Skrillex vs Stevie Wonder at Outside Lands

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Skrillex, totally not at Outside Lands.
PHOTO BY HellN/CREATIVE COMMONS

Surveying the rabid Skrillex crowd, I felt old for one of the first times in my life. Like, John McCain, “get off my lawn” old. Who the hell was this mall punk with a Miley Cyrus haircut, anyway? What, in God’s name, has he inflicted upon the music world? And why, oh why, did this hoard of tweens, bros, and “cool-dads” choose to undergo Skrillex’s sonic weedwacking, instead of running into the arms of living-legend Stevie Wonder?

Having committed the cardinal sin of leaving the main stage as Stevie ripped through “Signed Sealed Delivered," I guess I was setting myself up for a repellant EDM experience. Seriously, how could a brostep-practitioner (let alone a DJ) compete with a 14-piece band, diving into one of the greatest back-catalogues in pop history? However, as I approached the Twin Peaks stage, and the barrage of twisted noise and splintered video-projections came into focus, I found myself not just underwhelmed, but vaguely, viscerally offended as well.

As Skrillex’s formulaic dynamics ran their course (laborious, heavy-handed tension, building up to the inevitable “beat drop”), and the rigidly brimmed bro-hats in the audience bobbed up and down with militaristic synchronization, it dawned on me: the guy’s music is doomed by a perfect storm of chaos and joylessness. Say what you will about Metallica’s brand of contrived assault: their set was fun; Skrillex’s audience was enraptured, alright, but in a much more fascistic sense. Let’s just say that the image of Apple’s famous 1984 superbowl ad was a difficult one to shake.

I’d try to describe the Skrillex aesthetic, but is there anything that hasn’t already been said? Yes, there were lots of “womp-womps,” crashy noises, and syncopated Michael Bay sound effects piled atop the simplistic chord progressions. Factor in the predictable buildups and payoffs, and the seizure-inducing visuals, and you have a concertgoing experience with all the warmth and charm of a monster truck rally. Which isn’t to say that noise and chaos can’t be used compellingly. Hype Williams, Death Grips, and Black Dice are all capable of wringing anarchic perversity from their shards of noise, without sacrificing any sense of joy or wonderment.

Okay: I’ll concede that Skrillex’s music possesses an experimental edge. Also, it’s somewhat refreshing to see Middle America being turned on to the possibilities of dissonance in music. But, whereas even a quasi-countercultural figure like Trent Reznor would look out of place in front of a Bud Light logo, Skrillex looks perfectly at home. Unlike true boundary-pushers like Throbbing Gristle, Skrillex’s product is the dream-material of hair-gelling Viacom executives: an endlessly commodifiable brand of pseudo-punk rebellion, perfectly calibrated to sell energy drinks, college football, and the military-industrial complex, all while the bro-hats nod away.

After 10 minutes of Skrillex’s sonic cheese-grating, I was more than ready to head back into Stevie’s sunny embrace. As I heard the clavinet riff from “Superstition” fade in gradually on the walk over, I knew I had made the right decision. Maneuvering through the main stage crowd to make my way towards the action, the mood reversed completely, as Stevie made up for Skrillex’s joy-deficit, and then some. With three drummers, a brass section, an army of keyboardists and guitarists, and a few beautiful backup singers in tow, the pop master sported the swagger of 100 Skrillexes, without any of the gnarled, meatheaded machismo.

Therein lies the genius of Stevie Wonder: his ability to radiate joy, groove relentlessly, and even get political, with stunning cohesiveness. Just because “Higher Ground” and “Living for the City” possess sober lyrical content doesn’t mean you can’t dance your ass off to them. Elsewhere, “Sir Duke,” “I Wish,” and “Happy Birthday,” had the diverse crowd in a frenzy, dancing and singing along to some of the most infectious choruses ever written.

After initially taking the stage, armed with a Keytar to cover Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is,” Stevie jumped restlessly between a handful of instruments, displaying his virtuosity on the clavinet, piano, harmonica, and lap steel guitar. It was a welcome reminder (and a great introduction, for the uninitiated) of Stevie’s extraordinary musical talent; after all, he’s the visionary who recorded Talking Book (1972) completely on his own, drums and all.

Shuffling through a wide range of covers (Smokey Robinson’s “My Girl,” The Beatles’ “She Loves You,” and most memorably, Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel), as well as a hit parade of original material, Stevie’s set was an exuberant, poignant trip through a lifetime of pop brilliance. Young and old, black and white, no one could resist Stevie’s charm. Whereas Skrillex was signed on to appease a fixed set of demographics, Stevie came to play for everyone.

Comments

this review reeks of elitist music snobbery. shame that.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 14, 2012 @ 7:56 pm

That part isn't elitist - it's a fact. He's awful and his music is awful.

Posted by Troll II on Aug. 14, 2012 @ 8:05 pm

very well put. when i describe something in completely subjective terms by using qualitative words like "awful", i always make sure to label my personal opinion as a FACT.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

WTF is a bro-hat?
As a fan of whole different world of music (DBT, Lucero, etc.), I was planning on being pretty bored with Skrillex at Outside Lands. Loved Stevie Wonder growing up, but wasn't too psyched with the start of his set, so I went with my gal over to see what Skrillex was all about. I was blown away. I really don't see what the constant bitching about this guy was about. The value of live music is the experience. That experience can be sick guitar work or a dude in a space ship blowing minds with sounds and visuals. Tying to contrast the two in order to set some sort of value rating is so stupid. If you want to critique Skrillex on how well he does his thing, fine by me, but don't be "viscerally offended" by something you were ready to hate on anyway. IMO the fact that everyone there was enraptured in a creepy kind of way totally added to the experience. Weird for fun is no crime.

Posted by dirtbird on Aug. 14, 2012 @ 9:41 pm

Everyone has there tastes in music. Don’t trash another hard working artist that is Doing his variation of what he thinks sounds good. Did Mr. Wonder not do the same?? Maybe you should think of being more polite to a well respected artist. So you don’t like him! Ok! Sit down shut the hell up and don’t talk shit about him.

Posted by Hy-Fidelix on Aug. 14, 2012 @ 11:16 pm

and sure, it was great seeing SW, I'd never seen him before, he sounded great, a positive vibe in the audience, and I think you need to catch the legends when you can (I'll never forgive myself for skipping Stevie Ray Vaughan when he played my college campus in 1990 because of the crappy weather, he was dead 4 months later).

But I also wanted to see Skrillex, which was a bit more out of my musical comfort zone. And I was glad I did. The light show was pretty nuts, the music was unique (at least to my ears) and people were having a great time there, so the vibe, while obviously different that SW, was great in its own right. I don't know what "joylessness" you're talking about.

(that said, props to Tame Impala and Portugal.The Man, 2 bands I hadn't seen before that really "did it" for me. Neil Young, I love the guy, but was a bit hit or miss, and Metallica were freakin' awesome.)

Posted by DanO on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 9:59 am

He is obviously popular for a reason, people like what they hear...just because you don't understand or appreciate it doesn't make it bad, just not your taste. Glad you enjoyed Stevie, and took your negative vibe out of our joyous crowd, but maybe next time spend more than 10 minutes at a show before commenting.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 15, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

How does one achieve being offended by music?
I have been to one of Skrillex' shows in sydney, and the vibe was amazing. No one stopped dancing.
Stevie Wonder would be a fantastic show in his own right. But the two are completely different music styles. You're right when you say you felt like an old man, it's for a reason... found any gray hairs yet?
This is what all the oldies said in the 1950's about rock. 'It's just noise, ya da ya da ya da' You have to embrace change, and just because an artist is 'big' doesn't mean their filled to the brim with commercialisation. Skrillex is one of the least commercial EDM (Electronic Dance Music, For those unlearned in music) artists I have ever heard. (And I listen to a wide range of EDM artists)
He hasn't done any commercials, deals etc and prefers to sell of Beatport (Solely EDM music site) rather than Itunes. As well as goddamn that, he says if you can't afford his stuff just download it illegally.
His ability to make any and all genres is simply amazing, from Electro to his recent Trap endeavours.
You also don't seem to reference that he used to be part of a popular band named 'From First To Last'... This man comes from a rich musical backdrop, that isn't just electronic.
Even if a percentage of Skrillex crowds are 'bros' there are those (like myself) which go to listen and party to the intricacies in Sonny Moore's (Skrillex, Again for you unlearned people) songs.
Even this will not have convinced you, as, lets face it. Your as bias as you can be, Old Man!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 16, 2012 @ 5:17 am

Get over yourself you snob.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 25, 2012 @ 11:16 am

Yu dont understand music at all if yu cant appreciate other genres not of your liking, you snob

Posted by Guest on Sep. 09, 2012 @ 11:41 am

where does one purchase a "bro-hat?"

Posted by Guest on Sep. 18, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

Gotta appreciate random dimwits shouting "snob!", while putting zero effort in explaining what's so good about the music of the artist they pretend to defend. This kind of "defense" does little more than validate article's viewpoint. At least the author took time to explain himself.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 22, 2012 @ 9:25 pm

Is it really necessary to go any further than simply saying "snob?"

The writer's argument has no objective logic to it. Largely because the topic is music. Liking music is opinion. Still, he had to write an overly-embellished article presenting his opinion as if it were absolute, undisputed fact. All the writer did was indirectly slam Skrillex for taking advantage of the opportunity to earn money through his music by embracing popularity and essentially reduced all of his fans to mindless drones.

To be fair, there is a certain percentage of Skrillex fans who are just following their peers in order to fit in, which is consistent with the fanbase of any popular artist.

Regardless, this article had no basis, and was simply somebody being an elitist jerk regarding something he doesn't like or understand. I'm not saying the writer is in the wrong for disliking Sonny's music. That's completely respectable and up to him. My issue is with the negative attitude and reluctance to even trying to understand what Skrillex, his music, and the EDM experience are about. Instead, it's written of as "noise."

There's your explanation.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 26, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

Ahh the sounds of fun-boyz whining SKRILLEX IS GREAT!!! Thank you TK for shedding a little light. I am not saying Skrillex is bad, in fact I listen to it as mindless background thump at work on Pandora... Its not to the level of music that will span generations and time such as SW. If Skrilly fans are still irrate from the article answer honestly do you think that in 30 - 40 yrs a majority of music listeners will be mentioning him. Agian not bad musc but not great. BTW the author gets HUGE kudos for mentioning Throbbing Gristle. Fun-boyz you should check them out I hear there is thing called the interweb or something like that where you can look them up.

Really old, music loving guest.

Posted by Really Old, music loveing guest on Nov. 01, 2012 @ 8:42 pm