Nestled in the heart of a framework of aluminum, nestled overhead by a draping canopy, and backed by a massive panels of rotating LED lights, a stunning screen, projecting images that corresponded to the artists taking control of the stage; this year’s installment of Sunset Music Festival instilled a notion of grandeur on the main stage of an electronic music festival, that is difficult to replicate in the wake of Miami’s annual Ultra Music Festival. It is a bar that has been set so inconceivably high, due to the nearly immaculate production values that went into coordinating an event on that scale. Inexorably, it becomes entirely necessary to shed aside any preexisting biases that accompany the opinions of those who are accustomed to being exposed to electronic music on such a spectacularly large scale. Taken in the context of a considerably scaled-back iteration of the conventional festival, and set in the expansive confines of the north parking lot of Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, SMF succeeded on delivering on all of the strengths and mitigating as many of the weaknesses that could accompany the lineup, in relation to the conveniently low price point. The venue afforded the sort of spaciousness and comfort to come as close to performers as desired, without having to sacrifice much in the way of breathing room.
The crowd, composed of individuals that ran the gamut from greyed party veteran to garden-variety raver, clothed in next to nothing, or a strikingly bright-colored equivalent; heaved in a wave of fervor brought to its fever pitch as the DJ dropped the beat. A flurry of distinctively electro-infused beats pummeled the small, but compacted mass that had converged upon the main stage. The sweltering heat created a conflagration, when coupled with undulating beats that bellowed from the perfectly balanced sound system; at no point in the ten hour-long sets that comprised the entire affair, could it be said that the volume was at any other level than ideal. While there were minor technical slips that marred fleeting moments in a small number of the performances, (notably when the speakers on either side of trance DJ/Producers, Gabriel and Dresden, malfunctioned), they were negligible when seen holistically, and did not affect the overall balance of the entire affair.
The performers played in relatively rapid succession, each time establishing and setting a different tone sonically. There were instances where the shifts in the collective vibe that had been synthesized through the music felt rather forced and discordant with what had preceded it. In particular, the decision to place Gabriel and Dresden’s anti-climactically slow-paced trance set in between the decidedly more raucous and up-tempo electro of Nicky Romero and Tommy Trash was one that caused vexation. That being said, taken individually, the level of the performances were ratcheted to a remarkably high level; with the Australian DJ/Production duo, Nervo setting the tone early, hyping the mob to a frenzy with a combination of their good looks, commercial beats and propensity for commanding the microphone with charisma. They dropped their signature track, “The Way We See the World,” featuring Steve Aoki and Afrojack, in addition a couple of new productions, which they relished over with zeal.
The lights cascaded a swarm of dancing silhouettes shaken in a seismic throb of a reverberating bass through nearly every conceivable expanse of the venue, as Australian progressive electro DJ/Producer, Tommy Trash, methodically turned the knobs on his deck, conjuring images of some crazed automaton, listlessly tending his craft. He made up for his lack of engagement with the strongest set of the day, delivering his resplendently atmospheric drops with the command of a skilled tactician. Nicky Romero, followed suit with a tremendous set chockfull of his signature cuts, in addition to some mainstream club tracks by the likes of David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia, which may have alienated some of the more fervent aficionados of EDM, but managed to keep the conventional festival-goer contrite.
Aging Dutch trance legend, Paul Van Dyk, may have seen his popularity decline with the obsolescence of his genre, but has continued to retain his uncanny ability to engage the audience on a deeper level, with uncompromising drops and his omniscient, piercing gaze. He scanned the crowd, feigning the impression of having looked at everyone in attendance directly, while pumping his fists in the air as he unleashed tumultuous drops, cordoned off at every end by serene synths. As soon as he departed the stage, not having said a word, an electricity percolated through the air as 21-year-old Swedish DJ/Producer Alesso greeted his flock; lassoing them into complete submission with his towering remixes and original tracks, as well as standards by Swedish House Mafia. His selection was remarkably mainstream in terms of how recognizable the tracks were, but the mixing rendered them sublime in the context of his performance.
Canadian dubstep DJ/Producer, Datsik, closed out the evening on the Bass Stage, where he emerged from the shadowy recesses of the tent and immediately remarked on the scant amount of people who had gathered to seem him, exclaiming “there’s nobody here, but I don’t give a fuck!” Slowly but surely, a sizable crowd had gathered to see Datsik drop dirty, distorted mechanized-sounding wobbles of bass, while climbing atop his control deck and scarfing large swigs of vodka from his bottle. For a second, it became glaringly apparent why this music became so appealing in the first place: taken in the context of the state of affairs politically and economically, the excesses of EDM represent the precise antithesis of the hopelessness of the economy. It is the only logical response to what has become a trying time for the youth both here and abroad. SMF provided an outlet for these frustrations in a weekend where it is customary to commemorate those who fell to afford us with the freedom to do so. For that, all one could do is rejoice…and dance.