The crowd for Skrillex, with inviting empty space.
The argument you could make in favor of Key Arena yesterday was that it allowed you to see French electronic rock band M83's pretty dazzling light show at 3 in the afternoon, while it was still sunny outdoors. And that's about it. Everything else about Bumbershoot putting its mainstage at the Key instead of Memorial Stadium for the second year in a row felt like a disaster--or a disaster waiting to happen.
The crowd for Skrillex, with inviting empty space.
And not just because the weather was good for outdoor concerts this year, good enough that Best Coast needn't have been singing her hazy songs about summer from within a dark bunker. As Chris reported, the Key Arena floor felt about half- to two-thirds-empty when M83 took the stage, while the stands were packed with fans. This is apparently what the Fire Marshall has approved the floor for--and certainly, fans pack in tight towards the front--but nature abhors a vacuum, and if you were a kid stuck in the stands and looking at a half-empty floor that you (seemingly arbitrarily) weren't allowed to occupy, you'd want to bum-rush past security to get down there, too. And so, about a half hour into their set, as M83 played "We Own the Sky," kids started trampling through security at one checkpoint, running and leaping as they hit the floor, all to huge cheers from the now largely distracted crowd--some of whom later chanted "USA! USA!" as their compatriots rushed to the floor to see the (French) band. Maybe M83 shouldn't have quite so many surging, triumphalist anthems? M83's Anthony Gonzalez, introducing next one "Midnight City," briefly chided then fully encouraged the crowd, saying, "I see some teenagers crossing the line over there--that's not so sweet of you. But, okay, let's be wild, let's be free..." (Some amount of teens left immediately after "Midnight City," for whatever that's worth.)
And that's just M83, who I think the teens only sorta care about. They fucking love Skrillex, to the point of standing in line starting at 4pm for his 9:30pm show. So, of course, I was expecting a shitshow...
But so, this time, were security. If it was a gauntlet getting onto the floor for M83, it was a siege for Skrillex, with throngs of security and police steadfastly manning checkpoints against the crowds about every 10 feet leading down to that again partially empty--if less so this time--floor. Not that any of this could have dampened the crowd's wild enthusiasm, from the 5-minute on-screen countdown clock to Skrillex's set (with a real Mortal Kombat final 10 seconds in both the font, the burning braziers, and overall vibe) to that first bass drop (about 15 seconds into the set) to every one that came after. In my preview for this show, I made the not entirely new argument that Skrillex might best be understood as pure physical phenomenon: that bass. And, sure, the bass was all-enveloping and huge, and it was accompanied by a visual show of pyrotechnics, strafing lasers and strobes, and screens showing everything from the hungry monster of Spirited Away to some rocking Cleatus-like CGI robots to Indian "Thriller". But I think Skrillex can be explained in older-school, lower-tech pop music terms: as a good old-fashioned mass teenage hysteria. A crowd drawing a crowd exponentially to see what all the crowd is about.
Because, seriously, weep for the future if it's actually because of the music. As happy as I am to see kids getting into electronic music--and we all start somewhere--Skrillex's music is a crudely stitched-together Frankenstein of the form, mismatched limbs sewed onto a lumbering dubstep trunk: 30 seconds of euro trance synths here, some "Jamrock" there, the Fresh Prince of Bell-Air theme arhythmically chopped-up here, each one crashed head-on into another wobbling, squealing half-time dubstep breakdown/drop. It's some of the least grooving, shortest-attention-span electronic music I've ever heard, although it certainly got the crowd dancing in that hunched-over-yet-hands-in-the-air posture of dubstep.
Skrillex, in interviews and profiles, seems like a likeable enough guy. I don't hate the man. And yesterday he was gamely hyping up the crowd, shouting out the Seahawks and whatnot. But when a screen lit up behind him, and you could see the all-black-clad dude against the formerly dark background, he looked like a little dictator up on his raised dais, gesturing dramatically at the fanatical crowd below. (If his gesticulating encouraged any attempted surges from the crowd in the bleachers, it was sometime after the 10pm/"My Name Is Skrillex" mark, and I never saw it.)
Elsewhere: new Pains of Being Pure at Heart songs sound like all other Pains of Being Pure at Heart Songs (fine by me), Fujiya & Miyagi faked the crowd out with one shoegaze-y rock squall before cleanly clicking into their sleek, soft-spoken funk mode; the Vaselines proved the lewdest vaudeville comedy duo of this or any other festival (Eugene: "We slept together once, it's haunted me ever since." Frances: "I must've been asleep." Eugene: "She didn't have her make-up on, that's why it's haunted me.").
Maybe the best new thing this year was the conversion of the Fisher Pavillion from the Flatstock Poster Show (now in the Armory/Center House) to an installation/gallery space: it was a much more chill environment to duck into from the Fisher Green, and the art was a hell of a lot more interesting than a bunch of show posters (even very nice ones). But that's not enough to make up for the loss of the Memorial Stadium--to say nothing of the half-dozen or so other odd side stages that have been sloughed off in recent years. Probably it's too costly to go back to doing both the Key and the Stadium (which could hypothetically allow for shuffling acts indoors in case of bad weather), but if the Stadium can't be brought back, Bumbershoot might want to figure out a better way to run things at the Key, whether that's wristbands or re-assessing capacity or something else entirely.