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Blaqstarr drops the ball at hometown show

May 20, 2013

91fe6140af3bff1ffed3689091359386Despite what your cool friends will tell you, there is nothing inherently wrong with EDM and dubstep.

When done well, EDM and dubstep afford the same animal-brain rewards that fuel supposedly more “sophisticated” dance music. After Baltimore club legend Blaqstarr’s DJ set at the Broom Factory on Saturday night however, a case could be made that mainstream dance wields a toxic influence on daring taste, impeccable production, and empathetic readings of a crowd – you know, the things that make DJs good – and the stuff that Blaqstarr excelled at in the mid-2000s when he effectively ran Baltimore’s club scene.

To spell it out, all of the critiques of what EDM hath wrought — pre-planned sets that aren’t sensitive to the crowd, leaning on dubstep drops and Afrojack moombah gulps like a crutch — were on display Saturday night. There is no way to explain why Blaqstarr, a game-changing club producer whose influence is still reverberating through the next generation of club kids, was, well, spinning like he was at the Bahama Breeze at Towson Town Center entertaining frat jerks and cougars.

It would be nice to blame garbage Los Angeles DJ culture which took Blaq away a few years ago, but that doesn’t work, either. Consider this 2009 video of Blaqstarr in Los Angeles, building up a crowd with a mix of top 40 and club music and then shooting the show into a weird tangent with Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero.” It’s mind-blowing and inspired and it isn’t in-the-pocket Baltimore club and that’s just fine because it works.

Around 2 a.m., the Broom Factory dance floor promptly cleared out after Murder Mark’s pretty good DJ set and Blaq, while soundchecking it seemed, played some butt-rock dance track featuring horribly mixed guitars. Then, nothing came out of the speakers while he set-up. So yes, there were a good 20 minutes where a dance party had absolutely no music playing. That one’s on the show’s organizers and not Blaq, but it certainly didn’t help the mood. Thankfully, a dude in the entrance to the Broom Factory played Notorious B.I.G.’s “Dead Wrong” from his ear-splittingly loud phone. He was honestly, the best DJ of the night.

Blaqstarr’s set was a perfunctory mix of EDM and dubstep remixes that you could hear anywhere on any given night, with just the hint of manic club music. About halfway through, Blaq mixed in “Tote It” and teased “Get My Gun,” but never went full-stop with either, before long, retreating back to sub-par dubstep wubs. He also played Bauuer’s “Harlem Shake” for some reason, and a vocalist who said her name 20 times, but I don’t remember because I don’t care, encouraged everyone to “Make a Harlem Shake video” and then shouted-out micro-video service, Vine. We were also told that Blaqstarr’s on Twitter. It was one of those shows.

The final half-hour wandered into “old school” with stuff like Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s “La Di Da Di” and Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock.” And though “Follow Me” by Aly-Us was a delight, and the show picked up a little steam with a quick flurry of Blaq’s chaotic scratching and whut-whut-whut-whut samples, it remained a messy and disinterested set, all the more frustrating because of those moments where something better would sneak in for a minute or two. Not to mention, Blaq wasn’t playing to the crowd, who only perked up when he played his own tracks. There were never more than a dozen people moving at once. When one of the Broom Factory’s employees walked in and promptly turned on a light at 4 a.m., ending the party,  it seemed more like a mercy killing than a boner-killing party ender.

Others in attendance informed me that the set was also shockingly similar to the one he played at the Broom Factory just two weeks ago. If that’s the case, then Blaq has even less of an excuse. He ostensibly knew the room, right? Consider this hate-fest of a blog post a public service announcement: Blaqstarr and other big deal DJs playing to their core fans in their hometown, please, please, please get out of this lowest common denominator, crowd-pleasing rut. This is not why people pay 10 bucks to see you. What works in Los Angeles won’t fly in your hometown. We know you better than this.