Together Boston 2014

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  • Boston gets the short end of the stick. A high-turnover college demographic, strict curfew laws, a small electronic music crowd and the temptation for anyone with big dreams to move to New York (just a few hours away by car) all make it hard to maintain a scene there. Together, as the name implies, is an effort to unite many of Boston's smaller promoters, highlighting what the city has to offer and giving its dance music fans one hell of a party week. Together is set up like many other urban dance festivals: it takes place across a range of nightclubs, offering a glimpse into the local nightlife. Daytime programming at the futuristic District Hall included interviews, lectures and Ableton workshops (and a prominent co-sign from Boston's mayor, who dropped the ceremonial first beat). As for nighttime, one thing was immediately clear: Boston isn't the best city for clubbing. Middlesex Lounge and a few hoity-toity spots aside, most of the venues were simple bars, but decent production values and boosted soundsystems meant that Together made the most of what they had. Together gives Boston promoters a chance to deliver special editions of their own parties, which gave some events a distinctly local feel. Make It New, a beloved Thursday night weekly, had a family vibe, with everyone in the packed Middlesex Lounge hanging on every track Daniel Avery played (the place exploded when he finished with Nine Inch Nails' "Closer"). The low end-loving Bassic crew hosted Untold for his new, rough-around-the-edges live set, but he was overshadowed by local hero Moldy, whose techy dubstep sounded more in line with the crowd's expectations and Good Life's basement cabaret setting. The Boston scene's modest size meant that there was palpable (and infectious) excitement for the headliners, who represented a wide cross-section of styles. Dingy rock dungeon Middle East Downstairs was buzzing for Robert Hood—remarkable for a Wednesday night—and the Detroit innovator lived up to expectations with a searing techno workout that was a major highlight of the festival. Natasha Kmeto and Gaslamp Killer riled up a considerably younger crowd there on Thursday, and Cashmere Cat had the room packed to the brim on Saturday (though the openers, Oneman and Jerome LOL, delivered stronger sets). It was Friday night's afterparty—an RSVP-only event hidden away in Somerville—that really captured Together's energy, cramming hundreds of revellers into a sweaty recording studio for sets from Jacques Greene, his close associate Seb Diamond and Hessle Audio man Pearson Sound. With the booth in one corner of the room and a tiny bar in the other, the no-frills event featured a playful set from Greene (who went from vintage Nathan Fake to A.G. Cook) and a more banging affair from Pearson Sound. Unlike most of the other gigs that week, it went right up until 5 AM. One of the more interesting elements of Together was the scheduling. Local laws are tough, and though you could still find things to do after the bars stopped serving, many of the events were over by 1:30 AM—sometimes even earlier on the weekdays. Party people might see that as a downside, but it also made the festival experience less exhausting than usual, turning the week-of-clubbing gauntlet into a more casual and sustainable experience. Together wasn't without its issues, but most were addressed smoothly and quickly. A number of cancellations altered the lineup quite dramatically—Jackmaster cancelled two hours before he was due to play, but was replaced by Juan Maclean, who delivered a blistering set to open for Robert Hood. Paul Johnson's flight delays led to a spontaneous afterhour to make the most of his stay in the city. Cancellations from Tensnake and Mos Def weren't as easy to fix, but there was enough going on that it barely felt like a loss. Together's handling of issues like that—and generally faultless execution elsewhere, like the public recharge lounge stocked with phone chargers and free energy drinks—was unusually tight for a small festival only in its fifth year. It was my first time visiting Boston, and my expectations were tempered by what I had heard about it beforehand: that it was small, difficult to throw parties in, and generally dogged by its status as a college town. But Together showed what a dedicated community can accomplish even with factors like that stacked against it, and it made the city seem vibrant, fun and hungry for good music. My mind kept going back to Decibel and how it helped to improve Seattle nightlife in general. If Together is doing this well so early in its lifetime, it's exciting to think what it could do for Boston in the years to come.