Together Festival 2018: Five key performances

  • Andrew Ryce highlights some of the lesser-known DJs making the Boston festival pop.
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  • Boston's Together Festival is as much a celebration of community as it is music. What started as a way to unite a once-contentious dance scene has developed into an event with its own identity, offering punters the chance to hear some of the world's best DJs in unusually intimate spaces. The crowds are some of the hungriest and most dedicated around. (A bonus: no packed dance floor at Together is too pretentious to actually dance.) This year, instead of spreading out as far around Boston as it used to, the festival concentrated its programming at the beloved 120-capacity Middlesex Lounge, plus a few scattered satellite events. That gave it the bandwidth to try a couple ambitious new things, like Friday's nighttime boat party (run in collaboration with Resident Advisor) or Saturday's outdoor party with Honey Dijon and The Black Madonna at a custom-built venue in Allston. Less running around between venues meant more time to sit back and enjoy what was on offer—in this case, particularly, the opening acts. The performances that stuck the most in my mind came from unsung locals, some of whom have been around for decades and others who are only making a name for themselves now. Together is proof that bigger isn't always better—sometimes a local DJ in a small club is as revelatory an experience as a world-famous headliner in a giant field. Here are five key performances from across the weekend.
    Lenore Lenore is one of Boston's most important DJs, though I'd wager that few outside of the US drum & bass scene know who she is. For 19 years she's been throwing a weekly party called Elements, which claims to be North America's longest-running drum & bass event. But on the first night of Together, she was playing house, a prospect nearly as tantalizing as the headline act, Floorplan. Her decades of experience shone through, as she mixed patiently and expertly, folding in favourites old and new—everything from Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" and swinging garage obscurities to her parting salvo, a dub mix of Inner City's "Good Life," which nicely paved the way for Robert and Lyric Hood to tear up the packed Sunday dance floor.
    Houseboi & Honcho Together's Sunday collaboration with the local queer party Houseboi has become an opening-night tradition. Houseboi happens once a month at Middlesex Lounge, though this time it took place at The Lower Level, a converted Elks Lodge that held a makeshift dance floor on one side and a lounge with a buffet on the other (plus a separate crowd of people watching a New England Patriots game). The Houseboi residents warmed up, followed by the requisite drag performers, which included a queen performing Troye Sivan's "Bloom" and another wearing a custom bodysuit that tore off in numbered sections. Then came Pittsburgh's Honcho crew, repped by Aaron Clark and George d'Adhemar, who carried the night home with their vibrant blend of house and techno. The crew are fast becoming one of the US's most lauded gay promoters, and the past-2 AM turnout was testament to their popularity. Between the DIY spot, the drag performers and the much queerer-than-usual crowd—plus the educational posters with messages about queer rights—Houseboi was another great example of Together interacting with all corners of the Boston electronic music community.
    Aaron Jen Aaron Jen is a newcomer to the Boston scene who techno lovers on the West Coast will know from his Sure Thing parties. (After stints in California and Oregon, the party has settled in a new home: Cambridge, Massachusetts.) Jen, like Lenore, is one of those DJs with enough promoter experience to know a thing or two about opening sets. His performance before Aurora Halal on Monday night was a masterclass in the form. Playing a Monday night techno party is a difficult task—and Middlesex Lounge was slow to fill up—but Jen handled it with class, taking the room on a slow-burning journey through densely-layered techno, notching up the pressure almost imperceptibly. With the room nicely primed, Halal used her remaining 90 minutes to pound the place into submission.
    Jon Hopkins Jon Hopkins is a Together favourite—he's played the festival before and also regularly appears at events hosted by Mmmmaven, the Cambridge-based DJ and production school that runs Together. His event, at The Sinclair in Harvard Square, sold out months ago. After a set of appropriately melodic and emotive techno from the local DJ Pat Fontes, Hopkins took the stage in front of a gigantic screen that played out a variety of visuals, from synced-up anime to 3D moving fractals and other psychedelic shapes. His performance was catnip for anyone who likes grandiose, emotive electronica, and he had the audience—which skewed heavily on crossover and indie kids—in the palm of his hand. He delighted the crowd with every new crescendo or effect, bending over his gear to execute a well-time stutter or halt. It was one of the most lively techno performances I've seen.
    Kon If Friday's boat party hinted at a new way forward for Together, then Saturday's outdoor event at Zone 3 in Allston, which featured a venue specifically designed for the festival, cemented its new path. The Black Madonna and Honey Dijon would later play to an ecstatic, sold-out crowd as the sun set, but first came Kon, who played in the afternoon of an unseasonably hot day. If you're unfamiliar, Kon, like Lenore, is a DJ with decades of experience. A renowned digger and edit master, he's also arguably one of the world's best disco DJs. Those who came out early were rewarded with a killer set that included plenty of his own edits and cuts from the likes of Michael Jackson and Phil Collins. (The Collins track was "I'm Not Moving," a groovy deep cut from 1991's Face Value album.) When Honey Dijon and The Black Madonna hit the booth, the excited audience crowded around them. This was the most beautiful moment of the festival, vibes soaring as the sun set. It was hard not to marvel at what Together has created in the last nine years. Yet again, the underrated Boston scene showed how much it had to give. Photo credits / Nick Minieri - Lead, Lenore, Aaron Jen, Jon Hopkins Bruce Kofi - Honcho Nicholas Rhodes/ - Kon