Review By Jeb Gavin, Photos By Peter Nguyen
Most of my thoughts about GRiZ’s show at the 9:30 Club can be summed up in one thought: well that was a breath of fresh air. Even that’s putting it mildly- this was like huffing pure oxygen. I need electronic musicians to take note: this isn’t just how you put on a show; this is where the genre needs to go.
Opener The Floozies took all of five seconds to become my new favorite sound to which I’d wiggle my butt. My friend Jack tried to book them for his birthday and it makes perfect sense to me now. Kansas brothers Matt (keys, guitar, turntables) and drummer Mark (skins) sound like an extended break from Chromeo drawn out into this Morris Day groove, plus a live drum kit. It’s stupid fun and you should be listening to them right now while I say what I’m about to say next.
Per the second opener, the Pegboard Nerds: meh. They largely play dubstep, and it’s not bad, but it’s not great either, and given the killer first set this next one was a letdown. The dirty secret about American dubstep is it’s largely glitch, which is often great, but not always. The Pegboard Nerds own stuff started out decent enough. Glitchy hip-hop beats, good flow, not substituting an absurd light show for musical production (more on that later.) And somewhere along the way everything took a left hand turn. Suddenly there’s a short clip of the first chorus of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” overlaid with air raid horns. Then it slides into some mediocre grimecore rap, and then back into a remix of Queen, and all the sudden this isn’t just sped up glitch.
I think part of the problem I have with them is their productions aren’t bad, but playing live they just sort of scramble to pile 1990s Euro-trance on top of dubstep, but without any sort of flow or consistent groove. I know the younger crowd hasn’t heard “Sandstorm” 80,000 times over again, but that’s no reason to shove “hey I recognize that synth line” nostalgia down anyone’s throat.
This of course leads us to GRiZ, and you’ll have to forgive me for gushing more than just a little bit. The flow, the collection of music, his samples, his beats, the fact that the light show wasn’t absurd- it all worked. The lights issue always bothers me, particularly at dance shows because the show is there to serve the music, and facilitate the audience’s connection with the music. For example, seeing Pretty Lights at Freefest was, interesting, but once you get past the spectacular light show, all you have is a pile of poorly glued together hip-hop beats and old soul samples. I’d rather listen to the original records and just blow up a lava lamp, it’d be cheaper. Meanwhile, GRiZ has a couple LED panels and some lights on servos, and that’s it, make them flash and move to the beat, that’s all you need. Phish had the right idea, whatever you think of their music- the visuals enhance the aural experience.
Jumping back to the music- I keep hearing Homer Simpson mouthing “Saxamaphone, saxamaphone” to the first two tones of Beethoven’s Fifth. Who plays a live sax during an electronic show? THIS GUY. Does it work? YOU BET YOUR ASS. Throw some deceptively simple, jazzy breaks, keep the beat moving, and suddenly it’s a party again. Somewhere along the line I hear RJD2 dissolve into the opening lines of “H to the Izzo”, then to Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”, and then back to RJD2. Later in the set there’s suddenly moombahton and some reggaeton, a bit of the aforementioned American dubstep, and oh hey why not throw some “Next Episode” as a tag, without missing a beat, without taking a break or cutting out the sound.
As a DJ, you move the party, you direct the audience, and the goal is to do so seamlessly, so people never have to stop partying. For the most part you could just put on some Parliament Funkadelic records and call it a day. Instead, young GRiZ slides “We Want the Funk” in whenever the hell he wants. Hell, I haven’t even brought up how he played the scene from Animal House where Otis Day plays “Shout” at the frat party with everyone singing along, or Bobby Blue Bland’s “Ain’t No Love” into Basement Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Head At?” Seamless, just seamless integration across a myriad of styles and genres all pushing the party forward.
I cannot begin to express how awesome it is to hear well made, well orchestrated electronic music live and enjoy every last minute of it. I hope this is the direction the genre heads in, where the music drives the party rather than fripperous lights and stopping after every track as though transitions were a waste of time and effort.