This was it. I had accumulated almost two months’ worth of weekends out in New Orleans. The growing pile of empty water bottles, dirty fragments of party fliers, and leftover articles of clothing in my backseat served as receipts for my excursions.
If Mardi Gras weekend was my graduation into New Orleans nightlife, Lundi Gras was the night before commencement.
I even bought a damn floral print suit to wear for the weekend parties. This obnoxious, not-at-all-breathable choice of attire was proof positive that I took dressing up far too seriously.
I bought my pin for Kompression more than a month ahead of schedule, just moments after Erik Browne gave me his salesman’s pitch for the event (Author’s note: Erik Browne and Chris Gomez, or Unicorn Fukr and Herb Christopher, respectively, are the masterminds behind Kompression and the organizers of the Lundi Gras Ball). We were sitting on the patio of a pizza place next door to Techno Club when he recounted the story of last year’s Kompression Lundi Gras, a tale filled with intrigue, betrayal, adversity, ingenuity, divine intervention, and the prevailing spirit of dance music. Truly, a modern-day Odyssey.
During the retelling of his story, Erik’s mannerisms emanated nervous energy. His body language almost did the talking for him. It was clear that this redemption arc was never about the money or the reputation. It was a communal victory lap – for Josh Wink, Erik Browne, Chris Gomez, and the entire dance music family. Even Chris, a stoic and difficult-to-read figure, showed signs of agitation whenever he talked about Lundi Gras. Clearly, the memories from last year were still fresh in their minds.
In the weeks leading up to the event, I did my best to give the mythos some justice. From incessantly asking for firsthand accounts, to recording an hour-long interview with Erik about the night of the previous year’s Lundi Gras, I sought to capture the subtext of urgency – not just from last year, but for this year as well.
Was I a little too eager? Perhaps. But in the days leading up to Kompression, the growing frequency of my anxiety pangs indicated that this was more than a party. I wanted Kompression to happen right then and there, but I simultaneously wanted the outside world to hold its breath and wait until I was ready.
Prior to this night, I had never covered such a large, widely publicized event. I was only two months into my foray into music journalism, and only three years into my love affair with electronic music. So of course, every old raver I met loved to remind me that I was still so damn green. Even my best friend, an LA native and seasoned partygoer, nicknamed me “baby bird” for my many moments of nightlife naivety.
Tonight was different. Tonight, the baby bird would finally leave the nest.
More a Miniature Music Festival Than a Show
Just to be safe, I took an 8-hour disco nap on top of my night’s sleep as part of my preparation for the event. “No sleep till Wednesday” was the motto for Mardi Gras weekend, but I wanted to sneak in as much of it as possible.
I showed up to Castillo Blanco alone and unfashionably early, at 9:30 pm on the dot. Social anxiety be damned, I was there for the music and for the experience.
While exploring the space, I noticed that it had all the components of a perfect rave space: a re-purposed warehouse, dilapidated surroundings, a courtyard, and an endless supply of oddities to stare at. During the daytime, Castillo Blanco primarily served as headquarters for the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus. So amidst the usual trappings of a music venue, there were Star Wars-themed parade floats, wall art, and all manner of props throughout the warehouse.
The outdoor area had another, much smaller DJ booth accompanied by a gravel driveway “dance floor”. Vendors selling food, jewelry, and rave accessories lined the back. The controlled chaos of the indoor and outdoor spaces gave the event a music festival atmosphere.
Kompression wasn’t a night out at the generic downtown club. Kompression was a wonderfully bizarre congregation.
The Openers – Unicorn Fukr and Alkeme
At 9:45 pm, I was one of a handful of attendees at the party. By then I knew the routine – pick a spot, sit down, sip some waters, enjoy the music, and ride it out.
To nobody’s surprise, Unicorn Fukr made it very difficult for me to stay seated. I kept wanting to get up and dance, but realized that I was the only one standing. In an attempt to save face, I walked over to the bar to get a drink instead. Perhaps some day in the future, I’d be okay with being *that guy* on the dance floor 3 hours before the headliner.
In past conversations, Unicorn Fukr often confided that out of all the dance music sub-genres, house was his favorite to play. His two-hour opener clearly showed it. He was all smiles during his set, while donning a simple mask and shimmering golden cape. Similarly to his costume, there were no flares or frills to his set. Unicorn Fukr spun his interpretation of house by doing what he did best: challenging the idea of definitions and boundaries. Although I mostly heard tech house, he also threw in bits of jungle house and deep house. The overarching theme was a buildup of energy and anticipation. He played one of his best sets yet.
In some portions of his set, he worked against the DJ’s dogma of smooth, gradual transitions between tracks. Instead, he made the conscious decision to jump from one track to the next in between beats. It was a subtle ploy to gradually build anticipation in the room while the venue began to fill up. By the time he handed the decks over to Alkeme, the show was well on its way.
Once Alkeme took the stage, the bass-heavy house music took on a more psychedelic turn, combining elements of acid house with instrumentals. Sharp percussion punctuated the beats, and the DJs got to work on their preamble to Josh Wink’s set. As curators for Proton Radio, the duo had the ideal credentials to prepare the crowd for the incoming 5-hour journey. Over the course of the set, I noticed the bass become heavier, the track selection more psychedelic, and the tension more elevated.
Revelers picked up on these cues as they filled up the main floor. One by one, they began to abandon small talk and start dancing.
I was beginning to regret my choice of attire. It was hardly midnight and I was already drenched in sweat. Note to my future self – don’t wear a suit to a rave. No matter how cool you think it looks.
I stepped out to the courtyard to take a breather. I had a feeling I’d be taking a lot of these breaks.
The Courtyard – Lleauna and Ryan Deffes
The outdoor lineup consisted of Lleauna and Ryan Deffes, each playing 3-hour sets. It was my third time seeing Lleauna, and without a doubt the most high-energy set I had heard her play. The outdoor courtyard was the perfect backdrop for her style of DJing.
Her track selection consisted of subdued techno that built up tension , followed by high-energy releases full of hard, bass-heavy tech house. I continued to be impressed by her growth as a DJ – she seemed to get better with every show.
Ryan Deffes went up at midnight, and he brought a more melodic, funky theme to his track selection. In between my frequent breaks and my efforts devoted to staying for Josh Wink’s set, I didn’t get to catch too much of his set. But I had no doubt in my mind that this was a consummate professional. Even Herb Christopher, a person very stingy with his compliments, confided that Deffes was one of the few DJs he enjoyed playing back-to-back sets with.
I looked forward to seeing more of his work at the Dragon’s Den Mardi Gras party.
Word got around that Josh Wink was set to take the stage at 1:30 am. I made sure to get all my breaks out the way before he started his set. I caught some glimpses of him before he went up – he looked like the most regular, unassuming guy, albeit little short in stature. As Unicorn Fuker led him on a tour of the venue, he had the unmistakable Josh Wink smile on him. There was an aura of infectious positivity about him. I couldn’t wait for the show. Nobody really bothered him. He had a quiet stroll around the warehouse and the courtyard, and returned to the artist’s lounge before his set.
As Alkeme yielded the stage to the headliner, he transitioned into his set without much fanfare or showmanship. He was here to play music for the fans, not put on theatrics.
What can I say about Josh Wink’s performance? It was a journey. He began with acid techno, and the psychedelic theme continued throughout the night. During the middle of the set, he meandered a little into a more minimal techno sound, but almost every minute was dance-worthy. I couldn’t help but move, and as a result I had to take frequent fresh air breaks. I was almost certain that I’d ruin my suit with all my sweat.
I want to bring my focus to the part of the set I will always remember vividly – the ending.
In those last few minutes, Josh Wink brought the crowd’s energy to a mellowed state of serenity. I saw warm smiles all around me, and a shared understanding that we were returning home after our five-hour journey.
Like every great performer, he saved his best for last. In his omniscience, Wink knew that the crowd craved melody and vocals. So with the final act of the five-hour set, the DJ took the crowd through the origins of dance music.
During this final act, there was a turning point that transformed an incredible night into a truly unforgettable experience. It started with the familiar lyrics and the accompanying piano chords –
I want to thank you, heavenly Father
For shining your light on me
As soon as I recognized the words, I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear. It was Alicia Myers’s “I Want to Thank You”. There was nothing corny or out of place about this song of praise in the midst of a rave. If anything, this was the perfect track selection to finish off the night.
In those moments, the warehouse on the Bywater became a house of worship, and I was having a religious experience. I closed my eyes and let the music baptize me. Nothing could erase the grin on my face, and the following track took me to transcendent heights.
Somehow, Josh Wink knew that disco was my weakness and my musical source of comfort. With First Choice’s “Doctor Love”, Josh Wink signed off on his set and paid homage to his hometown of Philadelphia. His track selection felt like a personalized farewell message, and I stopped to bask in the uplifting melody. Now, more than ever, I understood why the true greats received the kind of crowd worship reserved for deities.
Throughout this final track, the crowd broke into cheers, and Josh Wink waved his thanks to the fans. I contemplated approaching him after the set, just to thank him, but decided against it. In my mind, a forced, mundane interaction would have ruined some of the magic of the night. Not to mention, I didn’t trust myself enough to not embarrass myself first.
After a few farewells and hugs near the artist lounge, Josh Wink whisked away to his next destination. I stepped into the courtyard for another break before the closing set.
The Closer – Herb Christopher
Closers face the challenge of reading a crowd fresh off the headliner’s high. Coming on too strong would cause the crowd to burn out and leave early. Playing too timidly would leave the dance floor empty. Luckily, this closer had seen it all and was more than ready to meet the challenge.
With the intuition of a true veteran, Herb Christopher brought forth a measured tenacity to his set that gave revelers no other choice but to stay on the dance floor into the morning hours. There was an ebb and flow of crowd presence, but an undeniably consistent element of impeccable track selection.
End of Sermon
By about 8 am, I was pushing my limits. I needed a nap, a hot meal, a change of clothes, and a damn shower. I had also parked in the Church’s Chicken next door to the warehouse and my New Orleans parking senses were telling me I was at risk for getting ticketed or towed.
I said my farewells, rushed over to my car, and let the events of the night sink in. For a while, I sat and aimlessly scrolled through my playlists in search of something to fill this deafening silence. After almost 12 hours of nonstop music, the bustle of Mardi Gras and the sound of traffic were deeply unsettling.
But what was I supposed to play after a show like that?
I gave up on the pursuit and drove home in silence.