My most lasting memory from the 2010 Voodoo Experience is not, as even I may have guessed, the members of My Morning Jacket opening their set with “Wordless Chorus” while dressed as Old Men Time. The image burned into my mind is that of Deadmau5 perched atop an LCD-encrusted polyhedron to the delight of the tens of thousands of fans packed around the Le Plur stage, as it was at that moment that I finally began to grasp the reality of electronic music’s surging popularity. Any doubt in my mind that electro-infused music is the wave of the future was erased at last month’s Hangout Festival, as I witnessed the Boom Boom stage, which hosted acts such as Bassnectar, Pretty Lights and Big Gigantic, swell far beyond it’s intended capacity hours before each artist began his set.
It is a culture shift I have accepted without prejudice, but I’ve stopped short of fully embracing the movement. As a matter of fact, The Shpongletron Experience, which took over the House of Blues last week, marked the first time in my life I paid money to see a electronic artist perform a straight-up DJ set that did not take place as part of the greater pastiche of a multi-day music festival. Suffice it to say, I picked a good night to test the waters.
Since 1996, the British trance team of Simon Posford and Raja Ram have been combining world music backtracks with traditional western psychedelic instrumentation to create unique downtempo compositions that are as absorbing as they are mystifying. More than that, the two have fashioned a constantly evolving live show that expands and enhances the mind-bending attributes of the “psybient” music they helped engineer.
There were no auxiliary musicians or fire-twirling dancers on this particular evening (occasional features of previous Shpongletron exhibitions), but the crowd was treated to a highly calibrated and fascinating light show that quite literally brought alive the 20-foot tall tree house that served as Posford’s perch for the night. The signature Shpongle head, which began as just a static sculpture mounted below the DJ booth, was illuminated with a series of video effects that gave it three sets of wandering eyes and, at various times, a Gene Simmons-class tongue. Add to that full spectrum lasers that make a Ghostland Observatory concert look like a public access talk show and the result is one of the most enveloping concert experiences of which I’ve been a part.
But the real key to the success of this evening, as would be expected, was the music. Though Shpongle’s canon of vast soundscapes is the perfect backdrop for a variety of mind-expanding experiences, I wouldn’t predict that it be completely appropriate for a packed crowd at a live show. Posford appeared to be acutely aware of the wide-reaching base of American concert-goers Shpongle currently attracts – a curious mix of Big Beat junkies, glowsticking jam band fanatics, and new era ravers – and pounded out the perfect balance of high-energy and hypnotic jams; even going as far as to lay heavy, danceable beats under tracks that were originally pure chill-out trance music.
Combined with the effort and expense of putting together an absurdly over-the-top visual spectacle, Posford’s incorporation of some uncharacteristically grooveable sections into Shpongle’s program was a fine example of just how in tune electronica artists are with their fanbases: nearly every move they make is a sincere, calculated attempt to give the crowd everything it wants.
It should come as no surprise guys like this are so popular these days.