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Joker In Glasgow – Resident Advisor Review

Over the past six years, Numbers have consistently refined every aspect of their operation and the Numbers brand, from the PA systems they shoehorn into venues, to their immaculate graphic design. All this, of course, would be largely meaningless if Numbers’ grand ambition were not reflected in the performers selected to play at the club, but in this aspect too, perhaps above all others, Numbers are hard to fault. Over the years, their idiosyncratic music policy has resulted in unforgettable performances from prominent artists as varied as Ghostface Killah and Squarepusher alongside adventurously underground or leftfield bookings that have sometimes challenged, but invariably rewarded, their faithful crowd. Since it began, Numbers have shown Glasgow time and time again what a club, at its best, can be, and were deservedly rewarded last year when they came in second in Mixmag’s club of the year poll (first place being taken by a venue, rather than a night, as Numbers are keen to point out).

Despite this, I am aware that I have not been alone recently in wondering whether Numbers might have peaked: whether the decision to take a monthly residency at the Sub Club had resulted in diminishing returns, or whether the gargantuan Modeselektor show at The Arches in February (by all accounts a roaring success) was simply too big. Had Numbers become victims of their own success, or had they somehow lost their way?

While I am an avowed fan of the Sub Club and its monstrous sound system, I am yet to be convinced that its slick and sleazy interior is a natural habitat for Numbers. Indeed their distinctive aesthetic feels far better suited to Stereo’s cavernous basement, where Retina Glitch’s digital projections glow in dazzling contrast to the venue’s cracked tiling and dusty brickwork. Luckily, that’s where Joker was set to play on this night. And, when I arrived, Spencer and Production Unit’s warm-up was well under way, each DJ mixing deftly between bassline and jacking UK funky, a surprise drop of DJ Luck and MC Neat’s “With a Little Bit of Luck” introducing a strand of percussive UK garage and raising hands, voices and possibly a few eyebrows amongst the crowd. Productions by local hero Rustie featured heavily towards the end of the warm-up, the musical comparisons between his work and Joker’s obvious, as his juddering “Zig-Zag” and anthemic refix of Zomby’s “Spliff Dub” segue neatly into the headliner’s crushing half step rhythms.

Joker first performed at Numbers late last year, shortly after the release of “Play Doe,” his stunning collaborative 12-inch with Rustie, which figured highly in several notable 2008 year-end charts. Since the start of 2009, Joker’s ascendance has been unstoppable, releasing a string of astounding tracks on Hyperdub, Tectonic, and his own Kapsize imprint, before co-headlining Mary Anne Hobbs’ stage at Sonar in June. His music, an almost psychedelic concoction of bass weight, snapping percussion and searing synthlines, could almost have been designed with the Numbers crowd in mind, reflecting aspects of virtually all of the club’s musical preoccupations, from the low-end pressure of dubstep and grime, to strutting P-funk and booming Miami bass.

Tracks from Joker’s own growing discography dominated his performance, although it is testament to the breadth of his influences and the versatility of his output that his set can accommodate a range of music, from grating, squarewave steppers, to the elegant, nagging refrain of Claude VonStroke’s “Who’s Afraid of Detroit,” which makes an unexpected appearance. The highlights, naturally, are two of Joker’s own compositions, the Numbers crowd responding rapturously to the keening lead synths of “Purple City,” and losing the plot entirely to the athletic, skipping hi-hats and punishing kicks of “Digidesign,” many actually singing along to the bleeping melody, barely audible over the shuddering bass.

A club is defined, for me, by the feeling you get, when lost amongst the crowd, that you are part of something bigger than yourself, that you are witnessing, and in fact contributing, to something that is extraordinary, even defiant. The magic of Numbers’ early parties stemmed from their ability to balance this inclusiveness within the club with a resolutely underground attitude and aesthetic. Over the past year, Numbers have had to negotiate the same dilemma as all wildly successful club nights; how do you continue to operate on the periphery, when your success has, in itself, come to influence the mainstream?

The answer it would appear, on the evidence of Joker’s triumphant performance, is to return to your origins. Numbers will no longer be appearing monthly at The Sub Club, but will continue to host parties, whenever, and wherever they choose. They will continue to book artists they love, and will apply the experience they have developed over the past six years to their nomadic, renegade operations. Their projects will continue to wreck heads and move feet, and for the first time in ages, I genuinely cannot wait to see what they are going to do next. 

Words: Colin Mckean

Resident Advisor

20.08.09 — 21:34 by Richard

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