The cops won’t stop telling Mikey Perros to turn down the bass. Upstairs in Kings, the downtown Raleigh rock room that Perros has booked for four years, the British producer, record label owner and dubstep pioneer known as Kode9 is preparing to step on stage for a modest but enthusiastic early-week crowd.
The show is one of the biggest coups of Perros’ promotional career. Routing this tour through Raleigh at all meant that a booking agent had to take a chance on the city, compromising his bottom line since he knew there was no way the gig could come close to generating the revenue it might earn in New York or Chicago. And just for tonight, Kings even upgraded its sound system to include six massive black-and-blue subwoofers, assembled just in front of the stage in intimidating stacks, suggesting an armoire of low frequencies.
With the help of the ancillary speakers, the club shakes with bass. Full glasses slide off wooden arm rails, and feet tingle with the throb of the concrete floor. To the left and right of the speakers, clutches of the most avid listeners move with every sudden musical shift, responding with eyes closed and arms outstretched. Occasionally, you detect shouts of bliss climbing through the volume’s heavy lid.
Alas, the ticket buyers aren’t the only ones who’ve responded tonight. Throughout the show, a rotation of Raleigh Police Department officers arrive outside, giving Perros the choice to turn the bass down or face a fine. He shows the cops the club’s sound permits, but they argue that the bass is breaking the legal limit. They’ve received repeated complaints from one nearby resident, they say.
By the time Kode9 finally takes the stage, the subwoofers in front of the stage have been turned off, leaving only Kings’ customary, rock-band-oriented sound system available. But the show doesn’t stop. Perros almost makes money on one of his biggest gambles yet.
“People ask, ‘Why do you have to use so much bass?’ It’s to do the show properly, how it was intended,” Perros says. “The venues in this region are not set up for electronic shows. They’re band-centric, but the sound requirements are so different.”
Perros, 27, is used to such challenges; in fact, they seem to motivate him, to scratch some devil-may-care itch that has, in turn, prompted the beginnings of a very young, very promising new electronic music scene in Raleigh. He and a squadron of producers and DJsknown collectively as Maison Bookingare at the heart of that uptick, backloading beats into a town historically associated with no-frills rock and snap-button alt-country. They’re responding less to that rock pedigree, though, than to the dominant notion that, for electronic music to succeed in this town, it needs to soundtrack a big, dumb and loud bacchanalia.
Instead, they’re collectively building a grassroots network of wires and samplers, synthesizers and turntablesspinning challenging electro at DJ nights, making new music in bedrooms and playing it in rock clubs, taking chances on bringing in big tours, studying noise ordinance laws to contradict the cops next time they arrive at a loud, late show. Perros even paid for a custom sound system that he can put in his car in order to do shows in non-traditional spaces, like art galleries.
“I’m trying to push the market, as much as I can, without losing too much money or going insane,” he says. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to book as much cool stuff in Raleigh as I can, and I think we’re on the right path. It’s a very slow path, but we’re moving.”
In late August, the cadre passed an important signpost on that path. The New York label Locus Recordings issued Heavy Resting, the absorbing five-track debut of Raleigh producer Lara Wehbie, who makes music under the name Blursome. It’s not the first proper release from a Maison artist, but its clear sense of style and substance makes it the most magnetic, like an early communication from an absolute vision. Wehbie, a design history student at N.C. State, makes music in her bedroom in a small house close to campus, just as many people wake to go to work. That transitional darkness is the prevalent motif of her music, something she says defined her sound even before she could manage the software she uses to make it.
On Heavy Resting, beats churn through opaque water, the thin drum hits and thick bass tones dredging disembodied vocals, wraithlike whispers and mutilated murmurs from the muck. During “Packs,” what sounds like a symphony hitting the crescendo of a romantic classical masterpiece fights for space against hiss and squall. The rhythm wobbles as though it’s been peeled from a badly warped piece of vinyl.
“I usually work when I’m really upset, really distraught,” she says, sitting on the front porch on a sunny Friday afternoon, hiding behind sunglasses and a cloud of cigarette smoke. “Making this music helps me get through an issue that I’m having, depression or anxiety, and helps me process those emotions. It’s a reminder to myself.”