Confession: I’ve never seen Blade Runner—any version, original, director’s cut, or 2049.
So it might seem odd to spotlight a DJ set that was not only performed in tribute to the new version of the old story, but was also in fact part of its PR. (Boiler Room, the London party-branding outfit I outlined in a June column, throws a party without a corporate sponsor about as readily as Donald Trump discloses his tax returns.) But the movie’s atmosphere is familiar enough through secondhand acquaintance that I can easily hear the links between it and the 74-minute set from Glasgow producer and animator Konx-om-Pax from Boiler Room’s Blade Runner 2049 x Boiler Room London event on September 16, 2017, which he played along with four other DJs. And his set more than stands unto itself.
Too often, a DJ “tribute” to a classic film usually entails the queasy overlay of sound bites from the movie, or its soundtrack cuts, into a readymade stew of tracks you really don’t need to hear again. And certainly enough bad records have utilized Blade Runner to make a listener wary. Konx-om-Pax, on the other hand, goes for something more conceptual, and, though his set is hardly a steady train-track, also more party-ready.
Tom Scholefield is as well known for his visual work as his music, as with the striking animated video for Martyn’s “Viper” he made in 2011; he also handles visuals for the live show of the playful, tuneful, rave-fueled Nottingham-reared producer Lone. As Konx-om-Pax, Scholefield also makes tracks that look longingly back at the cartoony early- ‘90s 12-inches fueling British rave’s second wave. But while Konx’s production touch is every bit as Technicolor as Lone’s, his melodic style is thinner and more pointillist, with a taste for orchestration that differs yet further from Lone’s warm pads.
That era’s giddily rushing futurism is the hook on which Konx’s set hangs, and which provides the link to Ridley Scott’s seductive, overwhelming neon futurescape. Rather than reproducing a 1992-era pirate-radio atmosphere, the DJ slips skips through all manner of anthems that recall the period, even if that’s not when they’re from. So we get the Italo piano of Itchy & Scratchy’s “Come On (Burp Mix),” from 1994, leading into Nathan Fake feat. Prurient’s “Degreelessness (Overmono Remix),” from this May. We get hands-in-air trance from Three Drives on a Vinyl side by side with fusion violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and the neo-classical misshapes of Aphex Twin’s “Girl/Boy Song,” all glowing like they’d been designed by Douglas Trumbull.
But the convincer was encountering Jeff Mills’ “The Bells” (1997) in a way I couldn’t have predicted coming. With its staccato Morse Code riff and itchy door-knocker kick drum, “The Bells” is unquestionably one of the great techno records; it’s also one of the most constantly played techno records, not least by Mills himself. Who can blame him? But it’s a difficult track to make sound new. I wouldn’t dare spoil how, but Konx-om-Pax manages to do it here, and to do the same with everything else, too, even after you’ve heard him do it more than once.
Each Thursday, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set—often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily—and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.