Admittedly, I'm playing catch-up today after a long weekend of interviews and thrift-store shopping, mutually exclusive. But I'd like to take a moment to reflect on Friday night's Diplo/Blaqstarr show at Smartbar, which made me feel like a dinosaur at age 26. Arguably, I am -- particularly if measured on terms of the "mash-up" scene, to which I am slowly losing any last vestige of loyalty.
First and foremost, I don't know when Diplo shows switched gears from hipster to dooshbag central. Perhaps hipsters have simply moved on to the newer, cheaper shows. I know Pase Rock played somewhere else that night, likely for much less than $15. Diplo's set itself -- though I only stayed the first 45 minutes -- was rife with bad techno. Is bad techno trendy now? One fan showed up with glowsticks in hand -- which I initially took for an ironic (if not played out) hipster joke -- but I guess it's me who didn't get the memo. This was Soundbar at Smartbar night: Diplo channeling Tiesto. I usually don't mind a little jaunt deep into Diplo's mindgarden with obscure Baile Funk or Soca, but techno seems a desperate stretch in the wrong direction. I like pounding bass, elastic drumlines and plaintiff vocals, not atmospheric breakdowns with emphasis on the middies.
Blaqstarr brings no complaints from me. I am not played out on B-more club yet, and especially not his particular brand of it, which lilts with bubblegum R&B vocals sung by the man himself. In Baltimore, B-more club is expectedly huge. It gets big commercial radio play, drawing a fanbase of mostly teenagers -- a parallel to Chicago's own Juke. But the genre is known, like Juke, for being hyper sexualized. So Blaqstarr's uber-positive take on lyrics (he's also known to feature the raps of 16-year-old Baltimorian Rye-Rye, who recently toured with M.I.A.) -- girls aren't hoes just b/c they're down-ass-bitches sort of material -- are refreshing.
Lastly, it's making me wince to mention the show's opener, Hood Radio, who I'm told but haven't been able to verify, is local. We arrived early to check these guys out on the good word of a trusted friend, but were sorely disappointed. Based on the set we witnessed, this is nothing more than yet another bad mash-up duo. To be clear on where I stand: The very idea of a mash-up for me is cringe-inducing. You have to differentiate between making a good cross-genre DJ set, like what Hollertronix or Floss are known for, and stripping the acapella of one song and putting it over the instrumental of another. The latter, the actual technical term for a "mash-up," is not exclusively bad and can sometimes work within the context of a greater set, if well done and well-placed. But Hood Radio seems to be jumping on the band wagon of creating a whole set of mash-up after mash-up, which is actually not an easy thing to dance to, or listen to. It takes a lot of work to catch the new rhythm, structure and organization of a good rap acapella over a good indie rock melody, and often, it ruins both original tracks in the process.