Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen
Major Lazer with Lunice and Paul Devro
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
The sold out Major Lazer crowd last night brought a festival's energy into the confined space of the First Avenue Mainroom. As they mined the sounds of roots reggae and Jamaican dancehall to co-mingle with drum and bass, dirty South, and electro (to name a few), Diplo's team put on an insanely live show that was startlingly unique.
Slideshow: Major Lazer at First Avenue, 3/20/13
At the beginning, DJ Paul Dervo spun some decidedly reserved-tempo tracks that effectively warmed people up but didn't find them exuding too much energy initially, the crowd was gearing up for a crazy night. It was an effective intro, with a variety that included some EDM and some rap like Trinidad James, finding the spots where the genres mixed appropriately. A well-chosen DJ for the spot provided, he showcased the technical side of what the DJ's role was without aiming for too much flash.
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen
Lunice, on the other hand, had a hyped stage presence that dwarfed anyone else's in the crowd. Beginning his set by shouting "Who loves rap music?!" and following it up with an extended build of a synth that aped classical music. Confused what this had to do with rap after drawing it out for a good few minutes, he then switched into Big Sean's verse from "Mercy" and began pantomiming wildly to the audience. His set involved switching between his own beat work, which has a particular instrumental underground electronic vibe to it, and popular rap music, primarily from G.O.O.D. Music. The way he contextualized tracks and drew out verses was interesting at first, but wore thin quick thanks to lack of variety: I'd never really listened to Big Sean's verse on the "I Don't Like" remix super intently as I did here, which would have been more powerful had he not played the same song twice more and then the original again later. Lunice enjoyed running to the front to lip sync and toss his hands, as well as dramatically hit the buttons cuing the next song for emphasis. The energy was nice for a one-man DJ set, but some different songs could have brought this set to the next level.
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen
When the cartoon introduction to the Major Lazer character played on the screen, the audience began to lose their shit and they never got it back. Immediately upon revealing themselves behind the screen, Diplo and his crew threw vuvuzelas into the crowd and said "If you like something, blow your horn." Horns blew throughout the night, accompanied with screams and hand claps and manic dancing. Diplo traded places with Jillionaire and Walshy Fire, all dressed in suits initially, throughout the night as DJing duties were switched with dancing or crowd-hyping duties. Mela Murder held down dancing duties the entire time, and her toned body showed off the her level of prominence in twerking.
The setlist quickly became impossible to maintain, as surprises like "Bugatti" and "Birthday Song" sat alongside Major Lazer originals like "When You Hear the Bassline" and "Bruk Out" in a way that blurred the line between a straight DJ set and an original production. The crew took their experience with hyping a massive festival crowd to the confined space of First Avenue, and brought out a number of techniques that worked like gangbusters on the raging mass of people crammed next to each other.
Cues to jump as high as you can, to strip off your shirt and wave it wildly in the air, to bring your body as low as it could go, to move to your extreme right or extreme left at each beat, and countless other crowd control techniques, brought the role of hypeman to a whole new degree. At one point, Mela Murder got to highlight her skills and take center stage, and Jillionaire asked that the audience not dance while she did. But when Diplo hit the drop, the whole place went from still to balls-out dumb as if they couldn't help themselves.
After bringing out "special guest" Major Lazer himself (a Gwar-like paper-mache facsimile who danced about and was strapped with microphones), Diplo called for ladies with bubble butts to make their way to the stage to dance to "Bubble Butt." The women were all skilled dancers but actually seemed to bring the crowds energy down slightly as people began to stare rather than sway. A smooth transition into "Express Yourself" gave the girls an opportunity to show off their true abilities as they attempted the associated dance, which involves ass gyration and handstands simultaneously. Only one amateur could really pull it off, so it was time for Mela to once again show them what a professional was capable of.
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen
Quickly shifting from "Pon De Floor" to "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" -- why not? -- to "Jump Up" to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" -- I'm less inclined to ask why not, but it worked -- the energy level refused to dip, as Jillionaire proceeded to spray everyone with champagne. As the intro to "Hold the Line" began, Diplo asked a dude to come on stage this time. Prepared to dance with the same spirit the ladies provided before, he was instead instructed to lie on his back on a towel as Mela Murder leapt from the giant speaker facade that towered the DJs and violently beat her crotch into him with wild abandon. As he lay there helpless I began to see the potential for twerking as vehemently feminist expression.
The crew shouted, waved flags, scaled walls, shot confetti, and slowly stripped away articles of clothing as the night went on. Oh, did I mention that Diplo got inside a giant inflatable hamster ball a la Flaming Lips and walked around the audience at one point? That happened. It was particularly impressive in the intimate spot and caused the people to go batshit. Jillionaire commented on the fact that Mineapolis loves roots reggae, and that everywhere he went today, be it in the bars or playing from someone's car, reggae was blasting. Not sure if this is true or not but it was a nice sentiment. Their sound has the true Jamaican dancehall spirit but is palatable to wider audiences to make them sustain insane energy, thanks to the genre-shifting and finding of middle ground. Major Lazer are experts at putting on blazing sets and turning up massive crowds, and the night they provided fans stands in my mind as one of the best parties period.
The Crowd: Quite a bit of hipster-leaning folks, everyone in a constant state of letting loose.
Random Notebook Dump: Whatever that Ice Cream song Paul Devro spun that asked everyone their favorite type of ice cream got everyone excited like they were all five years old.