With DJ Sigma
Fillmore Miami Beach
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Better Than: Making out with a tree.
Any talk about dubstep in its current, wildly popular and commercially viable form, always devolves into hand-wringing. But if anyone deserves to play the style critically derided as brostep for a theater full of sweaty, screaming fans, it's Rusko.
Some of the fans who turned out to see his all-ages set at the Fillmore Miami Beach last night were still in middle school when the U.K. producer started gaining serious Stateside velocity in the late '00s. He was one of the first English guys to unabashedly go for mass appeal and easy-to-understand songs. They were full of bouncy, relatively upbeat melodies and the kind of bass drops that are now a brostep requisite.
The underground bass heads have long since moved on from this sound. But some 1200 fans still packed the Fillmore last night to sell-out capacity. A good chunk of these were, unsurprisingly, kids too young to go to club events, who were decked out in full festival gear like crop tops, neon, and fanny packs. But a good chunk were also regular-ass people just drinking a beer and having a good time, the kinds of folks you might see at an average rock concert.
In fact, as the night wore on, it appeared that artists like Rusko have possibly filled a new, previously unconsidered musical niche -- the electronic equivalent of arena rock. You go out to hear it, lose your shit to its fist-pumping force and pure volume, get sweaty and tired, and go home. It's unabashedly crowd-pleasing, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. No, this form of dubstep bears little resemblance to the genre at its birth. But shit happens, and this is an entirely different beast.
Still, it often follows a formula that can feel alternately, paradoxically exciting and also a little stale. From the beginning, a local warm-up DJ (who had a huge crowd but didn't bring a sign or bother to say his name) [update: it was Jeff Tang!], there was a clear-cut pattern. It would go: simple melody, sometimes breathy female vocal (of the Ellie Goulding school), breakdown, wub-wub-wub, bass rinse-out, repeat. Said local opener did an impressive job getting the crowd warmed up. But they came ready to party anyway, and likely would have reacted to anyone playing the same kinds of drops without totally trainwrecking.
Rusko's official opener, fellow Brit DJ Sigma, switched things up by skipping all the chirpy vocals for a lot more hip-hop swagger, and even heavy doses of drum 'n' bass. His remix selections traversed Jay-Z/Kanye, Dead Prez, and, playing wisely to the crowd, Rick Ross. Out of left-field, Sigma even dropped a rework of Robyn S.'s old 1992 jam "Show Me Love."
The headliner himself took the stage a little after 11 p.m. and wasted no time getting right to the dirty stuff. Posted up on a bank of scaffolding, under moving light-up letters spelling out his name, Rusko looked from the get-go like he was having the time of his life. On a huge stage in a theater like that, an electronic artist has to do something -- many bring in guest vocalists, some live P.A. element or live instrumentation, and so forth. Rusko didn't, but instead kept the vibe going with his own goofy bounce dance and the occasional shouted question: "Come on Miami, you all ready to get the fuck up?" "Are you ready to get deeper?" "How the fuck are you doing?" So many questions!
Meanwhile, he played hard from the beginning -- on a scale of one to 10, starting at about an 11, with earthquake frequencies rattling the floor. It's hard not to be moved by the sheer physicality of that sound at that volume, in the same way, again, that hard rock rock can take over. It was unsurprising that many of the kids in the crowd were sporting shirts for metal bands, from nu- to death. At one point, after that "deeper" question, Rusko unleashed a track that sounded as though it were made of pure bass waves. It all made early popular Rusko tracks like "Woo Boost" and the like seem quaint by comparison.
Still, from the beginning of the evening, there was a marked sameness of nearly every track played. It's a DJ's job to move the crowd, and this worked. But it didn't leave a lot of room for change or experimentation. A few minutes away from the punishing wub-wub would have totally destroyed the mood.
It actually seemed a lot like the last days of blog house. Or, to use another bass music example, of tech step drum 'n' bass. In the race to get harder and faster, producers in those genres basically turned out louder and harsher carbon copies of each other's work, all with the same bassline. Crowds still showed up in droves to hear those sounds, until they stopped. It's telling that on the club circuit, more dance-friendly, musical sounds along the so-called tropical bass spectrum continue to rise. Though Rusko and company rule the theater-show and festival roost, it'll be interesting to see where they go from here.
Personal Bias: I prefer to hear EDM in a club or late-night setting. But as an under-18 party kid I would have loved to have a place to go where I could legally hear my favorites. So the theater show thing is cool in my book.
The Crowd: A million guys in striped tank tops, which seem to be the official brostep uniform. Plus, girls in festival gear; young teens in spirit hoods; Miami bros with fades; regular people you'd see at the local sports bar; this one random, awesomely prim and fancy girl in a pristine white lace baby doll dress and pearl bracelets.
Overheard in the Crowd: "You don't want a light show, do you?"
By the Way: Party kids, don't overdo it too hard, too soon. Be responsible and stay hydrated -- you don't wanna be the person taken out on a stretcher at 10:15 p.m. before the headliner even goes on.