There was much speculation and mystery surrounding “Jeff Mills: A man from the Future” performance in Taipei, beginning with the location ambiguously listed as “Taipei Nasa Space Center.” As an artist, Mr. Mill harnesses his obsession with space and his skill as a musician to fuse two entities that have awed and mystified humanity in some shape or form since the beginning of time. Advances in technology have allowed us to explore both previously unknown realms, but just as there are depths of space that will forever remain out of reach, the creation of music is infinite and man’s journey of discovery and creation is never complete.
This obscure vastness has awed musicians and scientists alike. Both devotees spend their entire lives broadening mankind’s understanding of space and music, anticipating and moulding our future in the process. Exploring this co-relation, Jeff Mills adopts space and time travel as his muse in his retro-futuristic inspired performances.
As I ascended the staircase of the ATT 4 FUN building it felt as though I were entering a lair, the rolling sound of the industrial techno settling around me and driving away the outside world. With over an hour to go until Mills was due to play only a smattering of people occupied the space, allowing me to get a good look at the setting. The location was a large room, with tall, high ceilings, and although darkly lit the disguise was evident: cream, patterned wall paper, lingering security guards, and a VIP balcony area above our heads all hinted at the true nature of the room as a exclusive club venue.
The crowd was a healthy mix of local Taiwanese and foreigners, a regular occurrence at techno events given that EDM dominates the mainstream clubs in Taiwan. Nearly everyone in attendance was dressed impeccably, their outfits (predominately black, of course) carefully chosen and exuding a cool fierceness. Certainly no one was there by accident.
Finally Mills emerged on stage and wordlessly, with a single swift gesture whipped back a black cover revealing his machinery, as though he were a magician about to begin his sorcery. Armed with his Roland TR-909, four vinyl players and a synth, Mills squats amongst his machines and the performance began.
Conscious of the futuristic theme (ironic given that the event also announced Mill’s imminent retirement) and I made an active effort to tune into Mill’s vision throughout the performance.
The show seemed to begin in an apocalyptical present, its chaos and urgency evoked through swarming red lights and a jarring piano melody hovering above the beat, the visuals depicting a gaping, flickering chasm.
A nimble, shadowed silhouette on stage, Mills commandeered his equipment to transport us through time and space, the swelling movement of his melodies and acid baselines bringing his vision of time-travel to life. The discordant use of his drum machine contributed to this frantic energy, as it wrapped itself around the multiple layers of tracks producing a single cacophonous sound.
I situated myself near the front of the stage and those surrounding me danced feverishly, utterly submitting themselves to Mills who offered a temporary break from reality. And while this release is subconsciously, if not consciously, the force that drives ravers to dance for hours on end, the urge for release appears more overt for Taiwanese partiers. They dance with a frenziness, slightly forced at times, as if trying to shed a metaphysical burden so that, rejuvenated, they may once again be able to face the stresses of Taiwanese working world.
Paying homage to Detroit classics “The Bells” brought the crowd to attention, but at times the alternate dimension that Mills strove to create flickered and threatened to slip away. When I ventured to the back of the room people appeared somewhat listless. While this can in part be blamed on the venue, its luxury ill-suited to Mill’s concept only further exacerbated as it wasn’t filled to full capacity, Mills and his audience didn’t always appear to be on the same wavelength. Perhaps aware of this Mills occasionally played his drum-pad, as if checking in with his audience, although it wasn’t until the show finale that he revealed his true potential.
For the remaining half hour the evening took a deliberate shift as our perilous journey through time and space had come to end. Having reached our final destination we were greeted by, “the man from the future”, a solitary figure bathed in golden light on a stage plunged in darkness. Abandoning his tracks and moving seamlessly to a performance using solely his drum-machine, synth and touch-pad, Mills showed us why he has earned the reputation as a master of techno. With his trademark, unwavering concentration (apart from the odd flicker towards the audience to gauge their reaction), Mill’s fingers moved deftly and deliberately as he simultaneously manipulated both his machinery and audience.
This instinctively produced, organic sound, as though he were playing an ad lib solo on a drum or guitar, brought a warmth and authenticity to his performance which techno sets often lack. This invigorated just about every person in the room, and as a collective mass we thrashed about for the remainder of “The Wizard’s” set.
While the night ended on a high, the general consensus afterwards was that although Mills played a great set people weren’t blown away. Nonetheless, with an open mind, some imagination and a close ear, listener’s who submit themselves to Mill’s retrofuturistic concept can be taken on a journey, and for a short time at least, experience first-hand the fusion Mills envisions between space, the future and electronic music.