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Review: Crystal Method, Rusko, Steve Aoki bring the beats to the Identity Festival at Tampa's 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre

25

August

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If someone told you there was an all-day electronic music festival taking place in the middle of a weekday in Tampa, you’d be like: What?

And if the same person told you that the event was taking place at the largest concert venue in Tampa Bay, the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre — not to mention two more stages inside the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds — you’d be like: What?

And if you were then told that the most popular acts at this all-day festival were DJs who’ve largely never sniffed the radio, and who you’ve possibly never even heard of, you’d be like: What?

This is what electronic music does to the casual music fan — it turns what we think we know about charts, sales, airplay, fame, fortune and fashion completely on its head.

But “casual” is not a word you’d use to describe the thousands of fans — almost all of them in their 20s — at Wednesday’s Identity Festival in Tampa. They were an army of face-painted, booty-shaking, neon-twirling, half-naked Energizer Bunnies there to worship at the altar of dubstep DJs like Kaskade, Rusko and Datsik, as well as electronic favorites like Steve Aoki, the Crystal Method (above) and Pretty Lights.

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For the uninitiated, here’s a primer on dubstep, which you could more or less describe as a menacing style of techno set to a hip-hop beat. It’s huge with the kiddies these days, and it’s the reason the Identity Festival formed this year as electronic music’s answer to the Warped Tour.

With three stages — including two that were indoors and air-conditioned, offering sweltering concertgoers a chance to come in and rave away from the heat — it was impossible to see every act on the bill.

Before we talk about the music, though, can we talk about what people wore to the Identity Festival? Items of clothing I saw people (and yes, it was usually more than one person) wearing included, but were by no means limited to:

Glitter, neon war paint, polished silver viking hats, furry He-Man booty shorts, animal tails, glow-in-the-dark hula hoops, face bandanas, pacifiers, shaggy legwarmers, tutus, headresses, Ugg boots, bongo drums, sombreros, wings, NBA throwback jerseys, bikinis, monkey masks, Guy Fawkes masks (is this what the members of Anonymous do in their spare time?), Smurfs backpacks, crowns, LED-fingertipped gloves, shirts with swears on them (!), leggings, pinwheel beanies, actual pinwheels, fishnet stockings, purple afro wigs, “Green Man” bodysuits, camouflage overalls, Transformers masks, promotional Our Idiot Brother sunglasses, “Cool story bro” tank tops, go-go skirts, ties as headbands, glue-on face jewels, jorts, underwear as outerwear, outerwear as underwear (probably), bunny ears, cat ears, devil horns, militariana, Mickey Mouse gloves and 3-D glasses. (Somehow, we found that last one most perplexing of all.)

But if you didn’t have any of these things, you didn’t need to worry. All you had to do was throw on the skimpiest thing you own that you could see yourself wearing outside the house. Bonus points if it was neon.

Anyway, on to the music. It’s tough for a non-DJ to review such a DJ-heavy show, because you’re always automatically drawn to the acts that even halfway resemble rock bands. For example, I totally loved the Crystal Method, possibly because they played one of the only techno songs I actually know (Busy Child), and possibly because it was so awesome getting blasted in the face with a CO2 cannon from 20 feet away during their set.

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(Those fretboard-looking thingies you see in the photos are apparently some sort of new instrument the band has been teasing on Facebook. It looked pretty wild, but I never was totally clear on exactly what it did.)

I also thoroughly enjoyed Holy Ghost!, whose Do It Again and I Will Come Back are two of my favorite electronic-oriented songs of the past few years. Their stylish, DFA-influenced twist on Duran Duran and Depeche Mode was killer groove fodder.

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(You can keep the Disco Biscuits, though — far too jam-bandy for my tastes.)

But when Datsik came onstage, it was obvious I was in the minority. The Canadian dubstep superstar spawned the first truly huge crowd of the day, a throbbing, heedless mass of bikini babs and shirtless brahs dying to mack to his every ominous move. His growling beats thundered through the Expo Hall, prompting waves of we’re-not-worthy fist-pumps toward the stage.

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Outdoors, British DJ Rusko drew an even bigger, more enthusiastic crowd to the mainstage. His sound was poppier, more remixy, even a little tongue-in-cheek jokey. It was the sort of music you want to hear playing at a party, not necessarily a grimy dubstep club (although there were a lot of obvious clubgoers singing along to his hit Everyday).

There were other highlights. One of the more traditional DJs on the bill, Steve Aoki, also drew a big crowd for his evening set. A few hours earlier, he popped out among the masses to snap a few photos with fans.

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It looked like he wanted to ride his teeny lil’ Mongoose bike through the festival grounds, but security wouldn’t let him. He looked like he was cool with it.

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Two early acts showcased wild talent — Afrobeta, a Miami duo that specializes in spazzed-out, booty-wagging '80s synth-funk; and Hercules and Love Affair, who used a trio of singers to pack as much soul as possible into glammy '70s disco grooves. And as the sun went down, dubstep/hip-hop DJ and producer Pretty Lights brought some of the edge of the indoor venues out to the mainstage.

Not gonna lie, I had to duck out before the two headliners, Kaskade and DJ Shadow. What is this, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Cut me some slack.

But I did learn a thing or two about dubstep and techno music on Wednesday. Electronic music constantly bills itself as a source of uncontrollable catharsis — you know, Dance Yrself Clean, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, all that. And an event like Identity does seem to serve as a release — from a clueless society, from mainstream music, from “normal” rules of fashion. It works because every few bars the music crescendos to a new “Everybody go crazy!” moment, which is exactly what everyone is looking for — a new reason to dance. If Identity wants to become electronic music’s answer to the Warped Tour, based on what I saw Wednesday, I think they may just succeed.

At this point, you’re probably all like: What?

Well, you sort of had to be there to understand. But you weren’t, and no offense, but I think the people who were there wanted it that way. They wanted Identity all to themselves.

— Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2011 12:45am]

    

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