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Friday, October 29
In the 1920s, the Roseland Ballroom was known as “the home of refined dancing,” playing host to the likes of Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. These days, Deadmau5, a dude in a giant, lit-up mouse head, plays techno for a few thousand E’d up teenagers. My, how things can change in 90 years.
It’s not even 10 p.m. Friday (night #2 of a Thursday/Friday/Saturday trifecta) and the all-ages line is creeping around two blocks due to an extensive door search, which is like a more aggro TSA checkpoint, except everyone’s off their heads. Pockets are emptied and costumes disassembled in the search for contraband (one of the verboten items is glowsticks, sadly not on moral grounds, but because they’re sold inside). People are yelled at to form proper lines; one young girl is crying after purchasing a phony scalped ticket; an angry mob starts a chant of “kiss our ass” as a stern woman pushes a gang of teens back with a glass door. It’s just that kind of night. If the HARD events skew a little too old for you, then this is tooootally your scene: a Candy Land raver’s delight, like a carnival hosted by Snooki and the Situation for 3,000 of their closest friends.
Erol Alkan, recently voted the U.K.’s #1 DJ, is mystifyingly only third on the bill and therefore on by 10 p.m. It’s been interesting to watch Alkan’s style evolve over the years, from Britpop DJ to early mashup advocate to his more recent brand of pummeling, sliced-up, steroidal beats. He drops a few of his recent collaborations with Boys Noize and some tracks from his young Phantasy Sound label, all to great effect–this isn’t his crowd, but his style is just tough enough for the kids to grab onto.
Afrojack doesn’t get off to a good start by grabbing the mic, killing the music, and earnestly asking the crowd if they’re “ready to party.” Silly question on what, for this crowd, might be the biggest holiday of the year. He strays from Alkan’s pummeling style with a smoother, trancier set of familiar tracks: hit singles from Major Lazer and Kid Cudi, say, along with what sounds like a mashup of “Sandstorm” and Simian/Justice’s “We Are Your Friends.” Basically, it’s an easy set of crowd-pleasing joints aimed squarely at the heart of the crowd, though his constant fist-pumping (yes, really) and faux-conducting come off as somewhat ridiculous after 90 minutes.
But this is really Deadmau5’s mini-festival, and by the time the Niagara Falls native (earth name: Joel Zimmerman) takes the stage at 12:20, the room is absolutely packed and ready to explode. In just a few short years, his profile has skyrocketed to the point where he now gets Grammy nominations and even inspires his own DJ rivals. Tonight, he plays from inside his as-seen-on-MTV cube that lights up and displays constant visuals, just as his high-tech LED mau5head does. The effects ramp up slowly, culminating in a glorious light show involving 40 or so bars of light pulsing behind him; meanwhile, the man with the big digital ears burns through a smooth set of pounding beats, leaning heavy on new material from his upcoming 4×4=12 album–the reverent crowd starts cheering a few bars into every track. After awhile, his productions all start to blend together a bit, but for someone whose face you can’t even see, he puts on quite the audio-visual spectacle, clearly reaching for Daft Punk-ian heights.
Even with Deadmau5’s reign spread over three nights, the place is jammed, resulting in an unfortunately aggressive energy as revelers (some with shirts, some without) literally run on and off the dance floor all night long, knocking each other down/out. Its a sweaty mass akin to the Coachella Mojave tent, only hotter; it doesn’t seem like people would be dressed that differently if it wasn’t Halloween. Basically, it’s like 1995 either never happened or is happening again. The artists deserve better, but hey, that’s what you get in Times Square these days. “Home of refined dancing,” indeed.