Brooklyn Bowl’s synth stand successfully kicks out the electronic jams

Photo: Erik Kabik

It seemed strange that Brooklyn Bowl booked four separate electronic music headliners between August 6 and 8, given that it’s earned a reputation for more traditional (and often improvisational) live music exhibition. But the new Linq venue, like the jam-friendly crowd to which it mostly caters, would seem to embrace the uniqueness of performance regardless of its medium or genre. And how could a musically ambitious booker pass up choice opportunities afforded by the music hall’s proximity to last weekend’s Outside Lands Festival? Plus, Disclosure, Chromeo, Flume and Cut Copy all play live—or at least as live as electronic music gets in 2014.

Up first, Disclosure surpassed all expectations, including when it came to the English duo’s ability to pack a Vegas venue with a $50+ ticket price. The band’s postponing of its original April date helped, as its single “Latch,” with singer-of-the-moment Sam Smith, has since crashed the Top 10. Given the audience swell and the band’s signature sound—call it a hybrid of British deep house and R&B-influenced garage/two-step—the vibe was minimally flashy, sweaty, lively, very afterhours and transportive, re-creating a NYC basement club. In other words: nothing like the Vegas nightlife status quo.

“Know how I know this a good party?” asked Guy Lawrence, one half of the sibling twosome. “Bits of the ceiling keep falling on me!”

Though some attendees lost themselves in the songs, most zeroed in on Guy and Howard’s performance, the former alternating between percussive apparatus both digital and analog, while the latter mostly stuck to keyboards and his bass guitar. Rounded out by plenty of samples (especially vocals, since none of the guest singers joined the tour), the set transitioned like a DJ set. Highlights included the booming but sultry “Confess to Me” and the jaunty “White Noise.”

Ironically, there was more actual dancing happening for the live Aussie synth fave Cut Copy than at the standard Strip megaclub during a DJ performance. And for good reason: Though the quartet occasionally indulged in some guitar freakouts and jangly jams, it chiefly focused on its signature high-energy, four-on-the-floor dance anthems. Climaxing crowd-pleasers like opener “We are Explorers” and the piano-led “Take Me Higher” enthusiastically paid homage to both Britain’s pre-grunge “Summer of Love” period and the early 1990s East Coast club scene. And encore number “Need You Now” took its fine, pop-convention-bucking time to arrive at its final, goose-pimpling chorus—imagine an “I Feel Love” for the electro-rock set. Occasionally, the band’s chronic artist derivation and rote hippie-ism begat queasiness, but its unfailingly tuneful and escapist moments proved too irresistible most of the time.

The night before, Cut Copy’s fellow countryman Flume delivered hands down the most transfixing and noteworthy set of the four. Behind an arsenal of Ableton-friendly gizmos, and in front of a massive throng (especially for a non-DJ, post-midnight set), the young man born Harley Streten executed an 80-minute widescreen electronic orchestration that—along with a large video wall—evoked an even wider range of moods. Imagine a more late-night and sprawling version of the Mad Decent aesthetic, or a progressive version of “open format” actually worth the stanchion-snaking wait.

Flume easily kept his audience stimulated as he played summery jams like his own sublime “Sleepless,” ethereal thumpers like “Insane” and remixes that improved upon their originals. The night effectively climaxed with his James Bond-like re-rub of Disclosure’s “You and Me,” Flume swapping two-step out for cinematic horn approximations, big-baller breaks and bewitching female vocals. Even Brooklyn Bowl staffers were holding their recording phones aloft. After an encore, Flume said he’d return to Vegas, and oh, he better. The decidedly non-EDM upstart may not woo black card-wielding VIPs, but his pop-intuitive soundscaping and growing audience suggest a bend in the commercial-house road.

Unfortunately, the Bowl’s synth streak didn’t go four for four. Just when you thought Canadian electrofunk duo Chromeo couldn’t slather on the schtick any thicker, it double-dipped the trowel and smeared its audience with it. On August 7, vocalist Dave 1 and synth-fiddler P-Thugg played up their retro playground-rockstar act with full commitment, much to the large crowd’s pleasure. But much of their canon—rooted squarely in the early 1980s, more derived from than inspired by—wouldn’t have made the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. And its delivery was thwarted by the duo’s cliched posturing, gimmickry and affectation—much more so than previous (and more enjoyable) Vegas live sets. After Dave 1 exhorted the crowd to two-step during “Fancy Footwork,” Chromeo was only a “Brick House” cover away from becoming a wedding band. Flume would save the night—just as Brooklyn Bowl is saving an otherwise banal concertgoing year.

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