If there was one word to describe Nicolas Jaar's headline set at Brooklyn Electronic Music festival in New York last weekend it was precocious. Only that can explain how the 22-year-old Chilean-American kept a room full of ravers locked down for an hour, listening to Dave P's catastrophic attempt to superimpose unnecessary beats on Radiohead's 'Everything In Its Right Place', while they waited for the hero of the hour. Jaar doesn't exactly make party music, either. For several hours, he built tempos painfully slowly while vintage footage of Mohammed Ali and soldiers lighting cigarettes with matches flickered across three suspended screens.
If Jaar's a puppet-master, we were all on the end of those strings. Tempo rushes elicited cheers from the crowd, before the inevitable slip into sub-100bpm, which, if you haven't tried, are very hard to dance to. He turned the chorus from Cat Power's 'Cherokee' - "Marry me, marry me to the sky," - into a slowburning, plaintive swirl of a lyric, then slipped the clanging chords from Dave McCallum's 'The Edge', best known as the opening sample on Dre's 'Next Episode', into an interlude, sending people wild for about two seconds, before they realised the joke was on them. Precocious, then. But completely absorbing.
Not all of the acts at BEMF were so wilfully subversive. Earlier on the Saturday, in the front room of a divey Williamsburg venue called Public Assembly, the Chicago-born, West Coast-based DJ Salva played out a mix of hip hop and ghost house that was the very opposite of a Nicolas Jaar party - that is to say, there were plenty of people getting sweaty down at the front. On Friday, after reports that Vito and Druzzi's set "tried to go deep house" but was just a bit crap, we saw British DJ Photek before skipping over to Public Assembly for Jackmaster. The Fabric resident and Numbers label founder from Glasgow appeared with labelmate Deadboy to play some garage, two-step and post-dubstep that had plenty of girls interested. Friday's headliner, Gold Panda, still got the biggest response from the big songs on 'Lucky Shiner'. Derwin played with the opening to 'You' on his MPC, no doubt sick to death of the song, before moving things along with newer tracks like 'Mountain' and 'Financial District'.
Schedule clashes meant we missed some huge acts that under normal circumstances would be worth the trip alone - Omar S and FaltyDL especially. But getting busy down at the front during Jackmaster, it was obvious that there is demand for this kind of night in New York City, though you'd be hard pressed to find a Williamsburg venue devoting a night to decent electronic music on any given weekend. Where BEMF succeeded was in bringing such a diversity of international talent and styles together, and showing that that catchall genre, 'electronic music', is still a petri dish for some of the most interesting experimentation happening in any genre, anywhere. BEMF proved that the press coverage devoted to brutality of EDM and the rise of emo dubsteppers like Skrillex is merely a diversion from the good stuff. Just don't bother telling that to Nicolas Jaar - he knows it already.