Coachella 2011: L.A. versus London -- Nosaj Thing, Magnetic Man, and Skrillex
I wasn't sure who Skrillex was. I'm sure you could chalk this up to some massive music writing oversight, but I'd prefer to think of it as spinning in different circles. Judging from the scene at the Sahara Tent on Friday night, I was the only one who didn't know the deal.
Thanks to the great Google gods, I now know that Skrillex is a former hardcore metal dude turned dubstep DJ. All I knew at the time was that he had divined the magic alchemy to turn a room of teenagers and post-teens into a tsunami.
They were insane. Crazier than Odd Future who followed them. More euphoric than any other set all day. I have no idea what percentage of the audience was chemically medicated, but in 15 minutes, I was propositioned for ecstasy once and marijuana twice. I suspect this means I need a haircut.
I won't place value judgements other than to say that this isn't my chamber. I was in the minority. Apparently, the formula du jour is to mix massive low-end bass with rave synths and ogre drums. Mix in a little Jackson 5 and pop staples. Then, at the proper moment, ask the crowd's males to "put your girls on your shoulders. But do it respectfully."
If there is a popular face of dubstep in America it's probably someone like Skrillex -- the definition of bro-step working the Bro-chella set to massive success. After all, every generation needs a Venga Boy or two.
England is a different story. Along with Miami, it's a birthplace of bass music, and London's strains typically interweave jungle and grime. It's harder and faster than the American variant -- at least, as practiced by the dubstep supergroup Magnetic Man (Skream, Benga, Artwork). With mixed results, they marauded at the the Sahara later on.
That Magnetic Man set was filled with moments of genius interspersed with moments of boredom. It's hard enough to dance to dubstep without being interrupted by a hypeman stopping the sound to incite the crowd. Even hip-hop has largely given up the hypeman concept, presumably because everyone realizes that Flavor Flav had perfected the art form.
Rounding out the day was Nosaj Thing, who has perhaps the most pure distillation of the low-end theory/L.A. beat sound. Mix in a little Wu-Tang with Boards of Canada, Portishead, Dilla and Radiohead worship. Maybe it was personal bias or homecourt advantage, but his set showed an understanding of the ideal way to work a late-night Coachella crowd. Lull the glow-stick rave kids into a sense of security, get those with a cresting high into a hypnotic groove, and allow the wallflowers to just stare in awe at the combination of tripped-out sound and screensavery visuals.
It was so entrancing that I didn't even get propositioned for drugs once. Well played, Nosaj. Well played.
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: Skrillex performs on the Sahara Stage at Coachella on Friday. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times