Ah, Caffeine - stronger than a triple espresso but mild enough for mass consumption. With its "spring break" theme, Caffeine feels like a frat party on The Hill -- only with much better music and minus the burning couches. Over the weekend at the 1stBank Center, the Triad Dragons showed everyone how you really celebrate a week off from the terrors of student life.
Entering the arena, a couple things were immediately noticable: Presumably hoping to avoid long lines for entry, plenty of people came out early. The place was packed by 10 p.m. And the sound quality was significantly better than it had been for the last massive (Hallofreakinween) and the additional lighting bolstered the other stages, making it much more than just DJs tucked into concrete corners. The Magnolia Stage was banging away to Denver's DJ Ghetto vs. Tony Cassette's. Good, electro-esque, slightly whompy beats had a packed area dancing and pounding their way through the set - a right proper way to start off the evening.
Maneuvering through the hot neon, bouffant-ed hair, spankies clad crowd led to the Caffeine Garden inside the arena. And holy lightshow, Batman! The DJ Booth was raised up off the ground and surrounded by one of the best LED arrangements I've ever seen - big firework-styled "blooms" over the stage that changed colors and patterns while giant Lego-block screens filled the front of stage. These "block screens" had the go-go dancers in front of them and turned their silhouettes into a live version of the popular VJ visual. Massive screens below and above the DJ booth cranked out perfectly timed, crisp visuals, as well. Even more wonderful to watch was how all the lighting effects were perfectly timed in sync with the DJ's performance and each other. It made for a fantastic vibe at the event - solidifying why the Triad Dragons' events have gained so much popularity over the years.
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On the main stage was Gunslinger - an L.A. DJ known for mixing trance with rock and electro. Catching only the end of the set, I have to say he set up the next headliner very well - it was a near seamless transition from one to the other. At 11 p.m., Randy Seidman took over the decks. Another prominent DJ from L.A., Randy spun more prog trance than his predecessor. The set seemed to be trying to make up its mind for a bit as it fluctuated between soothing piano melody and darker staccato trance beats. It was also a set marked by few vocals - an oddity in trance music. Knowing the follow-up was going to be Infected Mushroom, I was a bit worried about this set-up for the hard beats duo. In the end, he pulled through enough by ending it with hard enough beats to put the crowd on good footing for the main headliner of the night.
With a crowd that filled the entire arena floor, Infected Mushroom went on at midnight and promptly kicked the party into frenzy - signaled by an explosion of fun-fetti into the crowd. The act's signature warped sounding techno-esque beats reverberated through the 1ST Bank Center and made everyone sit up and take notice. A sea of Glow erupted across the floor like wildfire as the folks got down, got dirty and just let loose. Highlighting tracks of the set included "Everyday Nightmares," "Saeed," and "Cities of the Future." Each track brought harder beats with it until the crowd was in such frenzy, you couldn't help but be jealous of the view the DJs had from that lofted booth. It was the best set of the evening and deservedly so.
On a side note, another stroke of genius was the stage set up at the back of the arena for breakdancing and hoop aerial performances. Giving the often disruptive, kicked-in-the face issues that occur when break-dancers are performing in the middle of a crowd, this dedicated, raised space sectioned off was a welcome relief to see. And I'm sure the amazing dancers were happy to have such a good place to showcase their skills. Again, props to Triad for this!
Leaving the arena, I did another stroll around the outer circle and again found myself drawn to the Magnolia Stage. Some sick, lovely electro-house beats were emanating from a well-done set by DJs Beckley and Krootz. Their self-styled "trancegressive electostep" is a deft way of describing their sound. The Denver-based duo also spun my favorite remix of the evening, a killer send up of "Roxanne" by the Police. It was a nice break for the ears from Infected Mushroom - and the small space was packed with people even though the majority was inside the main arena.
Heading back around the circle, I ran past the Sunflower Stage where DJ Fury & MC Dino was throwing down some good drum and bass beats. After a while, I had to leave the echoing basketball court stage as the reverb coming off the walls was starting to be too much. Definitely a stage that could do with less volume!
Back in the main arena, Infected Mushroom was just finishing its set - paving the way for the hard style dance Dutch DJ Showtek to come on. Opening with his track "Freak!" Showtek took a cue from IM and kept the mood hard and dark. When he transitioned into Justice's "We R Your Friends," I started to worry a bit as it was a eight-year-old* track. The set then continued to bounce back and forth between hard beats and lighter trance with no clear mixing between the two sounds.
Adding to my growing frustration was an MC who just wouldn't shut up - it was seriously ruining the set every time he came on to say "C'mon Denver! Let's keep this party going!" I was tempted to pull an Austin Powers move and throw a shoe at the guy to get him off the stage. Too frustrated to keep listening, I left Showtek's set before it finished so my temptation wouldn't get the best of me.
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Overall, this was a fantastic show - far better than previous Caffeine's I've been to and the quality of music played was wide-ranging and well produced. Mixing this with the improved sound and lighting made it a great massive for any EDM fan. Sure, the scantily clad kids can be annoying at these events, but their energy is infectious when the right atmosphere is created. And this event did just that - making this the best EDM show I've been to at the 1STBANK Center.
* An earlier version of this review said this track was four years old.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I am not a snootier than thou EDM listener - I appreciate the more mainstream aspects of this scene and can tolerate a "candy bracelet" handoff at 100 paces. The scene wouldn't keep going without this younger fan set. Embrace the future - don't run from it! Random Detail: The stilt walking Tiki God and his Tiki Girls were a nice touch. By the Way: This event had the least amount of Dubstep I've heard at a massive in a looooooong time. Good break from the overplayed genre even though that whompy sound can be hard to resist.