Last night at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Skrillex showed his fans exactly what creatures can lurk in the hard, dark reaches of dance music and broke the rules for a live DJ gig in surprisingly delightful ways.
Walking up the sidewalk to the Fox, a cluster of people were crowded out front -- some still trying to get a ticket to the show which has been sold out for over a month now. Once inside, I could see why. The opening act for the night, Pillow Fight, was playing some serious mashed-up dubstep that had the crowd surging back and forth like the ocean in a storm.
Local to Boulder, the duo of DJs Dirt Monkey and Shaank Aaron provided an amazing set that shows why dubstep should be taken seriously. It soared seamlessly through the vocals from snarling male rap vocals to pretty feminine arias mixed with heavy bass whomps and well-timed cuts between tracks. A heavy dose of hip-hop was infused into the set with remixes of Example's "Dirty Face" and Dr. Dre's "The Wash" highlighted.
At this point, the set seemed to get mired in more rap, less step only to be finished off by a whimsical transition into a 1920s speakeasy jazz sample right before one last whompin' explosion. The stage was well-set for Skrillex to spin his debut headlining Colorado gig.
The main attraction for the evening, Skrillex (aka Sonny Moore), had been hyped for months thanks to his record-breaking track sales on Beatport. The two EPs he's released so far, My Name is Skrillex and Scary Monsters, Nice Sprites, have the dance community buzzing from their unique meshing of dubstep whomps, electro throbs, techno barks, and trance arias. His usage of vocals in tracks as both lyrics and musical instruments is evident of his past as singer for hardcore L.A. band From First to Last.
This round of shows is his first major tour on the circuit as a DJ, so I was eager to see this producer translate his talent into a live show. As the lights dimmed, the famous thudding instrumental opener for Terminator 2 started off the night before leading into the title track, "My Name is Skrillex." The reaction from the crowd was immediate -- fists in the air while the floor shook from pounding feet.
Skrillex tore through his published repertoire of tracks including "Weekends," "Scary Monsters, Nice Sprites," "Fuckin' Die," and "Kill Everybody" early on in the set -- the start of the DJ "don't"s that occurred throughout the night. This list also would include talking constantly to the audience, crowd-surfing, and general disregard for transitions between tracks.
His performance was that of a rock star playing his hits rather than a DJ building a seamless set with ebb and flow. It was one of the weirdest live DJ experiences I've ever seen. However, all the original productions he played more than made up for the lack of consistent mixing.
The untitled new tracks (some created just the day before) were all incredibly imaginative and catchy -- they kept the fans in thrall and asking for more. Hard bass, heavy metal, beautiful vocals, throwback hip-hop (DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat"), and tangy electro (Rusko's "Hold On" and La Roux's "In For The Kill") took me for a fast ride without brakes. At one hard hitting part, you could definitely feel the "monsters" snarling and slithering in the background ready to eat you up.
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Skrillex's connection with the audience was another high point with the crowd-surfing and orders of "let's turn this into a house party -- get up on stage!" which resulted in a full-on dance party around the DJ booth. The rock-star-styled high-jinks continued with drinking Jack Daniels straight from the bottle and rapid-fire cigarette smoking. The riotous night closed out with one last re-playing of "Scary Monsters, Nice Sprites."
Overall, Skrillex's performance was both brilliant and flawed. The need for his sets to flow and blend together is key to his success as a viable live act but the original, fresh productions were a sheer joy to hear. Pillow Fight, with their usage of fantastic transitions, showed how I wished he would have spun. If he can combine the skillful productions with good mixing skills, I think Skrillex could be a name as well known as Deadmau5 in 2011.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Personal Bias: I'm a big fan of good electronic producers -- I believe if you can produce, you can DJ. Best Comment Overheard About Skrillex: "He's the only guy with long hair that's cool" By the Way: Can somebody please bring the folks dancing on the stage to another show? They were clothed, could dance circles around other go-go dancers, and looked like actual fans of the music. Bonus!