Emancipator at the Belly Up Tavern. Photo by Amanda Martinek

Emancipator at the Belly Up Tavern. Photo by Amanda Martinek

Photos by Ned Molder & Amanda Martinek

By Ned Molder

Portland-based Emancipator stopped by Belly Up Tavern on Saturday for a night of bass-powered downtempo grooving. The small but dedicated San Diego EDM crowd was out in full force, with attendees falling on the binary scale of PB Bro to OB Hippie. Emancipator (Douglas Appling) is touring in support of his latest release Seven Seas with “Emancipator Ensemble”, a five man organism of richly woven string textures and drum breaks.

Manatee Commune opened the night with a pre-party type DJ set of slower background beats before Hip-hop producer Blockhead took the stage to spin a mix of classic 90’s and 2000’s hip-hop/R&B, plus the occasional heavy breakbeat or trip hop track. And of course he threw in a few well-known Aesop Rock instrumentals with a sly smile.

Emancipator Ensemble appeared through a fog bank of synthetic smoke. No words were spoken, and very few glances made amongst eachother. The band’s energy was focused solely on their respective instruments, which included an electric mandolin, electric stand-up bass, various guitars and several keyboards. The ensemble grooved seamlessly while the crowds more extroverted members danced in small circles near the front of the stage.

Emancipator’s music has a way of transporting you through a tunnel of dream-consciousness where subtle self-reflection becomes bold and forefront. And for this reason his music is best enjoyed through headphones on a long walk or while cranking out overtime hours. Time seemed to slow during the show’s last half hour, and except for well-known tracks like “Greenland” and “Soon It will be Cold Enough to Build Fires“, the songs blended together into a dreamy narrative reminiscent of late night college library sessions or bedtime. I highly recommend “Seven Seas” for work productivity, but for your next dance party, I’d recommend something a little more up-tempo.