I once understood live music as a one-way transaction: shell out $40 + fees to Ticketmaster, pack into a large venue with a crowd of flat-footed head bobbers, and stare straight ahead as a band reproduces their latest album on stage. I enjoyed it, sure, but live shows always left something to be desired; it was difficult to connect with the music by simply standing around and watching someone else perform.
My perception shifted after discovering the underground music scene in Boston, where the artist’s performance matters just as much as the physical environment and social atmosphere. In this format, live music is a more fulfilling collaborative experience.
Local collective Sonic Beating has mastered this concept. I was first introduced to the group through Psyforia, their former monthly psytrance party at Machine. The dancefloor energy, the welcoming crowd, and the creative art installations led me to realize that going to a show could be an experience beyond just hearing music.
Keith Mattar, who works with Sonic Beating as a promoter and a DJ, was similarly excited to discover Psyforia in Boston and was even inspired to begin DJing himself. “I remember being so surprised when I first learned about Psyforia because up until then I was under the impression that those types of things only happened in Europe; never in a city like Boston. By this point I had been collecting music for years, so I saw the DJs on stage and I thought, ‘I can do that.’ And here I am.”
In the past decade Sonic Beating has earned a reputation for throwing innovative parties that reach beyond the typical club dance night. The group adds visual and interactive elements in the form of intriguing decor, intricate sculptures, and projection-mapped visuals. They seek out alternative locations, too: in addition to clubs like Machine, Sonic Beating regularly holds events at local artists’ lofts in the winter and outdoor events along the Charles and in the woods of New England during the summer.
These alternative events are a refreshing change from the standard Boston club fare. They allow audience members to connect in a new way and they provide DJs and artists more space for creativity. Their much loved outdoor parties often begin during the day and end much later at night – extending through sunrise in the more remote locations – which allows the atmosphere to evolve as the day progresses into night and back again.
“Nothing beats dancing as the sun is starting to peak out from the background. You are sort of tired but you just don’t care. This type of experience is only possible in a remote outdoor location. Plus, no one really wants to be in a club during the summer.”
Sonic Beating is particularly successful at facilitating a welcoming community environment, unlike any I have found elsewhere in Boston. The core group of regulars is eager to welcome newcomers and make them feel at home. Keith attributes this to a shared love for the music: “When a community is based around an underground sound like psytrance, it really drives people to bond over their common obsession. As a result, the people you meet at these type of events almost seem to become like family.” This, and Sonic Beating actively encourages those interested to participate and bring in any art projects they wish to contribute.
Photo: I N S P I R E D photography
Sonic Beating has recently expanded outside of psytrance to include house, techno, and beyond. Their events are therefore more accessible for a wider audience, a welcome change for the all-embracing group. Keith explains, “We were all ready to do something a little different after so many years, so we switched the format of our events to be multi-genre. This means that we can still feature psytrance when we want to, but we are not pigeonholed to be all psytrance all the time, like we used to be. There is so much good underground dance music out there that we want to have the option to feature any or all of it!”
Keith continues to evolve as a DJ alongside Sonic Beating. Lately he plays “techno with a highly melodic aspect to it, with some groovy house tracks sprinkled in.” DJing Sonic Beating parties requires versatility to adapt to their myriad venues, which Keith skillfully delivers. He has played opening sets at clubs, late night sets at loft parties, sunrise sets at raves in the woods, and everything in between. Each set is dependant on the setting, time, and the audience, and Keith is careful to craft a unique set according to these variables. “I like to take the audience on a journey with a clear sense of progression. I don’t want to just play a bunch of tracks that are similar and sound decent together; I want to tell a story.”
This week’s DJ Set of the Week is a live set recorded last fall at one of Sonic Beating’s notorious loft parties. This set shows Keith at his best during late night peak hours, featuring full-on trance, techno, and house.
This Saturday, catch Keith playing at Machine and get excited for Sonic Beating’s latest summer series of outdoor events in Boston, only a few months away!
CAMP LAMP TAKEOVER @ FLUX
W/ HAVOK, MIKE SKILLZ, FIG, PR0N, KEITH MATTAR, JEFF MISSION, MATT MCNEILL
[MACHINE, 254 BOYLSTON ST., BOSTON. SAT 3.22 10PM/21+/$10 BEFORE 11, $15 AFTER MACHINE-BOSTON.COM]