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joey beltram, live @ womb, tokyo

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from The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo), February 2005
By Andrez Bergen

You too can hold your own dance party, replete with crowd noises and a half-decent sound-system, in your cramped (but always cosy) Tokyo apartment...


A decade back, while not exactly establishing a precedent, Detroit deejay Jeff Mills unleashed a recording of one of his live deejay sets at the Liquid Room's former Kabukicho residence. Titled "Mix-Up Vol. 2", it was a relentless techno masterpiece, warts and all, that combined two diverse channels in the mix: the actual music itself, along with the audience's response.

While most musicians would suggest that the live deejay mix is a misnomer, in the hands of an innovative turntablist, and someone who's playing his own records produced intentionally for a club environment, such a mix can be an inspiring gem.

The latest in a long troupe of deejay mixes - "Live @ Womb 02" - makes it clear that Joey Beltram is up to the challenge of Mills' legacy in this city.

Beltram sauntered over to Tokyo late last year to play at Shibuya's cavernous club Womb, and the recorded set, along with the audience's aural reactions, has now surfaced as the second volume in a series kick-started by Cristian Smith in 2003.

It's arguably the better of the two. The opening track, Beltram's remix of "Player Eight" by Infamous Player, followed by his own cut "Resurgence", establish intent in no uncertain terms: this isn't a wishywashy trance mix or cerebral chill selection; it's hard, occasionally dark electro-techno mixed and matched with clever snippets of disco-funk and a wad of deejay tricks.

"Yeah, I feel it was a little dark," Beltram affirmed last week on the phone from his home in upstate New York. "Maybe that's where I'm at right now. I'm not deliberately trying to be dark, though - I did play some lighter stuff."

The intended audience? An adventurous, adrenalized, up-for-it dancefloor - which was apparently the case here, if the accompanying vocal hurrahs are any indication.

"The gig was great," enthused Beltram. "It was a fantastic crowd that really got into it, which fuelled me as a deejay. And the mix makes you feel like you were really there!"

In what he says was an unplanned set, Beltram deftly orchestrates expected troughs and peaks, intended to send clubbers mad, at some unexpected moments; he underscores with a flurry of surprising cross-fades and EQ work-outs. Thrown into the mix are cuts by Justin Berkovi, Thomas Krome, Bryan Cox and Disko Kids - not to mention a swag of tracks produced by the deejay himself, some as-yet-unreleased.

It's by fits and turns reminiscent of the techno styles of cities as far afield as Detroit, Berlin, London, Stockholm, Melbourne... and, of course, Tokyo - which Beltram thinks should come as no surprise. "It's my favorite place to deejay; it's definitely different. It's a city of the future. And you haven't made it as a deejay unless you play there - they understand what good music is, and if you're not on top of your game they know it!" he laughed. "So a good reaction really means something."

This comes from a man who's been at the forefront of techno since it's pre-natal development in the 1980s. Beltram's landmark production "Energy Flash" (1990) was voted Muzik magazine's track of the decade, and he's consistently produced innovative music for labels like R&S, Tresor, Warp and NovaMute.

As it turns out, "Live @ Womb 02" was recorded at a pivotal time in Beltram's extended career. "In the last year or so I've got my second wind," he declared. "Around 1999 I got a little bored and started changing things. You need new ingredients to mix into the pot, and luckily in the past year a lot of new producers have started pushing the envelope a bit, which is exciting - and inspiring!"

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