Muse Event Center, Minneapolis
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Though A-Trak is probably best known for his hip-hop remixes, what he brought to a crowd of young EDM enthusiasts at the Muse Event Center last night was more like a flashback to the initial surge of popularity in electro that hit L.A. several years ago with the rise of his fellow EDM purveyors such as Steve Aoki and the late DJ AM.
Several partygoers were upset that his set was lacking in the hip-hop beats they had eagerly anticipated. Instead, as strobe lights flashed violently and smoke machines pumped into the air, A-Trak stormed through a somewhat predictable list of familiar and reliable party-starters, like Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Heads Will Roll," and Chromeo's "Jealous (I Ain't With It)" -- in a direct nod to his brother David Macklovitch, who is one half of Chromeo.
The Muse Event Center, also confusingly called City Hall, is an interesting place. Tucked away on 3rd Avenue in the North Loop near the Bachelor Farmer, the venue was heavily guarded by both event security and Minneapolis police officers. Through two glass doors and past the entryway is one elongated room leading up to a stage, flanked on either side by a small balcony area where tuckered-out girls leaned against the railing to watch the dancefloor from above, their dates smushing into them from behind. One girl idly twirled a plastic glowing version of the traditional Okinawan martial arts Nunchaku, better known as nunchuks.
From the outside, the venue is reminiscent of a club in Chicago or New York, decorated by the well-dressed door guys looming over the sidewalk and the line of scantily-clad hipsters roping around the side of the building inhaling their cigarettes. Inside, two police officers in full uniform stood sentry at one of the back exits, ensuring that the door remained firmly shut from both the inside and outside. A bathroom attendant in a red gown handed us paper towels to dry our hands. A bro in a sombrero and a three-tiered backpack wandered the room.
Gimme Noise arrived just as opener Salva was exiting the stage in a flurry of applause. The drunk "woo woo" girls were woo-wooing at him expectantly as he introduced A-Trak to the tables. Suddenly the music stopped all together as A-Trak crept onstage. It's almost eery how similar he looks to his brother. Gimme Noise also had the pleasure of attending Chromeo's sold-out show in the First Avenue mainroom last month, and became more familiar with that brother's stage antics and facial expressions. If the brothers wanted to switch lives for a night, they could easily do so without many people noticing. Both share the same weirdly affixed smile, and have almost matching fashion senses.
Two girls in the front row wearing A-Trak T-shirts were dancing as if they were possessed by the music, screaming the words to every song and flailing their hands in the air. A guy in a neon green T-shirt reading, "Damn son, where'd you find this?" wandered from one side of the room to the other. The floors were suspiciously shiny, as if the bar near the stage had leaked all over them. We walked with the illusion that we may slip and fall at any moment. A sound gaffe occurred almost immediately, plunging the room into silence. "The sound tech better get it together," remarked a random guy, as the silence continued and bros paced anxiously.
The sound kicked back in abruptly and thunderously, along with the strobes. "April Fool's! Fool's Gold!" A-Trak yelled into his mic, in a reference to his label Fool's Gold. He climbed up onto his tables and began scratching furiously as a hype guy threw shirts into the audience. In the late '90s, A-Trak developed his own notation system for scratching. He was once a member of the now-defunct DJ crew Invisibl Skratch Piklz. His scratching skills are undeniable. At the age of 15, he even won the DMC World DJ Championship, as both the youngest and first Canadian to ever take home the prize.
Throughout the beginning of his set, he did appear somewhat stressed. The bouncers at the front of the crowd seemed more amused, gently corralling the crowd behind the barricades. People moved eagerly to the choppy electro beats, autotune voices carrying over the searing electronic saw noises. A bro with a wide smile stood front and center, aggressively chewing a piece of gum as his eyes scanned the crowd. A-Trak continued scratching in between each track, somewhat gratuitously at times. Girls screamed, the screams occasionally mounting into the sounds of an angry colony of feral cats.[page]
Strange cardboard cut-outs of an unidentifiable man's head began rising above the crowd, and quickly multiplied. People were holding these faces over their own, posing for selfies. A man in a cheese hat emblazoned with the words "Fool's Gold" danced across the stage, waving in a giant pair of white gloves. It seemed somewhat difficult to hold the crowd's attention. There was quite a bit of teeth-grinding and other odd muscle movements. Men and women in glowsticks and an array of kandy necklaces gyrated wildly. The line to the bar never quite grew into an actual line.
The music remained consistent with that of a Los Angeles Dim Mak party. It seemed geared appropriately towards the younger crowd who was in attendance, perhaps not yet entirely jaded by EDM culture. People still pined for A-Trak to drop some hip-hop tracks. This new A-Trak did seem more in line with his recent tendency to keep the electronic and hip-hop elements of his personality separate, as he has done with Duck Sauce, his disco house production duo with the infamous Armand Van Helden.
The night was beginning to feel like we had time-traveled back to Tuesdays at Cinespace in Los Angeles. It seemed almost as if some in attendance were forcing themselves to retain their initial enthusiasm. Some seemed simply too cool to look like they gave a shit about what was going on. Cell phones were held high in the air, reminding us that if it wasn't recorded on Instagram, it didn't actually happen.
Outside, a bro forlornly walked the cigarette alley, asking no one in particular if they had any drugs, and getting no particular answer. People were staring suspiciously at Gimme Noise's notebook, perhaps concluding that we were working in tandem with the police. A man in a furry backpack with chunky glowsticks hanging from carabiners on his waist dug something out of his pocket for a friend. Security guards in nice suits were pushing through the crowd from all directions. Back on stage, A-Trak was jumping up and down enthusiastically behind his turntables.
Despite the frequent disjointed feeling in the room, A-Trak did give his absolute best. He remained energetic throughout the entire two hours that he performed, and the two girls in A-Trak shirts at the front stayed with him the entire time, still belting out the words to all of the songs he played. Perhaps the Minneapolis EDM scene just isn't necessarily the right climate for the kind of harsh electro he was spinning -- maybe because we already went through that phase years ago at BOMP! and at Too Much Love. Regardless, people were definitely having a good time -- whether it was due to the music, the alcohol, or the constant people-watching opportunities being provided at every turn.
On the way out, we were held up in the doorway by the scene of a girl in a tiny dress who had somehow managed to lose her shoes sitting barefoot in the entryway, crying, surrounded by police officers. Thankfully at Muse there is no shortage of professional help should anyone need some. Rest assured that the girl made it home safely, and so did we, just not before we made a promise to return to Muse some time in the future to see if it could always be so oddly entertaining.
Critic's Bias: I too was hoping for some more hip hop! I lived in L.A. for a couple years starting back in 2007 and I seriously felt like I was there again, reliving my most electro moments. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing; it just felt rather outdated.
The crowd: Very young and very decked out in their finest rave gear. Also very drunk and somewhat surly at times.
Set list: I was told that A-Trak posts his set lists on Instagram and Facebook the day after his performances, so keep an eye out!GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
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