Music News

What's the Best High There Is?

High on the Vibe
Saturday, November 9
Sixth Avenue and Jackson

I am god. At least, that's what Sunshine told me and 1,427 of my fellow deities near the climax of Dubtribe Sound System's two-hour live house-music performance at High on the Vibe, a large rave in downtown Phoenix.

Actually, I think what Sunshine said went something like this: "Hold your hands up, reach into the fabric of the stars, into the folds of the universe, pull yourself through until you find god and you will find yourself, because you are god, you are all god, and you are all perfect just the way you are."

There it is; the floral essence of rave: group-hug proselytizing set to a thumping electronic pulse. And that's just one sound bite from the eight-minute, pro-freak, anti-money rant/sermon Sunshine delivered, his cadence and diction sounding like a cross between an East Coast b-boy, a Golden Gate Park neohippie and a black Baptist preacher. Homeboy went off.

Of course, by the time Sunshine and his partner in life and music Moonbeam floated their set onto its final plane--an extended version of "Sunshine's Theme"--Dubtribe's male half could have read Dorothy Parker poems into the mike without tamping down the party's vibe.

Moonbeam's diva intro was a powerful liftoff, her lilting, soaring vocals culminating in a command--"You all get up!"--just as Sunshine dropped in a tough beat: boom, boom, boom, ba-da-ba, boom, boom, boom. The two were fun to watch in action, hopping back and forth between their various synthesizers and drum machines like monkeys, flashing eye and hand signal cues, and just obviously grooving hard on their own music. Sunshine handled most of the rhythms, and busted out some incredible African tribal beats about midway through the set. There were only a few valleys in Dubtribe's set, and lots of peaks.

When I was 9 or 10, I read a fantasy adventure novel called Taren the Wanderer, in which Taren and his band of fantasy adventuring compatriots were attacked by a band of "Cauldron Born," evil zombie warriors so named because an evil sorcerer cooked them up in a big, black cauldron (stick with me here). Now, the bitch about the Cauldron Born was, if you killed one of them, the rest would pause for a second, take a collective breath and then come back at you even stronger, the dead one's strength magically dispersed through the survivors.

Being on the floor for Dubtribe's set was like being a Cauldron Born, except for the evil-zombie-warrior part. Every time the music paused--died--for a second or two, you could see everyone sort of take a breath as one and get ready for S&M to jack up the energy another notch, and when the music came back, all moved harder.

Such crude transitions were used sparingly, and for dramatic effect. For live house, Sunshine and Moonbeam pulled off some truly elegant mixes, spinning refrains back and forth between two tracks, turning the sound inside out with effects, then gently coaxing it back into a steady groove.

There was a lot of hype preceding High on the Vibe, and for the first four hours (10 to 2), the party was a disappointment, falling into the high average grade for typical Valley raves (although the fresh-fruit plates were a nice feature). Dubtribe immediately turned that around. Its appearance in the Valley was a successful experiment to see if the underground dance scene here would positively respond to a big-name live house act. It did. And that's good, because after witnessing Dubtribe, I'm convinced that live house and techno performances are more than a gimmick--they're the cutting edge of underground dance culture. And witnessing the response Sunshine and Moonbeam received, for once I felt like the Valley underground was at the top of the subcultural curve, rather than way behind it.

Other live performances at High on the Vibe included a debut ambient set by Phoenix DJ Inertia, who set an appropriately ethereal, complex mood in the chill-out room, and Jumma, who served an exotic blend of traditional Middle Eastern and Indian rhythms and instrumentation.

The only lame set of the night was turned in by Denver DJ Mike Day, whose cotton-candy fluff belonged out with the carnival games in the open-air yard.

--David Holthouse

David Holthouse is now wired.
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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse