PREVIEW: Together Grooves Into Its Eighth Year

Photo by Ben Stas

While the danceable rhythms and grooves of techno and house beats are near-constant soundtracks to the dark dance floors of European cities like Berlin and Amsterdam, the United States is a little more reserved when it comes to its nightlife scene.

New York, Miami and, of course, Detroit have all had vibrant, loyal electronic dance scenes over the years, but it’s hard to imagine a similar scene taking off in Boston, where the 2 AM curfew – a ghost from a not-so-long-gone Puritan era – plus the 12:30 AM subway shutdown serve to limit the local nightlife. But in the case of Together, it’s not how much time you have to work with; it’s what you do with that time that counts.

Entering its eighth year, Together has been bringing some of the biggest names in dance music (and not-so dance-y music) to Cambridge. Last year, clubs and stages around town were graced with stellar sets from DJs like Chicago’s the Black Madonna, Bicep, Ben UFO and others. Live sets came courtesy of names like Jon Hopkins, Fatima Yamaha and (one of our personal favorites) Floating Points, who kicked off the festival at the Sinclair accompanied by an unbelievable visual display which matched photosensitive fabric with stunning laser grids. The goal of the festival is to commemorate the crossroads of music, art and technology; in that aspect, it thrives in comparison to other local festivals.

Photo by Ben Stas

During the week of 5/14 to 5/21, Together will host another strong lineup of some of dance music’s most beloved and rising acts. Magda and Solar kick off Sunday’s opening party, followed by Nine Inch Nails touring member Alessandro Cortini on Monday. Tuesday night holds what might be the gem of the festival: a Discwoman showcase featuring the desert-dance vibes of Avalon Emerson and the idiosyncratic ambient techno of Umfang. A Hessle Audio showcase on Wednesday sees Ben UFO, last year’s closer, return to the festival.

While the first half of the week averages about one show each night, some decisions might need to be made from Wednesday to Saturday. For instance, Thursday brings a tough choice between “We are Your Friends” legends Simian Mobile Disco and the stunning live work of Jacques Greene at Middlesex, Stones Throw’s Dam Funk and Boston legends Soul Clap at the Sinclair, and one of the festival’s few vocal acts, Princess Nokia, at Middle East Downstairs… and that’s not even all of the offerings that night.

Friday sees the conceptual compositions of Pantha Du Prince (Brighton Music Hall) scheduled against deep house legend Kerri Chandler and Detroit Swindle (Mid East Downstairs), as well as Matrixxman (Mid East Upstairs). If you want to support local artists, check out this Matrixxman show, where Visceral, a back-to-back duo of local DJs Lychee and Manv, will spin to start things off.

Photo by Nick Minieri

The highlight of Saturday is definitely Com Truise, whose new album drops next month, and Clark, whose new album is just a few weeks old, playing together at the Middle East Downstairs. Of course, DJ Bugalu (of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings fame) will be manning the decks at Soulelujah while NY stalwart Mike Servito will be at downtown’s Goodlife, making two good alternatives to what will likely be the most well-attended show of the week.

While bouncing around these different spaces, be sure to keep an appreciative eye out for the visual displays and art installations. A dedicated crew of engineers spend a few months each year building, developing and programming these vibrant displays, working with the specifics of each venue. Expect dazzling LEDs and mind-bending projection mapping, with all installations purpose-built for their respective venues.

Unlike so many festivals where the divide between performer and audience is strictly defined, one of the coolest aspects of Together is the blurring of that line. It’s a festival built on its accessible interactivity (it’s called “Together” for a reason!) Each year, the crew at Mmmmaven hosts special workshops and non-concert events at its office in Central Square during which attendees can learn about music production techniques, the latest in studio technologies and more. You don’t have to be into house, techno or other electronic sub-genres to find a workshop on how to make the most of your Ableton recordings useful. Additionally, for Saturday’s always-popular record fair local collectors and musicians (including international artists like Martyn and Beautiful Swimmers) bring in crates of their old LPs so you can go through and see if there’s any new wax you want to pick up. This is especially useful since it can be tricky to find a large selection of for-sale dance music on vinyl when living in Boston.

Photo by Nick Minieri

A great way to connect with and keep track of the festival is to download the Together app, available for both iOS and Android. It’s got profiles on all the performers, links to their Soundcloud accounts so you can check them out, the full schedule, alert notifications that let you know when a show is about to start (which is very useful the week of the festival!), plus a sleek overall design that benefits the user experience. With the many varied events and sets happening through the week it’s a great way to keep informed.

Although week-long passes for the festival are gone at this point, there are still tickets available for individual shows. Some require advance tickets, while some (usually the shows at Middlesex Lounge) are pay-at-the door. Whether you are a lifelong fan of dance music culture or an outsider looking to see what’s up with the scene, Together creates a friendly environment for you to get down.

Photo Courtesy of Together

Allston Pudding will be on the ground throughout Together updating on all the fun that comes down (as well as dancing our asses off!) Stay tuned into our Twitter and Instagram for looks into the venues and keep ’em peeled the week after the festival for our full review.

Photo Courtesy of Together