Crush Music Festival Arizona Event Center 2/15/14
Like any good Valentine's Day date, the crowd at Crush Music Festival on Saturday night was hot, wet, and ready for action.
Young ravers, EDM fans, and party monsters packed themselves into a sold-out Arizona Event Center in Mesa for the sixth edition of the annual dance music event, which featured a wall-to-wall crowd pulling a major rager amid an ultra-sweaty setting as close to a dozen tastemaking DJs performed on two stages.
Upon arriving at about 9 p.m., there were lines to get in, but it wasn't unbearable and things seemed to go fairly fast. One of the first things I noticed was the friendliness of the staff and the good vibe over the crowd. Everyone from the girls working the glowing vendor booths to the sound guys were all pleasant, easy to talk to, and seemed relatively happy to be there.
It was also hard not to notice the unusual-looking and gigantic inflatable spikes and worm-like decorations -- local company Wonderland Productions -- that adorned the ceiling and added a unique feel to the festival.
While I haven't been to a Crush Fest since Dada Life headlined in 2011 at a warehouse in downtown Phoenix, I can't say much sticks out in my mind other than memories of strobe lights, the banging bass from "Happy Violence," and missing the last light rail that went to Tempe.
This year's festival was far more memorable.
It wasn't without a few downers, however few there were. Specifically, there were really only two things: the heat and the packed crowd near the main stage. The former is sort of inevitable, given the sheer amount of sweaty bodies in attendance. There was literally a thick mugginess to the air inside the Arizona Event Center all evening that just kind of smacked you in the face when you entered, especially in the mainstage room, and it's all people were talking about towards the end of the night.
At the same time, there hasn't ever been to rave that didn't get a little warm and once you became acclimated to the swelter, it tended not to be such a big deal. And the excitement of seeing all the DJs headlining the Crush Fest (divided between two stages) probably helped with that.
Unfortunately, as is true for most festivals, it's nearly impossible to see every single act that's booked. Luckily, I was able to catch some of must-see DJs that I included in my Crush Fest preview, as well as some bonus artists.
While I caught glimpses of almost all of the acts featured, I really paid attention to ill.Gates, Henry Fong, Dirtyphonics, and DVBBS. And although I honestly enjoyed all of the sets I watched, I have to say that Dirtyphonics totally killed it, hands down.
Their energy was so intense that it's safe to say that their set basically ear fucked the shit out of the crowd. Not to mention that they endured the swamp-like feeling in the mainstage area.
As for ill.Gates' performance, the Toronto-based artist slowly mixed into the CDJs and it took him a few minutes to fully transition from downtempo to what would be a pretty bass-heavy set.
He changed up the vibe, however, with a fat bass track and remix of Eminem's "My Name Is," as part of an overall ebb and flow to things, going between long builds with heavy bass lines that led into intense drops and faster, louder dubstep and drum 'n' bass. He'd also occasionally cut off into a hip-hop track, throwing the crowd off -- in a good way. I personally like when DJs mix it up and give the crowd time to breath between high-energy tracks. I think this "marathon, not a race" approach keeps people from getting worn out too quickly.
It's something that ill.Gates agreed with when I spoke to him afterwards. He talked about how he likes to change things up and wants each song to sound naturally different, something that "just kind of happens" for him due the amount of collaborations he does with different MCs.
"I listen to a lot of rap music. Today I went easy on it because these kids want bass and raging. So I didn't really play too much vocal stuff today. I try to keep the sets different each night," he says. "Those kids were up for it, they were just ready. I get to have the most fun ever because these awesome people buy tickets and dance to my music, and tell their friends about it. It's great. It's a blessing and something I'm never going to take for granted."
ill.Gates is currently on a tour with fellow Crush Fest performers Excision and Dirtyphonics. He's also a regular performer at Burning Man and Shambala and will be playing at Walkarusa in June. He noted that this year he would be playing other festivals. And will Bonnaroo be one of 'em? "We'll see," he says. "We'll see."
As ill.Gates gave high-fives as he left the stage, house music rising star Henry Fong was busy setting up. By now, the crowd had doubled. He opened with a remix of his latest release "Stand Up." his set was strong and packed with remixes of dance music favorites like "Cinema" by Skrillex, "Pyramid Scheme" by Mat Zo, "Yee" by Deorro and his original track with MakJ, "Encore." Fong's set was surprisingly full of almost a dozen remixes of classic hip-hop and rap remixes like "Jump Around" and "California Love," and while I'm not the biggest hip-hop fan, the crowd was loving it.
In an interview after the show, Fong described the crowd as "really fucking rowdy."
I also found out that Fong recently spent some time in Australia, working on new music with some major Aussie DJs/ producers.
"I just finished-up a track with one of my Australian buddies, Reece Low, we made this big electro Melbourne-bounce track, I'm really looking forward to that one. I was also in the studio with Tommy Trash the other day, so we'll see what happens with that" says Fong.
As Fong wrapped-up, I headed over to the "X-Rated Love" mainstage where Dirtyphonics had just started playing. As much as I wanted to check this stage out earlier in the night, I was half-dreading the experience. Like I said before, the main stage area was packed, and a solid 15 degrees hotter than the rest of the vicinity.
Dirtyphonics played a loud, hard set. Two of the three members, Charly and Pitchin, were present for the DJ set, the third member, Pho, was at the studio working on their upcoming EP.
The duo dropped bass track after bass track. They definitely did not care if they exhausted the crowd. But that's what everyone seemed to want. Go hard or go home, as they say.
Strobe lights and lasers shook the crowds vision as Charly and Pitchin took turns hyping the crowd by simultaneously jumping out in front of the DJ booth and speaking to the crowd via microphone, or jumping up onto the DJ decks, twirling towels over their heads. Their set was packed with drum n bass, dubstep, glitch and even some trap. Dirtyphonics even dropped their famous remix of "Seven Nation Army" along with new music like their recent release "Los Angeles."
"This is a big fucking sweat box right now," Charly yelled to the crowd mid-set. And the audience threw topless water bottles around like confetti as CO2 blasted from the mainstage.
After the show I asked Pitchin' what he thought of Phoenix and his answer was simple. "Phoenix is hot as fuck" he says. The DJ duo laughed, as they were soaked after their set and joked about how they looked at themselves when they got off stage and literally felt like they took a shower with all of their clothes on.
"It's probably about 110 degrees on the dance floor, but everyone is still raging," Charly says.
Charly and Pitchin had nothing but positive things to say about their tour with Excision and Ill Gates. "There's a great synergy between all of us. We spend the day together, we play the show, then we head back to the bus, and play music together," explained Charly. The act recently went from four members to three, after one of the founding members, Thomas, decided to pursue a career as a painter.
Pitchin and Charly explain that there are no hard feelings surrounding the split, it was simply Thomas' time to do something new.
"I met him probably 15 years ago, we started the band together, he's always been an artist and kind of multi-tasking a bunch of stuff at the same time. It was just about time for him to switch careers and pursue one of his other dreams," said Charly.
"And the thing about Thomas," Pitchin adds, "Is that he switched everything. He moved from Paris, he changed all of his life.When he does something, he's 100 percent in it. He's like 'Okay, I did this for 10 years. Check. What's the next step?' We are absolutely 100 percent supporting him with what he's doing."
Third member Pho is at the studio in Paris working on the band latest EP to be released through Dim Mak this year.
"We did a lot of remixes last year -- Linkin Park, Kaskade, Borgore -- so it was about time for us to start working on our own material again," says Charly.
Back at "Love is a Battleground," one of the closing headliners, DVBBS (consisting of brothers Chris and Alex Andre) had started. Andre starting the show by grabbing a microphone and hyping the crowd, as he tossed water bottles out to an exhausted audience.
They played remixes and originals like "She Wolf" and their gold record track, "Tsunami." Andre alternated from behind the decks to engaging with the crowd. He jumped it at one point and crowd surfed. Some of his punk rock roots showing.
DVBBS gave an overall banging performance, but Andre noted during an interview that fans can expect to see more variety from the DJs in 2014.
"We're playing a lot of big shows and big festivals, we just like those big, heavy tracks," said Andre. But he noted that the duo is working on a lot of new music, specifically some collaborations.
"One [collaboration] we're really excited about -- I can't say who yet, but he's one of our biggest role models -- we are going to be premiering a tack with him at Ultra this year."
When asked who he was, Andre only had hints and hype to offer.
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"He's Dutch, I'll tell you that," he says. "We have a collaboration we've been working on with him for about six months. We co-produced it and I also sing on it. It's one of the first tracks that I sing on that we're going to premiere. It's more melodic and progressive. The last three or four tracks have been really hard bangers, so it's nice to be like, 'Alright guys, so you want to hear some melodic stuff?' It's nice to show people what we can do at our roots, with nice, pretty sounding music."