When Diego Bernal’s opener — a classical guitar riff, chopped but not screwed — fails to elicit much audience reaction beyond some appreciative foot-tapping, Art Slam master of ceremonies Scuba Gooding Sr. gets back on the mic.
“For those of you who haven’t seen a live DJ before,” Gooding says, “this man’s not nodding his head and looking at Facebook. He’s using a program called Ableton Live to mix the music you’re hearing live.”
It’s true the music Bernal’s creating deserves some real response, but the only visual cue indicating he isn’t just futzing with his laptop and listening along with the rest of us is the forceful flip he gives the turntable to digitally scratch the track. He stalks a confident step or two away, then returns as though he’s giving the sample a few beats to breathe before he continues working it over. He knows how to push the sounds to their limits without wearing them out. Is it a coincidence that Bernal, a lawyer by day, is a master manipulator? (Note he’s a civil-rights attorney, so he’s using these powers for a worthwhile but mostly thankless purpose.) His mixes are danceable contradictions and conflicts: reggae-splashed disco that’s too light on the bass reverb to qualify as dub, freestyle battles between street-performer percussion and 808s, the golden glint of ’70s soft rock spotted in a grungy silver-age hip-hop beat, with a faint whiff of MDMA-scented rave sweat.
Maybe the most impressive aspect of the music — and the reason the crowd prefers chilling out over jumping around — is how effortless Bernal makes creating it seem. His low-key stage presence is reflected in the music. Risky mashups that could come off as avant-garde or overreaching flow so smoothly you don’t think to spot the stitches, and Bernal does it by embracing the bipolar relationships between his songs’ disparate elements. Rather than over-clocking a slower-tempo sample — a loping funk bassline or a soulful brass fanfare — to match pace with a higher-energy drum beat, he permits them space to fight it out, giving the track a three-dimensional depth to be filled in by the brain’s uncanny ability to create order. His skill is most evident when he’s minding that gap to ensure listeners never need to stretch to a snapping point.
The music’s so mesmerizing the audience sits in a silent daze until Bernal closes his Powerbook and breaks the trance.
Download Diego Bernal’s albums for free at diegobernal.bandcamp.com.
Sat, Jun 19
Sam’s Burger Joint
330 E .Grayson
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