Urbana’s Canopy Club has become a haven for electronic music fans as each month’s calendar is filled with an eclectic mix of dance, dubstep, progressive house, and down-tempo acts. This weekend the venue will welcome yet another popular name circulating in the electronic music circuit and dance festival community: 28-year-old Colorado-based DJ and producer Alex Botwin, known onstage as Paper Diamond.
Contemporary DJs and producers are notorious for receiving flak for the perceived ease of their jobs. However, Botwin’s entrepreneurial drive and impressive branding projects seem to negate any trace of doubt or disrespect for his craft. He’s proven himself as a musician and producer, having released his first full-length, Levitate, on the Pretty Lights Music record label — owned and operated by one of electronic music’s current bigwigs, Derek Vincent Smith of Pretty Lights. Botwin’s latest EP, Wavesight, was released in June of this year. Since then, he’s dropped a number of independent tracks and remixes, including a thirty-minute-long Night Vision Tour mix (below) in celebration of his recent tour. Beyond composing and producing, Botwin directs Elm and Oak: a business encompassing his own record label, design firm, gallery, and storefront for Elm and Oak retail apparel in downtown Boulder, Colorado. Elm and Oak even curates its own annual music festival in Colorado, featuring popular electronic acts like Pictureplane, DJ Shadow, and Rusko.
Paper Diamond’s music is treble-heavy electronic dance music. Incorporating some low-key elements of dubstep with more pop-driven dance tracks, the result is clean, upbeat electronic. He stands out from other electro-hip-hop and soulful dubstep artists on the Pretty Lights Music label like Gramatik, Michael Menert, and Pretty Lights. Never stopping to let his flow mellow, Paper Diamond’s music is wholeheartedly high-energy.
Paper Diamond’s Levitate, released in January 2011, is full of some of his best original cuts. The tracks are all relatively vocal-free, which puts an emphasis on the album’s squeaky-clean beats and playful treble tones. The title track provides a blueprint for the rest of the album. A quick, pulsing high tone sets an upbeat pace and then gives way to a very subtle, fuzzy bass line that steadily bumps its way through the rest of the song. “From Now Till…” is a bit more of a banger, featuring another blurry bass line that is perfectly complemented by a bubbly, aquatic-sounding top layer of staccato beats. An icy-cool sample from the 1971 James Bond theme “Diamonds Are Forever” sung by Shirley Bassey pays homage to Paper Diamond’s namesake and adds another sexy element to that tune. My favorite track by far on Levitate is “Imagine the Possibilities.” This song is beautifully balanced by a steady, reverberating bass tone and symphonic crescendos that glide up the scale with a sexy flourish. Here’s hoping that Paper Diamond incorporates it into his live set on Friday night.
The Wavesight EP shows off a new stylistic approach from Paper Diamond. This three-song EP is undeniably poppy. Though Levitate is certainly upbeat, the new EP makes it feel relaxed in comparison. Paper Diamond collaborated with rookie female vocalist Nasimiyu of New Orleans to record “Turn the Lights Off.” The track is a rather unimpressive way to start the EP. Nasimiyu’s breathy voice strains to eloquently glide up to higher notes, while Paper Diamond’s dubstep interludes catch listeners off guard. But “Can We Go Up” manages to save the EP on the back end. Female vocal loops and synthy layers meld nicely and transition smoothly into a more Paper Diamond-style dubstep bridge. “Can We Go Up” is bound to be one of the high points of his set.
Paper Diamond’s current tour, dubbed the Night Vision Tour, kicked off earlier this month in Oklahoma and has already hit numerous venues in the south and Midwest. The Night Vision Tour will stop in Urbana before heading on to Chicago for a Saturday night show.
The stage production for this tour showcases a unique light rig designed and constructed just for this series of shows; Botwin refers to his new LED/video setup as The Diamond Cutter. This production consists of four huge triangle-shaped LED screens, one flanking each side of Botwin’s laptop, turntables, and mixer. The inner edges of each piece are accented with jagged edges that match up with the seams of the piece opposite them, creating the illusion of two huge broken diamonds housing Botwin during the show. Continually changing video and light projections will keep the audience members’ eyes locked to the stage.
Paper Diamond’s set will be preceded by two strikingly talented and diverse opening acts. North Carolina DJ duo Clicks & Whistles cover a range of sticky, down tempo genres, incorporating elements of experimental trap, juke, Southern rap, and drum and bass music. Come early to check them out if you’re pining for some slower, syrupy dance music. Pretty Lights Music label mate Eliot Lipp will provide a nice transition from Clicks & Whistles slow jams to Paper Diamond’s bouncing beats with a his sexy electro-funk style.
This Canopy Club show is bound to bring out a large campus crowd and a trickle of regular neighborhood bassheads. Prepare for a packed dance floor by the time the openers finish up their sets. But don’t let the promise of a crowd keep you from coming out and enjoying these stellar acts.
Paper Diamond will be performing at the Canopy Club tomorrow night, and his set will follow two impressive and diverse openers — Eliot Lipp and Clicks & Whistles — so arriving early is a good idea if you’re looking to hear something new. Doors to the venue open at 10 p.m. and the show will start at 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $16 at the door. Get your tickets here.