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‘Identity’ Brings Electronic Music Into Mainstream

05:01 PM Monday 8/29/11 |   |

Pollstar contributing photographer John Davisson proves you can teach an old rock dog new tricks as he reports from the “Identity” electronic music festival.

  • Datsik

    Performing at the Identity Festival at the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre in Tampa.
    August 24, 2011

    (John Davisson)

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I grew up on rock music. For me, the main reason for a concert was to see how the artist created the music live. I wanted to watch the guitarist during the solo to see how he peeled off the notes. I wanted to see how the bassist created a thunderstorm with 4 strings. I wanted to see how the different musicians worked together to make the music magical. I did not see how a DJ performance was a good show. I couldn’t see what he was doing, I could just see his head above the deck and I could vaguely tell he was twisting some knobs.

Electronic dance music is a paradigm shift, a new way of presenting music, and once I opened up to it and realized it was different but good, I started enjoying DJ sets. Every year, the music makes inroads into popular culture. There are multi-day electronic music festivals such as Electric Daisy Carnival and Ultra Music Festival.

Now there is a touring festival similar to the Warped Tour but featuring DJ culture rather than punk rock culture. The Identity Festival played the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre in Tampa last week.  I was there and I enjoyed it.

  • 'Identity'

    The audience finds its 'Identity' the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre in Tampa.
    August 24, 2011

    (John Davisson)

    | 

Paradigm shifts are not new, but it is a radically different presentation. I can still remember when I first discovered the Ramones and The Clash and The Boomtown Rats in high school. My friends and I were into KISS, Rush, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and the flashy ‘70s rock with an emphasis on technical ability. They could not understand what I liked about punk rock as it was too simple, too unsophisticated. However, once I realized how fun punk was, that music was about having a good time and not about technical virtuosity, I was hooked.

So now I’m digging electronic dance music for the same reason. It’s fun. It’s not your daddy’s rock and roll; it is something a new generation is laying claim to, a soundtrack for their lives that is distinct from the older music. I’m not into it because I love to dance, or because I am a DJ, but I can still enjoy the sights and sounds.

I also like photographing live shows and that has been a bit of an adjustment for me. I’m used to going into the pit up front and shooting the performance. It’s fun when a guitarist does a solo right in front of you and you are photographing it.

But that does not work so well with DJ’s. In the pit, all I can see is a head above a deck. I cannot capture the vibe from the pit. But put me further back and I can peel off some nice shots (not all the way to the soundboard, but rather about halfway back to the soundboard). Then I can get some nice production shots. The other method is shooting the DJ from behind; then I can show what the set-up is like and you can see the ravers in front of him/her getting blissed-out. It’s kinda freaky being on the stage so close to the DJ, but it sure is fun.

  • The Crystal Method

    Setting a groove at this year's Identity festival at Tampa's 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre.
    August 24, 2011

    (John Davisson)

    | 

Some of my favorite acts at the Identity Festival were Kaskade, Pretty Lights, Steve Aoki, and Crystal Method. Datsik sounded good too, but I only caught a small part of his set. Disco Biscuits were a little too jammy for me. Booka Shade and Rusko were fun, but nothing about their sets really grabbed me. I think I prefer music with a more aggressive dubstep edge. Skrillex is one of my favorites and I wish he had been at this show, but he only played one stop on the Identity tour.

Crystal Method were fun, they had their disc players mounted between guitar necks and they were able to strap these new instruments on and roam the stage more than most DJ’s. Steve Aoki had his name in big lights at the front of the stage as he spinned from a deck above his name; he also climbed down to the front of the stage to celebrate with the fans by spraying champagne on the fans and crowd surfed a bit. Both of these acts played inside an Expo Hall (due to fear of rain) rather than outside as on most dates.

  • Aoki At Identity

    There was no forgetting Steve Aoki's "identity" at the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amph. in Tampa, Fla.
    August 24, 2011

    (John Davisson)

    | 

The best lighting, after dark of course, was reserved for Pretty Lights and Kaskade on the main amphitheatre stage. Pretty Lights is probably more known for his lights than his music. The visuals held my attention more than the music. Blocks of lighting cubes surrounded him and were stacked into towers behind him that made the stage look like a mini cityscape.

Kaskade was the headliner, and he brought a large production that filled the amphitheatre stage. There was LED video behind him, and in front of his deck, which was ridiculously high. Strips of cloth stretched from the top of the lighting rig to the stage making for interesting illuminating effects. There was also confetti and massive clouds of smoke shooting from CO2 cannons. It was definitely an impressive stage. No wonder fans that had been out there all day stayed until the end. His blissful house music was popular with the fans, which erupted into dance as he played his club hits “Angel On My Shoulder” and “Move For Me.” It’s also nice to end the show with an upbeat sound.

  • Pretty Lights

    "Identity" electronic music festival, 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre in Tampa.
    August 24, 2011

    (John Davisson)

    | 

  • Booka Shade

    Identity Festival at the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre in Tampa.
    August 24, 2011

    (John Davisson)

    | 

Back home after the show, working on the photos (and I got some nice ones), I was thinking about the shift again. I was at an electronic festival recently that had some regular acts (old school guitar, bass, drums, keyboards) that normally play to big crowds. Most of the fans were electronic dance music fans though and they stayed at the DJ stages. The “arena acts” had much smaller crowds than normal as the young fans wanted their DJ’s.

  • Kaskade

    Identity Festival, 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre in Tampa.
    August 24, 2011

    (John Davisson)

    | 

I can’t help but wonder if the two genres are somewhat mutually exclusive. Will old-school rock fans embrace electronic dance music? Will the younger fans abandon old-school rock? Will they merge at some point in much the same way that punk has been absorbed by the mainstream? Is this the identity crisis?


Comments

  1. Kinks wrote:

    03:11 AM, Aug 30, 2011

    The chicks at EDM shows are hot but what's with the pacifiers?