Peter Shapiro put it best in his entry on Lenny Dee in 1998’s Rough Guide to Drum ’n’ Bass: “Not to be confused with his namesake, the Canadian king of easy listening, hardcore’s Lenny Dee is New York’s king of queasy listening.”
The “hardcore” Shapiro refers to is techno that’s fast (170-plus BPM) and snarling -- “gabber,” as the Dutch named it. And “queasy listening” is definitely literal -- the Lenny Dee performance singed into my memory was from a party called Genesis (July 31, 1993) near Madison, Wisconsin. I’d gotten there just in time for his set, and he obliged by spinning records like a dervish; at one point, he had a blotto-distorto kick-drum banger going on one turntable and a pure sound-effects sine-wave record on the other. Sliding the pitch control up and down on the wave like a kid with a new toy, Dee made it seem as if you’d wandered into the Twilight Zone, complete with young men and women in various states of undress getting very intimate (but not sexual) with the wall of speaker cabinets.
“To me it’s all rock and roll,” Dee said in 1995. Or, if you prefer, metal: That’s the kind of roar Dee and his cohort have specialized in for ages, and his appearance tonight at the Skyway celebrates a quarter-century of his record label, Industrial Strength, whose output can pretty well be summed up by the above description. (Well, not all of it: Dee, a shrewd businessman, turned the label several years ago toward the making of “sample packs,” or pre-recorded sounds for producers to turn into finished tracks.)
Picking one Lenny Dee set in particular won’t really give you a full sense of what he does. For one thing, not all gabber sounds alike (yes, really), and for another, it’s definitely not all the man can play. Dee began as a roller-rink disco DJ in the early eighties, and a few years ago I caught him spinning straight techno on a co-bill with Derrick May in Brooklyn.
Lenny Dee, Live at Universe, Big Love -- August 13, 1993
But tonight’s event is called Hard Electronic for a reason, and this set from a party west of England will get you in the mood. The ripped-from-cassette sound is a little muddy, but that bit of capstan grime adds to its character. There are sine-wave shenanigans, naturally, and beats like a cartoon tank gunning for the base of your skull. There are also voices -- a British hype man makes occasional interjections (“Check . . . Going out to all you techno heads who like your techno ’ard”) but the DJ has his own tongue-in-cheek arsenal of sound bites to cut through the noise. My favorite is near the end: Casey Kasem, as sampled by Negativland: “When you come out of those goddamn uptempo numbers, man, it’s impossible to make those transitions.” Let a king show how it’s done.
Hard Electronic -- Industrial Strength 25th Anniversary
With: Lenny Dee, Art of Fighters, JethroX, UnExist, and more
Where: Skyway Theatre
When: 8 p.m. Friday, March 10
Tickets: $25; more info here
Each week, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set -- often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily -- and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.