Hard NYC – 7/24/10

So, one of the bigger electronic music events to hit NYC in a while landed last night (Saturday) at Governor’s Island.  The event featured two stages in a dry field populated by food vendors, dub step soldiers, dance fanatics, a smattering of MIA fans (who didn’t know what dub-step was) and ravers (too young to even know what a real rave was).  It was an interesting mix to say the least, but that’s why the show was so fun…there was a lot to listen to and a lot of people being exposed to some dope tunes.

The main draw for me was not, in fact, M.I.A., but rather the Skream and Benga pairing.  I was very curious to see M.I.A., don’t get me wrong, but the grimey dub-step was more my calling.  So, promptly at 8pm Skream and Benga took the stage with MC Alpha.  What proceeded was perhaps one of the best tag-team dj sets I’ve seen in a LONG time.  In short, they murdered it.  Starting off with some original tracks from both and veering off into the dancier sides of dub-step, Skream and Benga threw down an amazing, club-centric set.  They even threw in two killer drum ‘n bass tracks which completely lit me up.  D n’ b is one of my original electronic passions.  Most of the crowd was caught off guard by the d n’ b tunes and didn’t know how to dance it up much, but I like to think they at least learned something about the patriarch of dub-step.  The crowd was heavy into the dirty, grimey, warbly dub-step tracks and perked up every time Benga or Skream dropped one.  But what I truly appreciated about their set was that they did not play only those types of dub-step tracks; they sprinkled in lots of different varieties, some even leaning to the ravier and danceclub-style stuff.  The sound was amazing and well-balanced, at least for me as I was in the front-ish middle…basically right where the speakers were all pointing.  This was the best dj set of the night.

Once Benga and Skream wrapped up I mosied over the Borgore’s set on the second, “hardest”, stage.  I missed a bit of his set due to my need to rehydrate and such but from what I heard I gotta say this guy threw down some nasty, grimey shit.  His MC was nice and energetic and kept the crowd hyped.  Near the end of the set, Borgore started throwing out some metal-infused dub-step, and then some straight up metal.  It was an interesting approach and I liked the diversity.  A mosh pit did open up with the typical meat-head throwing down for those tracks, so yeah, I coulda done without that.  Decent set overall.

Immediately following Borgore was 12th Planet who easily threw down the next best set besides Skream and Benga.  That man’s set was so consistent and tight that from a pure dj perspective I was enraptured.  Dope skills for sure, and the guy is quite personable too so he did great on the mic by himself.  He played more heavier dub-step tracks than some of the other guys, but I found the diversity great nonetheless as he filled in with some banging vocal tracks.  Skream made some guest appearances too, though mainly just to rewind 12’s tracks and fuck with him.  It was amusing and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.  Its clear that a lot of these guys are tight outside of the spotlight and appreciate what they all bring to this scene.

As 12th Planet was wrapping up, my friends and I moved on to get a better position for the upcoming M.I.A. performance on the main stage.  We heard the last three tracks of Die Antwoord.  My immediate thoughts are: style over substance.  I liked the music to one of the tracks, but the vocals are just God-awful.  And let’s not front, hip hop without good vocals and flow ain’t worth shit.  I’ve since tried to listen to a few of their tracks online and I just can’t do it.  It simply isn’t my thing.

So, with much controversy surrounding this artist, let’s talk about the headliner, Ms. M.I.A.  I was psyched to see her as I really appreciate her vocals and vocal gymnastics, plus her music is always interesting and layered with, well, crazy shit.  Sadly, I think this sort of music is very hard to translate to a massive outdoor stage….especially when your sound crew completely drops the ball.  The opening track started off dramatically with some funky robe-wearing, drill-gun carrying, glow-in-the-dark peoples coming out, but the track was all low-end.  Someone messed up the mix and the mids and highs were all dropped out.  The vocals were also quite tough to hear.  After this track and another, someone got around to fixing the sound a bit, but over-compensated and the blew and highs waaaaay out of proportion.  This made the vocals and aforementioned “crazy shit” almost unbearable to the ear.  It was literally painful.

M.I.A. live at Hard NYC. Photo courtesy Metromix.

At this point we moved out of the central focus of the speakers and off to the side and watched a bit more of the show from there.  By this point she had lost a fair portion of the crowd and there was a trail of people leaving.  I chalk this up not to just her sound issues, but to the fact that most of these people might not know her music all that well from her more easy tunes made popular on tv and film.  Some of her stuff is straight up tough and the average person isn’t gonna feel it.  This isn’t to sound elitist.  I just think a lot of people don’t want to put in the time for difficult music.  Sadly, as the show wore on, even the biggest fans were fed up with the sound and erratic mic issues and there was a mass exodus from the event.  I can’t imagine how this must have looked from the stage, watching all your fans leave like that.  I feel bad.  I love her music and think she has some good energy for a live show, but dammit, I need to see her in a much smaller venue…if that will ever happen again.  The set was varied and interesting, with some new twists to existing tracks and some sharing of tracks off her new record.  The dj even sampled in pieces from other tracks, making a nice tapestry of sound.  Ugh, I wanted to like this set more, but I just couldn’t…so, mid-way in, we called it quits with a lot of other people and headed back to the ferry for Manhattan.  Just as we were boarding the ferry on the pier, a squall broke out and proceeded to drench the island and kick out some high winds.  From my understanding the promoters wrapped MIA’s set early once this happened, so we didn’t really miss much besides a good soaking.

All in all, I had a great time, but am really disappointed by the sound issues for MIA’s show.  I have heard from others that her live show isn’t great, but frankly, this was more about the sound issues than her performance.  The visuals were engaging and she did a lot to keep things lively, including inviting tons of fans on stage to dance.  But sadly, without good sound, you can’t save a concert with even the best visuals in the world.


~ by curbmerchant on July 25, 2010.

2 Responses to “Hard NYC – 7/24/10”

  1. I think you must have been standing next to me.
    I liked Skream and Benga.. I was not in the know on dub-step, but can say I really liked their set and am going to add this to my list of music to follow. I actually liked Die Antwoord rythms lyrically, yes they were juvenile at best. I hate to say it I have a real problem accepting them… because.. they are Afrikaners… silly to not like their music for geo politcal reasons.. but I do..
    I really Felt like MIA’s set was turning around, but got shutdown not really fair… Getting off the Island was horrible and the promoters really need to work on training and communication… There were alot of dazed people getting blindly herded and people who were not chemically altered felt like cattle and were really pissed at how we were treated..

    • Yeah, the Skream and Benga set was killer. They’re definitely the more straight-up banger/grimey dub-step, but the field is expanding quickly and people are trying out lots of new tricks. I would check these labels for some other interesting beats in the dub-step world: Hotflush, Hyperdub, SoulJazz, Planet Mu, and Hessle Audio to name some quickies off the top of my head.

      Its hard to tell, for me, if M.I.A.’s set was turning around as the sound issues just drove me nuts. Her set list was showing life, but the sound….ugh.

      I got out of there before the herding began. I was wondering how so many hundreds (if not thousands) of people were going to filter through gates onto not-so-spacious ferries. I’m glad I got out of there when I did. Hopefully the lines for the ferries weren’t toooo bad.

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