Electronic dance music can mean any number of things. The dizzying list of genres and sub-genres is nearly impossible to understand or define. But to local DJ and podcast host Adam Wilson, what matters more is location.
(216)BASS, a twice-monthly podcast put together by Wilson, features Cleveland electronic DJs. It can be heard at 216bass.com or on iTunes. The series of hour-long episodes features mixes especially made for the podcast. Ranging from house to drum 'n' bass and all of the overly specific genres in between, the podcast offers a wide spectrum of music for listeners.
"When we started (216)BASS, the whole concept was just to do a kind of recorded-studio-mix-type sessions with various DJs local to the area and try to get them exposed to a larger audience," Wilson says. "Initially when we started doing the podcast, we wanted to keep it multi-genre, trying to hit all the bases and just get all the DJs we thought were kind of relevant in the scene on there. We try and do a podcast once every two weeks, so we try and release pretty frequently. Obviously, we can't get everybody in all the time but we try and get as many people with as much of a different sound in as possible."
A recent podcast features the likes of JQUEST, who puts forward a bumping mix of hip-hop influenced, bass-heavy tracks. In episode 23's Encyclopedia Brown mix, prominent dance beats drive the sparkling house music. Regardless of the episode, each one is a fine-tuned, well-produced mix; that's partially due to Wilson's years as a DJ.
"It's hard for me to separate myself from being a DJ and a fan," Wilson says. "Sometimes I'll hear something and I'll think, 'I know that was a bad mix' and it's hard for me to get as into it. Everyone has various levels of appreciation. I think with the podcast I look for people I've known for a long time, people I've just heard or seen play and know that they're good, and I want them to be represented on the podcast."
Being part of the scene for over a decade as a drum 'n' bass DJ known as Zeno, Wilson's dedication to Cleveland's electronic scene came from his exposure early on. Creating a Cleveland electronic music collective stemmed from his time as a DJ.
"I started listening to electronic music when I first heard Daft Punk back in '95-'96, something like that," he says. "When I first heard [Daft Punk's] 'Around the World.' And since then I've been getting into different areas of electronic music. Going to clubs, going to shows, getting into radio shows and other things like that. I used to go out to a lot of events in Cleveland. They had a lot of drum 'n' bass shows like Drum Riot going on back at Spy Bar. That was the one that pops out in my head. I just really loved music and I wanted to do something with it so I started DJing."
Alongside his friend DJ Secret Sauce, Wilson began putting on shows in 2006 at clubs like Touch Supper Club and Euclid Tavern. Collaborating with Secret Sauce and a number of other local DJs proved important in (216)BASS's growth.
"We always try and work with various people," he says. "A lot of us have known each other for so long that, you know, why wouldn't we work with each other? The scene is not huge in Cleveland. Not every club is playing electronic music like if you went to a Detroit or a Chicago or a New York or something like that. So because it's small, many people in the scene know each other and try and work with one another."
Starting off with sporadic shows, BASSICK, the (216)BASS live show, is now a monthly staple at the small Cleveland club Duck Island. The show features four mix sets by local DJs and includes sets by Andy James, DJ Meghan and Panda Exfresh.
"We worked with a couple different venues and Duck Island was pretty easy to work with," he says. "It's a cozy spot and it's central to Cleveland, which I think helps reinforce that '216' aspect."
The line-up performing Feb. 1 at Duck Island follows suit with the podcast and offers a variety of electronic styles from DJs Anthony Jimenez, Thunder St. Clair, DJ Nox and Grandgruv.
Jimenez, who can be heard on episode 16, explores minimal techno landscapes that display power through simplicity. Definitely more of a long-form mixer, taking time blending tracks together and utilizing repetition, his sets are deep and subterranean in nature; they're characteristically minimalist techno.
Thunder St. Clair blends a host of styles like hip-hop, dubstep and house together, driven by deep bass lines and generally minimalistic drums. Occasionally throwing in a surprising upbeat dance groove, his music gets weird in the best of ways. A little glitchy at times, his wild sets experiment with expectations.
For those not as familiar with the electronic music scene, Wilson understands the newcomer's plight. With the expansive amount of styles — sometimes played all in one mix — it's become an intimidating genre to delve into.
"I think sometimes you'll have people who believe very strongly in a certain subgenre," Wilson says. "And there'll be someone new who comes along and says 'I like this. What is this? It sounds like house.' And then you got your so-called expert who says, 'This isn't house music, it's 'micro-bass.' And people are like, 'What the heck is micro-bass?'
"So, I think sometimes the classifications do muddy the waters. It really should just be about what people enjoy, right? If you like house but you go to a drum 'n' bass show and you have a great time, should you be an expert on drum 'n' bass? No. I think sometimes people get too caught up in the genres. I think we're starting to see a lot of that sub-genre stuff start to go away and people are going to be more understanding of just 'music.'"
The experimental nature of the electronic scene is at the foreground of (216)BASS shows — not just aesthetically, but technically as well. With old and new technologies merging, the idea of the laptop DJ "just hitting play" is quickly dispersing into new inventive ways to perform music.
"I think the format's changing up a lot right now," Wilson says. "For years past, turntables, the 'wheels of steel,' were always the medium. Everywhere you went, it was always turntables. And now you've got a lot of younger DJs who, if they have been around for a couple years, know how to play on a couple different platforms.
"Now it could be anything," he continues. "There are so many different formats now it's hard to cater toward everyone. And then you've got a lot of people who do live production, like live music. Sometimes you'll see laptops and giant controller boards. The format is totally changing right now and I don't really know what the future is going to hold."