Sustain-Release 2016

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  • New York residents are afforded a seemingly endless array of cultural possibilities. On any given day, at just about any given time, those willing to cope with the city's ever-increasing rent, ever-disappearing community spaces and rampant gentrification have the forefront of art and music at their fingertips. There's a certain freedom in that accessibility, one that can't be replicated on the internet or outside of direct experience. But every opportunity in New York comes with strict terms and a hefty price tag. It's enough to make some ask whether it's all worth the hassle. Others, like the people behind Sustain-Release, would like to show you that it can be. For the third year in a row, Brooklyn-based promoters Aurora Halal and Zara Wladawsky pooled their resources into a weekend of avant-dance music in upstate New York. This year brought with it a few major changes—a new location (Camp Kennybrook, in the rural town of Monticello) and an increase of allotted tickets, from 700 to 900. Only the move from Camp Lakota seemed to alter the event, and for the better. I didn't attend the first two editions of Sustain-Release (both of which were highly praised by RA writers), but my friends who did told me they preferred Kennybrook, if only for the nicer facilities and the closer proximity of the two indoor stages. Those who stayed in cabins were treated to a sturdy bed, showers and warm interior, while campers could stay under the stars in the spacious field between the woods and a picturesque lake. I ran into a friend who even opted to set up in the woods itself. Wherever you stayed, you were a stone's throw from the stages and their resonant booms that stretched well past first light.
    But going to bed at a reasonable hour wasn't part of the plan. Like both years before it, Sustain-Release Year Three primarily featured New York DJs and producers, most of whom provided their own takes on house and techno. But there was also a sizeable contingent of non-US talent, who brought a welcome edge for anyone who frequents Brooklyn nightlife. Berlin-based Canadian PLO Man played a lovely set of warm house tracks early on the first night, but it wasn't until the DJ introduced some of his beloved breakbeats that the Main Stage audience started whooping and dancing with extra pep. Bristolian Shanti Celeste brought her bubbly selections to the pool party on Saturday, peppering the newer 4/4 fare with some of the only classic, funky grooves to be heard all weekend. Detroit lifer DJ Stingray also gave Sustain-Release a crucial twist. Every attendee I spoke with named the man's Drexcyian electro and old-school techno cuts as a major highlight, and it was nearly my favorite set of the weekend. That distinction, though, belongs to this year's special guest: Source Direct. After having the day to explore the grounds, shoot hoops, boat on the lake, grab a bite, attend a Terre Thaemlitz lecture and soak up the smooth poolside performances, Saturday night was the hard-banging yin to Friday's more vibey yang. Those who had blissed out to DJ Sprinkles' eloquent, four-hour deep house set, or reveled in some big-room fun with Honey Dijon, were now on a whole other level of rave antics. No one at Sustain-Release spoke so directly to that environment like Source Direct.
    The UK drum & bass legend, real name Jim Baker, took to the decks in darkness, and proceeded to set a savage tone with tense synth chords. As he teased out the intro, snippets of audio from a news broadcast about disillusioned teenagers bonding over ecstasy were manipulated on top. The effect was electric and transportive, like this could just as easily have been an illegal party on the outskirts of '90s London, even as Baker's seamless mixes, slippery drum work and incredibly timed drops kept dancers grounded in the moment. An immense soundsystem, designed and provided by Brooklyn's subBASS Sound System, made every record—whether classic jungle, modern drum & bass, or unreleased tunes—into a massive weapon. If that's a ton of praise heaped on the non-locals, it shouldn't downplay the New Yorkers' often breathtaking performances. The Bossa Stage, named after Bushwick's renowned Bossa Nova Civic Club, was home to a number of these. On Friday, Max McFerren started the evening with a few mellow hours, warming up the incoming travelers with his easy-going techno. It wasn't long before Brooklyn musician and synth builder Antenes kicked things up a sizable notch during a rich, propulsive live set that had necks craning to see her handiwork. But as heavy as she got, it couldn't have prepared anyone for what Container did next. The techno experimenter went hard from the start, pummeling the dancers with blown-out drum machines and baffling rhythmic patterns. The intensity of Container's albums felt dwarfed by his live show's visceral assault, which was only further amplified by Nitemind's incredibly intricate strobe lighting. Calling the experience "mind-altering" feels like an oversimplification. By the time Discwoman's Umfang brought her relentless, Berghain-style selections to the decks early Saturday morning, there wasn't a sight or sound that could surpass Container's extreme display.
    Despite a strong closing set from Optimo, the second night at Bossa felt like it belonged to the artists behind Sustain-Release. DJ duo and Brooklyn promoters The Long Count Cycle started things at an easy pace, moving patiently between peaks of rhythm and melody as the music's energy swelled over time. Later, Ital thrashed in the dark behind his table of gear, wearing a colorful, oversized tee emblazoned with a Grateful Dead skull. The logo seemed oddly fitting: there was a distinctly trippy, unhinged quality to the producer's fiercely minimal techno. Those two acts were ideal bookends for organizer Aurora Halal, whose live show stood out for its use of delicate synth melodies and deep, morphing basslines. Her set took on a special energy from moving a crowd she'd worked so hard for. A friend, who has attended every year so far, told me it was probably her favorite set of the weekend. I could sense how watching this special event, surrounded by close friends and fellow longtime supporters, would feel like the beautiful culmination of a dedicated and hardworking local scene.
    Venue and capacity aside, there was another major difference between Sustain-Release Year Three and its predecessors: it hardly rained. During Sunday's dark early hours, a brief shower splashed Camp Kennybrook and left a light chill in the air. In some ways I felt let down, robbed of a Sustain-Release tradition that I'd been warned so often about. But in another way it felt symbolic of a year marked by growth and change. Though the weekend had its minor hiccups (transportation delays, food shortages, sound glitches), what was accomplished in such a small amount of time felt remarkable. And all of it offered no shortage of unforgettable moments—whether it was losing yourself in DJ Sprinkles' 20-minute rendition of Fingers Inc.'s "Never No More Lonely," having your senses questioned by Greg Zifcak's 15-minute noise and light installation, or watching mist rise off the lake in the 7 AM sun. No two experiences could have been the same at Sustain-Release, and I hope to find out what mine will be next year. Photo credit / Erez Avissar