Sound Wave Music Festival & Red Bull Thre3style Massive: Calvin Harris,
Z-Trip, Switch, Adventure Club, Crizzly, and Others at Big Surf | 9/29/12
The third time was most definitely the charm for the Sound Wave Music Festival.
The inaugural edition of the electronic dance music massive back in April 2011 was plagued by unseasonably chilly rain that kept attendance woefully low. Six months later, club and concert promoter Steve LeVine rebounded with a second Sound Wave that featured bigger crowds and a better line-up of performers.
Last night's version, however, was a far more spectacular affair than its predecessors, boasting an enormous crowd, an amazing array of electronica artists and DJs, epic sets, and a certain fantastical aura and joie de vivre that perfectly captured the energy and effusiveness of the current EDM zeitgeist.
Needless to say, it was arguably the biggest electronic music extravaganza in Arizona history.
LeVine couldn't have picked a more perfect weekend to stage the event, as the summer temps have waned enough for the audience to enjoy a daylong audio orgy outdoors without risking heatstroke. It was certainly a big weekend for high-profile concerts - what with Desert Uprising going on over in the West Valley, Bieber Fever sweeping through Glendale, and the Tempe Rock Star Festival taking over Sail Inn.
He also gave local dance music fiends enough time to recover from Identity Festival tour stop last month at Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion. While the Live Nation-promoted EDM fest may have offered more high-profile names (such as Bingo Players and Eric Prydz), the mid-August heat seemed to kill off everyone's enthusiasm and energy by the end of the night.
Plus, Sound Wave's line-up was much more diverse and thrilling than its more corporate competitor. And its crowd was far more energetic and unhinged.
If you had been in the thick of the audience at Sound Wave, you would've witnessed a nonstop lightstorm of laser beams and spotlights piercing the air as beats and booms thundered from three different stages as relentless onslaught of color and sound unfolded for 10 hours straight.
A crowd of thousands -- including countless ladies sporting tutus, bikini tops, and faux spectacles (the preferred ensemble for a majority of females at Sound Wave) -- almost filled the entirety of Big Surf's Waikiki Beach wave pool, which is emptied for each edition of Sound Wave, becoming a tempestuous hurly burly of movement and dancing, as an unending throng dressed in neon clothing whirled glowing objects as EDM superstars whipped everyone into an absolute fervor with their tracks.
It seems absolutely fitting that a full moon hung overhead and providing its own illumination, as Sound Wave attendees got plenty loony and collectively lost their shit as each DJ unleashed pure audio dynamite on their asses.
Conversely, the activity over at the area occupied by the Red Bull Thre3style Massive, essentially a festival within a festival, ultra-talented turntablists, scratch masters, and boss beat-jugglers instigated a fly dance party that offered an alternative to the Waikiki stage's offerings.
If artists like the crown prince of crunkstep Crizzly (who whipped people into an ginormous frenzy by dropping his hip-hop-laced hybridizations and brain-bending bass to a flurry of psychedelic visuals) or the more subdued sounds of Seven Lions (a creator of low-end masterpieces that alternated between dubstep fury and the lushness of trance), the Thre3style stage offered a different perspective.
To wit: Former Valley residents Fashen and D-JR proved why they were the onetime kings of the Scottsdale club scene by blasting out bombastic rock, hip-hop, and electro mashups simultaneously on two sets of turntables.
The follow-up was just as fun as Australian street performer Dub FX showed off his mad skills at reggae lyricism backed by kinky bass and accompaniment by the sunny vocals of indie chanteuse Flower Fairy.
Then it was time for the duo of Theodore Paul Nelson and Michael Vincent Patrick, better known as Designer Drugs to work their magic on the Thre3style audience with industrial-tinged party house mixes infused with potent electro artistry and brutal beat work. Nelson apparently had more than a few of the stage's namesake energy drinks, as he frequently came from behind the mixers to prance around and hype everyone up.
Britain's DJ Switch stayed put behind the controls during his set, however, choosing to put all his energy into raining down waves of phenomenally kinky and devious beats that were manically mangled and accented by a scratch storm on the record decks. He didn't even get distracted when one bikini-clad babe -- who was invited onstage for an impromptu go-go girl session -- tripped and took a header into one of the two DJ stands. (She shook it off was none the worse for wear, however.)
Back at Waikiki Beach, the professional go-go girls were far more sure-footed as they furiously shook their moneymakers as Leighton James and Christian Srigley were killing it during a set by their act Adventure Club. Thousands got to partake in their addiction "neo-Dubstep" sounds, which alternated warbling wub-wub with pop song remixing and hints of italo disco and house music perversion.
The pinnacle of the evening, however, came when Calvin Harris spent more than an enthralling everyone packed into the erstwhile wave pool with a stream of his biggest songs. One of the globe's most popular EDM talents -- as evidenced by worldwide following, sold out gigs, and a recent win at the VMA's -- the Scottish-born superstar had thousands in the palm of his hand with each hit that came over the sound system.
You could barely hear the recorded lyrics of such tracks as "Feel So Close" and "Let's Go" as everyone sang along in unison. In a nice touch, the Sound Wave staff tossed out several dozen large balloons from the stage, which bounced to and fro and were illuminated by the lights and lasers as Harris' hits hypnotized the crowd.
Meanwhile, Thre3style headliner Z-Trip was wowing his hometown (yet again) with his typically impressive menu of masterful mashups. Despite being a member of the middle-age brigade, the 40-year-old has lost none of his luster over the decades and illustrated how he can make any combination of disparate songs sound phenomenal. (Eat your heart out Girl Talk.)
For instance, he effortlessly moved between a dubstep-drenched version of Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," and the riff-heavy portion of Metallica's "One," a feat matched by his blend of LMFAO, Guns 'n' Roses "Sweet Child of Mine," and Stevie Wonder's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)."
After some sick scratching along to Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," Z-Trip (a.k.a. Zach Sciacca) provided one of the highlights of the entire festival when he had a surprise for the crowd. "Alright y'all, I got a little special something I want to drop on you guys," he teased before bringing out a special quest: Talib Kweli.
The legendary Brooklyn rapper (and onetime member of Blackstar) came out and accompanied Z-Trip on the lyrical tip. As Sciacca made the turntables his bitch and Kweli wielded the mic like a weapon, the two spent the last half of the set performing some of the rappers signature songs, such as "Gutter Rainbows" and "Get By." Hell, they even busted out with a few Blackstar tracks to boot.
At one point, I got a chance to speak with D-JR while he was hanging out after his aforementioned gig on the Thre3style stage and enjoying the rest of Sound Wave. And he told me something that succinctly illustrated the diversity of music that was on tap at the festival.
The former Phoenician, who moved to California last year, mentioned that L.A. scene is currently gripped with EDM fever, leaving pure DJs such as himself scrambling for gigs. (Hence the reason why he's making bank performing outside of the SoCal club circuit).
"It seems like promoters in L.A. are more into EDM than anything else," D-JR says. "So any event like this where you can also get good, old school DJ shit is cool."
Critic's Notebook: Last Night: Sound Wave Music Festival & Red Bull Thre3style Massive: Calvin Harris, Z-Trip, Switch, Adventure Club, Crizzly, and Others at Big Surf Personal Bias: I've never spun glowsticks in my life The Crowd: EDM junkies, hot girls in skimpy neon outfits, bare-chested bros, people in weird costumes, dudes in banana hammocks (and little else), and rave kids by the carload. Overheard: "Trance is a bit more laidback and dubstep is pretty fucking harsh." Random Notebook Dump: So that's what it looks like when 2,000 people throw up their fists in unison. One More Thing: Good thing no one got too rowdy, lest they tempt the wrath of SLE's robot, which stomped around the event posing for photographs.