I wonder if The Stones crowd got a special track picked out beforehand just for them. I wonder if Coachella was told that there aren’t many crowds left in the world like them. I wonder how many other show have real B-girls puttin’ down freezes right next to an elderly couple dancing cheek to cheek. I wonder this because Z-Trip, the man who was once named best DJ in the world, the founder of a genre, the unpretentious champion of all styles of music, the headliner of festivals and performer for crowds that have at times neared half a million people, played at The Belmont in Austin on July 6, and each and every one of these things happened, and more. I don’t say this lightly, but I’d be skeptical that there was ever a crowd that received the man more openly, or that there was anywhere in the country that was experiencing a better show that Friday night.
The crowd, which had a median age probably closer to 30 than 25 and was dressed nicely, yet casually, entered the venue slowly. This made the audience for opening dance-music-meets-rap act Gobi rather small, but it was a fun bunch, ready to start the night off right. Gobi started playing just about when night started really setting in, and their neatly looped synth melodies made for a great way to gradually get the energy going in the place. Gobi is two guys, one of whom controls most of the instrumental bits on a laptop, a guitar and a MIDI controller, and the other who mostly raps over the poppy-dark Euro-techno inspired beats, but who also sometimes slams on a tom-cymbal drum set and sometimes adds to the beats with a pair of stacked synths.
The sound of their instrumentals involved a lot of what I call loops of bloops and driving rhythms, reminding me variously of Trentemoller, a darker Mylo and some of Radiohead’s post-Kid A stuff. On top of that smart, fun instrumental base, frontman Chuco Phil laid down his Kweli-via-De la Rocha flow, which sounded to me like it had been influenced by rock-rap, but had managed to eliminate all of the douchey-ness that often accompanies that genre. The Austin-proud duo was a hell of a lot of fun, especially because they were obviously passionate about what they were doing, despite the crowd being relatively small near the beginning of their set. I especially dug their track “Texas Sun,” which used their arpeggiated, 8-bit influenced sound to great effect and featured vocals that gave a heart-felt shout out to the track’s namesake.
And then Z-Trip came on, and a crowd that couldn’t have been anywhere near 1,000 people saw a DJ that has played shows all over the world, sometimes for crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Off the bat, Z-Trip showed us what the night was going to be like by dropping Prince’s “Purple Rain,” complete with a purple-hued image of Texas splayed behind him on the screen and a caveat from the man, who said “Fuck it, who starts a set with ‘Purple Rain?’ I do.” The DJ called it “one of the hottest fucking jams ever” before dropping the track directly into a few bars of “Big Poppa,” instantly starting a dance party that would last for two solid hours.
That attitude of unflinchingly playing whatever the hell he wanted, whether it was a Top 40 track you could have turned the radio on and heard or Nicky da B’s relatively unknown “Express Yourself,” and not just mashing genres, but smashing them apart and reconfiguring them to new sounds born from his own imagination, set the tone and continued all damn night. As I texted my interested out-of-town DJ friend, “It’s 20 minutes into his set, and I already can’t count the genres.” To name just a few, I heard moombahton beats, roots-reggae, a healthy dose of both dubstep and electro, oldschool hip-hop, party hip-hop, Southern hip-hop, gangsta rap, classic rock, ’80s metal, funk, pop and even country. All were blended together perfectly in a way that just made sense, every time. I think I heard the most enthusiastic crowd response when “N*ggas in Paris” flipped from breaks to dubstep, and everyone went mental.
But that’s to be expected from the guy who is widely considered to be the inventor of the mashup genre. Z-Trip knows how to take two incredibly disparate-seeming tracks, or pieces of them, and bring them together into something unlike either. Combined with a set of visuals that were perfectly matched to each part of the set (including but not limited to footage of roads, skaters, graffiti, a swirling Jamaican-flag colored peace sign and Z-Trip’s logo with purple pot leaves flying around it), it made for the ideal mature party atmosphere.
If there were one thing that I could say Z-Trip did best out of the ridiculously, freakishly great set he put on the other night, it was playing to his crowd. Z-Trip repeatedly stopped the sound to let Austin know how happy he was to be there (“Not during South By,” as he put it), and how much he thought of us and our city. He went so far as to say that he’s been all over the world, and there just aren’t many crowds like us anymore, praising our open-mindedness and willingness to listen to different music. He even told a story about trading shirts with a guy at SXSW once, saying he loved it and had never worn it until tonight, which culminated with the lights shining on his “Fuck Ya’ll, I’m From Texas” tee, a move which would have come off as pandering or posturing from anyone else, but was welcomed with an enthusiastic roar of approval from this Texas crowd.
Like the proverbial cherry on top of a perfect beat sundae, Z-Trip signed off the night with an unexpected (even from him) classy move by dropping the music out entirely to play a very old version of “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” which the crowd was heartily singing along with until he flipped it on us again and dropped a Southern rap version that flipped again into country music.
It was one hell of a show, and the whole thing was summed up best by Trip himself when he said “You think I’m gonna take you way Top Forty, and I am, but I’m gonna bring you wayyy back to some dope shit.”