labyrinth finished a few weeks ago, but for me it is only really felt like it came to a complete end the other day, when i said goodbye to dozzy and his wife, who are about to leave japan. as soon as i got home, suddenly i felt ready to write about this year. i say this as way of introduction to emphasise the fact that this is most certainly not an objective review of labyrinth, quite the opposite: this is about as subjective as you can get. i'm writing this from the position of someone who has become deeply involved: i consider the organisers and many of the artists good friends. it would not be an over-statement to say that the labyrinth crew are basically my family in japan. this year mnml ssgs had a much more direct involvement, we had some CDR promos with labyrinth artists at disk union, and we also served as something of a middleman in helping people from overseas get ticket tickets. what i am basically saying is that i'm heavily invested in all of this: i believe in labyrinth, and i have tried my best to support it, so keep that in mind when you read what follows.
another introductory point is that labyrinth is something intensely personal and it is impossible for me to separate it from the trajectory of my life. my first labyrinth was in 2008. i arrived in japan en route to the UK, where i was about to take up a new job. everything was in flux, work stresses and opportunities combined with problems in my personal life, meanwhile mnml ssgs was only just starting to get going. at the time labyrinth had a very powerful impact, but it is only looking back that i can now see exactly how important a moment it was. labyrinth 2008 was when i met for the first time the person i am now lucky enough to call my wife. it was also the first time i met russ, donato and pvh, people who have all become close friends. and as a whole, the inspiration gained was absolutely central in further developing the blog. the bond between ssgs and labyrinth became stronger when we posted the live recording of dozzy's closing set from 2008, which remains one of the most important moments in our (short) history. my 2nd labyrinth, 2009, was a different experience. in the intervening 12 months, i had gone through major upheaval in my personal and professional life, and was continuing to struggle with living in an environment that did not work with me. labyrinth was a brief interlude from this turmoil, another powerful, inspirational moment that helped me work out my priorities. in contrast to my first two labyrinths, in 2010 i didn't have to get on a plane. i moved to tokyo in march and i'm now happily living in japan. whereas the last two years my life had very much been in flux, things are now finally settling down a bit. given all of this, labyrinth 2010 was a rare opportunity to reflect on an intense couple of years, let out a few deep sighs, and then celebrate with a group of very special people. what made this even better is that PC also made the trip, and it was great being able to share all of this with him. so clearly this is something more than just a party for me. labyrinth has served as marker points in my life over the last few years, and when i think about 2010, this is unavoidably the framework through which i view it. and for the same reason, this is also a very long post, but even if only for myself, i feel i have to try to record what happened.
2010 was a special year for labyrinth for many reasons. perhaps the most significant is that it was the tenth edition. given that this event is not backed by any corporations or sponsors, and is essentially the work of a handful of very dedicated people, it is impressive that they reached number 10. the first labyrinth took place in 2001. over the years, the sound of labyrinth has changed and evolved considerably, and obviously what was on show in 2010 was very different from 2001. saying that, some important aspects have remained, most notably the ethos of the party, the logic behind it, the lack of compromises, the care for details, the respect for the crowd and the surroundings. in saying this, it is important to recognise and appreciate that labyrinth has had a different trajectory from many comparable events. labyrinth is a unique beast.
the lineups for labyrinth are undoubtedly impressive. it is rare anywhere in the world to find such a collection of top shelf artists. but if i think about what makes labyrinth special, it is the fact that these high calibre musicians are given the perfect environment to do something different, something important. arguably the biggest draw-card on the lineup is not any of the artists, but the mighty funktion-one system that dominates the landscape of labyrinth. it really is impossible to properly describe how good the sound is. i've been to berghain, i've been to fabric, i've been to plenty of places, this shits all over them. the F1 setup was bigger this year, and with another year under their belt at the naeba venue, it was tuned even better. full respect to steve, who is in charge of the sound. his role at labyrinth might not be so obvious, but he plays an absolutely central part in the success of the party. so when i am describing all the music, please keep in mind that it was all coming out of some serious F1s.
one of the strongest memories i will take from the 2010 edition is that this is probably the best crowd i'e ever been part of. labyrinth always has a great group of people and with only 2,500 tickets for the naeba venue, it is a pretty intimate affair (as far as larger scale events go). the crowd was great: warm, friendly, polite, you couldn't ask for much more. and in terms of attendance, this was the biggest labyrinth ever, with tickets selling out about a week in advance. respect to everyone who came for their support and contributing to the fantastic atmosphere. it was great to see so many people made the trip from abroad - mnml ssgs helped bring about 50 people (i think) - to the hills of japan. this element of like-minded people who had made a big commitment (with their money and time) to come to labyrinth added a new and positive dimension to the party. thanks to everyone who made the trip.
the venue was the same as last year, naeba, a lovely spot, as you can see in the photos. the outdoor element definitely sets this apart from most parties. techno in the hills of japan is not how i am used to relating to this music, but it is something i have quickly accustomed myself to. the beautiful surroundings of the venue, and its remoteness, add to the intensity and power of the experience. it is good enjoying techno music in a more natural setting. this year they stuck with the day format, and given they had more notice, the timetable was adjusted accordingly. and it worked very well. it is much easier on the body having the party run across more normal hours. it means people don't have to push themselves so hard, it is a healthier way to enjoy yourself. given that labyrinth is a bit of a techno marathon, anything that helps you survive it is a good thing! the timetable was just about right this year, though it could probably do with a bit more tweaking. regardless of what time the music is turned off at the night, people are pretty slow getting going in the morning, so pushing the whole schedule back an hour or two next year might be advisable. some great music was wasted on the final morning of this year, dozzy and convextion played to a very small crowd, as most people were still recovering from the previous night.
DAY 1: FRAGMENTATION
the party opened with labyrinth's favourite son, donato dozzy, playing a special kosmiche set. given the crucial role krautrock played in the development of contemporary electronic music, i've been happy to see a growing interest in it recently. keeping this context in mind, it was great for labyrinth to be opening with krautrock. staying mainly on the spacey/ambient side of things, dozzy's gave the audience a thoughtful and enjoyable history lesson. hearing steve reich ('music for 18 musicians', i think), what i am pretty sure was vangelis, and many other records from the krautrock era was a lovely way to commence the party. my only complaint was that he played perhaps my favourite kraftwerk track - 'radioaktivität' - but then cut out of it very early on, before it fully hit. what a massive disappointment! dozz explained later it was because he mixed in another track related to radioactivity. fair enough, but i would have much preferred to hear the full version of kraftwerk, because it is such an amazing record. besides this, it was a great way to open what would be an amazing few days.
scuba was given the difficult task of following up krautrock. the fact that dozzy had kept more on the ambient tip made his life a bit easier, so scuba started slow, commencing with mount kimbie (i think). some people weren't convinced about the transition, but i was impressed. it was a tough ask following krautrock, and he managed it well. soon after came one of his own tracks, 'symbiosis', which was a pleasure to hear on the F1s. but it was when scuba played tracks by plastikman ('plasticity', i think) and aphex twin (perhaps from SAW) that he really took hold of the crowd. these two artists are perfect examples of the 'labyrinth sound' and it was these records that made me think, "yes, labyrinth has begun". the first two hours of the set flowed quickly, as he managed to combine his scuba and scb sides well (think his RA 'cast). in the final hour he pushed it a bit too much for my liking and lost me. but overall it was a very good set. and it was fantastic hearing dubstep sounds on the F1s. it was the first time for labyrinth to have an artist that sounded like that, and it worked. i really hope to see similar bookings in the future.
the final act for the night was peter van hoesen. when peter first played in 2008 he only just starting to be recognised. a few years later and PvH has firmly established himself as one of the leading lights in contemporary techno. labyrinth has played an important role in his trajectory, so it was great to see him back up on stage. PvH took most of the crowd by surprise, starting his set with new beat. one of the highlights of this labyrinth was hearing 'flesh' by a split second - the crowd erupted and i was jumping up and down like a madman (i would regret this the next day). having quickly taken control, PvH went straight for the throat and put together a powerful set weaving plenty of new records in with some classics (ron trent, nitzer ebb and others). while i enjoyed peter's set, i have preferred some of the other times i have seen him. i felt like musically the first night was very open and i would have been interested in him pushing it a bit further away from the dancefloor. saying this, these are minor complaints, especially as his set was very well received. and thanks to peter, the first night finished with a bang.
DAY 2: ESCALATION
after the opening being a bit more intense than perhaps what the organisers expected, the timetable for the second day was pushed back a bit and shortened. while this makes sense in theory, people that did get up earlier in time to be on the dancefloor in time for reagenz at 8:30am instead found the first record just being played. this is the second year in a row i've been on time to discover the schedule had been changed and i could have slept more... for next year, i think it'd make more sense if the organisers just accepted that people are slow getting going and not start quite so early. this did mean i was able to see all of one of the local DJs, hiyoshi, who put together a lovely set of morning ambient music. a nice way to start what was going to be a very long day of music. still, some extra sleep would have helped...
when reagenz took the stage, the crowd was still waking up and wandering out to the dancefloor. move d and jonah sharp were given the task of facilitating this process and getting day two going. they achieved this with style and grace. reagenz started pretty relaxed, slowly building, and as the music developed, the dancefloor continued to grow. by the time they had finished their set, there was a big crowd of smiling faces happily moving to the sounds reagenz were creating. seeing jonah and david work their magic with a huge stack of gear was another highlight of labyrinth. reagenz don't play together too often, and it is rare they are given so many toys to play with. it was awesome seeing them going at it. bonus points to jonah and dave for being super nice, relaxed guys. when they stopped after 2 hours it felt like they were only just getting going, i'm sure they could have kept on playing for quite a while. but it was time for steffi...
anyone who follows this blog will know that i'm a big fan of steffi, and the two sets i saw her play at p-bar have been amongst the best i have heard in 2010. so i had high hopes. the sun was out, people were on the floor and reagenz had set things up perfectly for steffi's debut in japan. and unsurprisingly, she totally delivered. steffi's set was exactly the right kind of music for the middle of the day: driving house music with balls. she got the dancefloor moving with her distinctive brand of house and impressed a lot of people. one of the best daytime sets labyrinth has seen. i really hope to see steffi back again, i thought she fitted perfectly.
next up was a guy called gerald, otherwise known as a guy called lunch break. after reagenz and steffi i needed a rest. while some people raved about his set, the half of it i caught didn't interest me much. it was basically very well done tech-house, with some added twists. if you want to reach your own judgment, he has posted the live recording on his soundcloud here. even if it wasn't my thing, AGCG kept the dancefloor going, so he definitely did his job.
the sun was still out when marcel fengler took to the decks, and he had no problem continuing the good vibe that had been built by all the previous artists. having seeing both dettmann and klock recently, this set confirmed what i already felt: fengler is the best of the bunch. he balanced the set just right, going harder, but never too tough - the sun was still shining and it was still a bit early for too much dark techno. fengler rocked and it was great seeing how much fun he was having, especially as his energy really flowed over into the crowd. marcel also provided another labyrinth highlight for me by playing one of my favourite alltime techno records - the surgeon remix of 'it one jah' by the advent. this record is also in marcel's alltime top records on his ostgut page, and when i first saw that, i knew i'd like him. i totally lost my shit hearing it on the F1s. such a perfect record. still sounds amazing after all these years... so full marks to fengler. he really did good.
by the time PvH started his livepa, it was dark. fengler was the transition point from day to night. no more fucking about, shit was about to get serious. unfortunately it was about this time that a huge wave of tiredness hit me. i had not slept much after the first day, and had been at the venue since about 8.30am (it was about 6.00pm or 6.30pm when PvH started, i think). i would love to hear peter's livepa again, as i wasn't able to enjoy it fully because my body was in temporary shut down mode. but i was definitely able to listen enough to work out it was good. very good. what impressed me about PvH's live is that this was the 3rd year in a row he had done a livepa, and it was the 3rd year he had done something that sounded different from before. the first half of his set was very deep, i even had trouble grasping onto it, before he really toughened it up towards the end. for the second time at labyrinth 2010, he had the crowd rocking with an impressive performance. what i love about peter van hoesen is that he is one of the few people who is equally skilled as a DJ and liveact, as people at labyrinth can attest to.
PvH finishing meant it was time. time for function. his set at labyrinth 2009 was a revelation, and i had been waiting twelve months to relive the experience. except i wanted/expected it to be better this time. lucky for me it was. there were a few differences from the previous year. one was that the first time he played at labyrinth he basically took everyone by surprise. we all knew he was good, but i don't think anybody (except maybe eric cloutier) knew that function was going to totally destroy the place. this time everyone was prepared. so instead of surprise, there was anticipation. lots of it. but the anticipation went both ways, function was also ready. function stepped up and delivered another benchmark performance, which confirmed his place right at the top of contemporary techno's elite. he started with a more ambient, old school sounding track from the new sandwell album, and from there function put together an impressive set that demonstrated his deep understanding of techno. compared to last year, his set was more diverse, and definitely had more of a 'labyrinth' feel to it. he also made more use of the many machines at his disposal, which i loved. the result was that function created something powerful and special. i could try listing some tracks he played, but i don't see much point. it was the overall impact of his set that mattered. what made this such a great moment was seeing the beautiful symbiosis between the artist and the event: function has an incredible amount of talent and knowledge, and labyrinth provided the perfect stage for him to dig deep and create something with real meaning. function did that. full respect.
when function finished, so did i. i was beyond tired. only problem was that shackleton was on. this was definitely one of the masterstrokes of the event. if you want to know why russ is different, why lab is different, this is the perfect example. after a long, powerful and intense day of music, people were exhausted. rather than ease up, it was time for the headshot. function had killed everybody, shackleton would fuck their corpses. the dancefloor was an amazing sight - no one knew quite how to dance or react to what was coming out of the F1s. i only saw half of it before i had to leave (there was still another day), but i witnessed enough to recognise the importance and value of this set. an impressive performance from one of the most unique and important people making electronic music (given this, it is worth emphasising what an incredibly humble, thoughtful and nice guy sam shackleton is). once again, labyrinth provided the right stage: it allowed shackleton to really explore, and offerwd a setting to be at his most fucked up best. in essence, it was modern day tribal music summoning up ghosts and demons. from most of the people i spoke with (and from what i saw) there was general agreement that shackleton was definitely one of the highlights of labyrinth. it was placing him after function, and at the end of that day, which really allowed it to happen. a successful experiment, and one i'd encourage to be repeated in the future. this was the right way to finish an incredibly intense and important day of music.
DAY 3: CONSOLIDATION
there had already been more than enough awesome music. but it wasn't over yet. still one more day to go... dozzy started proceedings with an ambient set in the rain. unfortunately we missed most of it because the bus was about 40-50 minutes behind schedule. which was not super cool. we arrived in time to hear the final few records, and donato's set finished with a track from his new album 'K'. sounded great on the F1s.
next up was convextion, who was unfortunately stuck with a pretty empty dancefloor, the combination of some rain plus exhaustion from day two meant people were slow getting going. given this setting, convextion played a mellow set that focused more on his dub and melodic side. it was a subtle, careful set which demanded attention. to be honest, i really wanted to hear an ERP set, but it just wasn't the moment. it was too early, there weren't the people or the energy. he played just right for that time, but a real shame he didn't have a bigger crowd. still, the set confirmed what i had fully discovered at labyrinth 2008: convextion is seriously good. he might not get that much attention or release on big labels, but he is a talented individual, and that is what i heard again this year.
while russ is perhaps the most well known outside of japan, he is not the only organiser of labyrinth. another key individual is so, who also DJs at the party each year. so was given the difficult job of getting everyone up and going in time for mathew jonson. in previous years i haven't listened closely to him, but this time i did, and i was impressed. he played a well fitting set that helped build the dancefloor and prepare the stage for jonson and dozzy. so understood his role in the overall scheme of the party and played the set he needed to. by the time jonson started, the dancefloor was getting full and ready. he has played labyrinth a few times before and is definitely a favourite over here. jonson's set was a bit predictable for my liking, there wasn't much that was too different or new in his performance. but saying that, it didn't need to be. when he played 'marionette', the whole place erupted. it was a really beautiful moment, everyone was so incredibly happy. i was back stage and it was so cool to see all the artists react - jumping up and heading straight for the dancefloor. by the time jonson finished, he had the crowd eating out of his hand. people were happy and having fun. now it was time for dozzy to bring things to a fitting end.
closing labyrinth is obviously an important task, and one dozzy takes very seriously. this year there was a lot of extra added pressure - for various reasons 2010 had been a big year for donato, and to top it off, this was his 40th birthday. so it certainly was a special occasion for him. given it is dozzy, and also knowing how significant this set was for him, i had super high expectations. so i was a bit surprised when the first hour was good, but a bit cautious, even a bit underwhelming. it felt like he was struggling to find his groove. then in the space of about 15 minutes or so, dozzy took off. i can't remember the exact records, but quickly the tempo had been raised, the beats got a bit harder, but more than that, it felt like dozzy's attitude had changed. it was time. dozzy took flight. the rest of his set was a blur of a positive memories. the feeling of the dancefloor was so incredibly good. all the labyrinth crew were dancing together, sharing this special experience with new and old friends. i remember at one point i was jumping around, having fun, and wondered how much longer dozzy had. i was shocked to look at my watch and discover he only had another 10 minutes. last year he played too long, and it took away from what was otherwise a great set. this year he played just the right amount, bringing labyrinth 2010 to an end after a brilliant 4.5 hours. i don't really know how to describe dozzy's set (this might also be because i was tired and suffering from a bottle of russian vodka our friends a mixmag.ru kindly provided), but all i can say is that it was the most emotional set of techno i have ever heard. donato shared his heart with everyone there. and this made it the perfect way to finish what was basically the perfect party.
i wonder how many people have actually read all of this monster post... if you have, thank you. i know there is a lot of text here, but i place great value and meaning in words. labyrinth is something incredibly important to me. it has changed who i am, how i view the world, and how i understand music. my attempt to document what happened at 2010 is my way of trying to do justice to something i deeply value, and to say thank you to everyone that contributed to making labyrinth 2010 something much more than a just a music event. as i said previously, for me this was a celebration of life. a celebration of what people are capable of. i know that must all sound terribly overblown, but that is how i understand what happened.
i want to thank russ, yasuyo, so, charles and all the rest of the crew that created labyrinth. thanks to my awesome wife yuri, my fellow ssg and essential friend PC. massive respect and thanks to all the artists, especially donato, peter and dave. i better stop. those who were there know what happened. the words i will leave you with are some of the final lines from one of my favourite movies, ghost dog. these have been bouncing around my head in the last few weeks, i think because they kind of sum up what labyrinth does differently, and why it matters:
"sometimes you gotta stick with the ancient ways.
the old-school ways.
i know you understand me.
i know you understand me."
see you in 2011. the preparations have begun.