After burying the tightly packed crowd under a nonstop barrage of hyper beats, spastic synthesizers, swirling lasers, flashing strobe lights and even a pair of cannon-like smoke machines, Skrillex finally allowed for a little breathing room near the end of his sensory-overloading set Sunday at First Avenue.
“I don’t make music to be cool,” the Los Angeles DJ/producer said during the rare stop in the action. “I make music for people who like to come out and have a good time.”
Over the past couple years, the real-life Sonny Moore’s fun-seeking target audience has grown hundredfold. He has quickly gone from playing non-mainstream dance clubs — his last Twin Cities appearance was at the Skyway Theatre in 2011 — to the biggest and, yes, coolest festivals around the world, including Coachella and Bonnaroo.
By far the biggest name in electronic dance music at age 25, the jet-black-haired, bespectacled Moore told the 1,600 fans (mostly under 25) that he booked Sunday’s First Avenue gigs and four other stops on a fall club tour to “bring it back down to earth.” His publicist similarly told us beforehand that no photographers would be allowed into the show because it was just a small-scale production this time around.
Riiiiiight. If this was a humble, down-to-earth Skrillex show, then Bono and Kanye West had better watch their backs. NASA, too, for that matter.
Sunday’s show started with the Skrillex Countdown Clock©. Five minutes before show time, the glaring red digits behind the stage started ticking backward, and anticipation built up accordingly. Sure enough, Moore took the stage for the final 10 seconds and blasted off right on cue. I can think of a few dozen rappers that could use the Skrillex Clock as incentive just to show up in the right time zone.
The 105-minute set offered a heavy mix of new, untested material with a light but shrewdly chosen sprinkling of tracks that fans knew. He lit up the crowd right away with “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” and later dropped in old and new remixes of everyone from Notorious B.I.G. and the Beastie Boys — as if “Sabotage” wasn’t already tense and high-velocity enough — to Farman Scoop (“Be Faithful”), Damian Marley (“Jamrock”) and Niki & the Dove (“DJ, Ease My Mind,” which he debuted for the encore).
There really is nothing subtle about a Skrillex concert. Even thrash-metal bands show a little restraint and nuance once in a while and slow things down, but not our Sonny Boy. He constantly keeps the beats at full tilt, and his (pre-recorded) synthesizers at a full-bore high-pitched whir that suggest LAX airport might be his No. 1 music influence. The mellowest he got was at the beginning of his Nero remix, “Promises,” which stayed chill for all of 15 seconds before exploding into ultra-spastic, nerve-rattling beats that seemingly reached 300 b.p.m.by song’s end.
Skrillex truly is a rock star for attention-deficit-challenged fans. Few of his jams on Saturday lasted more than a few minutes, and there were constant changeups within that time frame.
Everything else in Sunday’s concert was nonstop, too. The giant, hi-def video screen backdrop — apparently just a lil’ something he pulled out of the basement for this modest club tour — kept flashing new eye candy for fans. Two of the biggest cheers came when he flashed snippets of “Wreck It Ralph” and “Jurassic Park.” Was this a concert or a birthday party sleepover for 12-year-olds?
Skrillex also brought along a lot of video footage of himself. Several clips showed him jumping around the stage at other, bigger concerts, in case you didn’t know he usually performs to ten times as many fans. So much for the days when DJs liked to stay out of the spotlight.
Still, by rock-star standards, Skrillex was impressive on Sunday. He worked the crowd better than most EDM stars, yelling a rousing message at fans every couple minutes and jumping on the DJ table when he really needed to get their attention. Sure, he has a pipsqueaky voice and a knack for saying “Yo!” a lot — think: a chihuahua trying to talk like a member of House of Pain — but he nonetheless connected with the audience.
As was suggested by his statement about not making music “to be cool,” his semi-nerdy gawkishness might be part of his appeal. And anyway, as professional wrestlers proved long ago, who needs to look cool when you’ve got a countdown clock, smoke cannons and lasers?