Before I headed out into the wild and untamed landscape of sound-shocked tourists and bleary-eyed mostly drunk locals that is ACL weekend in Austin, I sat down with my good friend and ultra-up-to-date EDM observer DJ Chiknbiskit to talk about the Bassnectar show I was about to go to. Chikn told me that he felt like Bassnectar was unique, because no matter where you go in the world, you can find people that have seen him and are super excited to talk about him. What he was talking about was the shared experience that has come to be associated with the mega-act’s intense and raucous live shows, and it’s pretty much dead-on what the crowd at Austin Music Hall experienced last Saturday.
“Y’all diggin’ the pretty shit or what?”
Supporting act Gladkill got his set off the ground quickly after people started filtering in. Many of these folk had just staggered over from Austin City Limits Music Fest and were obviously and rightly tired from a whole day spent outdoors and moving around, but Gladkill’s set was pitch-perfect for the mood. Avoiding, for the most part, the heavy, slamming drops and spastic tracks that people so often believe are the only thing dubstep is capable of, Gladkill went for more of a relaxed, pretty, intelligent stoner feel. His sound was an updated “purple w0w” type of dubstep mixed perfectly with club hip-hop tracks for a sexy dynamic, two of the best of which featured the ever controversial Tip, with Poppin Bottles (More Champagne Gladkill Remix) and Gladkill – What It Do (Young Buck, T.I., Pimp C – 4 Kings remix) putting the crowd in a happy trance. When the (rather young) man asked the crowd, “Y’all diggin’ the pretty shit or what?”, the answer came back a resounding “YEAH!”
Gladkill’s mature, laid-back effort was followed up by the funky, genre-jumping beats of Gramatik. Gramatik brought his sometimes collaborator and blues guitarist Eric Mendelson with him to do some noodling over his beats, and the duo transitioned perfectly from Gladkill’s galactic chill sound by starting off with a funky hip-hop remix of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down.” While these kind of EDM + analog instrument experiments often turn gimmicky, sometimes it works perfectly (say DJ Krush’s Ki-Oku album with trumpeter Toshinori Kondo), and Gramatik’s collab with Mendelson turned out nicely. Gramatik played all over the place when it comes to genre, going from some bouncy, carnie-music sounding hip-hop shit to funk to electro and ending in dubstep. One track, “Hit That Jive,” was especially creative, sampling heavily from old jazz like a hip-hop Gramephonedzie. Before kicking it over to the man of the hour, Gramatik brought the energy up massively with heavy, crunchy dubstep tunes like “Fist Up” from his new Digital Freedom record, a track which got one of the biggest reactions of the night when he shouted “Everybody fuckin’ scream!” at the drop.
Neon bros, underage skaters and over-40 business-casual types
During what seemed like an excessively long wait between sets, I took the chance to walk around and take stock of the crowd that had come out for the bass-god. Everything I knew about Bassnectar’s fan base pointed toward a likely hippie/raver-heavy audience, but while there was some of that (probably about two out of every five people fell in either or both categories), I realized that this was a seriously mixed crowd. On top of the expected folk, you had a lot of underage skater looking kids just feet away from packs of over-40 business-casual types, and if there was any one group that seemed to dominate the room, it was the neon bros and bro-hos that have relatively recently taken a certain kind of dubstep as their own.
It’s still kind-of a mindfuck for me to see muscle-bound dudes in tank tops, shorts, trucker hats and cheap sunglasses (all in colors bright enough to sear your corneas, of course) bro-in’ down to bass drops while fuzzy-boot clad, pink pig-tail wearing hotties and psychedelic skirt-wearing LED staff-manipulators shuffle nearby, and it gave this show a special feeling of diversity.
While those in the know recognized Benga & Coki’s seminal “Night” and grooved appropriately, a very large portion of the crowd just stood around waiting for something dirtier.
Overall, it made for enormously engaging crowd-watching, especially concerning reactions to tracks, as the various genres of people reacted very differently to different tracks. For instance, the ravers, junglists (they still exist!) and old-school cats in attendance were much more receptive to any DNB, breaks or other non-dubstep genres, while the Neons were mostly just chatting and drinking until the really heavy shit came out. The contrasting, fascinating nature of the crowd was summed up perfectly during a between-sets drop of Benga & Coki’s seminal “Night.” While those in the know (read: mostly ravers and old-schoolers, very few Neons) recognized the genre-igniting masterpiece for what it is and grooved appropriately, a very large portion of the crowd didn’t seem to know what to do with the subtle, percolating bass groove and just stood around waiting for something dirtier.
One thing was for certain, however: Every damn person loved Bassnectar. The stoner-Jesus lookin’, world-travelin’ beatmaker took the stage to thunderous applause, and he immediately dropped some bass that brought the energy up even further just for its existence in the room. Right away, his famed wall of video burst into colorful, thirty-foot tall life, which, combined with the 50-plus, color-changing lights made it very apparent as to why some (probably less than sober) attendees have referred to Bassnectar shows as a “religious experience.”
Bassnectar brings the epic-drop-dubstep spectrum of EDM
And this man knew, to a tee, what his crowd wanted. As was expected, considering his recent releases and fame for them, Bassnectar’s leaned heavily to the epic-drop dubstep end of EDM, which was just what the audience came to hear. Build-up after tension-mounting build-up crashed and slammed into blast after blast of chopped up, twisted drops, and Bassnectar barely left time to catch a breath before he’d pound into the next eardrum-wrecking track. The man left no track behind, throwing down beloved original after beloved original, including “Ugly (ft. Amp Live),” “When the Beat Drops,” “Bass in Your Face,” “Say Yeah” and “Vava Voom.” Bassnectar’s style is to mix on the fly, layering tracks, samples and beats like different pieces of colored cellophane, which combined together to make a sound of an entirely new shade.
Bassnectar’s obviously immense musical knowledge came through in spades, especially when it came to sampling and playing remixes and other peoples’ tracks. On the remix front, his rework of RL Grime’s “Art Money” (an unreleased track known as “One Hundred”) was an intelligent dance floor killer, and throwing a new beat and that famous “Snoooooooop” sample into Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker” was a flash of brilliance. Other exceptional remixes included 6blocc’s “Selectah” (Bassnectar VIP), his version of Daft Punk’s “Technologic,” and Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick Push.” When he’d drop in pieces of someone else’s work as a sample or a whole, it ranged from iconically sampled records (Jimmy Castor Bunch- Troglodyte Clip), to classic EDM (Ego Killer [Timeline Remix]) to the weird and somewhat obscure (a clip from Bjork’s film Dancer in the Dark). Top that off with a few great tracks like Gogol Bordello’s “Immigraniada,” Nirvana’s “Breed” and En Vogue’s “Back to Life, Back to Reality,” and you can see how this guy has earned a reputation for knowing his shit.
I’m not one to go in for the whole “spiritual experience” thing with EDM, as the interesting part for me is experiencing a show as a piece of culture and history.
All that being said, I think Bassnectar’s show could use a little more variety in terms of genre and pacing. I’m not one to go in for the whole “spiritual experience” thing with EDM, as the interesting part for me is experiencing a show as a piece of culture and history by taking in the selections, the technique, the crowd and all that. Though the crowd’s enthusiasm never wavered, I did eventually get to the point where I started to get tired of the endless drops. They began flowing together in my mind, becoming hard to distinguish, and I really only perked up after the first hour when he pulled in something other than heavy dubstep. It’s not like he can’t, either, as he was super-fond of throwing in DnB, breaks and trance elements, but these were mostly relegated to short bursts and transitions between dubstep tracks. I would have loved to hear more of this kind of thing and really see what this guy knows about music, but again, the crowd never stopped losing their shit, so that might just be me. The 14-year-old sweaty skater kid who kept losing his Flyers hat at every drop definitely did not have any issues with the night.
When it comes to acts bigger than a good goddamn in the EDM scene right now, there aren’t many bigger than Bassnectar, and most of those are named Tiesto. Bassnectar obviously gives a motherfuck about his music, and seeing him flail around like a scarecrow in front of funky visuals like a skeleton constructing itself piece by piece or a dinosaur riding a flying jet-engine motorcycle combined perfectly with the intensity of his tracks and that of the crowd for the vast majority of the night. Though my attention flagged some due to a bit too much of the same, most fans of bass and the man himself (called “Bass Heads”) will find absolutely nothing to complain about with this tour.
After blasting us with so much confetti that it was impossible to see anything for a while, throwing big blow up orcas into the audience and snapping the famous “crowd shot” photo as he’s known to do, Bassnectar left his ecstatic crowd with a heartfelt, “Fuck yes. Thank you! You all feel so good tonight!” before wishing us a “wonderful shower” when we got home. Slowly, the utterly rocked crowd of Neons, hippies, ravers, oldschoolers and others faced their partyin’ feet toward the doors and headed out. Fittingly, one of the last to leave was a bewildered fan dragging a “KEEP AUSTIN BASSED” sign behind them, signifying to this writer that the requested deed had surely been done and then some.