Although Douglas Appling and Ilya Goldberg (known collectively as Portland’s Emancipator) and Brooklyn’s Eliot Lipp are separated by the contiguous US, the producers share a strong appreciation for the more organic, emotional aspects of electronic music. These locales have been instrumental in the progressions of the artists’ recordings, with Emancipator’s beats reflecting the beautiful natural ambience of the Great Northwest and Lipp blending analog synthesizer loops and melodies among a gritty, hip-hop tempo. These production philosophies borrow from the current trends in EDM, but keep a distance from the strict guidelines that define so many of the scene’s subgenres.
Although accompanied through Cleveland by a massive snowstorm, these beat alchemists, in association with the city’s Cumulus Entertainment, managed to pack the Beachland Ballroom with a spirited collection of hoopers, hip-hop heads, wookies and what seemed a small portion of people who had no idea what they were getting into. Even as the snow continued to accumulate, the crowd stayed warm inside among the comfort of good friends and Goldberg’s sweeping violin arrangements.
Currently releasing through the Pretty Lights Music label, Lipp kept Friday night’s set focused on a progression of organic, electro-hop instrumentals. Equipped with his trusted Korg synth, Lipp was able to remove himself from the computer screen to attack the multiple functions of the instrument, resulting in pulsing live melodies and schizophrenic tonal waves. Much like touted young gun Hudson Mohawke, Lipp is skilled in taking elements of the trending trap music, primarily the rapid Roland 808 drum machine samples and ghetto-tech synth lines, and fusing those qualities with the repetition of techno, tempos ranging from 80 BPM through to 128 BPM and/or elements of sonic decay that break apart the melody and peel back the layers eventually leaving the most minimal of bass beats. This experimentation was best represented at the Ballroom by Lipp’s recent single “Wonderland,” a track that has received massive support from mogul and label head Jay-Z.
On the flip-side of this bombastic aesthetic is the inability to hold an audience for an hour-long set. The venue was charged during the peak of Lipp’s mixes, but when the producer would dramatically transition to a slower tempo, the energy could literally be witnessed leaving the floor. And as people shuffled outside or picked up a group conversation, the distractions mounted against an already flat sound system. However, these hushed beats foreshadowed the essence of an Emancipator experience.
By the time producer Appling and violinist Goldberg took the stage, the venue had grown so cramped that the hoopers and poi spinners were forced to voluntary drop the rave accessories and simply sway to the chilled-out vibes of the duo. Even after crisscrossing the nation for years performing his own brand of electronic music, Appling is absent of any ego, choosing to perform with a ragged camo hat and loose fitting flannel shirt. The producer also choose to keep silent during the length of the performance, hypnotizing the audience with seamless transitions between the ambient-meets-trip-hop tracks that make up 2006’s Soon It Will Be Cold Enough and 2010’s Safe In The Steep Cliffs. Like the nature that surrounds Emancipator in their hometown of Portland, the duo’s beats are continually changing but at a pace only recognizable after the transformation has finished.
A live violinist is truly an oddity within even the broad spectrum of EDM, but the skills of Goldberg are a necessary thread that bines Appling’s wandering loops. To compete the multi-sensory dimension of their live set, Emancipator perform among numerous brightly lit geometric shapes that leisurely morph as the set progresses.
To see Emancipator is to have a communal experience. And for anyone that believes electronic music has no soul or that music produced by machines and technology is incapable of touching your heart, I urge you to experience Goldberg and Appling live. Until then, there’s always the duo’s newest release, Dusk to Dawn.