Voodoo Music Experience, Day 3: 10.30.2011

By now, all music blogs and culture magazines are abuzz about Los Angeles-based rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, whose set at the Le Ritual Voodoo main stage on the final day of Voodoo was at once electrifying and unnerving. After the group showered photographers with water and unloaded a slew of vulgar profanities at them Sunday afternoon, Left Brain – one of the dozen or so members of Odd Future constantly bounding around the stage – got up close and personal with one particular woman snapping shots from the photo pit.  Even those who escaped with only injured feelings told horror stories as if they’d been party to a narrow brush with death while the rest just seemed flat out, but justifiably, offended that they were the objects of homophobic language and violent behavior.

But then again, everyone already knows that Odd Future is a pretty shocking group. They are homophobic, misogynistic and vulgar; most importantly, they are a band of young, manically creative egos composed of pure, unchecked energy who for the first time in their lives have a little bit of “fuck you” money and the swagger that it comes with, all of which they seem comfortable throwing around with abandon. But don’t think for a second that the members of Odd Future don’t comprehend the implications of their onstage actions or the contradictions of their words – that while Tyler, the Creator accuses photographers of being nothing more than freeriding hangers-on who skipped out on paying entrance to the festival, he knows that journalists have garnered Odd Future the sort of attention responsible for the success they currently enjoy and it’s unlikely that he altogether despises their numerous photo shoots for the likes of Vice Magazine and The Fader.

If anything, the members of Odd Future know exactly how to get their young rabid fan base completely fired up, which they did quickly and continuously. Within seconds of being released of the three-song photo pit rule, they were free to lurk around the area in front of the stage, give high fives to the front row of the audience and crowd surf with depraved indifference to their own safety. With circle pits spontaneously springing up throughout a massive sea of heads and the band letting side stage audience members jump from the stage into the crowd, it became apparent that this was less a hip hop concert than it was a hardcore punk show, and plenty of kids have the bruises to prove it. And while I’m sure it was shocking, unsettling, and maybe even offensive being up in the pit during this outrageous performance, everyone left with more amazing photo opportunities than bodily injuries.

Immediately after, things settled back down to Earth at the Bingo! stage – though only momentarily. When talking about Portland band Portugal. The Man, it’s very easy to articulate why they are one of America’s most talented bands on record. With a spacey glam rock vibe that benefits heavily from immaculately nuanced production, textured and complex instrumentation and some of the highest register male vocals on earth, it can’t be surprising that In The Mountain In The Cloud is a no-brain contender for album of the year.

However, it’s much more difficult to convey – even to someone familiar with the band’s catalog – how unbelievably hard this band rocks in a live setting. A Portugal concert is more than just the normal larger-sound-live phenomenon with more aggressive drums and louder-sung vocals, but rather there are megatons more personality emanating from every member of the band. After humbly opening things up with a relatively restrained “So American”, it wasn’t long before drummer Jason Seachrist began laying on the crash and the rest of the band followed suit in letting the more berserk side of Portugal. The Man hang out.

On such intimate quarters as Bingo! it can be hard to picture a five piece band having enough room to head bang, leap around unhindered or strike a rock star pose, but Portugal certainly used every inch of that stage. With keyboardist Ryan Neighbors practically pushing his rig over has he relentlessly pounded the ivory and bassist Zachary Carothers jauntily jumping around as he showed off a patented punk rock technique, lead singer John Gourley tore through ridiculous guitar solos and perfectly found his upper register. It was almost too much at one point to realize that – through spacey distortion, heavy bass, thumping keys and numerous cymbals – they were absolutely nailing a cover of “Helter Skelter” by the Beatles.

With daylight still looming over the Le Plur Red Bulletin stage, arguably the most impressive DJ of the weekend managed be such without the benefit of a light show, a hype man or any other elaborate electronica set dressings. Alain Macklovitch – better known as A-Trak, the youngest ever DMC World Champion, Kanye West’s influential touring DJ, half of disco house duo Duck Sauce and younger brother of Chromeo frontman Dave 1 – certainly had the credentials to topple headliners like Major Lazer and Fatboy Slim, but it was still hugely enthralling to witness such an extraordinary performance.

Though I’d be lying if I said the technical aspects of scratching and spinning aren’t generally lost on me, there was no mistaking the fact that literally everything A-Trak did on stage was live and in real time, no matter how simple or difficult the maneuver. And though he opened to an unfortunately sparse audience, he quickly hemmed in the scattered crowd of bros and ravers with a string of cuts familiar to the area (a couple of reggaeton riffs, some cut-up snare drums, the occasional dubstep drop, Adele) before unloading a barrage of highly technical, ultra-futuristic electrofunk (his obvious onstage bread and butter).

It’s probably the case that some people didn’t know what they were seeing or how it differed from anything else they’d seen on the Le Plur stage that weekend. But by the sound of the frenzied crowd at the end of A-Trak’s set, it was apparent that by not cutting any live corners he was the weekend’s torchbearer of the art of scratching in electronica, blowing minds as he jumped between turntables like a human metronome through dissected Jay-Z verses and Grace-era Rapture hooks. Authenticity of this sort makes the pay off that much more satisfying when A-Trak decides to give the crowd a jaw-dropping demonstration of how he crushes the competition in a DJ championship.

additional reporting by Matt Rosenthal, who was right there when the Odd Future shit went down

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