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Review: Zedd, Illenium turn up the heat on Day 1 of Tampa's Sunset Music Festival

British DJ Rusko performs on Day 1 of the Sunset Music Festival on May 25, 2019 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. (JAY CRIDLIN | Times)
Published May 26

If the rise of electronic dance music in America goes down as one of the defining musical movements of the 2010s, the history books ought to have a lot to say about Zedd.

The Grammy-winning Russian-German DJ closed out night one of a typically colorful and carnivalesque Sunset Music Festival Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, entertaining upwards of 25,000 costumed, bodysuited and barely clothed fans in Tampa with one of the decade's biggest collection of electro-pop singles.

Did it make for good DJing? Discerning EDM fans' mileage may vary, but really, who goes to Sunset for the tunes? Isn't the festival more about peacocking your proudest in spreadable glitter and stick-on body jewels, unicorn horns and glow-in-the-dark bandana masks? Does the music even matter anymore?

MORE: Sunset Music Festival after-parties, pool parties, surprise guests and bonus EDM shows

Either way, Zedd's still got a doctorate in writing songs that shake tail feathers. Mixed in among his own many sing-along singles -- Stay, Break Free, I Want You To Know, The Middle and so on – was a bonkers blend of basic bops, from Cardi B's Bodak Yellow to Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance With Somebody to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody (the slow parts, no less!). It was DJing at its most elemental, the actual jockeying of discs into an all-killer-no-filler playlist.

Some more progressive-minded EDM fans craving more than a Top 40 countdown might've meandered over to British producers Flux Pavilion at the bass-heavy Eclipse Stage or Chris Lake at the house-centric Horizon Stage. But a good chunk of them rightfully made it back by the end, as Zedd's soaring Stay the Night and Clarity soundtracked a blitzkrieg of fireworks overhead.

No DJ on Saturday could come close to matching Zedd's parade of hummable singles. But one guy who did stand out was Denver DJ Illenium, who was denied a main stage set last year when half of Sunset was canceled due to rain that never materialized.

FROM 2018: Why Tampa's Sunset Music Festival was rained out on a sunny day

Illenium returned with a headline-quality set on Saturday, bouncing atop his own personal riser at the front of the stage. Before a crowd heavy on fans in Illenium gear or toting Illenium totems, he mixed atmospheric instrumentals with glitched-out beats and even a few songs' worth of live electric guitar. It all amplified the the liveness on songs both known (Halsey's Without Me, Porter Robinson's Divinity) and unknown, closing with an unreleased Chainsmokers collaboration, possibly titled Take Away, that could have crossover potential.

With temperatures in the '90s on Saturday, officials saw an uptick in fans seeking medical treatment. Tampa Fire Rescue handled 91 calls for service on site, up from 66 on last year's first day, with 30 fans taken to local hospitals for non-life-threatening concerns. Many of them were related to the heat, said Tampa Police spokeman Eddy Durkin.

Thirteen fans were arrested on felony drug charges, down from 18 last year. There were no misdemeanor arrests, compared to 16 in 2018.

Sunday's conclusion to SMF brings a collaboration between Skrillex and Boys Noize, plus Alison Wonderland, Kaskade, Zeds Dead and many more. Click here for Sunday's schedule and set times. And click here for all the info on this year's after parties.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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