As the stock market plunged and dark skies threatened hail and rain, four girls in day-glo tutus shared a cup of french fries. A guy in a Cookie Monster shirt shook his Cookie Monster backpack. A duo dressed as Mario and Luigi threw their white-gloved hands in the air.
Ten hours of ear-bruising dance music at Thursday’s Identity Festival in Bristow must have formed a protective bubble over Jiffy Lube Live, shielding 12,000 colorfully dressed, predominantly teenage fans from reality’s mounting bummers.
Curated and headlined by Kaskade, a popular American house DJ, the Identity Festival is a package concert tour stuffed with artists performing nothing but electronic dance music — or EDM. The bill spanned three outdoor stages and featured more than two dozen acts, including Rusko, DJ Shadow, Steve Aoki and the Crystal Method.
We’ve seen these sort of multi-act barnstorming tours in other genres before. The Country Throwdown tour recently celebrated two years on the road, while the Warped Tour has mustered America’s punk rock troupes every summer since 1995.
But this is the inaugural tour for Identity, and it comes at a time when EDM may have finally eclipsed its own heyday: the “electronica” boom of the late ’90s that brought us Moby, the Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers and other crossover artists.
For a new generation seeking communion, this was a chance to hear 21st-century music at deafening 21st-century volumes, surrounded by your 21st-century tribe. It was more about the people than the performances.
Fans danced with abandon in various states of over- and underdress. Overdressed: the woman wearing the Optimus Prime helmet as she did the robot in the punishing August sun. Underdressed: girls wearing nothing but face paint, their underwear and leg warmers made of Muppet pelt.
The day’s defining set came from Rusko, the British dubstep producer, who barely touched his mixer during his 80-plus minutes on stage. Instead, he punched the air and flapped his arms, as if trying to flag down an airplane.
As electronic drums chattered, bass lines churned like wet cement before exploding into hyperventilating cadences. Like so much great heavy metal before it, it was idiotic and immersive and impossible to dislike.
Even the uninitiated would have recognized dubstep’s wobbling bass lines from recent tracks by Jay-Z, Kanye West and Britney Spears, all of whom have flirted with the outsize sound lately.
But Rusko ended his set on a much more subdued note, spinning a lilting tune from reggae singer Pato Banton. It was a casual nod to dubstep’s roots. The genre first emerged in London years ago, stemming from the elegant, cavernous bass of dub reggae.
Nowadays, dubstep sounds like the information age belching — as evidenced by an afternoon set from Datsik, a Canadian DJ who served up a slurry of growling bass, gunshot sounds, hip-hop chants, video game bleeps, even the “Inspector Gadget” theme song.
As black beachballs bounced across the crowd like flotsam from some dystopian spring break, a shirtless man waved an eight-foot PVC pipe bristling with little glow sticks, all arranged to look like luminescent cactus quills.
When asked what is was, he replied as if the question was idiotic: “It’s a rave staff!”
Avicci, an unassuming Swede clad in a plaid shirt, countered the chaos of the afternoon with squeaky-clean house tracks that gave fans something to sing along to. At one point, the soul classic “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” floated into the mix, offering a melodic balm to a noisy afternoon. Unfortunately, the rest of Avicci’s set lacked character.
The acts that had the most personality barely had an audience to share it with. New York quintet Hercules and Love Affair took the side stage shortly after 1 p.m., kicking off the day with some neo-disco and some big smiles. When it was over, they basked in the applause — of about 40.
Holy Ghost!, another Big Apple band, followed them, wearing long faces as they tapped out sweet melodies on their analog synthesizers. Berlin’s Modeselektor drew a slightly larger crowd, delivering thick electro beats in the summer heat. Fans crammed beneath a sliver of shade near the stage and threw their hands toward the sun.
Things were far more comfortable by nightfall for Kaskade’s headlining performance. His humdrum house set was both dull and pretty, tying a tidy bow on an exhausting day. Bathed in pastel stage lights, fans broke out an arsenal of glow sticks as smoke machines filled the pavilion with a sweet confectionery smell. Perched on a large stage riser, Kaskade seemed to lord over his audience.
So did Steve Aoki, who appeared on a towering stage composed of the letters that spell his last name. But legendary DJ Shadow took top prop honors, performing on a side stage in a spherical pod straight out of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” His knotty, post-hip-hop was enjoyed by a few hundred faithful who refused to acknowledge the raindrops pouring down from on high.
But when a few thunderclaps dwarfed the bass pumping from the speakers, it was a reminder of the real world outside — one with catastrophic weather and a turbulent economy and gloomy job prospects for teens in fluorescent T-shirts.
Their parents were waiting out in the parking lot to take them there.