With New York’s DIY community still reeling from another wave of nightclub closures, this time affecting iconic venues Death by Audio and Glasslands, the city’s party-goers are vexed. Independent venues with forward-thinking programming are increasingly hard to find as formerly cool neighbourhoods are eaten up by the snake-like presence that is gentrification. So this year’s Warm Up series took on a new significance as expectations for cutting-edge line-ups reached new heights.
Now in its 18th year, Warm Up takes place every Saturday from the end of June through beginning of September in the outdoor courtyard of MoMA PS1’s contemporary gallery space. It’s built itself a reputation for educating the masses about the artists creating music at the cutting edge by providing producers with a platform for experimentation and collaboration. The museum’s own team works with influential industry figures from the likes of DFA Records, Pitchfork and True Panther Sounds to ensure a truly innovative line-up every year. This year has featured a broad selection of genres from labels such as LuckyMe, Wild Oats, Warp, Tri Angle and Domino Records with particularly strong representation from the UK that has seen artists such as Eclair Fifi, Bok Bok, Skepta, DJ Slimzee, Untold and Vessel touch down in the Big Apple.
Where once its slightly offsite location in Long Island City felt like a jaunt out of town for the Williamsburg set, the increasing dispersion of the creative community into farther-flung areas makes it much more central for most. Reflective of the city’s own DNA, the event attracts a mixed crowd where territories are visibly marked. Some of these groups take selfies, others take MDMA, but everyone knows their place. Up at the front is the Snapchat generation; hands in the air, iPhone tilted down at their ecstatic faces, never missing a beat. A few steps lower are the art school kids, preening and posing, checking for outfits more outlandish than their own. As you go further back you get to the grey-haired clubbers, bopping their heads and chuckling at the crazy scenes in the middle of the dancefloor. And even further back, by the beer and food tents, are the dads who’ve brought their families, silently cursing the pebble-strewn floor that makes pushing a pram around here a nightmare.
When Uwe Schmidt comes on stage he follows Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, who just closed a funk-tinged DJ set with Prince to shrieks of delight from the crowd. Today the German producer is playing as AtomTM, one of his many aliases (you may diversely know him as Senor Coconut, Atom Heart, Dropshadow Disease, Lisa Carbon, Geez N Gosh or Phresh Phantasy). Positioned at the far left of the stage, shrouded by the billowing sheets of metallic gold foil that adorn the stage, he’s barely visible as his dark clothing blends into the booth. Few vantage points give a full view of the man of the moment – one of the best unobstructed views turns out to be from the window of the bar.
Kick drum. Bass. The soundsystem strains with the weight of the first beats. The layers of percussion that follow are hard to separate; the speakers spit them out in one, gloopy splurge. The hi-hat strains to come through, crashing against the cymbal as it emerges past the grumble of the bass. The purr of the reverb splutters out in what sounds more like a cat that got his tail stepped on, rather than a cat who got the cream.
Acoustics and visibility aside, it must be said that the crowd goes crazy for AtomTM’s unique brand of live experimental techno. Schmidt himself powers through relentlessly, hitting the pedal to the metal for over an hour of non-stop beats and bleeps in a fine showcase of the extraordinary range of the man’s talents. New York clearly has an appetite for innovative electronic music, and it’s thanks to unusual curators like MoMA that they aren’t going hungry.
Photos: Zosia Swidlicka