Concert Reviews

The Sun Doesn't Set on EDM: Hippie Sabotage's Selfie Extravaganza and Gramatik's Expansion of the Genre

The summer solstice was nigh, and the sun set late in the evening. At the Gramatik show at Red Rocks last Friday, June 17, the artists adapted accordingly to the season with the actual light show put off until the sun had all but set. Hippie Sabotage, from Sacramento, is an EDM duo that comprises Saurer brothers Kevin and Jeff. Walking into the venue, a woman described the project to a friend as “enlightened, spiritual music and dangerous AF.” Based on that description alone, you could expect something like Demdike Stare or Prurient. Hippie Sabotage paved its own way, projecting a confident aggression similar to that of the Gaslamp Killer. Its set was bathed in light as Kevin walked into the crowd, hanging out and taking selfie after selfie with audience members.

The Saurers' performance seemed as interactive as you can get at Red Rocks. Kevin spent most of his time roaming among the crowd down front and all the way to the top. At one point, he remarked how he kind of loved seeing his face up on the big video screen, a thrill clearly shared by many in the audience. Kevin and Jeff seemed to be having a lot of fun, recognizing that part of their success so far is based on their connection with people beyond the music. Apparently the two had spent a year living out of their car not so long ago, so no matter what you thought of their set or how they roll with the social-media aspect, it's impossible to criticize people enjoying the moment and bringing others along with them.

Before the sun fully set, the large video screen was a parade of imagery that revealed the current state of fashion and dance at large-scale EDM shows. This included, of course, the usual outdoor-summer-festival-goer look you'd expect, but also the Low-Rent Ancient Egyptian, the EDM Parrot Head complete with bright floral-print shirt, the molly-fied Seapunk and the confused Bernie Bro in gray tie-dye who shouted “Fuck your propaganda!” when Kevin said to the crowd, “Can I get a 'Fuck Donald Trump'?”

It takes all kinds, but when the sun finally went down, Gramatik's new light show and bright, entrancing music commanded universal attention. The show's abstract imagery was reminiscent of a Jan Švankmajer film rendered in vibrant colors. Drawing liberally from his new album, Epigram, Denis Jašarevic (aka Gramatik) ran the gamut of his diverse sound with the help of guitarist Andrew Block and rapper ProbCause. The music perhaps captured the audience's imagination the most during songs that ventured off the electro-soul and hip-hop map into near-EBM territory, distinguished by watery, fluid atmospheric melodies swirled into the night with a counterpoint of deep bass tones, like a kind of call-and-response between synth and MPC. In being so adventurous in his beatmaking and bringing in a live guitarist, Gramatik proved that today's EDM has evolved beyond the tropes for which it is often mocked. And Gramatik himself has discovered a way to take things like the bass drop and the hyped counter-melodies and turn them into compositional elements in the music rather than use them to elicit some kind of tired, Pavlovian response from the crowd.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.