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Review: GlowFest at Indiana University

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GlowFest headliners Big Gigantic - STEVE CONRY
  • Steve Conry
  • GlowFest headliners Big Gigantic

GlowFest

Indiana University

Friday, Sept. 15

It was a night of hand raising, vertical dancing, flailing glow sticks and bouncing beach balls. It was GlowFest - this time, nestled in the trees of the picaresque Indiana University tailgate fields. Friday marked the fourth IU appearance of the traveling electronic music festival - hosted on college campuses around the country - and hundreds of neon-clad students filed in by the end of the night, bringing with them the kind of palpable excitement one can only find on college campuses. Like all good electronic festivals, there was a symbiotic crowd-performer relationship, lots of demands to "put yo hands up" and the pervasive bass that rattles your chest and reconfigures your internal organs.

In true IU fashion, I stumbled upon the festival a little late -- around 5:45 p.m. -- but luckily I didn't miss the short set by Bloomington's own The Pro Letarians who played to a modest crowd at the beginning of the festival. (Side note: as any distressed promoter or artist can tell you, no one in Bloomington comes out to shows before 8 p.m.) The duo -- comprised of producer JO and emcee Jupiter Jim -- create a kind of cerebral hip-hop that is both darkly idiosyncratic and celebratory.

Next was Fixyn (pronounced fik-shuhn), a trio of California bros who play the kind of music you would expect from a group with a song titled "Aural Sex" and who made a house remix of Europe's "The Final Countdown". A visibly wasted Tal Meltzer took up most of the mic duties to tell the crowd he was "so fuckin'" stoked, excited, glad to be there, etc. His enthusiasm was infectious though, and he led a trio that took turns waving their hands around and manipulating their consoles to create drop-heavy music that sounded somewhere between mid-90's big beat and electro house.

Maryland emcee Logic was greeted by a crowd that had grown exponentially since the Pro Letarians set. He condescended heavily to the crowd -- going so far as to call IU "the best school in the country" -- and played an interesting set highlighted by a great sample of Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" and a cover of A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation". While Logic is an immensely talented rapper - he briefly freestyled acapella approaching Twista-like speeds; musically, it seemed as if he was rapping karaoke over pre-recorded tracks, vocals and all. Nonetheless, the crowd responded well to his set which was a pleasant diversion from Fixyn's heavy house.

The White Panda seemed to pick up where Fixyn left off, delivering pummeling beats and roaring Euro synth lines while demonstrating that the mash-up format was not just a passing phase popularized by Mr. Gregg Gillis. Like all mash-up artists, The White Panda have the benefit of playing shows where everyone recognizes their songs. Their shows are a rare collective pop experience in the digital age where the crowd gets to hear some of the most popular songs of the last thirty years repurposed for a rave audience. While not necessarily the most innovative of the mash-up crop, their sonic concoctions have a remarkable fluidity and power that sets them apart from the Girl Talks of the world. They're the musical equivalent of Jon Stewart's character in Half Baked -- enhancement musicians who ask questions like "Sure, you've heard Adele's 'Rolling in the Deep', but have you heard it while tweaking out on Avicii?" They also have their gimmick down pat. Justice have the neon cross, Deadmau5 has the mouse head, Daft Punk have the robot aesthetic, Tiesto has his Joran van der Sloot vibe, and The White Panda have glowing Mardis Gras panda masks accompanied by slick black and white tie ensembles. They looked good, sounded good, and prepped the crowd for GlowFest headliners Big Gigantic.

Big Gigantic is the sound of Quarterflash and Skrillex going on a bender - gospel drums, wonky synth bass, and tenor sax solos abounded. Saxophonist and producer Dominic Lalli and drummer Jeremy Salken displayed incredible technical chops, seeming capable of anything. They opened with Kanye West and Jay-Z's "Niggas in Paris" before launching into an onslaught of sputtering synthesizers and apocalyptic bass drops punctuated by sax melodies and virtuosic drum solos; material mostly from their latest album Nocturnal. They were the apex of the party - hardly having to tell the crowd to put their hands up - and they took full advantage of the stage's seven LED screen and multiple light fixtures, giving a light show that was equal parts psychedelic liquid light and day-glo television static. They ended the festival with a cosmic boom and the neon-clad crowd dispersed.

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