(Check out more Hard NYC photos by Nicky Digital. Flashing Lights photo courtesy of the HiFi Cartel)
Sometimes a show promises to be such a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I motivate myself to board a discount bus to New York City and hope there will be a couch to crash on at the end of the night. Last Saturday was such an occasion, as Hard NYC rolled into New York’s Terminal 5, bringing leading electronic artists Destructo, Jack Beats, Rusko, Major Lazer, and Crookers to the Hell’s Kitchen club. After a rumored show with a similar line-up failed to materialize at the 9:30 Club, this show was a no-brainer.
For the uninitiated, Terminal 5 is a warehouse club similar to 9:30, with larger balconies, another story, and a capacity of around 3,000. For the club to be half-full shortly after Destructo opened the night’s festivities was pretty impressive. Destructo, aka Gary Richards, Hard Fest’s organizer, DJed a pretty straight-forward mix of club, house, and electro tracks, but the crystal clear sound system and psychedelic visuals foreshadowed the aural and visual extravaganza that would follow.
If the occasional hip-hop show can make it feel like 1990, certain electronic shows can make it feel like 1995. The show was an 18 and over affair, but the X’ed out hands probably outnumbered those nursing Red Bulls and vodkas. For a crowd whose only rave experience is probably Netflixing Go, these party kids have the culture down to a T. There were more pacifiers than you could shake a glowstick at, although gloves with Lite Brites on the fingertips were also drawing crowds of glassed-over eyes. They might have been too high to spell “MDMA,” but they have good taste in music and they came to party.
Each act was allotted about an hour, and they stayed remarkably close to that, with seamless transitions between sets. After Destructo, British duo Jack Beats took the stage and brought a serious set of new wave house edits that the crowd ate up like so many colorful pills. They remixed hipster favorites from Passion Pit and Yeah Yeah Yeahs into electro bangers, and even dropped Nadastrom’s remix of A Milli. While a good number of people in the crowd recognized the latter track, I’m sure Google searches for “a milli remix, slowed down, crunk as hell” had an uptick after the show. Jack Beats’ fusion of electronic styles and populist playlist surely gained new fans for the newest member of the Cheap Thrills crew.
Next up was one of the main reasons I ventured to NY: dubstep superstar Rusko, whose remix of Kid Sister’s “Pro Nails” was one of the hottest tracks of 2008. Want to replicate Rusko’s set at home? It’s simple! Throw on his mix for Mishka’s Keep Watch series (of which he played nearly all the tracks), turn off the lights, and crank the bass on your sound system until your neighbors call the cops, your heartbeat goes irregular, and your face melts off. Rusko’s wonky, wobbly tunes had an intensity that you don’t usually get from dance music. The crowd definitely appreciated the slowed down, bass-heavy set, and didn’t need any encouragement from Rusko’s hype man, who proved to be an unnecessary distraction. The 23-year old York-born DJ has energized the dubstep scene with partner-in-crime Caspa, and he’s a must-see for dance fans when he ventures into the US.
While the price of admission was covered after the first three sets, the night was just beginning. Next up was Diplo, performing as Major Lazer, his cartoon-themed dancehall project with Switch (who was predictably absent). The Mad Decent head honcho, in a simple black suit, proceeded to redefine what a DJ show can be with help from a few of his friends. Skerrit Bwoy, equal parts dancer, MC, and hype man, put on a daggering clinic that included ladders, speakers, and the girls from the “Pon de Floor” video, a performance which would probably be illegal in most states. Between the dance antics onstage and the tripped-out visuals behind the booth, Diplo managed to recreate the Major Lazer album in three dimensions. Also joining him were guests from the album: Mr. Lexx, Nina Sky, Ricky Blaze, and indie it-girl Santigold. While the twisted dancehall of “Pon de Floor” and Hold the Line” were on every DJ’s playlist this summer, the biggest hit from the album may be cross-over surprise “Keep it Goin’ Louder,” which proves Diplo and Switch can produce just about anything better than most.
Crookers, the Italian Stallions of electronic music, had the unenviable position of following Diplo and the gang, and no matter how hard they cranked it, they couldn’t recapture the energy the crowd had during the preceding set. If Diplo/Major Lazer had headlined, I’m sure their set would have been better received. With a full length expected later this year, Crookers are still in the running to be the next European dance duo to break through, a la Daft Punk and Justice; their remix of Kid Cudi’s “Day n Nite” is the definitive version of the song, and it’s still heating up dance floors nearly two years after its initial release. Their current single, “Put Your Hand On Me,” featuring Kardinal Offishall and Carlie Marie, has the potential to do the same thing. That is, if the video doesn’t turn too many people off (spoilers ruin it, so if you haven’t seen it, give it a shot… and then surprise your friends).
After the show, I ventured downtown for something that only happens in New York: a team of top DJs turn a dim sum restaurant into a late-night club. For the one year anniversary of Flashing Lights, the monthly party thrown by top selectors DJ Ayres, Nick Catchdubs, and Jubilee, the special guest was Sheffield DJ Toddla T, who brought a mix of hip-hop and reggae to the smoky, crowded dance floor. And if dominating one show wasn’t enough, Diplo even crashed the party. It was the kind of night that reminds me why I occasionally subject myself to 10 hours on a Megabus.