Deep House Disappointment

On Tuesday, British DJ Pete Tong, known for his work with BBC Radio 1’s dance programming as the host of the “Essential Mix,” performed at Soundcheck Nightclub. Located on K Street, Soundcheck is a small venue operated by the owners of Echostage.

Tong is the host of one of the longest running programs in the current BBC Radio 1 schedule and is known as a “global ambassador of dance music.” I was therefore eager to see and hear his work in a live setting. As the daughter of a 1980s Nu Wave dancer, I have a special place in my heart for music that has an energetic, danceable beat.

Georgetown parties rarely provide the space for actual dancing; we act out the lyrics and jump. As a result, when I had the opportunity to see one of the top dance music DJs in the world, I was thrilled. However, the actual performance barely managed to live up to my expectations.

At around 12:45 a.m., the club was packed. The people in the crowd were almost all in their 30s, dressed uniformly in dark denim. The walls shook with the reverberating beat that Tong cast out of his rig while the crowd of disillusioned Hilltop staffers lost themselves to drinks, drugs and music.

The atmosphere was claustrophobic and not at all what I envisioned. When I think of dance music, I think of the 1980s. I think of acts like Duran Duran, Erasure and New Order. The Nu Wave dance music scene set a high standard that very few bands have since been able to match.

Tong is certainly skilled at creating a lively atmosphere, capable of transporting listeners to his hypnotizing world of hi-hats, sharp snares and thundering bass. It is a challenge to snap back to reality after such a show. While Tong’s style may not appeal to certain individuals, it is impossible to deny that it has the power to capture a crowd.

Tong’s set blended all the newest deep house, techno and tech-house music. It felt like one complete, cohesive experience, despite the diverse sources from which it has drawn. The songs seem never-ending — just as one beat drops off, another is added. Tong’s ability to manipulate and transform textures is part of what has led to his international acclaim. At least three different beats could be identified at any given moment, but Tong was very careful when transitioning between them, keeping the audience oblivious until the new sound hit in full force. Although a range of sounds was incorporated, including hints of orchestra notes and dashes of pitch-shifted vocals, the incorporation of percussion marked the music as distinctly Tong’s.

Nothing about his music was distinctly bad. However, it is hard to avoid comparisons to old dance standards like “Perfect Kiss” by New Order: a cathartic, multilayered track that still holds up today. Perhaps it is my familiarity with older tracks or the unavoidable lack of New Order’s analog production in this digital age, but Tong did not have the emotional impact I had hoped.

Taken within the context of his genre and time, Tong is undeniably one of the best. That said, his show could have taken a more distinctive direction. If you want to hear music that sounds like the soundtrack to a game of laser tag, Tong may be your man. If you prefer to jump rather than dance, maybe his style will appeal to you. However, if your taste is more retro, like mine, then you must keep waiting for the next wave.

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