DJ and producer Steve Aoki had decided to go big on his label Dim Mak’s stage at yesterday’s Identity Festival at Jones Beach in Wantagh, New York, performing on an elevated stage installed above outrageous, oversized LED letters spelling his last name.But just one song into his set, Aoki was forced to stop due to technical difficulties caused by a heavy rainstorm. Festival-goers waited patiently in the storm and jeered at each crack of lightning. After Aoki tried to start his show twice more – once getting far enough to debut a new album track – Identity organizers shut down the Dim Mak stage.
The weather was the only low point in a day that until then had been filled with some of the best in electronic music from around the world. Making its debut this year, Identity Fest kicked off August 11th in Noblesville, Indiana and 20 cities later, it will wrap up September 10th in George, Washington. Along the way, it’s been serving up what organizer Joel Zimmerman called a “buffet” of electronic artists, from piano-pop titan Avicii to British dubstep superstars Nero.
The day started off slowly, with lesser-known acts performing before sundown. The Dim Mak area’s acts were the most varied; live performances from DFA darlings Hercules and Love Affair and Holy Ghost! served as a warm-up for the blaring beats to come later.
Over at the main stage, the rain deterred few fans. Thousands descended to the open-air floor section for Swedish sensation Avicii. The 21-year-old producer (real name: Tim Bergling) linked up with Identity for just four dates, hitting a few major East Coast cities. His set was far from groundbreaking, but employed his tried-and-true formula to great effect: playing his hits one after another, letting the beat drop at just the right moment. He ran through his formidable roster of singles, dropping three of the most popular tracks (“Swede Dreams,” “Levels” and his current single, “Fade into Darkness”) in one epic burst. After taking a break from his own productions for a while – playing “Save the World” by his friends Swedish House Mafia, among others – Avicii closed out the show with his first big single, “Seek Bromance.” The DJ was jubilantly in his element: his right hand was in the air for nearly the whole set, playing air piano as the crowd fist-pumped along. “It’s definitely been the best year of my life,” he told Rolling Stone. “Hopefully I’ll be able to do it for a long time.”
While the audience danced to Avicii and Dutch electro DJ Chuckie, Kaskade (a.k.a. Ryan Raddon) prepared for his set in the relative quiet of his dressing room. As the festival’s headliner, he said, he was careful to “come on board and fully invest in this . . . so it’s done right.” This included “helping select the look and feel of the show, of the flyers.” Raddon also faced the challenge of designing the setup for his turn on the main stage. “Because I’m so used to going into nightclubs and working with spaces that are pre-determined,” he said, “I didn’t know where to start” when it came to crafting an arena-sized set.
The result was a stunning stage setup that matched the ethereal quality of Kaskade’s music: he performed from a tall booth outfitted with video screens, with two more flanking the stage and another behind him. Lights and graphics were projected on long white sheets that billowed in the wind. Elaborate, colorful visuals spun and circled on the video screens, but an unexpected special effect was the best of all; as Kaskade opened his set with the hypnotic single “Raining,” flashes of lightning lit up the gray skies behind him. He braved the elements during an energetic, wide-ranging set that featured both new takes on his classics and favorite tracks by other DJs. As the beat of Kaskade’s “Angel on My Shoulder” mash-up reached an exuberant peak, huge multi-colored balloons dropped on the audience, and bounced around for the duration of the set.
Kaskade was glad to play for the Jones Beach crowd – during the show, he thanked fans for “sticking it out” in the rain – but he said that smaller cities had their own special appeal. “I think kids were a bit more intense in the smaller cities,” he said. “It was like bringing water to the person dying of thirst. I’ve played [in Indiana] twice or three times in the 12 years I’ve been touring.” Thanks to Identity, however, he believes dance music will soon be everywhere, Indiana included. “We’re approaching 300,000 tickets sold [in total], this is freaking nuts. Our moment is here,” he said, “but I think it’s also still right ahead of us.”
Zimmerman, who is head of William Morris Electronic, envisioned Identity as a sort of Lollapalooza for dance music. “There’s a lot of parallels between what was going on in the early Nineties with alt-rock and what’s going on now with electronic dance music,” Zimmerman said. “I wanted Kaskade to be Perry Farrell.”
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