Review By Robert Winship
The Friday afternoon setting at Merriweather Post Pavillion was a near perfect mixture of sun-baked air and mediocre weed. I arrived during Anamanaguchi’s powerhouse set and planted just before the proverbial beat drop of DJ sets unfurled. As the day thumped onward, swells of DMV youth filled the space with thick waves of fist-pumping, twerking and cancerous amounts of secondhand smoke. Maybe the Pavilion crowd is always filled with fist-pumping and smoking, but as an alt-rock nerd and metal fan, I was not prepared for (though thoroughly impressed by) the twerking. By 11:00 pm, the crowd was drenched, mostly unclothed and still cheering for more from the closing Major Lazer set, as some headed to the 9:30 Club for the after-party.
The Mad Decent Block Party is partially a showcase for the titular Diplo’s label. A few of the artists in Merriweather lineup were label mates. Other stops on the tour included non-Decent heavy-hitters like Matt & Kim, Danny Brown and Big Gigantic. Beyond a showcase, Mad Decent put on a true block party.
To start, I gladly bestow the title of ‘outstanding set’ to GRiZ, who combined original and sampled material with excellent saxophone solos and the omnipresent bass drop. The combination of his fervor and talent set him apart. GRiZ had the honor of kicking off the dance party, even if Anamanaguchi had already destroyed it.
Most of the time between sets, I wandered around to gawk at outfits, while frequently denying my knowledge as to the whereabouts of a certain girl. Hard partying is one thing from the eye of a pop-spun storm, but for a while in the afternoon the Block Party was sobering scene of puking, passed out and sometimes OD’d party people. Teenage girls to the left and right of me were taking Molly from anybody who would sell it, only to wander off back into the crowd like jail-bait. If I can impart any wisdom to you young girls out there, it’s that we (men) are generally not to be trusted, doubly so if we are dealing. Always have a wing-man/lady wing-man. Common sense imparted!
DJ’s Skream and Lunice were solid if nothing more than DJs. They dropped enough classics (“Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, “Blue Monday”) to neatly set the stage for the fumbling white noise of RiFF RaFF or however the fuck you stylize his name. Riff Raff is the ‘real life’ inspiration for James Franco’s character in Spring Breakers. Raff only performed for 30 minutes and though he filled the stage with an entourage of hype men and random hangers on, he could not substantiate any reason to pay attention to his inane ramblings. Riff was all flash and no flow. If he is, in fact, some sort of strange devoted form of satire then he is spot-on, but he is also insufferable.
SBTRK (pronounced “subtract”) handled the widest range in his DJ-only set. Normally, he might have been an odd pairing with the more outlandish tourmates. His original material is a minimal take on percussive R&B jams and brings the nuance of Ghostly International to mind. Alas, he was just DJ on this leg so we were treated to an ascending movement in rhythm and bass from delicate trance to heavy bangers.
Discerning what is so great about Zed’s Dead was an impossible task on Friday. Other than referencing Pulp Fiction, they just notched up the intensity and anticipation, if only because they stood in the way of Major Lazer. Again, it’s an awful lot of amping and notching up to a level where only the bass and booty can be dropped. The cycle of music began to feel like an instruction ‘rinse, holdout, drop and repeat’. Major Lazer might have just continued unacknowledged. Obviously, he did not. Instead, Major Lazer (Diplo) rallied a tired and devoted Merriweather around the music his acid disco jock jams “Get Free”, “Pon de Floor” and, of course, “Bubble Butt,” for which he recruited ladies from the crowd to help visualize the uber-catchy chorus. With a full on light show, dancers and the Wayne Coyne orb, Major Lazer brought his own cartoonish insanity to a people who were already insanely cartoonish.
I have never been to jail and I have never failed a urine test, but that did not stop me from throwing middle fingers to the sky with a guy who took to heart the Flosstradamus refrain, “Fuck the PO and fuck the piss test!” If it had been NWA, I would have done the same. Swallowed in a hedonistic den of neon-clothed ravers, and under-dressed teens all moving with abandon, what else is there to do. That is the set-up and punchline of the Mad Decent Block Party: an oxymoronic label title that permits a crowd to behave madly, as if it is the only decent thing to do.