Review: Jack U, the Chainsmokers bring 2016 Sunset Music Festival to an epic finish
Thirty thousand costumed ravers going nuts outside an NFL stadium sounds like more than just a warmup party.
But in effect, that's how you could look at Day 1 of the 2016 Sunset Music Featival in Tampa. No disrespect to Hardwell, Galantis or the rest of Saturday's DJs, but Sunday's closing day was overloaded with EDM talent on all three stages outside Raymond James Stadium, giving SMF perhaps its most epic closing day yet.
Headlining the main stage were two of America's most influential electronic producers, with a slew of Grammys and Top 10 singles between them: Skrillex and Diplo, performing collaboratively as Jack U.
“Florida, are you ready to party with Jack U?” Diplo asked the overheated, over-amped masses sprawling out from the main stage.
Were they ever. Skrillex and Diplo both have Florida roots, and both have played Tampa on their own – Skrillex even headlined SMF ’15 – but this was their Tampa debut of Jack U, giving the city a primo look at the super-producers’ Mad Hatter chemistry and acid-fried bass madness.
Backed by fireworks and hallucinatory LED graphics, Skrillex and Diplo took turns manning the boards and hyping the crowd, weaving squelchy mixes of hip-hop hits (Drake and Future’s Jumpman, Ty Dolla Sign’s Blasé, Migos' Look At My Dab) alongside Jack U originals (the righteous, whomping Febreze; the celebratory Justin Bieber anthem Where Are U Now) and twisted spins on EDM chart-topppers (Nero’s Promises, Avicii’s Levels, Calvin Harris’ Summer).
Florida boy that he is, Diplo even spun Tampa-raised Khia’s My Neck, My Back (Lick It) -- though whether this was a deliberate salute to the home crowd or just a song that suited Jack U's unrepentant style, we'll never know.
It was furious fun, delivered with throttling energy, a fair dose of levity (at one point, Diplo instructed the crowd to do jumping jacks) and glimmers of their collaborative genius -- such as when they combined two of their biggest individual hits, Skrillex’s Bangarang and Major Lazer’s Lean On, into one magnificent mash-up.
“This is your song, people,” Skrillex shouted as green fireworks shot off on Bangarang’s electrifying drop.
Preceding Jack U on the main stage were New York duo the Chainsmokers, who have the biggest dance single of 2016 in Don’t Let Me Down. This was Alex Pall and Drew Taggart’s third straight Sunset, but their first as fixtures in Billboard's Top 10.
“We’ve been waiting all year for this show!” Pall yelled.
The duo threw plenty of crowd-pleasers (Desiigner’s Panda, Kanye West’s Love Lockdown) into a set that emphasized big, anthemic builds and blasts of positivity. This was particularly true of sparse, downtempo originals like Don’t Let Me Down and Roses, which showcased their surprising evolution from 2014, when their viral hit Selfie threatened to brand them a novelty act for life.
“Because I f---ing love Tampa," Taggart said, "my manager’s gonna be pissed, but f--- it, we’re gonna play some new Chainsmokers s--- anyway." Then he dropped the unreleased hit-in-waiting Closer, which will be a Song of Summer contender the instant they unleash it.
Plenty of fast-rising talent joined Jack U and the Chainsmokers on the main stage – but none rolled with a crew like Marshmello.
Countless fans came in costume and with custom totems for the masked and anonymous DJ, whose early-evening set blended progressive house, pop, rap and mainstream EDM in unexpected ways – Fetty Wap’s Trap Queen into Ookay’s Thief, Drake’s Hotline Bling into a synthy mix of Bastille’s Pompeii, even Adele’s Hello (yes, really) into his own Keep It Mello. Somehow, all of it felt cohesive -- especially since every build and drop just destroyed, sending the frenzied crowd into chaos. The dozens of fans who lugged heavy Marshmello helmets and totems to Sunset didn’t regret it.
Jauz could’ve played a top-tier slot at the bass-friendlier eclipse stage on Saturday, but instead blasted the main stage with deep, throbbing trap and bass music from the likes of A$AP Ferg and O.T. Genasis. But he couldn’t resist taking things seriously old school at the end, spinning the Village People’s YMCA near the end of his set.
And as the only woman on the main stage at SMF, Australian tastemaker Anna Lunoe brought an impeccable selection of trans-continental deep cuts and mixes that bucked the fest’s overall bro-core sensibilities (she was, for example, the only DJ I heard all weekend who spun aeven one song from Beyonce’s Lemonade).
Because the main stage lineup was so stacked, I mostly skipped the other two stages on Sunday, which meant I missed the bulk of sets by Sam Feldt, Thomas Jack, Borgore, Zomboy, Bro Safari, Snails and others. It speaks to the strength of Sunday's bill that any of those acts could’ve played the main stage, too -- especially on Saturday.
Maybe next year, organizers will spread the talent more evenly over Sunset's two days. Or heck, maybe they'll finally bump it up to three. I can think of 30,000 EDM fans who wouldn't complain.
-- Jay Cridlin