It’s always fascinating to rave in the shadow of downtown Miami skyscrapers, soaking up the electrifying aura that permeates dance music events in the Magic City.
Bayfront Park, long-time host of Ultra Music Festival, stood as the epicenter of the excitement once again last weekend in welcoming BassLights to its Klipsch Amphitheater.
The two nights of sold out, stadium-smashing antics featured headliners Bassnectar and Pretty Lights, who first teamed up last year in Hampton, Virginia, to birth the BassLights concept.
The mini-festival gave both headliners an equal opportunity to shine. While Pretty Lights closed out Friday night’s music after opening sets from SuperVision, PANTyRAID and Bassnectar, respectively, Bassnectar gave the final performance of Saturday night preceded by Koan Sound, Run The Jewels and then Pretty Lights.
Attendees swarmed the open-air amphitheater, clamoring for a coveted spot within the semi-circle bowl. Pavilion tickets granted access to the dance floor and rows of seats while lawn tickets gave patrons a birds-eye view of the stage from the grassy hills above. But from any vantage point in the crowd, BassLights blessed patrons with an incendiary, multi-sensory concert experience.
Derek Vincent Smith, better known as the mastermind behind Pretty Lights, jaunted onto his massive stage setup around 9:30 p.m. Like at all Pretty Lights performances, Smith brought along with him an elaborate construction, this time comprised of five glowing podiums backed by infectious lasers which relentlessly beamed every color of the rainbow into each corner of the crowd. But unlike all Pretty Lights performances, Smith also brought along a five-piece band which propelled the producer’s music to entirely new heights.
The unexpectedness of live orchestration at a DJed event shook the crowd, introducing them to a foreign yet refreshing soundscape of unexperienced musical textures. Continuously innovating a genre which has fallen victim to monotonous cycles of button-pushing controversy, Pretty Lights used his band to showcase the forgotten beauty of organic sound and how live instruments can be intermixed seamlessly with electronic productions.
The sextet maintained an applaudable balance between Pretty Lights’ electronic roots and the live band’s instrumental offerings. The trumpet tooted boldly during classic hit “Finally Moving,” a perfect prelude to Smith hollering “Miami we takin’ it back, we takin’ it wayyyy back,” before dropping out the chorus’ vocals so the crowd could sing along.
The band put a boisterous, echoing twist on the slow-steeping track “How We Do,” piling on layers of synthesized percussion and haunting key-play. Perhaps the biggest success of the night was the glitched-out rendition of “Gold Coast Hustle” which was swathing with rumbling percussion and deep, bassy vocals.
The end of Pretty Lights’ set signaled for a complete staging change, taking down the five-part podium and putting up a sea of LED screens. Soon enough the all-too-familiar, scraggly-haired silhouette appeared behind the booth, ready to break the sound barrier with his hallmark brand of bass-in-your-face.
Bassnectar was ready for his headlining slot, commanding the audience with an impressive arsenal of blood-boiling bangers. The theme of the set was throwback jams, and the bass-maestro kicked it old-school for his hour and a half long walk down memory lane.
Fans roared uncontrollably when the first unmistakable alien beats of “Wildstyle Method” erupted through the speakers, throwing their hands to the sky in approval of the 2010 favorite. Bassnectar careened vigorously from his clapping “808 Track” to his edgy “Cozza Frenzy,” all the while backed by homogenous visuals which aligned ideally with the music’s frenzied manner.
Of course the headliner threw in a few contemporary tracks to keep things fresh, like his biting collaboration with Excision “Put It Down,” and his grungy hit “Ugly” from his latest album. But that’s what Bassnectar is all about - curating bulletproof, bass-driven sets that knock you off your feet when you least expect it.
As the clock struck twelve and Bassnectar exited the stage, masses of attendees piled onto Biscayne Boulevard looking for their next adventure. But instead the usual complaints which follow festivals with midnight end-times, the party-till-sunrise crowd donned nothing but smiles as they recapped the six previous hours of music. All that could be seen was an ocean of bassheads who were undoubtedly satiated by the weekend’s performances, looking ahead enthusiastically to BassLights 3.0.