Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Hucci and Mayhem at Counterpoint Music Festival

The mentioning of the term “trap music” in mixed company will always yield mixed results. While there will always be people like myself who see past the negative stereotypes and appreciate the genre for what it is; a significant amount of electronic music lovers would describe it as cliche, inauthentic, and lacking a true identity. Sadly, the over utilization of high pitched, squelching siren synths and cliche samples have given it a reputation that’ll be hard to shake. This is truly a shame, because there are many positive aspects of this overlooked genre. Music festivals like Counterpoint are great places to find more authentic trap artists because you don’t have the same glamorous, hyper inflated corporate vibe of festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival and Ultra. I nearly burst a kidney when I saw Hucci on the lineup; because not only is he one of my favorite artists, Counterpoint would be the first festival he’d headline in North America. I wasn’t expecting to see any other trap talent over the course of the weekend, but unbeknownst to me I was in for a pleasant surprise.

I woke up on Saturday morning still feeling a bit hazy from jet lag and the arduous check in process my friends and I had dealt with the previous evening. I wasn’t expecting to see any artist until Kill Paris came on around five, but I found myself roaming aimlessly around the festival grounds after I got tired of microwaving myself in the Georgia sun and smoking cigarettes outside my tent. I eventually found myself watching Chris Bushnell at the steeple stage, who put on a pretty solid performance that I wasn’t expecting. His ability to mash vastly different styles of music together while maintaining a danceable atmosphere was pretty impressive, as well as his composed demeanor on stage.

A strange intuitive feeling caused me to stay at the steeple stage after Bushnell was finished with his set in anticipation of even greater things to come. Almost immediately after Bushnell left, I observed a slightly stocky white guy decked out in streetwear take over along with his thinner African American accomplice. They introduced themselves as Mayhem, a duo from Atlanta; and it was a this point that I realized what had prompted me to stay. The sense of local pride in the crowd was almost overwhelming; I felt as if at least half the audience had seen this group at a dive bar at some point before they blew up. I felt honored to be part of this sentimental experience, and I knew I was in for a treat the minute the first drop hit.

Unlike many performances where the crowd energy fluctuates; Mayhem fans maintained an indescribable energy throughout. From the passionate, aggressive chanting to the abundance of sexually charged females, the whole experience felt surreal. On top of that, the mixing quality was nearly flawless, with samples being interjected appropriately and transitions executed as smoothly as possible. Although there could’ve been more breaks in between drops to build suspense, the crowd didn’t seem bothered by it and remained engaged the entire time. To top things off, Mayhem’s accomplice spiced things up by crowd surfing towards the end. All in all, this was the most pleasant surprise of the entire weekend, and just thinking about it makes me want to see them again as I’m writing this.

When the time finally came around to watch Hucci’s set later that evening, I couldn’t have been more optimistic. Prior to attending to Counterpoint, I had listened to both of his EPs almost on repeat for months. I figured that nothing could stand in the way of me enjoying his set to the fullest, and that anyone who had anything negative to say about Hucci had no taste in music. You could say that I inflated my expectations a bit, because I would soon find out that not everything is what it seems.

The first red flag that presented itself to me was his stage presence. Rather than engaging with the crowd and feeding off their energy, Ollie “Hucci” O’Neill seemed to view everyone as a tool to inflate his ego more than anything else. As I observed him standing there nonchalantly in sunglasses, arbitrarily waving his hand from side to side and taking cell phone videos, I couldn’t help but think that his performance was lacking substantially. I can usually put up with an unpleasant demeanor if the set is particularly enthralling, but there was a lot to be desired on that end as well. The combination of poorly executed transitions and a lack of original tracks led to me feeling pretty underwhelmed throughout the set. While I positively love the laid back, liquid trap sound, which still surfaced, the negative stimuli unfortunately proved to override the positive in this case and I left feeling relatively disappointed. After witnessing such unanimous positive energy during the Mayhem set, which I wasn’t even expecting; being let down by an artist that I had previously held in such high esteem put a damper on things a bit. The mere fact that “Ball So Hard” and “Desire” were the only original compositions I recognized over the course of the entire set was a major letdown. Come on Ollie, I’ve listened to Novacane and Rose Gold at least a hundred times each and you only give me one track from both those albums to get down to? What were you thinking?

Perhaps I am being a bit too hard on the guy. As a young producer myself, I know how difficult it can be to construct a good set. I guess I just romanticized this individual so much that he would’ve had to throw a damn near perfect set for me not to complain. But at the end of the day, life goes on.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Keys N Krates Kick Off The Start of February with a Bang at The Blue Note

One nice thing about living in Columbia is being able to experience live music in a more intimate setting that's often not possible in larger cities. This past Monday proved to be no exception as Keys N Krates made a sound appearance at the Blue Note while providing a meet and greet afterwards. Although I was slightly underwhelmed by the performance overall, it was refreshing to see their individualistic take on things and I could tell that all members were passionate about their craft. 

Pictured above from left to right: Adam Tune, David Matisse, JR Flow

A lot of artists associated with EDM often get a bad rap because it's assumed they follow genre cliches. Such is not the case with Keys N Krates, whose unique approach to live instrumentation challenges the notion of what that label really means. By combining a conventional DJ setup with a live band, the group put on a more organic performance with a personal element, traversing different styles throughout the show. In an industry where many artists are guilty of playing prerecorded mixes, this made for a pleasant contrast. All members remained engaged throughout; although there were times that Frontman David Matisse seemed unsure of his role as the hype man. 

The other performers accented Matisse reasonably well, with JR Flow generating the most excitement with his live sampling techniques. Adam Tune made a valiant effort on the drums, but seemed to have difficulty maintaining the crowd's energy level. A lot of the time, it felt like his technique didn't suffice for some of the groups harder hitting tracks that were originally programmed on a drum machine. It seemed that the group couldn't find a definitive identity live, oscillating between sounding like a more conventional EDM group and a jam band. 

Overall, Keys N Krates accomplish what few others can by toeing the line between alluding to EDM cliches and maintaining a distinct style of their own. Although they could've had a slightly stronger stage presence, it was refreshing to see a group not seem so hindered by crowd expectations. As they continue to refine their craft collectively; I'm sure there'll be great things in store for the future.

Above: Matisse immersing himself in a keyboard solo