All words: Jeb Gavin — All photos: Denis Largeron
“Reach for the lasers, safe as fuck.” At least, that’s what I thought during Tiesto’s three and one half hour set last night at Echostage when a friend handed me a pair of paper 3-D glasses. Suddenly the array of neon green beams appeared to pass right through my hands as I raised them skyward along with the rest of the crowd. I would say my first trip to the new club in Northeast was nothing short of a complete success, and possibly the best bar mitzvah I’ve ever attended.
Musically, I’d never been keen on Tiesto. I’ll always believe there are better DJs out there, no matter how many people argue otherwise. Furthermore, I felt trance had stagnated the past few years, bloating into a world of celebrity unfocused on making and playing music; perhaps call it the Pauly D effect. Tiesto’s studio albums have never done it for me. They’re building blocks for live shows I’d never seen, but with less flow and structure than contemporary output.
But as it is with great DJs, hearing him spin live makes you a believer. His own songs really are just a template, into which he could plug Top 40 remixes like an excellent “Pursuit of Happiness” or drum and bass like High Contrast and Underworld’s “The First Note Is Silent” (and not just his own intro to the song, he actually played the DnB breaks.) All this worked into the set without shying away from a lower register or a higher BPM. Towards the end of the night little snippets of moombahton were integrated seamlessly, not so much an afterthought but a nod to DC’s own local electronic scene. Not that the crowd was likely to boo or walk out, but Tiesto orchestrated every danceable moment, driving tempo and effectively controlling his audience. It was masterful, and far better than I ever expected.
I feel obliged to also compliment the folks at Echostage. DC doesn’t have a ton of dance music venues. U Street Music Hall is probably the best example of a great club for live electronic music, and yet it’s a small space. The occasional warehouse party breaks out, especially during Forward, but never a dedicated location. Excepting the odd night at the 9:30 Club, DC hasn’t seen a large scale electronic music venue since back when Nation hosted Buzz and Cubik. Judging from my experience Saturday night, Echostage should be the epicenter for the return of large scale dance parties here.
The sound system is best described as all-encompassing, and yet attention is paid such that you don’t leave with tinnitus, no matter how heavy the sound. The visuals are just as arresting, with a massive LED backdrop and rear projection screens situated overhead, running the length of the club. For this show, in addition to the lasers I’d previously mentioned, there were also fog and confetti cannons along the edge of the stage, making an absurdly fun mess whenever the wizards in the control booth felt it necessary. The only valid criticism I’d heard all night was the DJ booth on stage might be raised up a bit, since not everyone could see Tiesto as he was spinning. While that may be the case, I contend if you spent the night watching Tiesto instead of dancing or being blown away by everything else going on, perhaps you’d rather watch instructional videos on DJing instead of going to a show.
I’d wandered the expanse of the club inside and out by the end of the night. As four a.m. neared, the crowd thinned- not much but enough. I’d been wearing the paper glasses on and off, entertaining myself with the enhanced visuals as needed. Removing the glasses one last time, I looked up again to see a girl raise her hands to form the shape of a heart with her fingers, perfectly framing the DJ as he wound cable around his headphones. He kissed them, and tossed them into the audience, and played one last track before walking off stage.