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Gig Review: Skrillex In Delhi

On 11 October this year, over ten thousand pilgrims made the gruelling journey to that far corner of Gurgaon known to most as Leisure Valley, to witness their God in the flesh. A concert of mythical proportions was to take place on its plastic cup-adorned grounds, surrounded by sponsored tents selling unnecessary things to intoxicated young people, as is done. I was present there, on that clear, too-warm night in the stifling atmosphere created by a sea of frenzied bodies as witness to the one of the largest non-religious (debatable) gatherings most of us have ever witnessed in the city.

At the core of this event was Sonny Moore a.k.a. Skrillex. Full disclosure – I don’t ever deliberately listen to Skrillex. I’ve heard a bunch of his music around (of course - who hasn’t?), there’s never been an itch to dig deeper. I’ve never been tempted to click on a Youtube recommendation (no Creators Project, I do not want to watch the new vid for whatever the hell ‘Doompy Poomp’ is), never had the inclination to learn more about him and have definitely never wanted to go to any of his concerts - till now, that is.


Apologies

Skrillex is a huge, huge deal for the music industry here. When VH1 Supersonic announced his tour, you could feel a wave of excitement rippling through the country because all said and done, there aren’t as many names as big as his in the business of electronic music. So it’s a step in the right direction.

I wanted to see what all the fuss over his live shows was about, and whether the bug that’s infected so many would find its way inside me as well. I also wanted to see if I was wrong, if there was something – anything – about Skrillex's music that was overlooked, if I was dismissing him on a superficial basis or subconsciously because it isn’t cool to actually like Skrillex if you’re 'serious' about music. Numerous people had also informed me that Skrillex was a solid human being and a great person (just to make it clear, however, I don't care. Good people don't necessarily make good music). I just didn’t want to be a hater without reason.

A little bit about the institution that is Skrillex. Currently all of 27 years old, the Los Angeles born musician initially began making music in 2004 as the lead vocalist for American post-hardcore band From First to Last. The band split apart after two years and for some reason, its fans jumped to the conclusion that it was because Moore had tragically died, which as evidence points to, is false (unless he had been replaced like Paul McCartney). Moore was unfazed by the rumours (he thought they were “kind of cool”) and clarified that the band had to break up because he had been struggling with a giant nodule on his right vocal cord, which was causing him to slowly lose his voice.

That’s when he began his solo career as Skrillex and initiated his role in championing ‘brostep’, a subgenre which emerged around 2011 when the US market caught wind of the popularity of bass music in other parts of the world. Take old-school dubstep (here’s a great little link to help you recognise what that is), strip away any sensuality, and throw in a couple of chipmunked vocal samples, aggressive chainsaw noises and rather formulaic drops and you have the sound that Skrillex plays poster boy for.


Not that bad

Coming to the actual Delhi event. Skrillex came to India as part of a tour with VH1 Supersonic, performing in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and New Delhi. Opening for him was Indo-bass monster Nucleya and Mija – an azure-maned Los Angeles native and upcoming ‘EDM’ megastar whose tagline on social media is “shredding a tidal wave of whiskey on a surfboard made out of don't care”.

The venue - Leisure Valley - located in Huda Grounds, is probably known best for the elaborate Kingdom of Dreams. Those sprawling, at one point majestic, “entertainment venues” (sort of like a modern day circus) that look like they’ve been lifted off the sets of a low budget remake of Aladdin, if Aladdin also had an inexplicable but sizeable contingent of white, blonde background dancers.

It was quite surreal walking past an empty, borderline spooky (despite the sparkle) Kingdom of Dreams on one side, and a teeming parking lot on the other.

Getting in was no easy feat, to put it very, very mildly. I had made the mistake of arriving when the crowd was at its peak – Nucleya was halfway through his set and Mija was up next before Skrillex.

After waiting in line to get our wrist-bands and tickets, we had to make our way through security. This is where the fear first crept in. The crowd bottlenecked towards a couple of narrow metal detectors, which were partitioned by crude metal barriers to make sure proper queues were formed.

The women’s lane was different but of course, bros had crowded the front (not surprising considering it was all mostly men anyway), and this is when it started getting forceful. Girls in front of me were being slammed into the metal fences and fought with by people twice their size. There was just not enough security to control a very intoxicated, boisterous crowd. The few security personnel that were present had to usher the women to safety by grabbing us by one arm, placing their hands on our heads and shoving us (very dazed, very bewildered) under a metal barrier yelling ‘chalo chalo!’. I’m not kidding.

Inside, Nucleya was just ending a great set and Mija was coming on. From the little I heard, Udyan Sagar’s combination of desi and bass heavy EDM worked well. Even though I’m not a fan of his music per se, he deserves credit where credit’s due. Sagar is easily one of the most charismatic EDM stars we have today, particularly when he's performing live. The energy was absolutely euphoric (also sans aggression at this point), and unquestionably infectious. Nucleya stuck to his own original music for the large part, which is more than can be said for his international counterparts, and managed to hold the fort strong.

 

Get your thumkas in high gear coz its @NUCLEYA with Bass Rani warming up the crowds for #SkrillexDelhi! #SuperSkrillex

A video posted by Vh1 Supersonic (@vh1supersonic) on Oct 11, 2015 at 3:24pm PDT

But unfortunately, music was at the back of my mind for most of the concert. I could see chaos brewing from the sidelines towards the centre of the grounds as Mija played her (largely forgettable) set. There were waves of movement in the middle as an ocean of sweaty people shoved each other back and forth, with mini fights erupting at odd intervals as confused teens weaved their way to the food stall I was standing close to. The concert ground was packed with more people than it could take – this was obvious, and alarming. With one measly, narrow little entrance which was also the exit I made the decision to leave early the second I landed and stay on the periphery, because I’ve seen The Lion King and I know what happened to Mufasa.

The crowd got completely out of hand. At one point during Mija’s performance the organisers themselves got on stage and tried to pep-talk everyone to calm the hell down (but nicely) while ‘No Woman No Cry’ played awkwardly in the background.

“Guys, we’re here to love one another, guys. Don’t shove guys, this is a concert of love.”

They halted the concert for 15 solid minutes – a necessary decision to control the chaos. The crowd was sufficiently bored enough to scatter themselves a bit, so things calmed down.

Till Skrillex came on.

There was no announcement when he walked stage - the signal came from the first few rows in the form of screams and chants. Skrillex was up on stage, dressed in a black kurta of sorts, black trousers and sneakers with his familiar half head of hair and glasses. The crowd was ecstatic, Skrillex flags were being waved in the air and chants echoed through the grounds as Moore began his set.

Skrillex kept things predictably safe, music wise, sticking to a playlist that stuck to the comfort of Billboard’s top 40 with the typical EDM-y sounds of Major Lazer, Calvin Harris, Baauer and the like thrown in (plus Fetty Wap’s ‘Trap Queen’ – a huge crowd pleaser). He focused more on his original productions at the end of the set when things got heavier.

I would have liked to say that this was the point when I understood all that hype behind Skrillex, but honestly, I left a bit indifferent. Maybe I’m a soulless monster with no taste or maybe (just maybe) he really is just a mediocre DJ.

However, all said and done, Skrillex does have an infectious charisma on stage whether you like what's playing or not. He’ll scream at the audiences, jump and dance on his console table to get the energy going. The visuals and accompanying theatrics were as much a part of the concert as the music. Skrillex and his team decided to forgo the normally bright flashing LED visuals that tend to accompany most EDM for Indian film samples. It was pretty incredible to see a giant Prabhudeva shaking his hips behind Moore. Apart from that, there was a lot of drama surrounding the stage with fireworks soaring out into the sky, confetti and streamers flying above awe-struck audiences and fireballs erupting in front of the main stage.

There might have been a little too much excitement because again, the show had to be halted because of all the shoving going on in front. At this point, Skrillex spoke to the audience himself; "calm down, stop shoving each other and jump up because this music lifts you higher”.

Delhi trap artist Su Real was there and managed to take a vid:

 

Had to share this video in full... Big respect Skrillex, Vh1 supersonic, Arms House....

Posted by Suhrid Manchanda on Sunday, 11 October 2015

I didn’t make it to the end and decided to leave early because of the chaos. Like I mentioned, the narrowness of the entry/exit got me noided.

There was also the news of the shocking tragedy that occurred later on in the night. A lot of you would have heard about the young 23 year old girl that died at the concert, apparently because of a cardiac arrest which occurred due to suffocation, according to news sources. Her friend had to be rushed to the ICU as well. It doesn’t get much scarier than that, and it says as much about the organization of the festival as the attendees. The grounds were simply too overcrowded and security not tight enough. VH1 Supersonic had either (allegedly) oversold their tickets or hadn't anticipated the skewed crowd to space ratio. We also know that there was a lot of bribing happening at the gate, with many last minute attendees paying security to let them in (not uncommon for such large events). The exact number is hard to know, but no amount of justification can reverse what happened. The only thing organisers can do in the future is to prevent it by tightening security. The responsibility also lies with the crowds - listen to Skrillex - look out for one another, make sure the people around you feel safe and comfortable and know your limits.

 

India checkout this amazing Video of Skrillex New Delhi Vh1Supersonic Video credits: @aerialindians Follow these people for amazing Drone Videos around the Nation. I replaced the audio with Ease my Mind-Skrillex(Jai Wolf Remix) #skrillex #skrillexindiatour #skrillexindelhi #skrillexdelhi #dubstep #skrillexasiatour #himija #mija #edm #deephouse #housemusic #trap #twerk #diplo #tomorrowland #tomorrowworld #owsla #edc #edclv #burningman #umf #calvinharris #djsnake #deadmau5 #delhi #jaipur #mumbai #bangalore

A video posted by Kunal Tanwar (@kunalsinghtanwar) on Oct 14, 2015 at 1:51am PDT

Can you see me, ma?

To the maddening crowd at the Delhi concert – this is why we can’t have nice things. It’s exasperating to attend a concert with the aim of reviewing music but coming out of it thinking of everything but that.

I know a Skrillex concert with 10,000 people attending could never really be about the music. It’s always about theatrics, showmanship, and the worship of a celebrity at the centre - fair enough – EDM is today’s rock n’ roll and glamour plays a big role in that. Given the right crowd and atmosphere, big events can be (and usually are) a whole lot of fun, no doubt about it, but this was a borderline riot. Skrillex got lost in the chaos of a mob, as did I.

Three weeks later, my newly developed agoraphobia has calmed a little and I actually did end up watching the video for Doompy Poomp (it could have been worse). Would I go for a Skrillex concert again? Probably not. Would I go for a Skrillex concert in the NCR region? Threaten to torture me with Kygo’s ‘Firestone’ blasting into my ears for all of eternity on loop if I decline, and I’d hesitate at least - I’ve learnt my lesson.

Words: Diya Gupta

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02 November 2015

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