When we saw that the hip-hop producer and Ninja Tune label mainstay Blockhead was going to headline a DJ showcase at Paper Box on Saturday night, we felt a little bit of perverse curiosity to see whether or not would his live performance be underwhelming. His latest release, Interludes After Midnight, as well as the excellent Music Scene from 2010 are ponderous down tempo affairs, seemingly better suited to a quiet solitary walk home from the subway station than to the cavernous and graffiti-inspired chic of the Paper Box performance space.
The inspiration for Interludes After Midnight is supposed to come from late-night public access television programming, and anyone familiar with Video Music Box, the music video showcase hosted by “Uncle” Ralph McDaniels would surely get the reference. The album is a mélange of different music genres, effortlessly crisscrossing between progressive rock, Brazilian funk, languorous guitar chords and the occasional sample from those early morning exercise fitness instructors you heard your mom doing her pilates workouts to. As an auditory body of work, Interludes After Midnight is a veritable rabbit hole of skillfully crafted hooks and rhythms, but in the DJ performance model du jour, hip-hop is usually incorporated by taking some booty-shaking Dirty South music and throwing in a couple Skrillex-influenced drum-and-bass beats here and there.
As such, I was curious to see what kind of crowd would come to check out the performance of such an idiosyncratic hip-hop auteur, and how they would respond. On both counts, I was pleasantly surprised and admittedly, more than a little naïve. The show was like a high school reunion for hip-hop heads and casual listeners alike, not only drawing backpackers, but hipsters, hippies, punks, Orthodox Jewish club kids and a pretty popular guy dressed as Jesus who told me to get him something nice because his birthday was coming up.
As it turns out, Blockhead the hip-hop producer is also, you know, an actual DJ, equally capable of rocking a crowd by mixing up his own danceable tracks like Panic in Funkytown and Smoke Signals with such random gems as Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” all the while swaying and mouthing the words to his favorite selections. In sum, the Blockhead show was one of those rare chances to see a consummate hip-hop DJ flex their muscles on the proverbial wheels of steel. After his set was over, I went over to Blockhead, aka Tony Simon, and let him know that I was doing a write-up of his performance for the Bushwick Daily, to which he jokingly replied that he hoped that I wrote well of him. It’s the sort of playfully sarcastic false modesty you’d expect from a guy who titled one of his tracks, Which One of You Jerks Drank My Arnold Palmer. More than honorable mentions for the show should also go to the sets performed by Machinist, DJ Lena Marie and the excellent Cobra Krames.