This article was first published on THUMP in 2015.
Consider this: what if the drop never came? What if that incremental build up of tearing synths and pulsing kick drums wound itself up further and further, your arms outstretching with every climb, your sinewy ligaments strained through anticipation, reaching, nearly reaching something, only it doesn't end, it keeps stretching, tearing higher, forever and ever. That glorious release, the one that has sent globules of sweat-mixed-tanning-oil into the fibres of your deep v All Saints tee, the one that has pulled the hairs on the back of your neck up like blades of barley, what if it simply never came?
The entire motion of the blaring track has been for nothing. Gradually you realise the beat has re-emerged without the fever-inducing fanfare you'd been waiting for. It's a scene of limp disappointment, no finality, infinite expectation, and seemingly no reward. It is a scene that questions exactly what we have come to expect from loud, repetitive, electronic music, playing to a club full of people. It is the scene of Maceo Plex playing Four Tet's remix of Eric Prydz' "Opus" in full to Amnesia's terrace.
Spotted first by Harder Blogger Faster, last week Maceo Plex closed his set with all nine glorious minutes of Kieran Hebden's edit of the Swedish producer's latest single. However Amnesia weren't ready for a track that spends nine long minutes, ostensibly getting nowhere. Nine minutes building to the same shuffle the track started with. The below video, posted with a "what the fuck is going on here?", showcases a crowd blindly trusting Maceo Plex — and by extension Four Tet — to provide them with the release they are so blatantly expecting and ending up left hanging, in suspended animation. Before we go any further, you should probably watch the video.
As the arpeggio builds higher and higher, you can spot muscular Beefa lads begin spreading out into circles, encouraging people to lower themselves before the eventual release. Wolf whistles fly into the air, hands begin the slow clap in time with the exponential pace of the melody, it goes on. Some start cheering — perhaps hoping that if they behave as though the drop is about to arrive, maybe it will — while others begin to lose interest. It's still going. The lads who were crouched down begin to slowly raise themselves up. It's still going. The sun is pouring through the rafters onto a sea of wide eyes and slow-cooked confusion. It's still going. "This isn't what we were expecting." It's still going. "This isn't what usually happens."
It's the clubbing equivalent of placing the cookie jar on the kitchen counter the five year old can't quite reach. Of jangling the house keys for the best part of an hour, but never taking your dog for walkies. It is inclining football commentator's voice, watching the forward on the penalty area, weaving in and out like a hummingbird but never taking the final shot. It is a jack in the box that never bursts. It is the unfinished handjob.
The response of Amnesia says a lot about the culture of big drop dance music. It's come to completely dominate the mainstream, tracks based purely on the dynamic of a furious investment, to a subsequent gaudy release. With this pattern so ingrained, it's easy to see how Four Tet's remix of "Opus", that stubbornly refuses to adhere to this pattern, left Maceo Plex's crowd so bewildered.
For when the drop does come, it doesn't drop in the way they were hoping. It drops down — right back down — further than they were when they started. Despite being called a drop, the usual practice is to go higher. A drop to a higher place. A drop upwards into the stars, stars shining brighter than sparklers in a bottle of Grey Goose. But no, this drop, the drop that has come after the longest, winding, build in any of their memories, has simply plummeted down into the murky floor.
There are many strange things to be taken from this video. There's undeniably something beautiful about it. The early morning light breaking in over the bemused crowd. That inimitable end of the night feeling is everywhere, you can practically taste it. The exhaustion muddled with the determination that "if we've stayed up this long we can keep on going". The sun exposing the sweat and saggy eyes (on those who aren't wearing sunglasses that is) as the last fizzing sparks of physical energy spits out into regrettable dance moves. Then there is the music.
The fact that the remix exists at all is a bit of an oddity. Four Tet, despite becoming more and more synonymous with huge club sets, is still a name more readily associated with Burial or Caribou that he is Martin Garrix or Tiësto. But exist it does. And it's fantastic, the sort of track that courts sincerity to the very last junction before it becomes cheesy. It's somehow intelligent and yet refreshingly straightforward. It's got all the grandeur of trance, with the murky underbelly of post-millennial British electronic music. But, while it is all of those things, it's also a track that refuses to fully satisfy in the conventional sense. When it does get big, and bigger, it practically does so in order to tease unfairly. To raise expectations to levels it knows it won't match. The build is so extensive, so painstakingly considered, yet at its climaxes everything falls back into the shadows, rather than finding the light.
The video of Maceo Plex's set closer captures a strange environment. One that is uncomfortable but weirdly poetic in the same stroke. An audience forcibly pulled out of their comfort zone, into a world of dance music that doesn't just slap them in the face with a double time snare and a blast of lurid synth stabs. A track that forces them to question, "what do I want out of this? Why do I want it to drop? And if it doesn't drop — what do I do then?"
There is then the added absurdity of just how unusual it is to see a DJ play a record in its entirety in a club. Genuinely, on watching the video there is the sensation of awkwardness, as if to say "why hasn't he mixed out of this yet?" It's a peculiar state of affairs and says much about the pace of both DJ sets, the music industry, and the world itself, that to actually hear a record in full feels indulgent or bloated. Why should it? Obviously mixing means it is rare for a record to be played fully in isolation, but part of the tension in the Amnesia video seems to be that the crowd are simply left with too much time to think. Too much space between the notes, and too much air between kick drums.
A listen to the original "Opus" gives a taste of what the Amnesia crowd were expecting. In fact, this video of Eric Prydz himself dropping the track at Creamfields this year articulates it even better. The build up is leaner, comes at the start, and the pay-off is huge. Monumental. Earth shattering. But, and here's the clincher, a little bit hollow.
Whether he knew it or not, Four Tet (via Maceo Plex), was delivering the beleaguered clubbers of Amnesia an insight into the true motions of life. For really, what is our existence but one long build-up to the low-hanging realisation that "the drop" will never come. That truly, we will never taste the rainbow's end. Call it cynicism wrapped up in the ever-hungry habits of the human condition, but we will always search, always reach further. Even then, when we do reach our perceived glories, they fade in a moment. Fireworks explode in a radiant shatter only to curl off into brief smoke and then nothingness. The movie that didn't live up to the trailer.
Yet this doesn't mean life is inevitably disappointing. Four Tet's take on "Opus" is far richer than its original. It finds glory somewhere murkier, and altogether more human. Essentially, it's an expression of an introverted climax. The transcendental build to a sunlit roof, only to plummet down into a churning basement. If Eric Prydz' original is a dreamer's drop, an aspirational drop, then Four Tet's is an egalitarian one. A reminder that ultimately, we're not going to space, we are all just shuffling around in the dark together and we are better for it.
Maceo Plex read the feedback on Facebook, and took to Twitter to defend his actions. In his words he is "aware a usual Amnesia Ibiza set is bouncy tech house", but he "just [doesn't] enjoy playing that." Maybe I'm reading between the lines, maybe the last few hundred words you've read have been an unnecessary nihilistic exploration of an Eric Prydz track (rhetorical), but I think what Maceo Plex is really trying to say is this: "I'm aware a usual Amnesia set is bouncy tech house, but the motions of life are not bouncy, they are not frivolous. If we spend too much time chasing tighter muscles, bigger bottles, more VIP wristbands, darker tans, deeper v necks, and louder, faster, harder, drops we may miss the truth under our polo-ringed nostrils. You are waiting for the drop, and it will never come, but that is okay. For the thrill of existence…is in the chase."
Something like that anyway.