“The idea behind Technophoria as an event came about because of my experience at a contra dance where they ‘experimented’ with contra dancing to alternative styles of music. With my previous experience as a studio DJ (mixing music at a local radio station in Brattleboro, Vermont) I knew that I could professionally mix and produce a show, and take ‘Techno Contra’ into the mainstream of contra dancing. The prospect of contributing to the evolution of contra and be the person to set the new standard in Techno Contra got me very excited!”
What did DJ Shel D bring to the table, then?
“I had a weekly radio show for about 6 years and covered genres from Rock to Psytrance. There were also a few events I spun for, but primarily it was studio work. Everything changed when I started mixing beats from Downtempo and Psytrance tracks. Engineering the smooth transition between tracks was where it was at! Most of the music I used for the 1st Technophoria was from my past DJ collection. I included Classic Techno, Tech House, Trance, Psytrance, Industrial, and Alternative 80’s. A few new tunes rounded it out.” He continues, “All the mixing and tempo transitions were up to me. Brian’s experience in the field and the feedback we got from the website led us to go with shorter music sets as opposed to a non-stop ‘rave style’ arrangement.”
Interestingly, this techno contra wasn’t only promoted on Facebook or in conjunction with another folklore society’s web efforts. Technophoria has a web presence of its own. What purpose did this serve? “The web page was necessary to set up advanced ticket purchases. About a third of the attendees bought tickets in advance… The page was designed to get feedback before the event. A number of people filled out our survey and most of our volunteers let us know they were interested via the website.”
The feedback from the event seems to be really positive: “The calling was ‘Right on’ as one of our attendees said. ‘When the music crescendo’d, the phrasing of the music was perfectly synced to the top of the dance progression. It was the first time I ever danced to Techno where it worked!’ he said. Someone else told me she thought the music was really GOOD techno! She came over to me to tell me that it was WAY better than she expected and was really looking forward to the next one! I even got compliments on the lighting: One guy said, ‘The lights got me so high I almost fell over!’ Yes! People truly did experience Technophoria!”
“We did have some challenges: minor sound equipment issues, and breaks between sets that seemed too long to me. We will update the format a little and use different sound equipment next time. Otherwise, we created a buzz and brought Techno into the mainstream of Contra dancing.”
Interestingly, it seems mainstream contra dancing can be both outreach and preparation for techno contras: “There are so many people who may not be attracted to traditional Contra. I see Techno Contra as reaching those people and being an outlet for others who want more variety. There’s only one way to learn though: Go to a traditional dance. The traditional dance is the training ground for Techno.”
Building on this initial success, the organizers are looking at turning their initial success into a series: “Since our first run was such a successful experience Technophoria is now officially on as a series! We will announce dances a few weeks in advance of creating them. We also see creating wider participation in Technophoria, so although we are centered in Asheville NC, we are open to going on the road with it. Personnel wise, Brian’s attention to detail works well with mine, so right now he’s the caller I’ll choose first. It takes so much time to get it all right, and now I understand why ‘Techno Contra’ hasn’t taken off until now. The amount of work I put into the mix is practically insane. Most of the music has to be remixed to get it into a 64 beat pattern before I even mix between tracks. It’s tedious! If there was someone else beside myself who would put that kind of effort into a mix, I’d be interested in working with them. I just don’t think anyone is doing what I’m doing, so right now I’m the Mixmaster.”
He also has advice for DJs who might want to try spinning for a contra: “64 beats! Watch your speed! The music has to be tight or it doesn’t work. It would take some pretty sophisticated live DJ-ing to make that happen. Other DJ-ing is a breeze compared to DJ-ing for contra!”
“To some people a Techno Contra is really just a big dance party and can be loads of fun regardless of how musically correct it is. Professionally speaking though, until DJ’s and callers put in the hard work and make calling to 64-beat progressive music 'tight,' dance organizers will only see Techno Contra as an 'experimental' event. It can be tuff [sic] to maintain a dance flow when callers are confused and dancers get lost; it leads some people to be turned off from the experience. Well, the time for losing people is over! I see the Technophoria team taking Techno Contra into the mainstream of Contra Dancing with just as much professionalism and organization as you would find at a Contra Dance weekend. Brian H and Shel D have successfully made the dream of mainstream Techno Contra into a reality. As long as you can contra dance to a lively beat, you can do Techno! At a Technophoria show, the music, lights, the caller and your dancing are all in sync. It’s the ULTIMATE Contra Dancing high!!”
Sheldon Lieberman is currently hard at work on the next Technophoria installment, which will take place August 13, 2011 from 9 P.M.-1 A.M. at the Masonic Lodge in Asheville, NC. Special thanks to him for taking the time to answer my questions! More information can be found on Facebook and at Technocontra.com.