Only a few songs into a sold-out performance at U Street Music Hall, Josh Young, one half of the electronic beatmaking duo Flosstradamus, hopped on the microphone and shouted, “It feels like a house party in here!” Beneath four laser beams stretched out across the dance floor, a sea of flat-brimmed baseball caps bobbed madly in approval. If this had been an actual house party, all the china would have been smashed, cops would be at the door, and someone’s parents would have been furious upon returning home.
But Young was right. The packed basement venue, dripping with sweaty condensation, had an air of informal recklessness that reeked of homemade dance parties. Flosstradamus put together a relentless, playful set that was equal parts hip-hop and electronic trap, or “electro-trap,” the latest iteration of club music to infiltrate the American dance music scene.
The term “trap” in electronic music takes its name from trap music in hip-hop, a style of Southern rap that traces its roots to “traps,” or drug-dealing spots. If you’ve used the Internet in the past couple of months, you’ve probably encountered trap music in passing in the form of electronic producer Baauer’s “Harlem Shake.” That became an inescapable viral smash, currently sits at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and set off an astounding flurry of YouTube videos, each based on some set of spastic dance moves set to the song.
The song and the meme take their name from a dance that was popularized in Upper Manhattan more than a decade ago. Shortly after the new “Harlem Shake” took hold, another video began making the rounds — “Harlem Reacts to ‘Harlem Shake’ Videos.” In this clip, puzzled Harlem residents are shown what the name “Harlem Shake” has come to describe and, in one form or another, note that this new dance is not what was being done back in 2001. It’s just as likely that if Baauer’s song was played for some residents of Atlanta, they’d say it isn’t trap music, either.
But when Flosstradamus (which includes Curt Cameruci) dropped “Harlem Shake” into its set Tuesday night, spastic dancing ensued. The electronic trap coming from the stage was like a caricature of its Southern ancestor — exaggerated and cartoony. The booming bass and 808 drum-machine high-hats that are staples of Southern hip-hop production blended with synth sounds often heard in house and trance as the duo weaved seamlessly between rap songs and dance instrumentals.
At no point did the melding of genres feel forced. Rhythmic diversity, startling drops and known hip-hop anthems kept the set engaging and the energy high.
At a few points, Flosstradamus broke the age-old DJ rule of staying out of the red; the volume ran hot through the system, and some tracks suffered from heavy digital distortion. At other points the track selection felt cheap, with predictable songs and few surprises. But neither of these faults weighed too heavily on the performance. After all, at any good house party, people want to hear what they know, and nobody really cares if the speakers blow out.
Yenigun is a freelance writer.