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Monday, March 16, 2009

ONE STEP BEYOND at American Museum of Natural History

From the outside, the museum appeared to be its usual self as I walked up to the entrance on a chilly Friday night amongst others in search of a good time. At this hour there were no tourists, there were no families, just young adults following the steady vibrations coming from around the corner and down below in the belly of the museum. Once past the horde of security checking IDs and directing people around, three large dinosaur skeletons are towering above me and this gives a bit of a jolt, because this was maybe the last thing I thought I’d see on a Friday night and I find myself digging for my camera and searching for my cell phone as I walk with my eyes up towards the ceiling at Dino’s head some fifty feet above me. Unfortunately it’s at this time that I realize the wine from back home was starting to fade.

After having my press credentials put in order the museum staff was good to direct me to where the thumping vibrations were coming from. Down a long sterile hall, with other scattered souls on the same path, we lumbered down this spiral path that lead further and further into Hades with this soundtrack of the techno beat getting louder and louder. All the while various scientific facts about our solar system are scattered about on the handrails and walls. With a peek over the side I half expected to see a dark void, but instead it was where all the party seekers from the entrance have been going. A few dozen people where all wondering around these scientific exhibit pieces, some dancing, while on the makeshift stage the DJs spun the records.

Having a gas at what I’m looking at, the clash of house music with a house of history, I make my way to the bar to find that the selection is pretty minimal and that there was in fact a separate line for drink tickets. So now I’m on line at a museum for drink tickets. I felt like calling my sister, a schoolteacher, for a few laughs, and yet there were lots of us one after the other walking up for the pricey orange tickets.

The beat the DJs played seemed like it went on forever with the typical one song that gets played again and again and with a crate full of different records somehow. How do these people do this? (I thought to myself). However the sound at one point seemed like it evolved from the standard techno/house fare into something like synthpop laced with a house kick. In other words the night was looking grim and so I had to find a way to entertain myself…and quickly.

From a look around the crowd in front of me it was a clientele of the well dressed, the chic, to the ‘girl, are you serious?’ people. I opted to walk around and get a feel for the room and nurse this tiny cup of merlot.

On the floor it was like any club you’ve ever been to in your life, but with the fear of a tour guide coming through with a group of sixth graders still seemed very real. My own fear and the overwhelming desire to escape to another part of the museum began to swell. Though the ever-present security staff seemed to pose a threat to this notion and so that plan was quickly aborted.

It was somewhere around this time where it felt like I turned around and all of a sudden Mapie had hit the stage. The duo played a loud aggressive set of hybrid hipster hip-hop that appeared to please the small crowd of female fans that congested the foot of the stage as they grooved to the tunes and waved their hands in the air. Still it wasn’t too difficult to work my way in for a better photo op as I carefully tried not to spill my second cup of merlot. The female MC had their full attention and kept people going with her competent rhymes laid over compositions maybe better suited to the underground than the masses.

The rest of the night was totally downhill.

Up next on the bill was Jon Hopkins, a British musician, with not one iota of originality in his sound. Quickly it’s not a matter of who he sounds like in the electronic genre, but really who doesn’t he sound like. It made for a very uninteresting time and I spent most of the set off to the side texting friends and revisiting the bar after another wait on the drink ticket line which just got longer and longer, but that was ok, because that meant there was less show to sit through.

Four Tet, would prove to be not much of an improvement. Although a bit more lively, it was still a guessing game of which Aphex Twin, Autechre or Squarepusher album this fellow British act had on when they were recording their own work. It wasn’t very long until I had my fill and simultaneously ran out of cash. So it was time to leave and I wasn’t the only one as I made my way back up the spiral path to street level to walk past a vision of the Jurassic period for the last time and then escape to the chill of a mid-march New York City night hoping for a reprieve in the fun department before dawn.

Jon Prusik

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