Article Title:Top or Bottom?... Why not both?
Author or Credit:Leif Wauters
Published on:12th July 2011 - 11:31 am
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Story ID:10596
Text:  It was a dark and stormy night... No seriously, gale force winds and periodic bands of rain scoured Auckland's K Road Saturday night, very similar to the last time my partner Morris and I ventured up to the big city to boogie our bearish butts off three months ago. Dramatic weather wasn't going to keep us, nor the rest of the sell-our crowd, from packing both floors of 4:20/Rising Sun for the much buzzed-about premier dance venture between neighbouring URGE bar and producers M2 called Top or Bottom?. After having pre-party drinks at a mate's nearby apartment we hit the doors at about 10:45 pm. The two separate club entrances which are next to one another were surrounded by high fencing shrouded in camouflage netting so people could stream seamlessly between the two floors, but we'll talk about that in a minute. After grabbing our wristbands downstairs we headed up to the second-story 4:20 to check our coats. Having arrive relatively early the coat check process was smooth, an experience that changed later in the night after the cloak room filled up. It was a very frustrating moment for many guests uncomfortable with stashing their garb in dirty corners of the club, however most people found a way to navigate the situation and moved onto their next big challenge of the night (and all night) which was where to dance. By design, Top or Bottom? (which was simply a play on the physical space and not a commentary on sexual identity)provided two distinct dancing options. On the lower "Bottom"level at Rising Sun, a sultry line-up of local URGE-associated talents were to play their sexy grooves within a simple, seductive environment. The footprint is flipped from the one we've become accustomed to upstairs, with the dance floor towards the back of the room. A sizeable, make-shift "hugging room" had been partitioned from the dance floor by more camo netting, but it still allowed plenty of room for partiers to stretch out. At the end of the space was the slightly raised DJ platform flanked by floor-to-ceiling cones filled with colour-changing LEDs. Additions to the minimal lighting also included a few stationary cans that bathed part of the room with a red glow and a single laser that fanned the room from above the decks like the Aqua Scum 2003 from "Finding Nemo". Simple lights have been a standard at URGE's other dance parties where the music and the men have far outweighed the effects, and this was no exception. It was a totally different story upstairs where M2 brought out some big guns to wow the crowd. It's amazing how a few lasers can transform a small space. I've seen it in London, where narrow arches are turned into epic tunnels of light, and the "Top" spacehad successfully followed the same model. The DJ booth was where it's normally been for the last few URGE events, but behind it was the stern rigging required to support the finely-tuned lighting that would flood the room with bands of colour. Beyond the robust lighting addition there weren't many other obvious changes. The main attraction was to be the lights and sounds, and the quieter seating area towards the rear of the building was a calm escape later in the night. In retrospect, they could have used a small part of it for a make-shift addition to the coat-check dilemma, but what's done is done. That's the basic landscape of the party with a single staircase between them which was traversed a great deal throughout the night. We didn't experience much of a jam through the narrow passage, but as the night got more wet and messy so did the stairs which were in a strange state of repair. I could easily see someone taking a spill and it would be nice if the club owners would spend a few bucks on making this busy thoroughfare a bit more solid. Moving on to our yo-yoing musical safari, we started our adventure at Bottom where James Leuii kicked off the party at 10 pm. His ramp up slot was a good kick off to the night, as Top wasn't due to open until 11 and James' lighter grooves were easy to grab onto. Once Top was going we went up to check it out but to our surprise DJ Dubby24, who was kicking off the space dedicated to "uplifting vocal house and trance", was laying down some chilly tunes that didn't really grab us. So back downstairs we went with a few friends in tow to where the music had more of the guts we were looking for. Soon after, DJ Mauri took over and locked onto us with his seductive beats for quite a while. After a long stretch under his control, we broke free to see what Top's second DJ, Donald Bennett, was whipping up and true to the marketing, his music was indeed the uplifting hits we were expecting. Donald's a diverse DJ, skilfully tapping info varying sounds when needed, but the individually great tracks during his set didn't really flow together the way I would have hoped, with poppy anthems on the heels of solid, old-school trance. Overall his meaty sound paired well with the mesmerising lighting, but we eventually fell pray to the pull from below and ventured back down to see what the third DJ, Raj, was up to. The downstairs joint was jumping, although we didn't connect too well with Raj's as his tribal, almost Latin beats didn't seem to fall in line with our thirst for something gritty and dark. It was well past 2 am when we took our final lap upstairs to hear top's final DJs, the deadly pairing of Marty Roberts and Mykel Kelly. Sadly, Mykel had called in sick, leaving Marty to spin out the rest Top and this was where we finally heard the throbbing, ethereal rhythms months of engaging online marketing had promised. Marty stepped up the beat and proceeded to grind the dripping crowd between the streaking lasers, the sweating walls and the grungy floor. Although it was a delight to hear his progressive beats, our night of bouncing between the floors had done us in and we departed just shy of 3 am, leaving behind the swelling club that spun well past its scheduled closing time of 4 am. I'm sure many stayed to soak up every last note between Marty and Bottom's final set by DJ Antony,knowing there are no major Auckland dance events in the foreseeable future. Overall we had a fun night bouncing around with a diverse group of friends, old and new, and taking in a wide range of music within a single event. It was also a treat to see some world-class lighting in Auckland, despite it being on a much smaller scale than I'm used to. It was a visionary event for a scant party scene that sees a major dance quarterly, and by the sold-out response you could tell it was badly needed, but perhaps Top or Bottom? tried to be too much. We travelled the stairs more than a few times looking for the right combination of beats and friends, cooling off between each room, resetting our bodies and ears. The breaks were nice but I wonder if the split levels, combined with all-too-brief DJ sets, didn't contribute to a general party schizophrenia. The same could be said for massive parties like Sydney's Mardi Gras, with four separate spaces spread over its campus, or the mother of all dance events, Burning Man, where one always gets the feeling the music is better on the other side of the Playa only to find out when getting there that it was really better where you were. I get why so many DJs were squeezed into the line-up, I do. With so few parties on the calendar it's nice to share the night with as many deserving talents as possible, but does that really allow for any type of "journey", or is that kind of prolonged DJ set no longer an option in Auckland? Maybe I'm spoiled by events where the night is split between two DJs, not four, allowing each one to delve into a deeper conversation with their fans. There's no easy route to take towards pleasing everyone, but Top or Bottom? did succeed in giving it a valiant effort, bringing a fun and diverse crowd together under one roof. It exposed the mature URGE party followers to M2's vibrant brand, but more importantly gave the newer party generation a view into the sexier side of music that's standard down the road at Auckland's only leather bar. The two worlds collided without any major mishaps and I hope with some fine-tuning and maybe a scaled-back line-up that M2 and URGE decide it's worth another go. This and many other global party reviews by Leif Wauters can be found on SF-based event blog The Juice Box. Leif Wauters - 12th July 2011    
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