I went to Mansion on Saturday night to find out what's happened to electro-house. This energetic style, with equal parts electro and indie dance rock, exploded on the international scene in 2006 but lost most of its edge within two years. It was seemingly extinguished by the same intensity that made it exciting to begin with.
The club had booked Wolfgang Gartner, one of the genre's most talented and forward-thinking producers. But could he rock the South Beach venue hard enough to make me forget that I was paying $9 for a beer?
The opening set by DJ Laurent Simeca exemplified the style of upbeat, trance-infused commercial house that has become ubiquitous in South Beach and popular big-room nightclubs around the world. There were lots of epic buildups, sweeping breakdowns, and trite melodic motifs, like in a trancey remix of "New Year's Day" by U2, the patron saints of cheesy anthemic music.
Gartner came on around 2 a.m. and took no time in getting down to business with an energetic first half-hour of percussive, funked-up techno and new electro-house. But the more he played, the more he began to enter into unacceptably spoiled territory. He did play some original tracks, like his opulent, quasicomical fidget remix of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, and "Yin," an intense and infectious acid techno number he wrote with Francis Preve. These hinted at the slick production skills and groove mastery that have made Gartner an undeniable force in electronic dance music.
But when he got around to playing his remix of the insipid "Heartbreaker" by MSTRKRFT and John Legend, it pretty much confirmed the fact that like most of the "it" producers that made electro-house big a couple of years back, Gartner has jumped on the commercial bandwagon. More than any other electro-house hit of 2009, that track seems to illustrate single-handedly how the style went wrong and got sold out to the Top 40 mainstream. By now, it's squandered its own innovative potential.