The prospect of a Sunday double-header at Ministry of Sound, with promoters The Hydra calling on local dance masters Daphni and Floating Points for an 8-hour back to back session, managed to instill a level of anxiety from the get-go. Can I convince my friends to come dancing on Sunday? Paying £20 tickets for a matey, potentially low-tempo DJ set? It starts at four o’clock – should I get there before six? Will Messrs. Snaith and Shepherd’s eclectic selections feel out of place in the mazy super-club?
This reviewer had last ventured up Gaunt Street for an obligatory fresher’s week special in 2006 (!) and found the experience particularly unedifying: invasive, time-consuming entry protocols, eye-watering drinks prices, hours spent pushed up against a sweaty bro-crowd, with whichever forgettable line-up was on that night doing little to erase lingering memories of the club’s cheesy Hed Kandi compilations. But times change. Thorough security becomes a welcome relief when out in Zone 1. £7.50 a drink is close to a European club norm. And quality house music – the deep stuff – is all over London again.
Things began to look up: pre-show emails told us the DJs would be set in ‘The Box’, the club’s square shaped and largest room, only. Tickets got weirdly cheaper in the days leading up to the show. A few mates eventually signed up (pro-tip: your hospitality job buddies are the only ones to text for a Sunday, or indeed Monday night sesh). After a few swift ones at Elephant & Castle Spoons we got into Ministry without incident, finding the venue surprisingly undersold. We were able to navigate our way to preferred spots easily: directly under the mirror ball, later moving down the front to commandeer a bit more dancing real estate. And so we listened, we danced, and all was well.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was the elder Daphni who emerged as the more powerful selector, enthusing the crowd with tightly mixed, jump-up records. It soon became obvious which of the pair had packed ‘the bangerz’. Elsewhere, dancers found highlife edits, Brazilian samba and quite monstrous batucada rhythms, spiritual jazz, deep funk breaks, blissed-out techno and soul in among the expected disco and house cuts.
The night’s hyped centrepiece, Floating Points’ latest single ‘Ratio’, was unveiled here in a colossal surround-sound remaster knocked up especially for the Dolby Atmos system. Although aired rather early on in the night for our liking, it sounded particularly magical. Booming and crisp, its stop-start dynamics allowed a few gasps from the crowd to filter through its gentler passages. Although by no means the producer’s most immediate track, its accomplished lattice of bubbling synths, insistent bass and organic/programmed drum textures was given transcendental treatment here, with oscilloscope projections and lights spinning around the room. “Oh mate, Ratio. Everyone was tripping,” said one beaming house-bro afterwards, the late November chill making quick work of any residual sweat.
The rotary mixer was pushed as far as the EQs would go by both DJs, expertly filtering out instruments to give their tunes space, at times resulting in almost an entirely new arrangement. Snapping the dials back in when the bass hit is a usual trick, but done tastefully here. Charmingly, one such moment from Floating Points, a slow-building synth-laden jazz track, had The Box winding its way down to the floor, in anticipation of a big drop. Leaping to our feet, we were greeted by a weird time signature and unresolved progressions; Shepherd backed off from the decks sheepishly, leaving his pal to take over, but our gang thought it was hilarious. Still, Mr. Points returned shortly, eyes shut and swaying side to side, manipulating the frequencies to a stunning, twinkly edit of Raphael Saddiq’s ‘Skyy, Can You Feel Me’, before cueing up a (probably super-rare) scratchy soul 7″ to close proceedings. I would have Shazam-ed more, but you know, phone battery mate. Apparently Ministry were streaming the set, but we couldn’t find a recording anywhere afterwards – a shame.
Not everything was quite so great. Floating Points playing ‘Movin’ On Up’ sent us out for a smoke, the toilet, bar, anywhere. “Does anyone really need to hear that song again?” we overheard. Must try harder. Later some dodgy mixing from one of the DJs had people pulling faces and shuffling awkwardly in the transitions. Still, Daphni and Floating Points’ strengths are as selectors, as well as producers. They were also playing a lot of vinyl from what we could gather, so a few technical quibbles are alright by us. Plus, we forgot our earplugs and it was insanely loud for the five minutes we spent waiting near one of the corner big stacks. The happy young fools who spent the whole night atop the speaker will be doing all kinds of nasty to their hearing. Stay tinnitus-free, kids.
But heading home feeling relaxed and uplifted, before the nightbus timetable kicked in, it was easy to declare the session a success. In pairing two artists who have spoken extensively about the spirituality they find through music, such programming from The Hydra felt particularly appropriate on the Sabbath.