You may not even know it exists, but there is a remarkably high-quality electronic music scene here in Bend. To say this faction of the music scene is underground would be an understatement - if you haven't seen a show flyer or caught wind of a gig by way of social media, you may have never even known that some of the region's best DJs reside right here in Bend.
But if you're walking past the Midtown Ballroom on Saturday night, the electronic music community will be tough to ignore. Local DJs and promoters are throwing a show called Quarantine featuring a sampling of Bend's finest electronic music purveyors, as well as two emerging European acts, Cottonmouth and Robokop. With one of the most high-end and sizable sound systems you're likely to see in an indoor music venue in Central Oregon, Quarantine should provide the sort of bowel-shaking bass notes and dubstep glitches that bring dance party lovers out of the shadows and into the club until the early morning hours.
Oliver Jones has been DJing for more than a decade, and for the past four years, he's been doing so out of Bend as part of our local electronic music collective Slipmat Science - the force that's been behind much of the drum and bass, techno and other electronic sounds you've heard in these parts for the past nine years. Jones, who DJs under his first name, Oliver, says that the talent pool of DJs and producers working out of Bend is wildly underestimated and he's hardly humble in his assertions.
"We travel all over the country checking out new DJs and checking out all kinds of new stuff, but I feel like Bend has the best DJs in the Northwest," says Jones.
Jones is just one of the local DJs on the bill. Also spinning at the show are Prajekt, Dekeft, Ells, Harlo and Rada, the latter of whom was a longtime Bendite whose music and visual art career has since taken him to the Bay Area.
A few years ago, electronic music parties were prevalent throughout Central Oregon, sometimes thrown in out-of-the-way spots. In keeping with the underground nature of electronic music, directions to the location weren't divulged until the last minute. Now, it seems, some of the hype has died down. But Jones says the scene hasn't disappeared. He points to the success of the three-room New Year's Eve party at the Midtown Complex as an indicator that drum and bass, dub and other styles are coming back en force here in Central Oregon.
"When we first started doing it, the shows were really big. This last year we've been trying to bring back the scene for people who like electronic music," says Jones.
He also points to the blossoming subgenres of electronic music as part of the reason more music fans are supplementing their steady diets of live bands with DJ-created sounds. Styles like dubstep have brought in hip-hop fans and others who are captivated by the low-end blasts of bass and the challenging rhythmic mashups that provide a much-welcomed break from the repetitiveness found in so much of the techno that many casual listeners heard in the late 1990s.
"I think that especially dubstep has been blowing up. People who hate electronic music and think it's all techno - that's not what it is," says Jones, "It's not all techno. Dubstep has made the world realize that there's more to [the] music."
It's no secret that electronic music is exponentially more popular in Europe and Quarantine has snagged some of that talent from across the Atlantic for this show, including the U.K.'s Cottonmouth, a slightly dark electronic artist, and Robokop, a hip-hop-influenced dubstep DJ from the Netherlands. This is the first U.S. appearance for both artists.
And there's another thing Jones wants you to know about Saturday night's party, and there's a good chance it answers a question you've had in mind since you began reading this piece. This, Jones says, is not a rave. He laughs at the question, then answers earnestly.
"It's not a rave. Yeah, it's electronic music, but you're not getting 16-year-old kids sucking on binkies," says Jones.