A bit of background for the uninitiated: Baltimore-bred DJ, Blaqstarr (real name Charles Smith), has been putting out his version of dance music since his first house party gig at the age of 16. Since then, he’s gained a decent amount of success in the local Baltimore club scene. He shot to a higher level of fame after multiple collaborations with M.I.A., including significant contributions to her second album Kala and its follow-up, Maya (we couldn’t be bothered doing that weird //\\ thing). Now 25, he’s now reaching for a higher level of success with his upcoming release, The Divine EP, after being signed by M.I.A. to N.E.E.T./Interscope.
So now that we’re all acquainted, let’s begin.
Last night Blaqstarr played a set at Santos Party house; a pre-party of sorts to his upcoming EP release party. A less than packed house was there to dance to Blaq’s mix bag of Afro-Cuban, house, glitch and big beat techno. The skillful dancers held it down up the front, a few models looked bored leaning up against the bar holding vodka tonics, and us white guys lingered in the back and off the sides nodding our heads as the earthquake-style bass rumbled through the room under unusual samples and freaked-out percussion.
Blaqstarr is apparently trying to branch out from just simply beat creation with his new EP and it showed during the set. He stepped out from the behind the turntable many times to come to the front of the stage and sing. While this happened, his right hand man would jump behind the equipment to keep the beat going and changing. Blaqstarr wouldn’t necessarily have what one would call a pleasant voice. He reached for high notes that should be reserved for the soul greats, usually ending with a his voice cracking. However, when he stayed within his range on songs like his upcoming single “Rider Girl,” his less than perfect voice fit well and kept the crowd moving. In a small club-like situation like this one, it isn’t necessary for someone who’s singing to have perfect pitch but it is necessary for that person to have confidence, swagger and the ability to move the crowd, all of which Blaqstarr accomplished.
At the beginning of Blaq’s set, a set of green laser lights, apparently called a ‘laser harp’ projected from the floor to the ceiling. The laser harp is used as a MIDI, triggering different tones and samples when one of the rays is blocked by his hand at different altitudes. He used this sporadically throughout the set, never really showing any kind of virtuosity on the new age instrument but the gimmick worked, causing the crowd to take notice and positively respond with cheers and fist pumps.
The set eventually transitioned from a high energy, crowd-involving kind of set to a more club oriented house set. Seeing no end in sight, I left around 1 a.m., not out of boredom but out of fatigue, and am honestly not sure when he eventually wrapped up. It could have gone for the rest of the night.