"This is the first proper show we've played for the new songs," Florence Welch told a crowd of several thousand halfway through Florence and the Machine's set on Saturday night, the crescendos of which rang dramatically through the echo chambers of a stone Archway in Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood (note to NYC bookers: more concerts should be held here). That new material included the chamber pop powerhouses "Shake It Off" and "What The Water Gave Me," which Welch has said was influenced by a plethora of key Jazz Age visual motifs, including the works of Polish Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka and Austrian Symbolist Gustav Klimt.
At six feet tall, Welch seems almost regal in her sweeping, Charleston-worthy gowns and newly finger-waved and tucked hairdo. As she noted, her new album, Ceremonials (out November 1st), is about "raising the sound and visual to the next level"; seeing her embody that grandeur live, it's clear she's also elevated the stakes for maximal pop drama.
She was on stage as part of the weekend-long Creators Project festival, a progressive music, film and art event sponsored by Vice and Intel now in its second year. This year's musical performance roster spanned the globe, with Chinese indie rockers Queen Sea Big Shark, Scottish electronic wizard Optimo and French electronic kings Justice all performing over eight hours on Saturday – not to mention Karen O's in-demand "psycho opera" Stop the Virgens, which was playing at St. Ann's Warehouse nearby.
Further diverging from last year's single day, multi-floored spectacle at Manhattan's Milk Studios, the Creators Project's new DUMBO setting also cast a decidedly festival-like ambience to the experience. This venue switch automatically granted the event more ambulatory power — literally, in the sense you had to venue-hop through its new CMJ-level set-up — but also in its musical agenda, which was decidedly international and electronic in flavor this season. Indeed, this was a great moment to witness America's general warming trend towards European sounds.
Other performers Saturday devised alternate, and innovative, methods of pleasing a crowd with unconventional, even peculiar material. Avant-pop composer John Maus took his recent critically hailed album, We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves, to the Tobacco Warehouse stage for a cathartic mid-afternoon set. Seeing Maus perform his synth-heavy material — supremely arranged pop songs steeped in acidic post-modern entendres — with such violent vigor may have come as a shock to those expecting him to remain entrenched timidly behind his keyboards. At the very least, his confrontational stage style opened a few eyes and ears.
So did Four Tet's outstanding sunset performance, in which avant-garde electronic hero Kieran Hebden propelled the crowd to dance, dip, and bend with the neckbracing breaks and changes of his hour-length set. It was obvious that curiosity, not familiarity, drove people to his show – but that wasn't an issue. They quickly succumbed to Hebden's braindance, even prompting an extended, victorious encore. DJ sets from the U.K.'s Optimo, Ikonika and Koreless gathered eager crowds only a block away; their venue, an audiovisual space where some truly captivating digital art installations were on display, was an ideal way to drift into their abstract but visceral beat-driven realms.
"Visceral" is probably the operative word to describe French electro duo Justice's emotional impact on people. Much like the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy tricked American rock fans in the 1990s into liking electronica with their brutalist, "Big Beat" version of rave, a new, nervy set of masculinized dubstep and electro artists, like Deadmau5, Nero, and Skrillex, is eroding those genre barriers again. But Justice already beat them to it: their music has always had more in common with soaring arena rock than even their most recent Eighties-driven incarnation, as heard on "Civilization," admits. On Saturday, the duo's mighty event-closing DJ set reinstated the fact; arms were aloft, glowsticks were brandished and warrior chants abounded from the immense crowd as the army of squelching synths made sounds more dangerous than any guitar has made in a long time. Quite simply, they rocked.
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