Beat Surrender

Blood-red lights flood the face of the nightclub, spilling onto the sidewalk, onto you. You go up the narrow stairs, shaking a little from the booming bass line. Inside, a single red bulb illuminates the DJ and the dance floor. As you navigate through a series of translucent screens, you notice that slides of a previous generation’s excursions are being projected. Surrounded by them, you are temporarily a part of someone else’s history, mysterious and ancient, straddling two eras in this red world.

This is not your ordinary club night, because these are not your ordinary DJs. For two DJ collectives, Wabi and Defectikons, making music alone is not enough. Instead, they go further and make events, where the aural, the visual and the spatial intersect.

Wabi formed at the University of Waterloo and is now based in Toronto. Defectikons began at Carleton University and currently operates in Los Angeles. Not coincidentally, the seeds of these events were planted in architecture schools. School enabled them to hone their sense of space and to experiment with light and projection. Parties showcased their talent in spinning, mixing and scratching 45s. School and parties may seem to contradict, but to members of Wabi and Defectikons, it was natural to combine their passion for music and film with the spatial constructs of architecture.

Both groups have since taken their events to the clubs. For each event, their starting point may be a piece of music, a specific material, or the conditions of the venue. They tend to work with fabrics, plastics and materials that respond to light, as well as eclectic audio/video clips. Whatever material they work with, Justin Lui of Defectikons says the approach remains very architectonic. And the design does not stop there. For the duration of the event, the music, projections and installations are orchestrated to continually juxtapose, layer and fold together to form a coherent environment.

The essence of these events stems not from the provocative installations nor the significance of the venue, but rather, from the holistic experience that all of the elements are able to create. Alan Webb of Wabi believes that in shaping the temporary environments that push the boundaries of our senses, they are able to make a connection that resonates with our plugged-in but fragmented culture. Webb notes that a virtual community has formed because of this feeling of belonging, which is made physically real at each event, and where the shared phenomenon becomes a collective experience.

You can feel your heart beating in sync with the bass. You follow it. You turn a corner and you are blinded for a second. A giant sphere made of reflective mylar envelops the dance floor. The mylar is vibrating to the music, and everyone’s reflection is rippling with it. A metal eyeball hangs in the centre, concealing a video camera. Its recording is projected with a five-second delay. You watch. And you are being watched. You can’t decipher between right now and before. You start moving to the beat. You can’t help it.

Joanne Lam is a Graduate Architect living in Toronto.