"Who's ready for the greatest artist in this industry?"
That was Israeli dubstep producer giant Borgore, wrapping up his set at the 2012 Voodoo Experience and introducing his colleague Skrillex, who closed the Le Plur stage. Borgore let out an "Oh, fuck" when his question was answered with the loudest response of his entire set.
The crowd, mostly chain-smoking teenagers in sunglasses, pushed in and tripled in size. Double-fisting drinkers elbowed their way to a better viewing spot. A mustached man, easily the oldest guy there and wearing a serape and bandana, paced the crowd and announced he had "molly and mushrooms."
Nobody was buying — though I'm sure he found a few customers among the few thousand people gathered for Skrillex. But this being a stage sponsored by an energy drink, nobody needed anything — and judging by the guy behind me ("I've had like three Red Bulls"), who narrated his brain fart commentary aloud and into my ear, this was "the hottest thing right now."
He was being sarcastic. But he was kind of right.
HALLOWEEN IN THE CITY OF VOODOO #NOLA #NoLie @
— Skrillex(@Skrillex) October 29, 2012
This marked Skrillex's second show in New Orleans this year — his first was headlining the inaugural Buku Music + Art Project, which rivaled Voodoo's electronic-heavy lineup with its freshman class of all-stars like Skrillex, Avicii, Diplo and Holy Fuck.
Skrillex, 24, has received the most shit from critics for his jerky mash-ups of thumping, club-only drum-and-bass and its burgeoning "dubstep" sister with stadium-sized, unsubtle electronica — fist-pump jams for testosterone-filled college parties. He made palatable an otherwise "obscure" dance scene for apparently under-danced young people unknowingly thirsty for house music. When rave culture seemed to have died with the '90s, and the industry's attempts to sneak it back into the charts (Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, Basement Jaxx et al.) failed, along comes a 20-something with a silly haircut and over-sized sunglasses with terrifying (or are they exciting? or addictive?) bass drops to make everyone forget how much they hated those kids with glowsticks and parachute pants.
Whether that's a good thing or an abomination is a sizable feat. Hip-hop stars have incorporated this new wave of club-friendly music into platinum hits, and ears once tuned exclusively to Rusted Root in dorm rooms are now inhaling electronic music, whether Skrillex, deadmau5 or other sold-out stadium-filling DJs.
Skrillex — real name Sonny John Moore — emerged from a puff of smoke as the sun set. He wore a skeleton onesie and plague doctor/bird mask, which quickly flew off once his hair-flinging and head-bobbing started in his opener, the self-hailing bass track "My Name is Skrillex."
I quickly was enveloped by ground-shaking bass under me, aggressively hopping teens beside me, and a devastating blanket of volume all around me.
His lack of "subtlety" is his best asset. The guy doesn't stop — for an hour and a half, he attacked his soundboard and removed the beat only to bring it back with a firing squad of pyrotechnics, from green flames to seemingly ever-present orange ones flanking both sides of the stage. Lasers shot across the crowd with smoke machines, and chopped up graphics — from marching robots to scenes from The Shining and "Indian Thriller" and Mortal Kombat — all synced to the beat-convulsions of each song, all breathlessly streaming from one song to the next.
His notorious "drops" — the guttural bass bombs that sound like how a warp-speed U-turn looks — were rare. He teased them on his mega-hits "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" and "First of the Year — Equinox," (which are immediately preceded by a screaming "Oh my god!" and "Call 9-1-1 now!"), but he unleashed them in the over-the-top beat-drop finale.
Otherwise, Skrillex chugged through French disco, trance and hard house, an aggressive (and sometimes dynamic) blend that made heavyweight Euro DJs like Tiesto and David Guetta seem tame and... well, boring. He's going for a hyperactive and skull-splitting sensory overload, and he largely succeeds. He's unrelenting in his appeal to the shrinking attention span of his hypnotized audience.
Skrillex's only real allegiance to dubstep is in his dumping of dancehall and reggae onto his over-driven palette. His Damian Marley collaboration "Make It Bun Dem" is as straight-forward as Skrillex gets. With "First of the Year," that chopped-up "dub" influence takes a sharp nosedive into arena-sized industrial mayhem.
He had some fun tracking the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme and Daft Punk's "Harder Better Faster Stronger" through some muddy beats, but when he threw on Diplo and Nicky Da B's New Orleans bounce-inspired "Express Yourself," he didn't dare mess with it.
Two "bros" in matching orange "LET'S GET WEIRD" T-shirts and trucker hats likely thought they were doing that. Several parents brought their adolescent kids to the show — towards the rear of the late-night crowd (which did not budge when Jack White's guitar blasted from the adjacent stage), one fleece-covered boy stomped to the hyped-up "Bangarang" while nearby teenage girls took turns smoking a cigarette and hula hooping.
Mr. Red Bull behind me, however, ended up inching closer to the stage until he disappeared among the faithful.