Saturday, January 21
Better than: Sensory deprivation.
Anthropologically it was worth it; logistically a lot less so. Arriving to Lavo, on East 58th Street, at 11:45 on Saturday night is risky enough—it’s a high-end bottle-service superclub, the kind dance snobs tend to avoid on principle. This past Saturday the mob was especially dense for the set by the young Swede super-house sensation Avicii, who’s touring behind the laudable “House for Hunger” campaign; his management hosted a dinner beforehand across the street at Tao, which shares ownership with Lavo. His ties with David Guetta (whose last album Avicii appeared on) and the general excitement over dance music hitting the mainstream give him a lot of momentum.
Avicii’s also got hits, and sometimes they’re pretty good. The best is one he played on Saturday—something I’d been hearing around forever, always kind of liking, but never following up on—“My Feelings For You,” a collaboration with Sebastien Drums. I remedied that lapse in knowledge during his set with my phone. It was one of the few times during the night when my fascination with what I was watching was matched by the music being played.
If Avicii is being sold as the next wave of nu-rave (and he is), then his iteration of it, at least on this night, resembled nothing so much as the exact same mainstream bottle-service house chug that’s been going on in New York at least since I got here eleven years ago—some “nu.” Yet there was something charged about the air, even if I deplored the music—I think there were maybe five tracks I liked in total. (My guest and I left after two hours of Avicii’s set, having long since gotten the point.)
The big marker of nu-rave is that its crowd is very young. Saturday’s crowd wasn’t—it was upscale, moneyed, far from rave-nu-and-old’s much-flaunted DIY ethos. That aspect is a big part of electronic-dance’s appeal as a subculture as well. Here, watching waitresses in white “I Love Avicii!” T-shirts handing out gigantic glow sticks that looked like something you’d win at a state fair and marching out super-sized, sparkler-flanked bottles of vodka and Champagne, the endless spectacle seemed weirdly machine-tooled. Still, it was hard to get bored.
Avicii stepped up at 12:35 in a zip-up hoodie and Badly Drawn Boy stocking hat and proceeded to plow through a lot of hits. Right when the first track, “Sunshine” by Guetta feat. Avicii with Florence and the Machine, hit its breakdown, the smoke machine went nuts, filling the floor completely. Here we go! It was like a cruise or something.
He played anthems nonstop; any pretense of building an arc within the set was pretty much nonexistent. Instead, we got David Guetta’s Sia-assisted “Titanium” (the song is ehh, the breakdown utterly shameless) and a track that folded in Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” In fact, we got a whole set of tracks remixing, covering, or quoting pop favorites, starting with Ash’s gimmicky “Papa” (plundering Bill Wolfer’s Zapp-like 1982 cover of the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”), the DJ of honor’s own horrid cover of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” (I initially ID’ed it as being by Crazy Frog), Raul Cremona feat. Tony’s ham-handed “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” and the big one, “Levels,” Avicii’s hit from last year, which sampled Etta James. It had a built-in sense of tribute when her voice rose above the mix and the beats dropped out for a few bars. The crowd cheered. The crowd cheered everything.
Critical bias: I look at the Billboard Club charts and am absolutely baffled.
Overheard: During the Etta James song, my guest said, “They should make it into a cat video.”
Random notebook dump: “Syrup with snare rolls.”