It's been a while since a drum-and-bass show of this caliber hit Denver -- most DNB has been eclipsed by the dubstep movement, and although there are similarities between the sub-genres, as the title of this show indicates, this was all about the hard, fast drums.
Mystical Influence and Sureshot were trading off turntable duties at 9 p.m., moving from glitch-hop to intelligent drum-and-bass to furious, dark jungle, featuring spooky barks, skittering beats, low-toned howls and half-tempo hi-hats. The stage was adorned with camouflage netting and an iron cage-like structure holding up the turntables, with another, larger iron cage-like wall behind the DJs. The iron bars held LED lights, which surprised the crowd dancing in front of the stage when the overheads dimmed and the LEDs popped into motion, swirling colors and patterns around and behind the DJs.
It was a beautiful set; between Mystical Influence and Sureshot, we heard chirpy jazz samples and chest-compressing bass vacillating up and down. They switched off seamlessly, one heading the decks, then both spinning together, then the other one taking over duties -- a prelude to what we'd see with Dieselboy, AK1200 and DJ Dara.
MC Doja took up the mike, spitting rhymes over some of the more accessible tracks, including a straight-up dub sample that built into a sick, hard jungle track. (One of the highlights was a meld featuring Luciana's "I Like That," containing the "beat my drum hard" lyric, which was especially appropriate tonight.) Mystical Influence and Sureshot drew from hip-hop and even dubstep to create their blend, and they kept the energy up until 11 p.m., when Planet of the Drums took the stage.
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After a quick changeover, the chirping of crickets and a movie-style voice-over (much like the one Dieselboy used as the opening track to his projectHUMAN album) explained the "back story" to Planet of the Drums: A story of war and an eighty-day experiment during which everyone died except for four men. Dieselboy and Dara began the set with some of the nasty, dark drum-and-bass Dieselboy is best known for, while Messinian made himself comfortable at the front of the stage, next to go-go dancers who seemed to be enjoying the syncopated rhythms and deep basslines.
Like Mystical Influence and Sureshot before them, Dieselboy, Dara and AK1200 traversed the realm of drum-and-bass -- and drum-and-bass-influenced styles, including glitch hop and dubstep, dabbling in the slower tempos before bringing the energy back up with paranoid, ominous jungle, yammering basslines and snare-like drums. They switched off seamlessly, one of them heading up the turntables or two of them sharing at a time, and you could hear each artist's influence on the sound.
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Dieselboy, of course, dropped the harder, more frantic drum-and-bass tracks he's known for, while Dara and AK1200 -- although still utilizing very dirty basslines and hard drums -- also brought in softer female vocals and bell-like chimes to soften up the mix a little bit. Each DJ pulled from his own catalog of music (although I think it was Dara or AK1200, not Dieselboy, who spun the classic "California Curse" track into the mix).
Over it all, Messinian kept the crowd hyped with his smooth cadence of rhymes. Drum-and-bass is so up-tempo that it can be hard to flow atop it, but Messinian is an expert at this stage, and he had no problem dropping in where appropriate. Which is another testament to his skill as an MC -- so many dudes with a microphone tend to just try and spit as much as they can, whether or not the track is well-suited for an accompanying rhyme. Messinian knows which tracks will be enhanced by his flow and which to stay away from.
It's no surprise that Planet of the Drums has been running strong for so long; with the technical skill of all four contributors, the track selection and the ability with which they all move seamlessly together, the act will continue to dominate as the premier traveling drum-and-bass exhibition of talent.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal bias: Drum-and-bass is one of my favorite electronic sub-genres. Random detail: Sureshot was sporting a Colorado Rockies cap. By the way: It wasn't easy to hear, but it sounded like MC Doja said he had a new album coming up.