Jones Beach Theater
Saturday, July 28
Better than: A rainout.
3:47 p.m., Babylon-bound LIRR train
Seated across from me are two college girls, a blonde and a brunette, and one college boy. They’re wearing neon and denim, a combination I will be seeing a lot of today. His shorts are shock-salmon; the blonde is carrying a leather-studded purse with matching belt. I overhear him complain that his Orlando fraternity recently cancelled a party—the implication is that it’s one fairly like IDentity, the traveling EDM festival they’re heading toward—because a brother “made a racist joke about Mexicans.”
Brunette: “What?! God, get a life!”
4:50 p.m., Jones Beach Theater pavilion
I’m moseying around the concession area between the arena (where Eric Prydz, Showtek, and Arty will play) and the second stage out back (Noisia, the Gaslamp Killer, Le Castle Vania, and Static Revenger). A DJ on a tiny stage third stage plays chugging filtered-breakdown house that wouldn’t be out of place in 1996. An extremely drunk kid accidentally jostles me, then asks where the bathroom is.
There are no politics at IDentity Festival, only endless, nonstop logos and catchphrases. The actual term YOLO (“you only live once”) is only on a handful of T-shirts I spot, but it’s the guiding principle. Everyone seems to be trying to outdo everyone else in the “I don’t give a fuck” sweepstakes. That’s what teenagers do, of course—tell the world what utter bad-asses they are. These kids aren’t necessarily advertising their own wantonness so much as advertising that they’re advertising their own wantonness. But the depth and degree of it is enough to make me queasy.
The operative word is RAGE. Two booths are set up to sell items with that phrase; others had it in their arsenal. Hundreds of kids parade the term; one shirt crosses the V out of RAVE and inserts a handwritten G. Is that what people are going to start calling these things now?
Maybe that’s the right word. Better that than the other words I see everywhere: SLUT, BITCH, WHORE. This crowd is mostly 14 to 18; there are some college kids, but not nearly as many as high schoolers (or junior-high schoolers). Seeing girls that age peacocking around with that stuff written on them is disorienting, and not just because my own rave years coincided with riot grrrl, where writing those words on the body was a form of radical rebellion. Here, in a sea of neon Daisy Dukes, it’s more like wearing a logo for the sake of being cool, because your clique at school will give you a hard time if you don’t. I feel sorry for all of them.
The Eye is playing on the main stage: acid builds, dubstep drops. I’m at the tail end of the main floor middle, in a long aisle that funnels kids into the pit; the guard saw my press badge and let me through. I’m carrying a notebook, which helps. Two very short girls suddenly whip through the middle of the aisle, under everybody’s hands, charging into the melee. The Rage (RAGE!) Against the Machine-sampling “Control the Future,” by L.A.’s Villains, is whipping them into froth, and though I’m standing back, it’s hard to resist music at this level of physical closeness.
Soon, though, the DJ is dropping House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” and the Doofus Hype Man begins to rap over it, because “Jump Around” is one of those rap songs D.H.M.s can rap without falling all over themselves, though this one is doing his damnedest. It’s my cue to leave. Right before I do, I notice one young girl in the roiling VIP pit who can’t be more than 15. On her neck, written in hot-pink liquid-gel, is SLUT.
On my way to the outdoor stage, I see a dude’s T-shirt, in the style of the much-copied “John & Paul & George & Ringo” design, that says in part: PUMPS & TANK TOPS & HAIR GEL & HOUSE MUSIC. I try to imagine the reaction of your average house-music-as-church genuflector, and decide it’s too cruel.
Out back, Static Revenger is wearing ridiculous-looking rabbit-ear-antenna headphones, and playing bassy music to match. It’s drizzling, but no one’s brought an umbrella, because to properly RAGE is to be impervious to the elements. Since I’m only person here that isn’t wearing a staff T-shirt and is over college age, I did bring one, and use it. Soon, I notice a kid filming me with his phone. I turn around and his friend is dancing alongside me. I approach the filmer and ask him to send me the link when it goes on YouTube. He asks why I’m taking notes and I tell him.
“You wanna quote me—my personal opinion?” he says seriously, followed by a meaningful pause. Sure. “This is awesome.” It is an exchange I will have, verbatim, twice more today.
It’s this kid’s first ever party. “I’ve heard about these before, but I didn’t expect it to actually be like this.”
I’m sitting in a shaded corner to get away from the light downpour, making more notes, when a young woman asks what I’m writing. Morgan is a 23-year-old medical student who is about to move to Park Slope from Long Island. She began partying seven years ago, when a friend took her to see Armin Van Buuren at Pacha; the door price, she recalls fondly, was $27. (She’s also into Bassnectar.) Two years ago, that friend OD’ed at a party. Today, she is chaperoning that friend’s younger sister to her first party.
Morgan left her charge in the pit and is keeping track via text messages. “Kids were storming the VIP wall,” she says; Morgan got kicked in the back. “It took everything I loved about rave culture and stomped on it. I’ve geared away from this kind of thing—there’s a difference between people who just want to get fucked up and people who want to experience the music. If it isn’t recognizable, they’re like, ‘Can we get some water?'”
Morgan has done plenty of partying. But now, she says, “I can stand in front of a speaker and, like, feel the presence of the universe.” She laughs at how utterly hippie-dippy this sounds—and she even self-identifies as a hippie. But she’s too sharp-eyed for that. We survey the underdressed underaged. “I’m wearing two shirts—that’s unheard of here,” Morgan says. “And pants! My friends tell me I look muted. I said, ‘That’s the point.'”
It’s stopped drizzling, so I’m off the second stage for Le Castle Vania, a good-looking blonde man who plays twisty bass bangers. The kids have their arms up because it’s a ritual, but they are into the ritual. The crowd’s youth has something to do with this, and so does their chemical makeup, but whatever my cavils about their dress or signifiers, you can’t manufacture this kind of energy. The DJ is plainly having a good time, too. So am I. He plays a new track; it’s got the usual dynamics, but they seem juiced in a way I don’t hear too often in EDM. Maybe that’s my proximity to the speakers, maybe not.
Arty on the main stage: trance gauze atop Daft Punk intros teased out to song length, not very good. Literally every person in the seated decks are dancing on their chair arms, flagrantly violating house rules that security is too busy to enforce. A guy with a faded Bob Marley T has a red Deadmau5 headpiece on. Lots of people stop to take photos with him; I wonder if he’s part of that DJ’s street team. Arty kill-switches a track, causing a slow but abrupt downshift to stop. “What is this shit?” a kid behind me asks. Nearby, another guy who also seems like he’d run fast in the other direction if you played him a Ricardo Villalobos track is wearing a LET’S GET WEIRD shirt.
Arty finishes, and Doofus Hype Man is at it again: “Show!” Crowd: “Tek!” Showtek is next, and he kicks off with—what’s this? Hoover noises! Stompy! Like 1992! Only now, the effect is cheesy-obvious instead of cheesy-alien. Next.
This crowd is used to blonde, good-looking types: Tiesto, Arty, Le Castle Vania. So I’m curious how the Gaslamp Killer will go over. The L.A. DJ-producer, a Flying Lotus protégé, has a huge Jewfro and mustache-goatee combo, very stoner-messiah; when I caught him three years ago, at the Decibel Festival in Seattle, his nonstop whatever-pops-to-mind patter (“I’m gonna take it back to the dirt. PSYCHE, motherfuckers!”) and love of classic rock made him a hoot.
It’s a low-end seminar, but not of the sort these kids are used to—creativity counts for little here. These twists and tweaks are meant to be pleasurable in themselves, and not always tied to a beat. The kids barely respond—they want dubstep, and dubstep means something specific, damn it.
“Make some fuckin’ noise if you’re feelin’ it!” GLK shouts. Some moderately enthusiastic “Ho!”s follow. “Thank fucking god,” the DJ says, then prepares us for something special: “Brand new Flying Lotus!” No response whatsoever—just as there won’t be when he says the same thing at the end of his set. “Brooklyn shit! Machinedrum!” he hollers later. No recognition whatsoever. Nearby, I spot a PARTY WITH SLUTS T-shirt; closer to the front, one fellow wears, backward, a REAGAN-BUSH ’84 cap.
Noisia, the Netherlands drum & bass duo gone dubstep, are getting way more bodies in motion than the Gaslamp Killer. No wonder—they come out of a genre where the half-step snare is usually pronounced, and that helps cue dancers to move. And Noisia’s brutish bass weight fits right in as well. After a while, though, the duo plays a straight D&B track—rolling breakbeats, low end muted, very ’94. No one budges. The bass drops, and blammo—arms and legs scissoring again. T-shirt spotted: FUCK HIPSTERS.
Entering the theater I hear Showtek finishing off with a slightly pitched-up “We Found Love,” with our old friend the Doofus Hype Man occasionally screaming over it. (It might be a different D.H.M. every time, but really, they’re all the same.) Once upon a time, raves were places you went to hear music that wasn’t on the radio. Now they’re where you go to hear music that is.
“Who’s ready for Eric Prydz?” D.H.M. bellows. “He came all the way from Sweden to party with you guys!” The crowd cheers the miracle of modern air travel.
There is nothing like watching fractals turn into terrible corporate logos before your very eyes. (The LED displays at both stages, by the way, are superb.) Prydz’s flatly rendered name-cum-insignia is a perfect example, seeming to promise what-you-paid-for efficiency and not a jot more. The music follows suit. Wow—slow builds. Ethereal keyboards. Hands up, inhibitions down. Leave the driving to us. Quality is job one. Would you like fries with that?
Nothing left to hear there, then. I go back over to hear the tail end of Noisia, who crow that they’ve just had “the best show we’ve ever played in New York.” They offer up an “experimental” new one—they must mean that it sounds like their earlier stuff that the crowd doesn’t know. Not bad, though. Madeon, who’s supposed to be next, is going to be late, we’re informed—25 minutes, then 30, then 40. I make my way to the exit at 9:20. A kid passes me: “I fucking raved my ass off!”
Critical bias: I’m an old, old man who writes on paper.
Overheard: “I want to hear two songs: ‘Night Out’ and ‘Icarus.’ That’s it.”
Random notebook dump: Lots of neon-colored dots around girls’ eyes, like Lisa Frank football kohl. Raves, it seems, are for tanning.