Jack Coleman knows that "Portland" and "electronic music" aren't exactly synonymous for most people. Like many fringe music makers, Coleman—who has produced techno and house music in this city since the mid-'90s as JAK—regularly confronts the fact that indie rock and folk music rule the day.
"We're not fooling ourselves," the skinny 34-year-old says from the shady patio of Nepo 42, shivering slightly. "This isn't Berlin; this isn't L.A. We have a small scene. But when you get into Groove Suite, you can get 50 or 60 people into that room and have a nice party—the system really kicks."
When Coleman and his friend Gustavo Lanzas—a gregarious 39-year-old ex-hardware engineer and music producer who goes by Audioelectronic—brainstormed a local electronic-music festival last year, packing small clubs was their highest ambition. They came away having lost $17 and knowing they would throw the party again the following summer. The second, slightly larger incarnation of Closer starts this week. We asked the duo to speak on a handful of subjects close to their hearts.
"I don't think the scene is particularly good at reaching out beyond itself," Coleman says. Part of this is an overprotective reflex from the music-making underground here, and low-drama rifts between new and old purveyors of dance music can aggravate the problem (high-profile local analog house act Miracles Club has garnered loads of national attention as of late, while other acts have been met with crickets). Most national press about the Portland scene has been snarky, at best. Coleman is confident this will change: "This city is a media darling—The New York Times loves us for our food and beer and indie rock. Maybe someday they'll see electronic music that way, too."
"We want to be inclusive," Lanzas says. "But at the same time, when we go to a club and say, 'Hey, we want to do an experimental thing,' they're like, 'Nope!'" Besides, Coleman adds, the dancing thing is big: "In a world that's cynical and ironic, that's not always easy, but I want to see people move."
In addition to an influx of young producers and DJs in the Portland scene, Coleman says many old-school Portland musicians have recently come back into the musical fold. Coleman and Lanzas, both parents, are two of them. "In the '90s we had this scene, a lot of us were pretty young, and it just fell apart around 2002," Coleman remembers. "Then people realized they still love this music." The music has grown up, too. "It's still party music, but it has more substance to it," Lanzas says.
"We've definitely taken somewhat of a hard line" on excluding dubstep, Coleman says. The exception is a showcase from LoDubs, a Portland-based electronic label that releases dubstep more high-minded and tasteful than most of what's currently swarming blogs, video games and snowboarding videos. 6Blocc, the highest-profile dubstep artist playing Closer, was as of press time incarcerated in a Mexican jail on expired visa charges. "I finally got freaked out and went down to the Mexican consulate here in Portland," LoDubs' Jon AD explains. "And ultimately I pointed them to a contact that got the FBI involved." Fingers crossed, 6Blocc will be out in time to play the festival.
Headliners on Which to Get Stoked
Dave Aju's latest album, Heirlooms, has been rightly hailed as a new classic. "He plays in crappy little dive bars in San Francisco for drinks, then goes all over the world and plays huge clubs," Lanzas says.
Raíz is a set of twin brothers from Los Angeles who do a mix of DJing and live electronics.
Caltrop is "a phenomenal, incredible producer," Lanzas says. "Super musical. He's this short, unassuming guy and heâs one of the best DJs in San Francisco.â
SEE IT: Closer runs June 21-24 at various Portland venues (including two free, all-ages park shows on Saturday and Sunday). Festival wristbands are $40. Most shows 21+. Schedule at closerpdx.com.