III Points 2017, Day One: Richie Hawtin, The Black Madonna, Madlib, and Others

III Points 2017 kicked off last night with throngs of fans crowding Mana Wynwood to catch the first night of a solid lineup. Gorillaz were the biggest draw (read our review here), but there were plenty of acts fully capable of keeping the crowd wowed.

Kaitlin Aurelia SmithEXPAND
Kaitlin Aurelia Smith
Photo by George Martinez

Kaitlin Aurelia Smith
7 p.m. on the Main Frame stage
Surrealist electronic folk dreamweaver Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith was about 20 minutes into her early evening set when everything around her went dark. Doors to the festival had only been open for a little over two hours, but III Points now had its first significant technical set disruption. Crowds flowed in and out past the colorfully lit mannequin wall outside the Main Frame stage as dark silhouettes scrambled to correct the issue on stage. Smith thanked the sizable crowd gathered in front of the stage for sticking it out during the agonizing, nearly 10 minute break. When the power came back on, Smith continued her set with songs from her past two albums Euclid and Ears, and her latest, the psychedelic consciousness concept album The Kid. Backlit by visuals depicting bubbling pools of primary-colored powder and shaking Christmas lights that burst into an explosion of onscreen confetti, Smith hit reset after the mishaps and ended her set about 10 minutes late to make up for lost time. – Celia Almeida

ThundercatEXPAND
Thundercat
Photo by George Martinez

Thundercat
8:30 p.m. on the Mind Melt stage
You wouldn't think the silly, inebriated musings on Thundercat's latest album Drunk would fit with the soul-searching, death-obsessed lyrics on his earlier records. One song from the most recent release is about how he wishes he were a cat, after all. But you'd be wrong, because the bass virtuoso and his band of merry maestros showed us the way, turning each number into an impressively jazzy jam. Yacht rock, funk, fusion — he turned it all into a sensual slurry, all while wearing a kimono (or was it just a bathrobe?) and wielding his 12-string bass like a samurai's katana. And yes, I do wish I was a cat now. Meow meow meow. – Douglas Markowitz

ArcaEXPAND
Arca
Photo by George Martinez

Arca
9:15 p.m. on the Main Frame stage
Miami, I'm disappointed. Your reaction to the incomparable display of genius from Arca, the greatest DJ of this new, CDJ and internet-assisted age of club music, and his visual artist Jesse Kanda, was grossly inadequate. Who is so fearless that he'll blend Madonna and Gwen Stefani with bone-rattling techno and even throw in some salsa, solamente por tu? Fucking no one else on this earth! I'm just going to assume you were too slack-jawed in confusion at the videos of goats being born and pigs decomposing to do what you should have been doing: Losing. Your. Fucking. Minds. DANCING. – Douglas Markowitz

Danny Brown
Danny Brown
Photo by George Martinez

Danny Brown
10:30 p.m. on the Mind Melt stage
Danny Brown is rap’s goofy and weird best friend. He’s the wild one who gets oral sex on stage and sticks his tongue out in an exaggerated fashion when he’s happy instead of just smiling. He’s also one of the cleverest lyricists and irreverent vocalist in all hip-hop. It as no surprise then that Brown came out for his set on the Mind Melt stage Friday night to the classic guitar riffs of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” a song that includes the line: “Has he lost his mind?” It's a question people have probably asked of Brown more than once. It set up a perfect segue into his first number, “Die Like a Rockstar,” a track that makes references to Hollywood's and the music industry’s greatest tragedies including Chris Farley, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, and Kurt Cobain. Dressed in a Gucci mom t-shirt tucked into his tight blue jeans, Brown could easily have blended into the ocean of Miami hipsters — until he opened his mouth. While the bass thumped so hard the video screens shook, Brown tore through his best songs – “25 Bucks,” “Dip,” “Really Doe,” and more – with his signature nasal voice. He’s like the Gilbert Gottfried of rap; off-putting to many unless they take the time to listen to the actual words. He ran across stage several times, his left arm pitched behind him like an anime nerd recreating his favorite character’s moves. Brown is sometimes awkward, but charmingly so, even when he’s yelling about “Smokin’ and Drinkin’.” The combo of Brown’s feminine gait with a breathless, rapid fire delivery punctuated by throaty grunts and a beaming grin when the crowd pitched during the call and response moments make Danny Brown one of the better, and unique, hip-hop experiences in all the game. – Angel Melendez

Kali Uchis
Kali Uchis
Photo by George Martinez

Kali Uchis
10:45 p.m. on the S3ector 3 stage
Sultry pop chanteuse Kali Uchis has been on the cusp of breaking out into the ever-expanding pop star pantheon since the release of her 2015 EP Por Vida, and on Friday night she was tested with one of the early, hard-learned lessons all would-be pop royalty must eventually learn. In the Darwinian fight to make pop stardom a career, the show must always go on. Uchis came straight out with the disclaimer early in the set. “I have to apologize; I’m really sick,” she warned. A horde of people who’d already been anxiously watching the clock to catch a spot at Gorillaz’s set took the heads-up as their cue to make an early exit to the festival’s main stage. Still, the Uchis die-hards stuck it out as she powered through her set of sleeper hits like her latest, “Tyrant.” They sang along and filled the spaces Uchis’s voice could no longer occupy. “I kid you not, like 30 minutes ago I could not speak,” she told the crowd. Her speaking voice was weak, but remarkably, she hit the notes when she sang. Her set came to an abrupt ending, but she had a good excuse. She needed to run over to the main stage to sing with Gorillaz. Pop star bootcamp continues. – Celia Almeida

Madlib
12:30 a.m. on the S3ector 3 stage
Madlib, self-described as a “DJ first, producer second, and MC last," is the sort of avant-garde artist who festivals struggle to properly fit into their lineups. With something like 60 albums to his credit, Otis Jackson Jr. is prolific to the point of absurdity; at the age of 43, it sometimes feels as if he was scratching records the moment he was born, two turntables and a microphone tumbling out of his mama shortly after he did. On the first night of III Points, the man who’s produced the likes of fellow festival act Danny Brown, rappers Freddie Gibbs, Kanye West, and Talib Kweli, and who is often regarded with the same reverence as the late J Dilla, took his spot behind the glowing controls on the Sector 3 Stage, an area tucked away in a corner near the entrance of Mana Wynwood. To the untrained eye, it was just another run-of-the-mill DJ set, but on closer inspection, it was clear that Madlib’s dynamic, shifting style, and ability to incorporate hundreds of sonic textures go way beyond that of the modern push play DJ. His is music to vibe to; it’s not "get turnt at the club" material, but it’s not sleepy elevator lullabies either. Madlib demands the purplest of our nuggets and the full attention and cooperation of our ears – maybe just not here. Outside. On a balmy Miami night. There were no visuals, no hype man, and at one point, half the speakers gave out, leaving only a hollow, tinny beat, like the sound of headphones blasting music while they're resting on your lap. Madlib is always a genius at play, for certain, but here he was misplaced, settling for a high school classroom rather than a proper laboratory where he could allow his experiments to take shape.  – Angel Melendez

The Black Madonna
1:55 a.m. on the Main Frame stage
Marea Stamper has known how to party for a long time, but it’s only been in the last year that the rest of the world has caught up to her vision of a more unified, utopian dance floor. When DJ'ing as the Black Madonna, Stamper is impossibly buoyant, substituting the well-worn trope of the cold, too-cool-to-care selector in favor of something more fun and emotive, bounding around the booth to let the crowd know just how much fun she’s having.

Taking over from Miami master of techno darkness Danny Daze, the Black Madonna reoriented the Main Frame crowd for a more colorful, eclectically sounding set. Accompanied by visuals befitting of a dirty tattoo parlor – incorporating the likes of animated sitcoms Rick & Morty and The Simpsons alongside generic images of weed and hot lava — the Black Madonna kicked things off with a Miami-appropriate Latin flavor, which drew loud cheers of approval from her adoring audience.

But as the set went on, something interesting happened: it became filthily funky, so much so that the crowd couldn’t help but scream in rapturous applause every time Stamper transitioned into a new, equally electrifying beat. Combining her skills on the decks, arriving in the form of her absolutely sinful '80s electro breaks, with her taste for curation and sound, it’s no wonder that she elicited responses more befitting of an EDM festival than what’s expected of III Points, with glow sticks tossed and grind lines involuntarily forming across the room. The Black Madonna brought the funk last night, and every person in attendance is now better off for it. – Zach Schlein

Richie Hawtin
3:45 a.m. on the Main Frame stage
Techno, as it’s usually practiced, is cold and distant. Sure, it’s fun as hell to dance to, but it sometimes has trouble reaching the kinds of ecstatic highs and inspiring the overwhelming feelings of love and togetherness that house and disco readily invoke.

Richie Hawtin’s Close is different. Acting as the man-machine Kraftwerk dreamt of so long ago, Richie Hawtin gave audiences an intimate look behind the scenes of the mixing booth, blending the literal, his ongoing fiddling with his equipment, with the figurative,  the imagery accompanying said fiddling. The result: something wholly unique and original.

Hawtin’s live Close setup has become infamous in a short period of time for its sheer inventiveness and redefinition of how techno can be presented in live settings. But for whatever reason, Hawtin’s performance at III Points never reached the same levels of sonic insanity that other Close performances have. With every introduction of a new element, whether it was a hi-hat or a particularly acidic synth line, Miami shrieked, begging, pleading for more. And they got it, or something close to it, with many a body grooving united by their love of techno. But for those who’ve obsessed over Hawtin’s Close shows, there was a nagging feeling that something was lacking: that cumulative moment where all of the sonic elements that have been introduced thus far congeal into a sum greater than their parts. – Zach Schlein

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