There’s a charming lack of pretension to Corsica Studios. It’s a maze of corridors, a pair of dark rooms filled with little more than speakers, smoke and sweaty bodies, a bar that’s never less than nine-deep and a chilly smoking area. And it’s all tucked under a railway arch, in Elephant & Castle – a place that makes south Detroit look like a Babylonian garden.
We roll up just after one and, after walking past a row of police vans greeting revellers from a pub flashing garish neon, and then a man hurling himself bodily at a shuttered news kiosk for reasons he’s not keen to divulge, we’re relieved to eventually hear a telltale thud of kick drums, guiding us to an anonymous looking door underneath the train tracks.
Inside, Lone’s at the helm, proving just as frenetic behind the decks as he is on record. Hardcore snares spit their way around a low-end end that throbs out of Corsica Studios’ floor-encircling Funktion 1s, rattling filings in the process. It’s a set doused in rave, a pitched up take on the mid-'90s that culminates in Outlander’s ‘Vamp’, a record that still inspires paroxysms two decades after its release.
So when Actress steps into the booth and whacks the tempo up with a faceless barrage of warehouse kick drums, there’s a dissonance. Raised arms drop, whoops choke but, because this is Actress, no one leaves. Darren Cunningham has always been proof that what you expect isn’t really what you want, and over the proceeding hour pulls his audience through all manner of winding corridors; records linked by tone not mere tempo, that dip into dub reggae, slow-motion techno, dubstep and abrasive, snapping house music, never more than a moment from crushing bass pressures.
It’s an exhausting experience, emotionally and physically, the constant switches in pace drowning euphoric moments in waves of bass that roll out of the speakers, and crash over hands held aloft. We spend half the set being whipped by an over-enthusiastic, sweaty ponytail, and the other half desperate for a drink and a piss, and yet at no point even contemplate moving more than a foot to our left or right.
It’s a sublime lesson in how records are imbued with something ineffable when they’re arranged just so, an object lesson in DJing that draws on the “if it sounds right, it gets played” approach that’s fading as DJ sets plough narrower lines. It’s just a shame he wasn’t given longer to play.
But of course, it takes different strokes to move the world, and Untold’s more linear hour of rough and ready techno is uncompromisingly visceral, even if the bodies are beginning to thin towards its close. Raw cuts from Blawan, Peverelist and Delroy Edwards (for the second time) show that, at 5am, a relentless bang is as effective as any narrative, and it’s dripping that we finally emerge into the frozen fog of an Elephant & Castle morning.
Words: Tom Banham