It’s all gone Tempo Comodo: Phil Smart and the slo-mo dance revolution

One of Sydney's finest DJs launches a new weekly party at 77.
Henry Johnstone
It’s all gone Tempo Comodo: Phil Smart and the slo-mo dance revolution

Dance music tempos are really fast and furious at the moment. As is the case with almost every subculture, electronic music follows the inevitably cyclical path of trends, and the hyper speeds of retro techno and trance are very much in vogue.

Yet at the opposing end of the bpm spectrum, a very different sound has slowly been bubbling away across the globe over the last five years or so, thanks to various labels, DJs, club nights and podcasts. It’s made up of a myriad of genres and styles, so you can’t exactly put a label on it (perhaps to its advantage). You could call it slo-mo, down or mid-tempo. Iconic Australian DJ Phil Smart simply calls it Tempo Comodo.

Well not exactly, but that’s the name of his new party series set to debut at Club 77 this week. It’s all about slower tempo grooves for the dance floor, ranging from 70pm and upwards, but never breaking the speed limit of 120. Let’s find out more.

Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with Club 77, which is celebrating a remarkable 25th anniversary this year.

77 is a venue that I’ve spent more time in than any other on the planet. I first played there over 30 years ago when it was called the All Night Boogie Dance Café. It’s where I’ve had some amazing experiences, both behind the decks and on the dancefloor, and it’s always been a place of inclusion, good times and of course boundary pushing music! It was once subtitled ‘The People’s Club’ and we often referred to it as our dirty little disco basement.

I’m excited to working with the club once again. It’s a special venue that holds a revered position in Sydney’s illustrious clubbing history and is playing an essential part in rebuilding the city’s club culture following attacks by conservative governments and their lockouts, and then the pandemic that followed.

What does Tempo Comodo mean and what is it all about?

Tempo Comodo is actually a tempo marking used in classical music, and it means “at a comfortable speed.” The concept evolved from a series of parties I curated a few years back called ‘The Slow Dance Experiment.’ The concept is basically a club night focused on a policy of danceable music at slower tempos - anything from about 80bpm up to a 120bpm speed limit. Those ‘Slow Dance’ parties were really well received, and it was great to see people getting down to slower grooves and styles.

Dancing to slower tempos opens up a whole new world of space, rhythm and movement on the dance floor. The music can be a kind of slowed down house or techno – or anything really, the downtempo and midtempo universe is really diverse, with lots of subgenres, influences and styles - but the lower tempo means there’s more space in the music for sounds to breathe and really come alive. You can move and dance to it differently. I’ve found it to be a whole different kind of experience.

Where does your love of slower beats come from?

From heaps of artists, DJs, parties and places! Of course there is the Balearic musical philosophy, which wasn’t so restricted by tempo and often included a lot of slower vibes. Sean Johnston and Andrew Weatherall (RIP) as A Love From Outer Space have always inspired me with their lower speed limit at their nights. Optimo (Espacio) with their hectic eclectic-ness and weirdness, and seeing Tipper play his unique brand of proto-dubstep glitch hop in the El Circo dome at Burning Man totally blew my mind and opened up what is possible. Where I first really experienced the power of danceable downtempo though was at Mark Farina's Mushroom Jazz nights in San Francisco. It was packed club full of people going hard to 100 bpm on a Monday night!

It’s interesting to hear you mention Andrew Weatherall, as we can definitely see his influence on your sound and style. We’ve even heard you referred to as ‘Australia’s answer to Andrew Weatherall!’ Those Mark Farina nights sound unreal. Can you elaborate a bit more on these parties? How long ago was this?

Well, I dunno about that! I do know that I can’t hold a candle to the Guv’nor of course, but he has definitely been a huge influence on my life since the early Boy’s Own days, with both his DJing and productions. I’ve only ever seen him play a handful of times, but included in that is a diverse range from dub at a Red Snapper gig to slamming techno at Sabresonic under some brick railway arches in London to the last time I saw him, here in Australia with Sean Johnston, in ALFOS mode at Subsonic festival. His diversity and longevity inspire me to keep playing and exploring music, and that I can still contribute something to the evolution of club and festival culture here in Australia.

Those Mushroom Jazz nights would have been in the mid-nineties sometime, after Mark had moved from Chicago to San Francisco. America obviously has a long history of dancing to slower sounds, from funk and soul to hip hop, so it was a natural fit, but the energy in that room compared to the vibe on any house or techno dancefloor I’ve been on. It was amazing really and I can still picture it in my mind and feel it in my body!

" 77 is a venue that I’ve spent more time in than any other on the planet. I first played there over 30 years ago when it was called the All Night Boogie Dance Café "

Who is doing it for you at the moment within the slow realm?

There is so much great music right now, artists like Geju, O/Y, Arutani and Viken Arman. On the label front, Multi Culti are continually inspiring, as well as Heimlich Musik, Leveldva and down. This ‘slow movement’ is pretty popular in Europe, Germany in particular. There’s even this whole chillrave scene going on in Russia, spearheaded by Geju. It’s taking off in the USA too - particularly within the ‘transformational’ festival circuit – and South America too, especially Brasil and Ecuador with artists like Nicola Cruz. The Australian downtempo scene is also growing, especially on the festival circuit. It’s been a slow build (ha!), but you can hear it more often now on the chillout stages or other side stages at festivals around the country.

What can punters expect when they come to a Tempo Comodo night?

Downtempo, midtempo, slow house and techno, post-nudisco, slomo, chug, organic house, elements of dark disco, indie dance and next wave… basically a really diverse sound made up of lots of different subgenres, influences and styles! There are so many different styles to explore, and it will depend on who’s playing and what sounds they like to push, but it will also evolve in tandem with the crowd on the dancefloor as collaborators. What gets people moving and what the dancefloor responds to will help shape the night and its sound over time.

In line with Club 77’s new direction, the night will kick off early from 5pm, going all the way through until 4am close. The headline acts will be on relatively early so that you can experience the main event and still get home early enough to be ok at work the following day, but if you want to kick on till the end we’ll keep the beats going until 4am. The music will start off pretty chill and low in volume to accommodate a social aspect where you can have a comfortable chat with friends, and then ramp up over time to build up the dance floor so you can have a boogie, release some energy and express yourself to a new realm of music.

Listen to Phil Smart on SoundCloud

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