In attendance at Bardot last night were all the staples of the bottle service scene — you know, short Persian guys in untucked button-downs, likely some level of rich; Anglo babes of every description, yet all looking vaguely like California swingers; tall former athletes rocking backwards caps, drinking 1664 — but with half of Pitchfork darlings The Juan Maclean in the house, there was also some heavy cross-pollination going on. Pale foxes with pixie cuts squeezing nervously through the throngs, bros with broad-striped polo shirts and five o’clock shadows breaking in their first pair of skinny jeans. To this outsider, it seemed like the Miami Dream realized. And the soundtrack was spot the fuck on.
Opening act the Beat Machines, their name and milieu unavoidably recalling Gloria Estefan’s Miami Sound Machine, occupied an evolutionary midpoint between the traditional four-piecer and the laptop DJ. Jew-fro’d keyboardist Smurpheo (also of Afrobeta) largely drove the action with his dancy synth lines, while two singers alternately sang house style female samples and well-executed scat lines. A drummer in a Kangol held down the fort using a hybrid kit which symbolized their whole getup, with a real hi-hat and ride cymbal (real crash muted by an electric), electronic faux bass drum and touch-pad snare played by turns with drumstick and index finger. They may or may not have been reading binary code on a grand staff.
Then came the main attraction, as John Maclean, looking every bit like Bonnie “Prince” Billy, took to the dimly lit booth to spin and manipulate some actual wax. Maclean was refreshingly free of the usual affectations of many big name DJs, flailing busily to justify their appearance fee. Instead, he was calm and straight faced throughout his entire set, most of his bodily motion aimed at grabbing another record from his satchel. His stuff has been pigeonholed as Electroclash in the past, but what we heard was a subdued but funky mix of engaging dance breaks varnished with sedate pop vocals played by a guy who has clearly whittled down his sound over years, judiciously culling the extraneous but always preserving something unexpected – a syncopated chime, a lusty word or two sounded every seven bars.
The Juan Maclean set was easily the most tasteful thing in the room if you don’t count the Playboy pinball machine, and my date and I found making it to the dance floor cramped but rewarding. The crowd grew from about one hundred to three throughout the course of a couple hours and peaked at around half past one, just in time to see Maclean finally work up a lather. The music got ever more intense and sunnier, but never melodramatically so. There were no “epic” bass drops or obnoxious repeated taglines (think “You blocked me on Facebook, now you’re going to die” or anything recurring in an Armin Van Burren song), no sonic glitz, just an interesting tour of what’s fun to dance to these days led by a sure-handed curator. I can’t speak to the value of the $325 Remy Martin XO on offer, but with the Juan Maclean, you get what you pay for and you like it plenty.