Words: Chester Cornford
Photo: Sophie Reilly

As the club extension of local label, All Caps, it came as no surprise that my first experience of Region Free was extremely enjoyable. Past bookings have focused on artists recognised for their talents as DJs, rather than off the back of their productions, which is a refreshing and successful policy.

Pender Street Steppers, the driving force behind Canadian label Mood Hut, are revered for both their DJ sets and productions, sharing a stage with fellow Canadian artists like Project Pablo and Jack J. Their take on house music combines a variety of different genres, taking more traditional dance sounds such as funk and disco, and mixing them with forward-thinking electronica and ambient to create a distinct sound. Much like the roots of their productions, a Pender Street Steppers set twists and manoeuvres across styles in an entertaining and seamless way.

Their back-to-back with Beautiful Swimmers at Dekmantel this year has quickly become the stuff of mythology, so naturally I was pretty excited to catch them at The Art School’s Vic Bar.

Arriving at 11.20pm, there was already a sizable crowd. We live in a city where the clubs are smaller, the ticket prices generally higher and the (official) dancing hours are incredibly short. Despite this, we have a strange habit of waiting til' about one in the morning before going out; so it was pleasant to see that many people, like myself, had made the rare effort to get there before twelve, and not just for cheaper entry.

The tardiness was well rewarded, with Ryan Martin of All Caps and Rubadub warming the largely seated crowd with a selection of disco and house, shifting between tempos and energies. By midnight and towards the end of his set he was playing quite hard, but by this point the room was packed and the crowd went with him.

Next, Bake took the reigns, going through a selection of classic house tracks and darker and deeper numbers. Soichi Terada and Nani Shimada’s ‘Sunshower’ generated an appreciative response, which was trumped by Lil Louis’s club mix of ‘Lonely People’. Both the warm-up sets were harder than I anticipated, but both were extremely well received, setting the stage for Pender Street Steppers to play at full blast to a dancefloor in full swing.

The duo kept the energy bubbling, playing a lot of percussive drum workouts, intertwined with Chicago and New York house, and occasionally slipping into full-on disco heat. It was a set punctuated by many unknown pleasures, without any reliance on classics or hyped-up tracks.

Through constant energy and a building groove, and with plenty of variation, they were able to keep the crowd on top form for the whole night. The constant movement of people eagerly trying to return to a prime spot near the speakers or boot, while infuriating at times (perhaps my only complaint from one of my standout parties of the summer), confirmed that the Vancouver duo were smashing it. They departed to a warm round of applause and a chorus demanding more.

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