5 Minute Gig Reviews: Skrillex at Brixton

This was not your typical Brixton academy crowd. Skrillex has amassed a small group of hardcore fans over the last couple of years, most of which have conspicuous hairstyles, piercings and general disregard for basic human health. But on the 18th of February, Skrillex’s second sell-out date at the 5000 capacity Brixton Academy, these were few and far between. Instead, the majority of the crowd seemed alien to the surroundings of a ‘serious’ venue, and would have looked more at home on a lads/lasses holiday in Zante; one girl standing next to me managed to perfectly capture her stereo-type in a nutshell when she seemed shocked and disappointed that the crowd in front of her didn’t split like the Red Sea to allow her easy passage to the front of the venue.

But then and again, this was not your typical Brixton headline act; Skrillex’s blockbuster-dj sets are seriously at odds with the two last bands I saw at the venue (Bombay Bicycle Club and Echo and the Bunnymen) and his music is often cited by dubstep-haters as proof that the genre is simply unpleasant noise. It’s unlikely that seeing this concert would have swayed them; Skrillex bombarded the crowd with wave upon wave of merciless aggressive bass music, covering a host of UKF favorites from both ends of the spectrum; Roksonix’ 2 Bad for the bass enthusiasts and Example’s Midnight Run for the fake tans.

That is not to say this was a tasteless or poorly articulated gig. Skrillex’s headline set was astonishing. Admittedly it would have left some astonished only at how shit dubstep is, it ticked all the right boxes for anyone with an open mind to (and lack of hatred for) the genre. His live visual setup – the “cell” – was breath-taking in ambition and imagination, resembling some kind of 23rd Century battle station, and neat little motion sensing trick he used which involved having a computer-generated character on the screen above his head mirroring his movements may sound a little childish, but the sweaty adrenaline-pumped crowd ate it up.

As for the music, he may be no Arcade Fire in terms of lyricism and subtlety, but when compared with other live djs he is in a league of his own; he may not have the trendy variety that 2manydjs’ sets thrive on, but he understands perfectly how to build up tension in his audience, using his much-loved remixes to great effect; his remix of Nero’s Promises went down a particular storm, resulting in an enourmous mosh-pit erupting in the middle of the crowd; one specific bald man probably woke up with a horrific headache the next day.

Interestingly it was when he broke out his original material that all the elements of the show aligned to the best effect. Skrillex’s music is evolving up and outwards from its dubstep roots; cuts from his Bangarang ep include a pretty impressive ecstatic hiphop instrumental in the form of Right On Time (skip to 1.25 on the youtube clip if you have little patience http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1NGkTSGoxo&ob=av2e) and of course the bizarrely experimental Breakin’ a Sweat. The best moment of the gig came he brought the temperature down briefly, during the Ellie Goulding-feauturing ‘Summit‘ allowing the audience to briefly nurture their aching muscles and take a little cool air into their lungs, before slowly easing them through the romance of his ‘Cinema’ remix and eventually bringing the euphoria to boiling point on his anthem-in-the-making; Voltage‘s chorus, and finally destroying the whole atmosphere with a terrifying break-down that left my ears ringing in the best way possible.

At this point Skrillex seemed less like he was simply attempting to be a very strong live dj-act with a well-earned place next to other dance titans such as Calvin Harris, Nero and Pendulum, and more like he was taking on stadium acts such as Muse and the Prodigy. If he continues on this winning streak, I wouldn’t bet against him. I’ll just say this: the cell would look pretty good three times the size, at 9pm on Reading’s main stage.