Back in the 1990s, Fatboy Slim helped establish the standard for EDM producers breaking through to the mainstream.
A decade and half later, DJs and producers are once again showing up on Top 40 and what's left of MTV. We're not saying Slim has any sort of axe to grind. But it's quite possible a couple of his onstage antics during Ultra Music Festival poked a little bit of innocent fun at the latest class of DJ superstars. He is dance music's biggest clown after all.
Of course, Slim isn't without fault. He marred an otherwise amazing set by breaking one of the big cardinal rules of any DJ playing in Miami: He went the hack route and dropped some LMFAO.
We grew up right in that sweet spot of a generation where big beat artists were pretty much our first introduction to EDM proper. The radio was still stuck on grunge. And aside from the pop stars who had survived the '80s, the only new upbeat music we heard was Eurodance. (Those acts at least put on a pop star guise, even if that meant making a size-zero model lipynch to the vox of a 230 pound woman.)
But along with Daft Punk, the big beat artists took MTV by storm on the strength of their undeniable catchy beats and stylish music videos. Our 12-year-old brains couldn't quite wrap our head around the concept of someone getting artist credit on a song without singing. But our little minds were too delightfully scrambled to care.
Ultra is pretty good at getting at least one of these guys on the lineup every year. And for 2012, it meant that Fatboy Slim was gracing the decks. Maybe because of the nostalagia, we found ourselves for the first time during the festival really in the thick of the Main Stage crowd, dancing our way through an entire set.
After an introduction by a floating blue head that identified Slim as both the "First Amendment" and the "fourth Beatle" among other things, the man also known as Norman Cook started off by teasing us with a quick snippet of "Praise You." It served as his calling card to the crowd while also letting us know this wasn't going to be a set that relied too much on his well-known hits.
Slim quickly moved on to Daft Punk's "Put Your Hands Up in the Air," a track he intercut with the horn riff from The Chi-Lites' "Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)," which is now better known as the horn riff from Beyonce's "Crazy in Love." Then after musically informing us that "Now, you're going to die," Slim moved on to another relatively quick bit of his big beat compatriot Basement Jaxx's "Where's Your Head At." He was definitely taking us back to the '90s, even if the set lacked a lot of his own signature tracks.
Next, Slim segued into a bit of Favela funk before hitting what, for us anyway, was the low point of the set. He went the "I'm in Miami, Bitch" route. Yeah, for what seemed like an eternity, he cut up and robotocized LMFAO's vocals over a big, hard, unrelenting beat.
Ugh, we are so over this song. Everyone in this town is. Dude might have well played Will Smith's "Miami." At least it would have been unexpected. Honestly, guys, if you want to make friends with a Miami crowd, do not fucking play "I'm in Miami, Bitch." Send us a sly nod by dropping a little booty bass or freestyle. Go ahead and give us a bit of Debbie Deb or 2 Live Crew. Those kind of tracks say more about Miami than just the name.
From there, though, we zipped clear across the country to Compton and TuPac's "California Love." Yeah, the electo master followed up a song by a group who fails at both electro and rapping with one of the greatest rappers of all time. At least the Pac kinda made up for it.
In what could have been construed as either a nod or a dig at Aviccii (but was definitely a fitting tribute to a legend), Slim dropped the beat for a second as a video of Etta James popped up on stage. There she was singing, in its original glory, the very song that Avicii's sampled for his massive track "Levels." That vocal riff would make any electro song an instant hit. And to follow up, Slim launched into his track "What the Fuck." Make of that what you will.
The rest of the set saw Slim go into full showmanship mode. Giant, bouncy balloons featuring his trademark happy face and crossbones logo were unleashed into the crowd. Confetti was rained down upon us. He dropped samples from crowd-pleasers like Queen's "Mama" and Sugar Hill Gang's "Apache." At one point, Slim even pulled an on-stage pratfall and the video screen cut to a Mac desktop complete with an ever-enlargeable, spinning circle of death. Cheeky.
In what we really can't see as anything other than poking fun at mask wearing DJs (how you doing, Deadmau5?), Slim even put on his own mask: a paper cutout of his own face.
He ended the set with "Sunset (Bird of Prey)" before returning once again to "Praise You." There was really no other way to end the set. And he drew it out, bringing back those Chi-Lite riffs before letting that classic "Praise" piano line finally announce itself to the crowd.