There's something about stairs leading up or down to a venue that builds anticipation. And, as I tramped up the metal case—as we enthusiasts call them—to The Saki Bar and saw the open graffitied door, I knew that I was going to love the place. Nothing more than a small room with the usual facilities and an outdoor terrace, Saki is the kind of place that you might take a samba class every other Tuesday with a lady called Cheryl. It's underground, underfurnished, the perfect size, the perfect shape and it's only￡2 for a Becks. What more could you ask?
As the place slowly filled, resident Will Park played familiarinagoodway house music: When my accomplice noticed the first twangy guitar notes of Mike Dunn's dirty ditty "Freaky MF," I knew Will and I were on the same wavelength, "and if the muther f*cker you with tonight aint phreaky, kick his mutherf*ckin ass out tha door!" Poignant stuff I'm sure you'll agree.
Following on from Will was Harrisôn of mUmU. It was a groove-based opening set, which beckoned more shuffling feet onto the floor, but one that also showed impeccable restraint. Harrisôn indulged himself and the rest of us, but never overly so, gifting Lee Curtiss an ambience that few DJs know how to create.
Curtiss took advantage, coming onto the stage and gladly turning the happy-o-meter up a notch. The bass had been on the receiving end of a loving tweak, and the tension of the awaiting crowd released into a rapturous show of gratitude. Curtiss proceeded to play a selection of excellent house music records which included "Black Water" by Octave One—apparently not just a favourite of my own.
In terms of mixing, Curtiss clearly wasn't paying attention to the master class administered by the two previous acts. Much of the time the beats were in sync but there were moments of clashing melodies and keys and the occasional squiggly noise or track skipping sound that could have been (and seemingly was) passed off as a simple technical error. It would have been nice to hear him tease things a bit more, as well. Often, the hasty mix and quick transitions stopped the flow. The perpetual groove that Will and Harrisôn forged was lacking, which was a shame as the early momentum served as a black hole gravitating dancers onto the floor.
That said, you can't fault Curtiss' tune selection: The ID Remix of B-52's "Love Shack" hit at the right moment, as clearly the bang bang banging (on the door baby) struck a chord with the crowd. Hands in the air, twisty knees with feet together action that might once have been described as jiving. Possibly the best moment of the night. Accordingly, he continued to play some unbelievably cool and cherished records from legends such as Soul II Soul and INXS, but again was plagued by poor mixing—or moments of silence between tracks—as we drew toward midnight.
Done well, this section of Curtiss' set could have provided a welcome break from the 4/4 beats that had been the main soundtrack. However for it to truly work for us, the break should have been short-lived—with proceedings returning back to house with a vengeance. This comeback never surfaced and unfortunately like quite a few others, we left the party. I (and I suspect others) would have stayed longer had we been given more of what we came for; deep grooving house music, selected and mixed by one of the current scene's finest creators.
Despite the disappointing headlining set, props must go out to the Arthouse crowd who effortlessly blended the looks and styling of fuck-it-fashion with the chatty, down-to-earth loveliness that Northern clubs can be proud of. Everybody involved refused to let the fact that it was Sunday get in the way, and partied hard regardless, giving me hope that as I make my way up the magical stairs of Club Saki for Arthouse #4 it'll be even better.