Since then, Julie has never looked back. She has been playing contras since then, most recently with Nor’easter. During this time period, Julie met Brendan Carey Block, who has been on the folk scene and has played for contra dances “practically his whole life."
“Brendan started when he was a kid, too, and was the National Junior Scottish Fiddle Champion.”
“We were already playing together and had similar interests in techno. [Brendan] had been making his own fiddle techno for years before that.”
So Julie went to Brendan and said, “I have a vision. I want to have live interaction where I can match the intensity of the dancers, and recorded music can’t do that.” Brendan and Julie spent a year before Double Apex’s live debut in October 2010 planning and figuring out the software and compiling workflows.
An important decision, of course, was whether they wanted to be totally live like Perpetual e-Motion, or did they want to do something else? They decided that Double Apex would use a combination of sequencing and prerecorded samples, and play them back in real time. They would create everything live, so that the pieces were never the exact same way twice. “You can’t leave it unattended. It’s all in real time. It’s like cooking -- if you make cookies, you follow the basic recipe, but who knows what else might get thrown in each time?”
While going forth in their own niche that they have dubbed “Fiddle Techno,” Double Apex has learned something new with every gig. Interestingly to them, they have found that people “really like the fiddle -- really like the fiddle” in the tunes they play that are mixed fiddle and samples, and so Julie and Brendan will continue to experiment around that, to “see what the dance wants.”
In Double Apex, Brendan plays the fiddle, and the fiddle is both live and looped. Julie plays the piano and controls the synths, and deals with the programming and sequencing. Both of them control the computer during dances. With all of this work with recorded sounds and samples, Julie emphasizes that they’re still trying to respect the tradition. “Live music needs to be the bread and butter of contra, and if we were part of the end of that, we’d be really unhappy.” She continues, “We want to have fun, and do something different.”
That goal seems to have been accomplished. While Julie credits her work in Nor’easter with giving her a lot of the skills needed as a musician for a contra dance, and to read the energy and flow of the dance, she says that there isn’t a lot of overlap for her between the two.
At the end of the day, though, they emphasize that what they do is fiddle techno. In fact, Julie mentions, the duo is available for acoustic sets as well, like the one they have scheduled for the Thursday Night Dance Series in Glenside, PA on October 20. They played a set in Greenfield, MA for three hours and then had a two hour techno. “It's fun that we can play either way. We always have the acoustic instruments around in case the computer has a glitch.”
When everything comes together, “It’s a whole new kind of multitasking, and now we’re getting good at it, paying attention to the callers and the dancers and the synths and the keyboards. “We can do mega medleys, like an hour at a time. And that seems to be becoming our signature thing. I love the relationship between live music, live interaction, and creating something fun,” says Julie. “It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, but that’s okay.”
Double Apex has several upcoming gigs, and Julie says they’d like to do a tour sometime. Meanwhile, they will be playing Contra Evolution with dJ improper and Perpetual e-Motion at the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield, MA on October 5; another set in Amherst, MA on October 19; an acoustic set for the Glenside, PA Thursday Night Contra on October 20; and Technoberfest near Philadelphia, PA on October 22. They will also be playing the New York City GLBT Center Gender-Free Contra on November 11, and will be playing at the Folklore Society of Greater Washington’s Sunday Night Dance at Glen Echo on January 1, 2012 before they perform at Chattaboogie in Chattanooga,TN January 6-8. Many thanks to Julie for taking time out of her lunch break to talk to me for this article!
Update, 11:27 A.M.: Changed a few details per Julie's request to clarify Brendan's involvement and some of the technical details.