DEADMEAT TOUR featuring Steve Aoki and Datsik
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
Jan 21, 2012
Better than: Being slowly asphyxiated by menthol cigarettes and Vick's Vaporub.
First silence, and then it hit. The subwoofers setup just a foot in front of me began to pump air out into the 7,000-capacity Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Waves of bass frequencies surge through my body causing skin to flap around wildly, like an astronaut stuck in a centrifuge. Sensing the possible approach of a brown note I shouted to Avalon, "IF WE DON'T GET OUT OF HERE SOON, I'M GOING TO SHIT MY PANTS!"
Fortunately for me, soundwaves cannot cause bowel movements. Whatever though, these are the realities of the strange and dangerous places you can find yourself in as a journalist. In my case, the place I had found myself was in the photographer's pit for the local leg of Steve Aoki's DEADMEAT tour with dubsteppers Dirtyphonics and Datsik. It was an eye-opening evening of total sensory overload and derangement by way of abrasive noise, heavy smells, and bizarre sights. Yet while this may or might not sound like your idea of a good time, the evening was characterized by a beautiful (and rare) sense of total youthful exuberance.
We arrived in front of the massive Bill Graham Civic Auditorium around 8:30 p.m. to find a chaotic street scene bustling with fluorescently decorated teenage ravers. As a pack they resembled the residents of some tropical coral reef, with individual schools of ravers intersecting and weaving amongst each other as they swam through the line outside to get in. Some arrived in elaborate dress (panda hats, rabbit costumes, robot suits) and some arrived wearing little at all (droopy shorts and no shirt on some of the guys, neon hot pants and tube tops on the girls).
The main room inside is an awe-inspiring sight; it's two floors and takes up an entire city block. It has a feeling of enormity that few places in the city can match. To give you a sense of scale, we walked in on one end and could barely make out the four DJs of Dirtyphonics as they dropped a set of dubstep to the bouncing mass of humanity that had assembled in front of them. All around the room people waved glow sticks in the air and danced about while wildly screaming. Elsewhere, isolated pockets spent time chilling out by smoking cigarettes and giving each other trippy lightshows. All around, the room reeked of menthol, tobacco, and sweat.
As we made our way to the front of the room we got a clearer picture of the DJs. Consummate showmen, they climbed all over their DJ gear and made striking poses. At one point, they stopped playing electronic dance and cut into a track of what sounded like Slayer-esque '80s speed metal. This caused the entire room to erupt into screams of delight as the fans danced even harder. Then, one by one, the DJs began taking turns stage-diving into the audience. By the time we had reached the front of the room, the metal track had turned into a dubstep cut, and two of security's finest were carting a confused and angry shirtless teenager out of the VIP area.
Next up was Canadian dubstepper Datsik, who appeared on stage in a custom-built DJ booth with his name written across the front in illuminated letters. Dressed like a frumpy snowboarder, he took the stage and shouted out, "San Francisco make some fucking noise!" before giving the subwoofers a thorough workout with a set of aggressive speaker-shredding dubstep. By this point in the evening, the room had filled up to what I can only assume was its capacity. Ravers danced wall-to-wall and even partied up in the bleachers. Datsik knew his crowd well and played favorite after favorite. His selections were met with the kind of cheer that's usually only heard in sports stadiums. Tracks like Knife Party's "Internet Friends" and Flux Pavilion's "I Can't Stop" kept the glowsticks in near constant motion. Finally, he ended his set with the entire original version of Ice Cube's "You Can Do It (Put Your Ass Into It)."
Upstairs looking down, the main room resembled a page from Where's Waldo. Up here we could take in the stage and watch Aoki's DJ rig as it was being wheeled out. An impressively tall structure that towered over the stage, its shape resembled a surgical mask. In front of the booth, roadies placed a giant "AOKI" spelled out in letter-shaped LCD screens. Loud repeated chants of "AOKI" from the crowd seemed to reverberate through the room.
Then, all at once, the lights turned from the stage and illuminated the audience with a harsh white glow. Aoki emerged and climbed into the driver's seat. Greeting the crowd he jumped on top of his gear, kneeled down and said, "Before we begin, I just want to take a twitpic of this." The crowd screamed with delight. And then, wasting no time, he launched into a set of tracks from his debut album, Wonderland. First up was the 8-bit infused "Steve Jobs," which had the room buzzing with energy. Then he moved into other crowd pleasers like "Earthquakey People featuring Rivers Cuomo" and a live version of "Warp."
Though I can't say much about Aoki's DJing, he certainly didn't disappoint in the showmanship department. Bounding down from high on his perch, he skipped out to the front of the stage with a bottle of champagne and a sly grin. Donning a rabbit mask that he grabbed from an ecstatic audience member, Aoki jumped on top of a monitor and began spraying large spurts of champagne at the audience. The first time he did it, a guy behind me started screaming, "YES! YEAH!!!!! OH YEEEEAAH!" All told, Aoki went through eight bottles of champagne, two birthday cakes, tons of confetti, and a cooler full of glitter. Throughout his set, he periodically sent Datsik crowd surfing or "white raver rafting" (as he called it) aboard an inflatable raft.
Aoki ended his set at about seven minutes to midnight. His departure from the stage was met with the deafening roar of 7,000 people chanting "AOKI, AOKI." Naturally, he returned a second later to deliver a short speech and one last song, "Cudi the Kid."
We navigated our way outside almost tripping over a few people well on their way to unconsciousness. Looking at the evening's fallen I couldn't help but think of a slogan on a T-shirt I saw earlier in the night: "Go hard or go home."