Ben Mealhow was happily surprised when he found out the Mission Creek Festival organizers were interested in booking Laurel Halo.
Mealhow runs Mission Beat, the segment of the festival devoted to underground electronic dance music. He took over as curator of Mission Beat in 2009, when he was a college student at the University of Iowa. According to Mealhow, the festival allocates more money to Mission Beat each year. This made it possible to bring in Laurel Halo, a big name in the underground electronic music world.
Laurel Halo released her most recent album, “Dust,” last year on Hyperdub. The album received acclaim from many professional reviews for its experimental, boundary-pushing sound. The album was included among the best albums of 2017 by platforms such as Pitchfork, Resident Advisor and Drowned in Sound. With the album’s success, it has taken Halo around the world to perform. Her stop in Iowa City brings her back to the Midwest, after having grown up in Michigan and since moving to Berlin, Germany.
With Halo as headliner, Mission Beat was held on Friday night at the Iowa City Yacht Club. It’s a smaller venue, with a capacity around 200. The dancefloor is in the basement of the bar.
Before the show, Mealhow was confident the event would see a good turnout. “It’s been packed every year since it’s started. It’s kind of turned into a reunion. Being in our ninth year, there’s people who have been every year. [There are] people who don’t generally come out much anymore, but they still come out for this because they know it’s going to be awesome,” Mealhow said.
Mealhow, who DJs at bTsunami, performed the slot before Halo. The crowd grew larger the closer it got to Halo’s set. I was eager to find out what Halo had planned for the night because she is a versatile DJ, and her sets can take many forms.
Halo took over the decks a little after 11 p.m. Her set would last until 12:30 a.m. She started out playing a few house selections. The second track she played was Hobie’s “Do You Remember the Joys of Lace.” This was a mellow deep house track which worked well to ease us into her mix. She saved her heavier techno selections until later. Around 30 minutes into her set, she dropped an acid techno track which jolted the crowd and got people dancing hard. She tended to build up to the harder tracks every 30 minutes, playing some lighter house music when she wanted to calm things down.
For me, the highlight of her set happened near the end. Halo was playing “6_2,” a dark banger by Lab Personnel, when she brought in “Touch Absence” by Lanark Artefax. “Touch Absence” was one of my favorite tracks of 2017 and one I included as part of my year-end favorites for our Iowa State Daily compilation. It was thrilling to hear “Touch Absence” played on a large sound system where the bass came through loud and clear.
The large sound system is something Mealhow was proud Mission Beat was able to provide. And shortly after Mealhow finished his set, he came up to me and told me Halo was also impressed by it.
When Halo’s set came to an end, I was left wishing it could’ve gone on longer. Being in a club setting, Halo strictly kept to delivering techno and house.
Seeing her perform up close in a small setting was a great experience. With close to 150 people at the show, the Yacht Club was packed throughout most of her performance. I clearly was not the only one didn’t want to miss the chance to see the talented Laurel Halo perform in Iowa.