NEW YORK One of dance music's legends, Englishman Paul Oakenfold, and one of its rising stars, Los Angeles' Sandra Collins, ripped though high-voltage sets on the turntables for several thousand thrill-seeking dancers at Manhattan's Roseland Ballroom Thursday night.
Oakenfold, on the mend from an illness that caused the show's temporary postponement a night earlier, and Collins ignited the event with their individual styles, which lean toward the trance end of the techno spectrum. Oakenfold spun dense, pile-driving rhythms layered with keyboard and string textures that offered a series of implosions and explosions. One minute he was loud and stirring up a commotion, usually by folding his hands in mock prayer or lifting his arms and flashing a smile. The next, the beats went quiet and tense while he took a break and the crowd cheered in anticipation of the next eruption. Last night, his vibe was properly relentless.
The highest and most telling point in Oakenfold's set came as the diminutive but dapper Brit dropped an intense, pounding remix of Radiohead's "Street Spirit" into the mix, which in its original form is one of the band's softest and sparsest songs. The move worked the crowd into a wild frenzy. So much for Thom Yorke's introspection; they were in the hands of a DJ tonight.
"His transitions are very smooth," said Paul Weiss, a 26-year-old attendee from Manhattan. "When he wants to, he can play hard. But he knows how to hold back. He allows you to save up your energy to last the whole night."
At times Collins rocked equally hard, although her style is slightly more subtle. The energy of her sets doesn't hit you over the head all at once; instead it comes incrementally, as if from just beyond the edge of perception. It's as if she paints the corners like a finesse pitcher in baseball, sneaking the rhythm in the back door. The tracks she spun Thursday often began with a lone guitar screech or an abrupt synth squiggle, which then served as the foundation on which her funky bass grooves would rise.
It was spacey, heady stuff from a DJ who wouldn't look out of place on a flying saucer the lanky Collins wore her light-blond hair in pigtails, with dark sunglasses shielding her eyes as she stood in a straight, commanding pose.
Both Collins and Oakenfold used their set's video presentations to full effect, especially Oakenfold. Images of women in various states of undress, neon-lit strips of casinos and close-ups of people's eyeballs gave the message that this night was indeed about the things that ooze luridly. Collins, on the other hand, generally relied on rotating pastel psychedelic blasts of color a more cerebral, less outrageous approach.
As at many dance-music shows, the DJs, though accomplished, were not the sole focus. Here, the atmosphere was king, augmented by the oddity of an age-old theater that typically plays host to the Rage Against the Machines and Beth Ortons of the world. Call it an underground party with traditional concert security, a bag-check, a $35 cover and $8 beers.
The sights and sounds were suitably rave-y, as purple lights swirled overhead while ubiquitous glow sticks swung wildly, as did the young, aesthetically pleasing singles in the crowd. Telling image: a young woman in a pink tube-top with sunglasses poking out of her cleavage leading a male friend with glittering black, short, spiky hair and a pair of science-fiction shades by the hand through the theater.