Toronto Techno: Tempo at the Drake

When you hear the words “monthly techno night”, do visions of glow stick waving girlz and furtive e-dealers dance (and dance and dance) through your mind? Allow Tempo, a newish “monthly techno night” at the ever-urban Drake Hotel’s Underground room, to change all that.

Since its launch in January, Tempo has proven that the Toronto techno scene has itself grown up. Gone are the days of head-splitting hard house raves in outlaying GTA hockey arenas. Tempo celebrates life lived through electronic media, pared down to its essence, and attracts a similarly pared down core — it’s not an unwelcoming crowd, though. It’s more professional and laid-back than hare-brained and hedonistic.

So just what is the state of contemporary techno? Sleek, minimal beats and artful DJing. It doesn’t overwhelm. Spending time in the techno room today is something like sharing a room with a Donald Judd sculpture. This is precise, geometric music that depends as much on the silences between the glitches and bleeps as it does on the machine-made sounds themselves.

What’s more, at Tempo all this is played out at volumes that allow for both human conversation and some real booty shaking. Wherever the night takes you – we’d recommend trying a bit of both.

One little nuisance is the “deck heads.” Since the headline DJs do tend to be rather ‘big names’ – DJs like Greg Gow and Jeff Milligan who have local roots but know their way around the techno epicenters of Detroit, Berlin, and Miami; who run respected record labels and remix tracks by the really big names like Richie Hawtin and Derrick Carter – there will invariably be a huddle of real DJ fans (they still exist) up front. They’ll name check every white label track, gawk at the headliner’s dexterity and occasionally lose their minds at a particularly masterful mix. They are harmless, however, and their presence merely confirms your good taste. On the other hand, they’re nearly all guys, and by tipping the gender ratio of the room so heavily, it makes Tempo seem like a much better place to bring a date than to meet one. (Never say never, though.)

Rounding out Tempo are artsy touches like video installations projected on the walls up front. They add to the sense of ‘cool’ in the room, again making it feel more Berlin than Ibiza.

And one final thing. At the time of writing, Tempo has yet to be overrun by buzz. So don’t tell your friends. Just go.

On July 29, Detroit undergrounders Octave One will do a “live PA” (which means, to the outsider, playing instruments instead of spinning records). That would be a good night to start. Tempo, Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen St. W., www.tempo416.com.

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