20 Years Robert Johnson

  • Matt Unicomb takes in sets from Nicolas Lutz, Francesco Del Garda and Vera during a long stint at the 60-hour party.
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  • At midday on Saturday, moments after applauding Nicolas Lutz's final track, a line of sweaty dancers trickled downstairs from Robert Johnson's main room to a wooden deck below. Dubbed La Terrazza, this sunlit dance floor was the perfect space for an afterhours soundtracked by Max Vaahs and Francesco Del Garda, two of the 30-something DJs enlisted for Robert Johnson's 20th birthday party. Running from Friday night through Monday morning, the 60-hour session showcased the many sides of the world-famous club, a space that has helped shape the sound of modern house and techno. Bundling lean house, techno and electro (Lutz, Vera, Del Garda) with big-room specialists (Dixon, Gerd Janson, Job Jobse) and a food stall, 20 Years Robert Johnson was an ambitious undertaking. The programming reflected the loose music policy Robert Johnson has in place throughout the year: minimal and techno on Fridays, house on Saturdays. (Fridays are when you'll hear Robert Johnson favourites like Zip, Rhadoo and Ricardo Villaobos, while Mall Grab, Mano Le Tough and Avalon Emerson are among recent Saturday guests.) A clean, powerful soundsystem puts the main room among the world's best spots to hear reduced strains of dance music. For me, this began with the resident Max Best's three-hour set on Saturday morning, which moved through modern techno and tech house (Gene On Earth's "Like A Glove") with occasional diversions into house (Boo Williams' "Make Some Noise," a track that's been played there by Zip a few times). Best, who once worked as a driver for Robert Johnson, spun to a dance floor in flux, as people moved to and from the balcony. The same went for Vera, who played the night's most breaks-heavy set, most tracks featuring patterns that bounced around the grid. Best of all was Nicolas Lutz, who spun from 9 AM through midday on Saturday, the final slot in the main room. As usual, most of his selections, which began with straight, atmospheric techno before turning more chaotic, were unrecognisable. Among the many '90s bombs were a few new tracks, including Alec Falconer's "New Junk City," a shuffling house track with a cheery melody. Every selection was delivered with a clean transition—some short, some long—despite the unpredictable nature of the music, forever leaping between moods and styles. Musically, nothing topped Lutz. But, in terms of atmosphere, nothing beat five hours on La Terrazza. Opened by the Robert Johnson resident Max Vaahs with a string of house tracks, the scene at La Terrazza was tranquil. Those who had been milling around in nooks and crannies made their way to the wooden dance floor. To the right, tanned exercise enthusiasts were starting their weekend rows on the river Main. The tunes were bright and the mood matched them. The guests were respectful and calm, no one stumbling through the crowd or knocking over drinks to find a better spot. It helped that the sound covered the space evenly, so there was clarity from front to back. This helped Francesco Del Garda, too, who packed his record bag for the late-hour situation. There were plenty of celestial, atmospheric tunes weaved in between sunny house and garage bombs, perhaps the best combination of sounds to hear during afternoons like this. Del Garda's rhythmic, swinging tracks were replaced by the mechanical groove of Massimiliano Pagliara, a Panorama Bar resident with long ties to Robert Johnson, at 4 PM. That signalled it was time for the four-hour train journey back to Berlin. Almost 14 hours of music had passed and the party wasn't even halfway through, but I left happy in the knowledge that plenty of classy records, the kind of tracks that have soundtracked Robert Johnson for 20 years, had already been played.