Superstar DJ jam sessions are rare these days because the results are often not worth the effort.
Plenty of jockeys enjoy an occasional evening of tag teaming—alternate playing and mixing tracks—or save it for an end-of-night frolic. But giving such affairs marquee billing tends to be wrong-headed, the sum being worth less than individual parts! Of course, every truism has an exception that proves the rule, and Cosmic Twins—the sporadic pairing of Detroit electronic dance music innovator Derrick May and New York grand ol’ DJ Francois Kevorkian that took over Santos’ Party House on Saturday—is exception as sonic boom.
Imagine a blowing session featuring Miles and Trane as DJs, and you kind of approach the status these two clubland heavyweights command. Between them, there’s more than half a century of DJ’ing skills (from Studio 54 to warehouse raves), seminal remixes and productions (avant-garde disco, house pop, high-tech soul, dub techno), not to mention miles and miles of dance-floor knowledge. So, there they were: Derrick May, on CDs and records, stage right, Francois K, on computer (using Traktor DJ’ing software), stage left. Lasers were in full effect, and even the wheelchair-bound attendee (always a sign of a classy night) was gyrating uncontrollably. First, a solo hour (or so) from each; then, the main event, hitting overdrive around 1:45am.
What makes the Twins potent is that their styles are complementary; the incidental overlaps as uniting exclamations. Francois’s sets are based on soulful house and disco with a spiritually wandering groove, Derrick’s on tough-as-nails Detroit-/Chicago-style techno-house and funky minimalism, and when layered, their combined music is fast and hard, yet sensuous and free-of-control. Generally speaking, Francois kept guiding the vocals through ghost-like spaces, the mood being a journey. May juggled and jig-sawed the rhythm with the crossfader, ratcheting up the drama.
They most steadfastly approached nirvana around 2:30am, with a pair of tracks best described as “jazzy,” each built on a saxophone solo (taking the whole blowing session metaphor one step higher) that highlighted both their shared values and their individuality. Francois mixed his track towards an ecstatic frenzy that’s common to house in terms of musical peaks (if not this intense), while May punctuated it with rhythms underneath. May’s tune, on the other hand, was more abstract, built out of a cracking beat initially devoid of all bass, then with a sax squeal atop, and finally the bassline flitting in and out, lurching the dance forward; Francois, meanwhile, tried blurring the lines underneath. Bystanders could be forgiven for mistaking it all for a single piece; but very few people in the room were simply standing by.