Much has been made about dubstep going “mainstream” in recent months depending upon which online music outlets you read. I think the fact that in Europe (South London, England) is often credited with giving birth to the genre. There is even a dubstep cereal advertisement with kids and what looks like Snuggle bears dancing to some dubstep-style beats. Based on my experience at a sold out Liberty Hall far, far away (sorry for the lame Wizard of Oz pun) from the genre’s birth place in Lawrence, KS on Wednesday November 2 I’d say it’s gone mainstream stateside as well.
Skrillex aka Sonny Moore and one time front man of Post Hardcore/Emo outfit From First to Last started performing as a solo artist somewhere along the way in 2007 opening for Deftones front man Chino Moreno’s side project Team Sleep. Though the true birth of Skrillex would come in 2010 with the release of My Name is Skrillex as a free EP. In less than a year’s time Skrillex has become something of an unstoppable force. Skrillex has made appearances at just about any festival worth naming and sold out just about every theater he has played. All this has been amazingly accomplished from just 12 original tracks, many of which have been remixed several times. Mix in a collaboration with nu-metal act Korn and its dedicated fan base, a song to celebrate the release of the latest in the Mortal Kombat video game series, several single tracks and an association with the also popular Deadmau5 and it’s been almost near impossible to escape the Skrillex onslaught. It seems you can’t browse a music blog these days and not see a mention of the artist daily. Be it a gushing love letter or outright hatred and hostility toward the artist. It truly seems that Skrillex is one of the first artists in a long while that gives music fans something to have a passionate response to.
For me, dubstep has been something of a guilty pleasure. I was first exposed to it at day one of Kanrocksas with Bassnectar putting on what I would argue was one of the best sets of the entire festival. It was eye-opening to me as I’m more of an electro-clash, electro-pop and new/dark wave guy usually staying away from outright dance music. After the Bassnectar set and some research, however, I started to warm up to the genre that seems to be drawing in the rave culture as quickly as new tracks dropped. I’ve come to find that much like punk music; dubstep is one of those genres that are much better experienced live than in the solitude of one’s ear buds and an audio file. Thus when I caught wind of one of the premiere names of dubstep playing in town it became one of my must see shows of the fall. Apparently, mainstream or not I wasn’t alone as this show sold out nearly two months prior.
Arriving to the venue half way through the second opener of the night, 12th Planet, I was greeted to a packed house of young kids dressed as if it were still summer outside, if not in some cases less. The floor was so packed it was a joke to even think it was worth attempting to make my way forward in an undulating sea of people that looked like a Kansas wheat field on a windy day. The sound coming from the stage was anything but. It was the sound of the 8 bit Tetris song being mixed with bass drops that the crowd was going crackers for.
I made my way upstairs to the balcony which was crowded but not nearly as full thanks to just about the entire center section being blocked off for two giant projectors. They were being closely guarded from the droves of various “fans” that all seemed in search of a good time. I say fans as this show easily had one of the most obnoxious crowds I’ve experienced at a show in the better part of a year. When you’re standing in line for a beer and the kid behind you starts mouthing off about how he “punched that bitch in the back of the head four times, because she deserved it” you really question as a human being if you have arrived at the right place. I thought dance music was about cutting loose, letting go and having a good time, not a bunch of MMA-watching dude bros trying to look “cool” in front of their friends.
Maybe I missed the memo? Or perhaps that speaks to dubstep going mainstream and Skrillex’s quick rise to success in the genre attracting a mainstream audience? Who knows? Further, who cares? I guess what really matters is the show…still if this is the kind of crowd that this draws in, consider me out.
As I alluded to earlier, I’ve found that dubstep and dance music in general for me is much better in a live setting. It’s a funny thing to say being that as far as one could tell the artist on stage could be running a light machine for all you know. I’ve often questioned what the hell they really are doing on stage since most of the beats and tracks are crafted in a computer all safely contained in the digital realm, thus the performance is usually pretty safe. Not to mention at times these folks are known for making hour long mixes which include remixes of other songs mixed with their own beats. I’ve learned for the most part that most DJ’s still control when loops and other effects drop in a live setting, keeping a bit of an unknown element to the show. That said the shows still feel a bit like cruise control with the DJ acting as much as their own hype man as the artist that created the music filling the theater.
In the event of this show Skrillex was also part of his own light show, though in a different way. Up until his set the stage had been covered with black curtains that wouldn’t be revealed until moments before he took the stage. They were hiding a giant white set that would reveal its true purposes once the show began. They themselves were a giant screen for the video projectors that were being so hawkishly-guarded in the balcony. They would become all manner of things throughout the night and seemingly never cease moving in one capacity or another. If anything I would say Skrillex is worth seeing on tour right now (your tolerance of crowd doucheness to consider before taking the plunge) if only for the light show.
I guess maybe that is why dubstep is better experienced live. The light show has to make up for a bit of the typical live experience you get from a band; though in this instance Skrillex made up for some of this. Donning what was seemingly revealed to be some sort of motion capture suit, the screen behind Skrillex would morph between several representations of the artist throughout the show, from full on robot, to stripped-down skeleton. Throughout the set it would continually morph and change. It was a cool effect, that I’ll be honest had been spoiled for me on YouTube prior to the show, but from what I saw this night has continued to progress and get better as it was a pretty cool thing to see, and something that Skrillex himself seemed to have a bit of fun with at the end of this show.
If you’re a fan of Skrillex’s work and weren’t at the show you pretty much missed a showcase of his limited output up to this point. Off the top of my head I can’t think of one track that wasn’t included in the set. For its rather late start time the show wrapped up pretty quickly. There are no real encores in this kind of setting. That said he easily brings some of the most energy to a show I’ve seen in a while. Looking around Liberty Hall during his set that night, I can’t recall a single person standing still. This was pretty much the case until the march to the doors began at the end of the show.
All in all I left the show with mixed feelings on the current “it” genre that seems to be sweeping the nation. I’m still not totally sold on the music and if the crowd that was in attendance for this show is going to be the norm, you can likely count me out, though if cooler less ‘dude bros’ can prevail, and the source of having a good time be arrived at, well perhaps I’m willing to continue giving it a shot.
By John Coovert