A couple weeks ago in a small Dalston café, Terre Thaemlitz (Comatonse Recordings) spoke of the importance of secrecy as a method of self-defence amidst the mass appeals of populist media. The subjects of Terre’s work are of such a hyper-specific nature, that it is essential to ensure the correct interpretation by closing off all populist ‘shopping mall’ mediums that could lead to misinterpretation through misunderstanding. (Hence why Terre politely asks all uploaders of her music to YouTube if they could take it down)
It is with this sense of secrecy and subversion that Terre operated as DJ Sprinkles in the basement of a Hell’s Angels clubhouse in Lawrence Hill on Saturday night. The venue choice for someone like Terre was at first questionable – being a transgendered DJ who has a history of residencies at queer clubs – but it soon came apparent that it was just another subversive method with which Terre could put across her politics.
Once the time for last entry had passed, we were locked in with DJ Sprinkles for five and a half hours, where she proceeded to construct a nihilist bunker around herself and members of the dance floor with her cornucopia of deeper-than-deep house and arsenal of homemade private edits. It didn’t take long for one to fully gauge the depth to which Terre was willing to take us. Starting out with tracks like ‘Lost Area’ and ‘Class’, the music soon began to truncate itself into beautiful sections – nay movements – that sometimes went tens of minutes without kick drums.
The first major spectacle of the night was a tribute to Frankie Knuckles in the form of three or four different versions of ‘The Whistle Song’, tightly mixed and interplayed. The famous melody was surrounded by flutes, vocal harmonies and piano solos – it’s extremely rare that one hears such frank displays of deep emotion being played in such ‘serious’ club settings. Meeting its apex, I found myself surrounded by couples – both gay and straight – in each others’ arms, making genuine human connections, taking time to engage with the music and then turn to the person next to them to be part of a low, but rather lovely, murmur that the crowd was producing underneath the music. It wasn’t the drug-fueled, murmur of boredom you often hear on nights out during down time, but one of comfort, of joy, of contentment just to be in this space. To feel an entire building succumbing to this atmosphere was really incredible, and is something that I have never experienced before.
Terre doesn’t always keep it pretty though, she likes to play with light and dark contrasts and deliberately disorientate the audience (especially armed with her RMX1000’s filter delay). Every so often she’d remind us of the real world through her ‘Fresh Insights’ sample of Tony Benn, ‘Sisters, I don’t Know What This World Is Coming To’, eventually ending on the extremely apt, ‘The Crippled Left Wing Soars With The Right’. The meanings behind her music play such a huge role for any listeners on the dance floor who know her for more than music; they help construct a narrative and allow Terre to say so much, to say everything, without opening her mouth once.
I could go on listing the various musical events that happened during the night, but it would do nothing to convey the magnitude of her set, both in its construction, essence and resonance. This is someone who has more of an insight into deep house and its contexts than anyone else in the world. Someone who plays music that often falls on the deaf ears of people who are part of dance music purely as consumers. Someone who only DJs in order to re-appropriate the money for worthwhile projects, but who carries on repeating this cycle whilst trying to maintain a strategy of secrecy and hyper-specificity.
It was all this – combined with the lack of pretense, the wave of melody, these musical decisions – that makes the DJ Sprinkles project so crucial to the fraying fabric of dance culture, and one of the greatest expressions of the 21st Century that the wider world will never know.