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Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival draws David Guetta, Steve Aoki and thousands of partiers to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa

On Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, Neverland came to life.

There in the stadium’s north parking lot, untold thousands of heedless Lost Boys and Girls escaped parental supervision for the day and -- wearing outfits ranging from skimpy Spring Breakers bikinis to otherworldly fever-dream mutations of neon, spandex, feathers and fur -- danced like pirates and fairies in the shadow of a land-locked ship.

Organizers said an estimated 22,000 electronic music fans attended the second annual Sunset Music Festival, making it one of the biggest concert events Tampa will see all year -- and certainly the most colorful and unabashed -- and indisputably the biggest rave in the city’s history.

New music festivals seem to pop up every few months in Tampa Bay, but none do a better job than Sunset of capturing (for better and worse) the surreal spectacle and anything-goes hedonism of, say, Coachella or Bonnaroo. To call it merely a concert misses the point entirely -- it is the only day of the year when Ybor City’s club kids can come out in the daylight, to peacock proudly in various degrees of undress, mindlessly dancing with finger guns blazing in the sky.

So even though Sunset featured a bevy of heavy-hitting hitmakers, including French pop kingmaker David Guetta and Miami party-starter Steve Aoki, that’s not why attendees were shelling out $89 and up at the gate to get in.

The not-so-secret secret of America’s EDM movement is that it doesn’t really matter who’s spinning, just as long as the party don’t stop. So while Guetta may be, by some accounts, the world’s No. 1 DJ, as he took the Sunset mainstage for his headlining set, thousands of fans sprawled outward to catch Los Angeles DJ Dillon Francis lighting up a second, bass-heavy stage with aerialists and fire eaters; and thousands more flocked to a third, pyramid-shaped trance stage to see star German DJ Markus Schulz blending hypnotic, cortex-warping beats and visuals. Every square inch of the festival grounds was a blinking, candy-colored party, whether you could see the DJ you were dancing to or not.

For much of the day, fans didn’t have to go more than a couple of minutes without another rib-rattling drop, that sugar rush of ecstasy when the beat builds to a head and then thuds back down like an A-bomb. (Oh, and speaking of ecstasy? There was plenty of that at Sunset, too. Meandering through the crowd, it wasn’t hard to spot ravers sucking from lipstick-sized inhalers or blowing vapor into someone else’s eyes. It was no coincidence that fans screamed their approval when DJ Danny Avila dropped Cedric GervaisMolly.)

Different DJs took different approaches to riling up their crowds. Guetta blasted fountains of fire and CO2, but he seemingly preferred to riff on extended mixes of his own huge hits, including Play Hard with Ne-Yo and Akon and a crowd-pleasing Turn Me On with Nicki Minaj. Aoki scaled his riser like a conquering Sherpa before busting out crowd-pleasing singles (like his remix of Kid Cudi’s Pursuit of Happiness) and props – a pair of inflatable rafts on which to crowdsurf and a huge sheet cake to hurl into the VIP pit. Morgan Page opted for sleek house and electro-pop jams, including his own finger-popping groove Carry Me and his sugary closer, Gervais’ remix of Lana Del Rey’s Summertime Sadness.

Two of the day’s most anticipated sets -- and its rowdiest, most jam-packed crowds -- came on the mainstage.

Chicago electro-pop trio Krewella brought it hard around dinnertime, opening with a snippet of Europe’s The Final Countdown (sweet Arrested Development tie-in!) before teasing their own Top 40 hit Alive (a song so big that Pegboard Nerds had just dropped their own remix of it 15 minutes earlier on the bass stage). Krewella played several tracks from their forthcoming debut album, including Ring of Fire and Stronger (If We Go Down). “I don’t think we’ve ever played a festival with this big a crowd!” shouted singer-DJ Yasmine Yousaf.

Shortly thereafter, Australia-by-way-of-London duo Knife Party blasted the crowd with a blitzkrieg of their own vicious electro hits, including an epic mix of their spastic, ringtone-biting hit Internet Friends (“You blocked me on Facebook … now you’re going to die”), which led into the spastically crazy Centipede and Sleaze. All of it was delivered with a daisy-cutting backdrop of black, white and red flashing lights.

That said, as the day raged on, the bass stage was the place to be for boundary-pushing party rock. Francis, Crizzly and Chicago duo Flosstradamus more than held their own against Guetta, Aoki and Knife Party, dropping deep, swaggering hip-hop, moombahton and trap mixes from the likes of Miguel, Congorock and Major Lazer -- although Francis wasn’t above infusing Calvin Harris’s pop smash Bounce with a mischievous hint of menace.

This happened to be a watershed week for EDM, with Daft Punk dropping one of the decade's most hyped albums, Random Access Memories, on Tuesday. The album is a sprawling meditation on the history of dance music, though on Saturday, it was difficult to tell whether that’s a topic America’s new-school EDM fans care that much about. (I only heard two remixes of lead single Get Lucky on Saturday, one by Page and one by, of all artists, Knife Party.)

While some DJs spun a few ‘90s tracks for nostalgia’s sake – Danny Avila tossed in a few bars of DMX’s Party Up, and Guetta spliced in a reworking of Blur’s Song 2 -- the Sunset Music Festival was in every other respect all about the present tense, with multitudes of millennials dancing away the past without regard to the future.

Someday, they may just grow up. But here and now, in the heat of the sun and the delirium of the music, that was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Monday, May 27, 2013 10:36am]


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