Bonobo Brought Real Freedom to Wings Over the Rockies

TOKiMONSTA playing a nasty set at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum on Friday, August 2.EXPAND
TOKiMONSTA playing a nasty set at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum on Friday, August 2.
Yue Feng/Instagram
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Supersonic jets. Suspended bi-planes. Space capsules. Parachutes dangling from the rafters of an airplane hanger at least 100 feet tall. And right there in the middle of it, elevated on a platform and flanked by stacks of line-array speakers, Bonobo playing an ethereal DJ set.

The crowd swayed, grinded and bobbed to his every command. They couldn’t seem to get enough of the spectacle. I was among them, gazing around at the multi-colored lights sweeping across the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Lowry on Friday night, August 2, with an almost dumb sense of wonder. Bonobo’s Outlier tour — a five-date North American run with boundary-pushing DJs including TOKiMONSTA, Mall Grab, Quantic and others — felt like an unapologetically cool, futuristic dance party, like something from Blade Runner and The Fifth Element.

Perhaps this was because the dancers got downright weird. There’s no escaping the fact that there were a lot of white twenty- and thirty-somethings on hard drugs. But rather than falling into the furry masks and other face-melting tropes of a bubbly trance show, Bonobo — with notably excellent support from TOKiMONSTA — had drawn an earthier crowd. The best comparison that comes to mind are Burners, who can often blend into society as successful, upstanding citizens but still make the annual pilgrimage to Black Rock City to let their freak flags fly at full mast.

There was not much stage lighting during Bonobo's set, giving it a mysterious, intriguingly dark vibe.EXPAND
There was not much stage lighting during Bonobo's set, giving it a mysterious, intriguingly dark vibe.
Chris Walker

This concert at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum was another opportunity to take out those flags and hoist those babies high enough for all to see — seemingly with reckless abandon, as if anyone cared.

Bonobo, who's British and whose real name is Simon Green, is one of the best live DJs on the planet, as effective manning his equipment solo as he is with a full live band. And to underscore how he thinks about things on a next-level basis, consider this answer he gave me about collecting field recordings when I interviewed him last year ahead of his performance at the Westword Music Showcase: “Really, there's rhythm in everything. If you think about it in a much bigger context: The world spins once a day, and it goes around the sun once a year, and within that, there's sort of like BPMs, things that happen sixty times a minute, a hundred times a minute. So there's all of these macro and micro rhythms to be harvested.”

Bonobo at the Westword Music Showcase in 2018.EXPAND
Bonobo at the Westword Music Showcase in 2018.
Aaron Thackeray

But as much as I could go on about the DJ’s performance, which included recently released tracks like “Linked” and “Ibrik,” as well as cuts from his albums Migration, The North Borders and Black Sands, I would also like to credit Wings Over the Rockies for opening its space for such a unique event.

This was underscored for me when a news photographer I went to the show with pointed out that one of the last two times he’d been to the Wings Over the Rockies was when Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton announced his then-running mate Lang Sias. The other time was a Donald Trump campaign rally in 2016, during which Trump had the entire crowd turn 180 degrees to shout, jeer and mock the journalists who were cordoned off in the back of the museum and were covering the event.

Bonobo and his supporting DJs were surrounded by the exact same props used during those campaign rallies: feats of American aeronautical power and a ridiculously oversized American flag that served as a backdrop to the stage.

But this time, the props and venue seemed the appropriate way to celebrate freedom: the ability to get weird, to dance without a care in the world and bond over an amazing shared musical experience, coming out of the four-hour-plus ordeal more liberated and refreshed than before it started.

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