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Review: The Hydra: Jeff Mills, Ben Klock & More

Review: The Hydra: Jeff Mills, Ben Klock & More
Jack Smith

Every party with The Hydra emblazoned on its flyer has been unmissable for quite some years now. With Printworks now in its third season, the institution now has a club space it can call home and one that can more than match its scope and ambition. So when the two host a trio of events on the most enticing bank holiday in the calendar year, you already know you are onto a winner. But did this sure bet win hearts and minds too?

Spending one of the hottest days of the year within the all-consuming darkness of one of Europe’s largest warehouse event spaces practically writes itself as a metaphor for the tone of the night as a whole. Stripped-back and aggressive, the journey into the Press Halls felt like a rites of passage in itself. Helena Hauff was already in full flow, careering through crunchy, reckless electro and techno. The immaculately fine-tuned soundsystem probably didn’t have the sort of G+ records you’d probably turn your nose up at on Discogs in mind, but Helena couldn’t have cared less.

The floor had reached bursting point by now, the crowd settled into a feverish locked grove. But sadly, the flow built thus far was about to ebb. Juan Atkins‘ live appearance was at best awkward, at worst gimmicky. Whilst it can be argued that there is no perfect time to slot live sets amongst a plethora of DJ sets, the schedule’s insistence on placing headline acts in ascending order created a festival-esque disconnection – a conveyor belt of talent with no real continuity from one act to the next. Sandwiched between Helena Hauff and Ben Klock and guided by two engineers stationed just behind his main booth, Juan Atkins strangely made little use of his live setup throughout and cut a strangely passive figure. So too did the crowd for the most part. At one point, the motor city icon bellowed ‘raise your hands!’ into the mic and was met with more than a few raised eyebrows. A few minutes worth of silence between his ‘No UFOs’ finale and Ben Klock’s ambient opener spoke volumes. Fortunately, the closing sets wasted no time bringing the energy back up to a peak.

If one could describe a typical Jeff Mills set as the soundtrack to the best system-critical spaceship escape film never made, then consider his closing set here as the director’s cut. Armed with his trusty 909 and a mothership’s worth of records, the Axis founder careered through breakneck blueprint minimal with robotic composure. His nimble, on-the-fly 909 sequencing is always a highlight, but never in my years has the wizard indulged a full fifteen-minutes worth – and that was even before ‘The Bells’. A rare treat.

All in all, the Printworks machine has been refined so much so as to retain the essential elements of a functioning clubbing experience. From sound quality to production values to the artists, few could argue with the riches on show. But with great ambition comes great expectation; on this occasion, the space lacked the soul and unpredictability that would otherwise propel it to greatness. So when Move D gives The Streets yet another spin, and one of our crew is the target of a rigorously obtrusive behind-closed-doors search based on the colour of his skin, you can’t help but wonder whether let’s push things forward has skipped forward to same old thing.