SAN JOSE, Calif. With hip-hop and electronic music booming out of five
indoor stages, amusement rides whirring and trapeze artists flying, the all-night
Cyberfest '99, which began Saturday afternoon and lasted until Sunday morning, was a
"rave Disneyland," to use the words of one of the 20,000 attendees.
There were choices to be made, such as whether to see the Chemical Brothers on one of
the main stages early Sunday morning, or see rapper KRS-One and drum & bass artist
Goldie perform back-to-back on another.
About 1,200 people chose the Chemical route during the event at the Santa Clara
County Fairgrounds, and the anticipation was palpable. Shouts of excitement burst from
the crowd when five keyboards and numerous illuminated components were wheeled
into position even though the Chemical Brothers themselves were still a
half-hour away from taking the stage.
When fully assembled, the equipment, surrounded by black light, resembled a spaceship
about to take off. While waiting for the duo to start, fans on the periphery of the hall
formed breakdance circles while about 350 glowstick-wielding ravers surged in front of
the stage to the recorded, synthesized beats.
Without fanfare, Chemical Brothers Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons walked onstage amid
enthusiastic cheers around 1 a.m. A sensual female voice repeating "serenity ... sexuality
... disclosure" and a sample of racing cars led into the electrifying "Hey Boy Hey Girl"
from their recently released third studio album, Surrender. Soon all that was
visible in the hall was a sea of hands praising the Chemical Brothers.
Simons took time out from pounding rhythms on drum pads for "Block Rockin' Beats"
to pump his fists in the air, causing even those at the extremities of the hall to rage in
His partner, Rowlands, was the fulcrum of the beat, apparently determining when the
underlying track, and therefore the rhythm, would change. He repeatedly alerted the
crowd to upcoming changes by raising both arms in the air and opening his mouth,
almost taunting the audience. He would then redirect the momentum and incite the
frenzied crowd to higher and higher states of elation.
Words, images and mathematical equations flashed on white screens behind the
The pair have received plenty of praise for Surrender, a carefully engineered
album they spent more than a year making. It features collaborations with several
well-known singers, including Bernard Sumner of New Order and Noel Gallagher of
Oasis, often in the service of slower-than-usual tracks that some fans said they didn't
expect to hear played live at an early-morning rave.
"It was great how they pulled and pushed the crowd with the beats and built it up to an
explosion, audience and all," said an out-of-breath Dave Kilsheimer, 22, of Santa Clara.
"I was surprised they played 'Out of Control' [the Bernard Sumner track from
Surrender] with the vocals and all, but it had me bouncin' and tweakin'."
A couple of tracks tailed off into low-impact endings, seemingly losing some of the crowd.
But the duo were consistently able to draw the crowd back into the show.
The cherries of cigarettes were the only things visible when the Chemical Brothers
re-emerged for their encore: a version of "The Private Psychedelic Reel," from Dig
Your Own Hole (1997), over which Rowlands and Simons played sounds of a
modem establishing a connection. Rowlands ended the performance by holding a
keyboard to his chest and playing it as if it were a bluegrass washboard.
Another gadget-ridden yet engaging electronica performance at Cyberfest '99 came from
BT (born Brian Transeau). BT, although born and raised in Baltimore, gained his initial
following in Europe before commanding large crowds in the United States. Ceaselessly
jumping up and down as he pounded on a keyboard, creating a strobe-light effect that
flashed on the transfixed crowd, BT seemingly couldn't get enough feedback
from the mass of 1,000 fans; he constantly sought to increase their energy level.
In all, more than 50 performers played between 5 p.m. Saturday and 6 a.m. Sunday. The
20,000 party-goers constituted "the most multiethnic diverse crowd I've ever seen at a
concert that all appears to be without friction," said Marc Allen, 46, who estimated he sold
at least 1,000 lbs. of oranges to them from his fresh-squeezed orange-juice stand. But he
also said he believes electronica "depends on too many gadgets."
Mike Shanks, 40, who described himself as a regular attendee of underground raves,
said Cyberfest '99 was a "commercialized rave, a contradiction of terms" but said he was
excited to hear new live music from the Chemical Brothers.