The lineup at Skylab this year was impressive, featuring names that have been in the electronic-music scene for a long time, including hard-house diva DJ Irene and one of the mainstays of Chicago house, Bad Boy Bill. The Global Command Module offered a lineup of dubstep to balance out the house-heavy bill, and Dieselboy contributed his own dark, eerie dubstep to the mix as well.
Headliner Ferry Corsten took the main Launch Pad stage at 8 p.m. The progressive trance heavyweight, who's appeared on the lauded Ministry of Sound and Moonshine labels, kicked things off nicely, blending the latest pop with his dance-floor anthems (Lady Gaga made an appearance at the very end of his set).
Corsten relinquished the stage at 9:30 to Trajikk, just as DJ Irene was gearing up in the NRG Fuel Pod. She was sporting a mohawk with bleached tips and dropped right in with hard beats and bass. Meanwhile, we could hear Trajikk mixing in the ubiquitous "We Are Your Friends," the Justice remix of Simian's 2006 hit, on the Launch Pad stage.
Irene's house comprises simple, ascending and descending melodies melded with complex, heavy, driving beats and trance-like effects (speeding up the beat to reach a sharp crescendo before adding in snare drums) with the type of hard, insistent beats that make hard house, well, hard.
DJ Irene plays with syncopation -- using several drum lines at once and offsetting those with the vacillating warbles, flutes, beeps, sirens and buzzing melodies that sound like a record being spun backward -- occasionally topping it all off with a marching-band snare drum.
Backlit and flanked by two screens on either side, Irene did her thing while some seriously fucked-up cartoons were projected on the screens -- hentai and violent fight scenes made brief appearances in the quick-as-a-blink montages -- and geometric shapes played on the giant light display behind her.
Irene likes to talk and hype up the crowd, but not to the point where it gets annoying. She utilizes the booming drums with distorted, sibilant vocals and high-energy majorette-style rhythms to create a house template that's faster and more exuberant than most house offerings out there.
Some of her effects are slightly off from where you would traditionally expect them to be -- maybe her melodies will be up or down an octave -- but the slight discord doesn't interfere with the overall composition. Rather, it ties everything together and keeps things interesting.
Chicago house legend Bad Boy Bill -- who's been spinning records since the tender age of fourteen -- took the main Launch Pad stage at 11 p.m., while Dieselboy relieved Irene in the NRG Fuel Pod. Bad Boy Bill's slick, stylish yet rowdy flavor features random distorted-voice samples proclaiming messages like, "shake that ass," "body-rockin' DJs" and Lil' Rob's "party every night, addicted to the fast life."
Utilizing a technique similar to Irene's, Bad Boy Bill brings all of the effects and noises up to a sharp, simple crescendo before dropping into the dirty mix he's got lined up. He was mixing in Demi Lovato's "La La Land" when I moved into the NRG Fuel Pod to see what Dieselboy was doing.
What Dieselboy was doing was deep, dark dubstep, with wobbly synth noises, squeaks and sirens, and scary vocals. It was just as paranoid, ominous and anxious as his drum-and-bass offerings -- but without the hard, insistent drumlines and looming bass. Dieselboy's one of the better dubstep mixers I've heard, but no dubstep compares to what he's capable of on the drum-and-bass end of the spectrum.
I kept waiting for him to kick in the furious drumlines and wobbling bass...but it never happened. Disappointed, I wandered back to watch Bad Boy Bill, who was spinning harder beats at that point than Dieselboy (a statement I never thought I'd make in a million years, for what it's worth.)
Bad Boy Bill was still putting on a strong showing; he's been around long enough that he's capable of exploring the boundaries of house, incorporating aspects of electro and old-school techno into his sets.
He can also change gears on a dime, moving from an anthemic track into a hard, driving, danceable record with no warning or buildup whatsoever -- but it always fits flawlessly, and he drove the crowd into a frenzy by instantly switching back and forth between subgenres. We even heard him mix in samples from Cajmere's "It's Time for the (Percolator)." His taste is eclectic and fun, sexy and celebratory and aggressive all at once.
Dieselboy, in the meantime, picked up the tempo slightly with some hard drums, eerie sirens and insistent bass, but it was just a tease; the dubstep set continued in the same vein while I was listening.
Wolfgang Gartner kept the energy going on the Launch Pad stage when Bad Boy Bill signed off at 12:30 a.m. with his blend of tech/electro house; this up-and-coming artist put on a good show and definitely maintained the packed dance floor and sweaty crowds. It was a rare treat to begin winding down the night, and after listening to a bit of his set, I set off toward home.
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CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I'm a fan of Irene and Bad Boy Bill, and Ferry Corsten put on a decent show, but I was really there to see Dieselboy drop his dark drum-and-bass, which I adore. He broke my heart with that dubstep set. Random Detail: There were actually some male go-go dancers making an appearance, bouncing around on stilts in Hazmat-marked suits -- in fact, with no real stage for the dancers to use, all of them mingled with the crowd in their out-of-this-world costumes instead. By the Way: The lineup seemed a bit strange. I'm not sure why they'd schedule the headliner, Ferry Corsten, for 8 p.m., and put DJ Irene -- who's been one of the top hard-house DJs on the planet for years -- on the secondary stage while locals Trajikk and Dragon took over the main stage during a prime time slot. Also, those concrete walls in the Coliseum made the sounds vibrate more than usual.