Saturday Night: Porter Robinson at Stereo Live
Photos by Julian Bajsel
Porter Robinson, Mat Zo, The M Machine Stereo Live June 30, 2012
In doing research to cover this show, I created the Porter Robinson drinking game. It's simple: When you read a CD or live-show review for the guy you take a drink anytime his age is mentioned, anytime someone references the big-name DJs who have cosigned him, or anytime someone uses the word "complextro"; you finish your glass anytime someone uses the phrase "wunderkind" or "OWSLA."
It's not that these types of things aren't important, it's just that they're mentioned every single time anyone puts words to page when talking about the guy.
The obvious questions then are: Can someone who turns 20 in two weeks really rock the crowd like a veteran? Can that same person step out of the shadows of the giants that have endorsed him? Is complextro a real thing or just a word made up to confuse people who don't know any better (like me)?
With those questions in mind, I made my first trip to Stereo Live to see if I could find the answers.
Starting off the night officially was San Francisco's The M Machine, who ended up being a really pleasant surprise. Imagine a three-piece band that skips past the typical drum, bass, and guitar configuration and instead uses an MPC, a synth, and some software to put their songs together. In addition to their own instruments, each member took a turn at the mike for a song.
As for the music itself, it was rooted in electro house but somehow more emotional. Their set started off with some heaviness, but they weren't afraid to let things go quiet or even become majestic. One song in the middle of their set was almost a full-on power ballad, with synths replacing the guitar noodling. It' s not easy to dance to, but a pleasure to take in.
They also dropped in a bit of Radiohead's "Everything In its Right Place," which was an unexpected treat.
Mat Zo isn't exactly my cup of tea, but I respect his ability to control a crowd. He clearly understands what the crowd wants and he gives it to them, with buildups and breakdowns arriving as scheduled. The only major thing you can really fault him on was his stage display, which was minimal and kind of boring.
It was a good set with some small flaws. Sometimes the transitions didn't seem that well thought-out, and at times it felt like the set was just running in place rather than moving on to things that were more interesting. Once he started to mix in some heavier stuff in the second half of his set things really seemed to pick up.
To his credit, he looked like he was having the time of his life up on stage and his enthusiasm was infectious.
And then Porter Robinson took the stage and the crowd immediately lost its collective shit. They had been moving pretty steady during Zo, but the sudden boost of energy was like watching someone get adrenaline shot straight to their heart.
More than bass, which was there in massive quantities, and 8-bit video projections, the crowd got a sledgehammer of interesting sounds repeatedly smashing them in the face. What Robinson's music lacks in terms of the loud/quiet dynamic, it makes up for in interesting and complex sounds and textures.
Sometimes the leads are so complicated you can't make out every noise, but they're all filthy and distorted and wonderful. But the individual sounds aren't the important part -- it's the ride that you're going on.
And it's a ride the crowd knew fairly well, cheering on new sections that they recognized even if it was no more than a quick vocal sample. Some people may see EDM as a fad, but these were fans who take having fun very seriously, knowing songs the way some of us can quote the standard rock canon.
The only time things felt like they were slowing down, for lack of a better term, was when he would break out into some standard dubstep. It was still heavy and complex, but a little lighter in the percussion.
One of the things I like to do at shows is look at how the crew is responding. These are the guys who have to see the set multiple times and know it inside and out. And if the crew is getting caught up in the show then something must be going right.
So when I saw the lighting guy throw his hands in the air with reckless abandon and surrender to the breakdown, I knew I was in the middle of something special.
Is it something special because of age, associations, or genre titles? I have no idea, because there isn't time to think about those things when the bass is making the hair on your body shake.
Personal Bias: When asked if I was excited about the show, my response was "as excited as I can be to see someone I didn't know existed two days ago."
The Crowd: Different states of flashing, blinking, and glowing, and at least 3 people who said "please don't write about the weird girl who bumped into you" after bumping in to me.
Random Notebook Dump: It amazes me in the age of social networking and Internet omnipresence that ephemeral concert friendships still exist. You chat with someone for five minutes and before you can ask their Twitter handle they're gone. Still, I thank Michelle for her idea about stuffing confetti canons with fortune-cookie fortunes.
Purposeful Notebook Dump: In case you want a second opinion on the show, someone asked to borrow my notebook and wrote "
Overheard Nonverbal Communication In the Crowd: We're waiting to get in the show when the girl in front of me turns to look at me. I look at her. She looks at me. I look at the flashing "Kiss the birthday girl" pin she has on. She looks at me. I pull out my notebook to write about it. Later I photobombed a photo her friend uploaded to Facebook; sorry, old habits die hard. As the song says, "I never wanna act my age..."
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