The audience puts hands in the air as Modeselektor take control of the decks at 3am, beginning their performance with a sharpened electronic note that pierces the air like a car alarm and rises rapidly in pitch, driving the audience mad until the onset of a deep bass pulse. The set continues in this attention-grabbing style with the German duo leaving subtlety aside and reaching instead for powerful and at times anthemic tracks that draw on a diverse set of electronic influences from techno to dubstep and beyond.
It’s for the best that the set eschews delicacy as it takes place in a slightly grimey warehouse in Hackney – a secret location until shortly before the show – which lacks any of the stylish features of London’s famous clubs. There’s an endearingly disorganised feel and when we arrive there’s a scrum out the front and we’re told the guest list is ‘on hold’. East London dance fans desperately waving tickets jostle for position outside a temporary metal gate guarding the entrance and for a time it looks unclear if we’ll even make it inside.
Within the venue there’s more evidence of the slightly slapdash approach you get with warehouse parties – long lines at the bar and a queue for the toilets. But at least the sound system is present and correct, and indeed powerful and throbbing, throwing out a solid bass thud that’s got heads nodding all around the cavernous room.
There’s also a hugely impressive array of visuals. Behind the DJs a two-panelled projector wall displays constantly changing images of, among other things, animated unicorns and monsters cavorting together. During Modeselektor’s set one memorable sequence has the artists’ logo, a monkey face, morphing through several incarnations: one sleepy, one haggard, one fearsome. Then the screen breaks into a flashing jigsaw puzzle as the bass drum really starts to kick and the crowd start to scream.
There’s also an enormous blow-up man – the Modeselektor mascot – on the left of the stage standing almost motionless, like a strangely sinister Teletubby; a psychedelic sentinel in garish fluorescent colours.
The music is also somewhat psychedelic. Modeselektor have an admirable disregard for the strait jackets worn by other dance music producers and mix an eclectic range of influences into their live shows. Tonight the set jumps from pumping techno to gritty electro tracks that raze the floor like sandpaper. It’s pumping, sweaty and, thankfully, a lot of fun.
Despite the queues and setting, the crowd seem fairly controlled. Drugs are taken, but discreetly. The audience dance and, near the front, show their appreciation for the German DJs with cheers and outstretched arms. Perhaps this reflects the effort Modeselektor make to put on a live performance, more than just a DJ set. Both of them are onstage, twiddling knobs and queueing up tracks. In other words, looking busy. And there’s no doubt that Modeselektor seem energetic and engaged, which goes a long way to justify their rock star status in today’s electronic dance scene.
Their showmanship contrasts with Mala, who takes the stage at 4.30am with an altogether less brash approach. As one of the originators of the dubstep sound – he is one half of Digital Mystikz – his musical legacy is huge. But it seems most of the crowd have come for the German dance duo, and it thins out noticeably while the deeper bass and dubstep rhythms begin to shudder the floors.