By Zachary Swickey
DALLAS – In the past year electronic dance music has wiggled its way back into the mainstream in a way it hasn’t done since the mid-90’s enthusiasm for hard-banging house acts like the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers, who have both weathered changing musical trends and are still around today. What better time than now for the inaugural run of a new touring digital music festival?
Case-in-point, the Identity Festival. “Grandfathered” by EDM legends Kaskade and Steve Aoki, who helped pick out the jaw-dropping lineup, Identity has been sweeping the U.S. with rotating slots featuring the likes of White Shadow, Holy Ghost, Datsik, the Disco Biscuits, Rusko, DJ Shadow, Skrillex, Pretty Lights and, of course, Kaskade and Aoki themselves at select spots.
Things were off to a slow start at the Dallas stop on Sunday, considering the temperature was a mild 107 degrees. Heading to the main stage, I caught the wild stylings of Afrobeta – a guy/girl duo who could resemble Nelly Furtado’s hot younger sister and Paul Giamatti’s sequin-emblazoned cousin. Concocting pop music with some banging low-end bass, the crowd ate up everything Afro served – including a dubstep version of the “Looney Tunes” theme song and a complete pop reinvention of Nirvana’s “Lithium.”
Next up was the more subdued Holy Ghost – an electropop duo who already have our attention – bringing with them a full backing band (something scarce on this DJ-friendly tour) to flesh out their disco sounds. “Do It Again” and “Hold On” were crowd favorites that helped inject some energy into the set as the fans were already melting in the early afternoon. Frontman Alex Frankel provided additional percussion on a few tracks, which helped give the easy-going show a little extra bang.
Frankel sympathized over the heat and even tossed me what is possibly the only drum stick that was thrown out at the whole festival – it would’ve made a quality prison shank too as he had snapped it in half while rockin’ out.
There were plenty of “Are you serious!?” moments when lamenting over the set times. The fact that digital music legends the Crystal Method were playing in the mid-afternoon was one of those occasions. Armed with a double bass/keyboard/turntable, Scott Kirkland and his digital partner, Ken Jordan, had no qualms with it, and the crowd clearly respected the scene’s elders. A beat that included a sample of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” elicited a brief-but-enthusiastic sing-a-long. Twin air cannons mounted on the front of their DJ rig supplied much-needed air blowing onto the sweat-soaked crowd. It’s worth nothing, Method were the only artists I experienced dousing the crowd to keep us cool. “Busy Child” had one of the best crowd responses of anything played by anyone for the entire day. Legends indeed!
As the sun faded, the young and spry Datsik, who I admittedly knew little about, did me the honor of giving me a full body massage via the earth-pounding bass that rattled my bones throughout this set. I heard a lot of other people, none of whom seemed aware of his prowess either, repeatedly shouting “Holy s**t!” (in a joyous fashion) as he kept the crowd going harder and faster. Steve Aoki briefly sprung up beside him to give an unofficial sign of approval.
Closing the night was hot on-the-rise Pretty Lights, who has catapulted to fame in just a few short years thanks to his vast and excellent catalog being available on his website for free (his fine remixing skills don’t hurt either). Glowing LED columns resembling a level from Tetris provided some wild visuals. His magical mash-up of Nirvana’s “All Apolgies,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” and Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place” was one of the strangest, but most brilliant musical moments of the evening. Although, his digi-soaked rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Time” drew a raucous applause as well. He may not have the legendary background of DJ Shadow or the Crystal Method, but Pretty Lights did prove he is a headlining-worthy artist who can keep several thousand folks on their feet despite a 10-hour day in the sweltering heat.