More With Less
Detroit Transplant Patrick Brander Tries To Spread Techno In House-Loving Baltimore
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Techno isn't easily compressed. It doesn't translate well into standard 45-minute rock show bursts. You could say it distributes musical information horizontally instead of vertically--over a span and not via eruption. At the outset, it's a patience game. A DJ or producer's set can develop over hours, not measures. It doesn't have the benefit of familiarity--said set develops, ideally, in reaction to the crowd in real time. Songs might be familiar, but the complete set is as flexible as it needs to be. Patience, yes, but, once indoctrinated, you figure out that getting there--ideally, "there" being somewhere close to dawn, sweaty, somewhat confused, and satisfied--is 90 percent of the fun
So techno music remains elusive, particularly in Baltimore. It's had something of a moment, at least by association, over the past two years or so. The blowups of all things Ed Banger (Justice, Busy P, etc.) and Kitsune (Crystal Castles, Guns and Bombs) somewhat eased mainstream indie audiences into the raw aesthetic via ad hoc genres "bloghouse" and "electro-house" but which, usually, were/are so maximalist--beats to mosh to, really--they had/have more in common with rock music than most anything considered proper or historical techno.
And that techno community, of which Patrick Brander and his monthly techno-centric More or Less label/party is a resident, remains mostly untouched by the fuss. Baltimore has a long history with the style--and even bred one of its finer practitioners, Ben Parrish--through events such as Jason Urick's and Parrish's former OnceTwiceSound events, Ultraworld, and, of course, techno's inevitable conflation with Baltimore's well-rooted house/club music culture (one and the same, frequently). If techno is a minority player in Baltimore, as it is in many American cities (by European standards), at least some of that has to do with the landscape. Heavily molded by rock club culture and a painful 2 a.m. last call, Baltimore is not well equipped to give a techno party the hours needed to dig in for longer than a taste.
"There's a definite lack of an after-hours scene [in Baltimore]," Brander laments over beers at a Mount Vernon bar. Brander, who moved to Baltimore from Michigan more than a year ago, recounts trekking Detroit techno clubs on weekend nights and heading "back at 6 in the morning because I was a caretaker at a church. I'd make it up there with, like, 20 minutes to spare, drop my friends off, stumble up the steps to unlock it, and pray that the priest wasn't there to see me half asleep and half drunk."
Brander followed his girlfriend, who had found a job in Baltimore. ("Aside from music, there's really no reason to be living [in Detroit]--no jobs, no future, really," he says.) Before starting the More or Less dance night or record label, Brander set up the Bmore Electro message board (www.bmore-electro.com), a general meeting place for the city's techno-loving ("electro" name aside) population. "[I] thought I'd start something in Baltimore that's more centered on this music I was into in Detroit," he says. "Plus I didn't really know anybody at the time so I figured a message board would be a good thing."
In the late spring of 2007, Brander started the offshoot More or Less party at the Depot, where he'd been occasionally DJing the club's '80s night. "We started the party out of necessity," he says. "Nobody was doing it, and we were tired of waiting around for other people to do something besides talk about what they `wish' was happening in the area.
"We `more or less' decided to focus on techno music," Brander says. The "we" refers to the night's other progenitor, Craig Sopo, who moved to Baltimore from Detroit a few years before Brander. The two knew each other vaguely from Michigan. "He used to come play on my radio show [in East Lansing]," Brander says.
Sopo is one of the prime motivations behind Brander's latest endeavor, the More or Less record label. "Craig came to me and he had a couple tracks," Brander says, adding, "There is a small group of producers in the Baltimore area that didn't really know anyone outside Baltimore that needed an avenue to get their music out."
More or Less' first release was this summer's Below the Line EP, a fairly typical dance 12-inch of two tracks and two remixes. Tech-house and minimal techno not-quite-bangers that feel like you imagine a late night in Berlin would, the tracks don't have much to do with Baltimore's near-official dance music, the ubiquitous Baltimore club. It's not easy selling Baltimore on dance music that isn't juiced with bass and at least a bit of raunch.
But Brander is going to give it somewhat of a shot this fall, when More or Less releases a planned ghettotech EP. Ghettotech ("booty house"), after all, is Detroit's version of club and, arguably, the only genre of dance music nastier. As for Baltimore club itself, Brander isn't that much of a fan. "I give [club DJs and producers] props, but it's not my thing," he shrugs.
More or Less, the party, hasn't had its blowup yet, instead working gradually to find its local footing. Recently, the party outgrew the Depot's space and moved up Charles Street to the Hexagon (the old Lo-Fi Social Club) and has no indication of waning. "One year and four venues later we are still doing the only regular techno night in Baltimore," Brander adds via e-mail. "As long as it is still fun for us, there will be techno in Baltimore."