva Kondition.
Her versatility and attitude towards the crowd was extremely pleasing. Her ability and eagerness to please was picked up on by the dancefloor inhabitants almost immediately when she moved from 'No Onion' seamlessly into 'Dab Hand' with a two minute latch that sampled Bay City Rollers' 'Bye Bye Baby' and, local favourites, Cheeky Girls' 'The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)' over a melancholic, deep-state trance backbeat.
The time now at 1.23am, there was a little time to kill before the act of the night: detritus. Having decided to speak to a few of the regular techno goers in Cluj that night, I learnt a lot about detritus that I confess to not knowing before. This was to be the trio's first gig beyond the Iron Curtain since the fall of The Soviet Union.
When the clock struck 2am, I realised I hadn't eaten since Heathrow, but there was no time. detritus were swung onto the main stage with their usual theatrics in place. Three coffins were dropped onto the stage, containing the childhood friends, plonking with a wooden thud each of them beside their chosen apparatus.
Quasi-spiritual techno trio detritus hail from the leafy suburban driveways of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Between 2006 and 2008, detritus made their name in the dance halls and clubs of Detroit's burgeoning austere tecno scene, catching the eyes and capturing the imaginations of some of the outside world's most famous electronic music event curator's and programmers.
In 2011, after a nine month unpaid residency in Purgatory, Leipzig, detritus split and took four years out of producing and performance to complete college degrees in the U.S. with members Brad Durren, Sandra Michaels and Becky Donovan turning 18 years old that summer.
[Image 3 - Detritus]
detritus (from left to right: Brad Durren, Sandra Michaels and, I think, Becky Donovan)
The trio are very open about their relationships with each other, claiming that, at any one point, none of the group know which member they have feelings for, which, according to Durren: "keeps things lively".
You won't remember that in 2009 Sandra Michaels was arrested in Amsterdam-Schipol Airport after possession of over €82 Million worth of illegally made Jenever alcohol hidden in €45 Million worth of illegally gift-wrapped Amsterdam themed snow-globes.
From the moment detritus' coffin doors were opened, the capacity crowd was treated a deluge of huge noise. They worked through their late noughties back catalogue like a junior intern works through the night for "future opportunities with the company". Just when the pace appeared to be slowing, their musical Powerade kicked in and we were away again. A back-to-back hattrick of 'Luv Thy Neighbour', 'Gdansk?' and 'Problem-Attic' reclaimed the night's fortunes for a moment, before it happened...
You know that sensation when sunlight hits a shard of glass across a road, or when a flash photo is taken over your shoulder, or when your cat throws up on the other side of the kitchen and your attention is drawn? It happened to me. The same figure that seemed to haunt my Romanian past and present signalled me down without making any conscious effort to, it seemed.
Grey jacket and skirt, matching top hat, black suede boots. It was the concierge from the Double Tree by Hilton. Her trim figure was accentuated by the ash grey of her cheap suit. I approached as my heartrate synchronised with the racing snare of detritus' 2016 smash alternative techno chart hit 'My Nutz Ur Boltz'. Within eyeshot of her name badge that read 'CRISTINA', despite the gung-ho dry ice usage in Bram, and (I'm pretty sure) illegal pyrotechnics application, I stopped.
We locked eyes as a disguised Chris Lowe was thrown out by the bouncers, and then it happened...
I moved toward her and realised that there was no Double Tree by Hilton official markings on her badge. It was merely an outfit. She wasn't a concierge at all. She was just cool. I was under her spell. My lighthouse drew me toward the edge of the cliff (I'm on the other side of the lighthouse for this part of the metaphor) and just before I could reach the door, I tumbled. She was taken from me, swept away in an instant by some blonde prat.
I recognised the man she was grabbing at like the last remnants of a Frube - I knew that cement mixer of a jaw, I knew that slightly closed right eye. It was my godmother's son, Jake, necking with the woman I loved.
[Image 4 - Jake]
Jake saw me, when he had quite enough of Cristina's attention, finally pulling his mouth away from hers as detritus played a forgotten B-side from their debut album 'Brad+Becky4Eva', the meticulously mixed high-hat drum only exacerbating my rage at the absurdity of two love triangles: detritus and the Anglo-Romanian emotional threeway that was potentially on the cards after the next four hours of techno.
Tossing Malbec down my gullet, I turned with Jake's greeting: 180 degrees towards the door of Bram.
"Oh hey Ollie, do you want some drugs?" asked the unemployed maniac.
"No, Jake. I don't take drugs".
The fog had finally cleared on reappearing at Cluj-Napoca street level, not literally (it was still absolutely everywhere) but metaphorically. I saw that Bram was the real winner, both Stoker and the venue. I was more in touch with Stoker's gothic masterpiece than ever before. I knew what it felt like to be unwanted, to be outcast by someone who I presumed was paid by Hilton to help me with my getting around town. Little did I realise it but I had moved away from my own land to seek new blood, musical blood. What I had found was more hurt and more isolation. I had become Dracula.
detritus were solid. Their jetlag came into play late-on and they seemed to flag a couple of hours into their slot, so, all-in-all, unlike Count Dracula - I didn't bite...neither did Cristina either.
Thank you for reading, pilgrim. I am sorry I can't be happier.
*written between Monday morning and Tuesday evening. Edited between Wednesday morning and now. You're a lucky man, Jake.