“I need everybody to make some noise for underground dance music,” yelled one of the two DJs in Flosstradamus. “Make some noise if you’ve been down with Mad Decent since Day One!” added MC and DJ Say Wut.
The commands boomed over a lawn teeming with new-age candy-ravers and Miley Cyrus-inspired twerkers during the course of the Baltimore/D.C. stop of the Mad Decent Block Party tour, which took over Merriweather Post Pavilion on Friday.
It’s been a long time since Grammy nominee Diplo has been “underground” — his Mad Decent label has been around for more than five years — and debating “underground dance music” can be as exhausting these days as trying to define “electronic dance music.” But exalting the underground you belong to is just as alive as it’s ever been. And on Friday night, everyone just wanted to belong.
The nine-hour concert served as an informal fifth anniversary of the annual summer sweatfests.
The inaugural event, with its Mad Decent performers and friends, was under a rented tent on a Philadelphia street. By contrast, Friday’s show was testimony to the label’s growth in the EDM era. Ticket prices have increased — admission to Merriweather Pavilion was $35 — as has the range of artists: As D.C. local acts Starks & Nacey, Obeyah and Ransom played in a side tent, artists on the mainstage included the Canadian duo Zeds Dead, the U.K.’s dubstep mainstay Skream and future-garage poppist SBTRKT. Keeping in line with the mission statement of the headliner, Major Lazer, the music was a grab bag of global pop sounds and fusion dance beats.
Flosstradamus, one of the few acts to return from the 2008 party, inadvertently led a tutorial for the label’s current landscape, cruising through rap throwbacks (“Back That A--- Up” / “Smoke Weed Everyday”) mixed with the trap-style of hip-hop electronic instrumentalism that has them trending. Even SBTRKT — whose live groove often cruises through the mellow pace of space disco, post-dubstep and modern garage — turned to rap.
Sometimes a DJ’s job is giving the people what they want.
Which is maybe why Ace Hood’s “Bugatti” made it into nearly everyone’s rotation, including that of dubstep powerhouse Zeds Dead. Amid calls to “put your Z’s up,” the pair went from dubstep to hardstyle and back into electro-fused trap in the span of minutes, as the crowd tried to keep its dance moves in step.
The night finally returned to its ringleader, Diplo, whose Major Lazer enclave has practically reached celeb status after the “Pon de Floor” success and Diplo’s work with radio mainstays (Usher, Justin Bieber, Chris Brown). The trio of Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire gave a hat-tip to the in-your-face confetti of electro, trap, dubstep, house and neon-tinted rap (via Riff Raff) as they opened their set with their aptly named “Mash-Up the Dance.”
But what followed was reggae, dance-hall and even a bit of soca. And, as always, Major Lazer’s show was as much about the party antics as the music. Walshy Fire and Diplo commanded the stage with what seemed to be a new prop at every turn; Major Lazer flags, cardboard cutouts of Diplo’s head and air guns that shot T-shirts and confetti. With every turn came a command: “Take off your shirts! Move to the right! To the left!” And there followed thousands of 20-somethings who enthusiastically obliged.
Patel is a freelance writer.