Thursday night marked Rusko’s spring tour kickoff at Oakland’s Fox Theater. Skeptical though I was at the choice of venue, which normally houses traveling bands and folk groups, I was wholly surprised, but still not accustomed to the idea that DJ sets could be packaged in such an ornate space. For such music, I’m used to parties ending after 3am, with no interruption or pause between acts, and a centralized dance floor.
What made this event a whole new kind of animal was the forced segregation between mezzanine and floor ticketholders. People who held mezzanine tickets could not move down to the sold-out floor space. The main floor itself was also divided into several levels barricaded by railings, which provoked increased movement and footwork (not of the dancing kind) between the levels, people coming and going all the time, and a sort of displacement and distraction among the audience who just wanted to hear their DJ. Understandably, a lot of promoters are shying away from what has now become the rave cliché after fatal accidents at recent EDM massives. What better way than to first stage the performance in the most un-ravey venue, and second, have it end at an astounding 11:30pm? I respect the latter for safety reasons (as we are talking about downtown Oakland), but I was just not used to the new format, and I think that exacerbated my discomfort, but also fascination at the transformation the DJ image into that of a rock star.
At 8pm, Rusko was seen at the merch booth in the main lobby, surrounded by concertgoers who passed him sleeves of records and items of clothing (recently purchased) to be signed. Inside the theater, Destructo, the man behind HARD, was spinning a dubstep-inspired set; mellow, but inviting.
At 9pm, UK’s Doorly, who I mainly knew as a dub/drum & bass producer, arrived on stage and threw a set that was surprisingly varied, with all forms of house and electro, drops of old school hits such as “Pass the Dutchie”, and eventually mashed and transitioned out of the pop-reggae classic with a jungle rhythm into his own domain of drum & bass. Close to the end of his set, a prominent mash-up of The Prodigy’s “Breathe” with Doorly’s own remix of Groove Armada’s “Paper Romance” echoed off of the Buddhist structures and lace designs lining the interior of the Fox. I am grateful for Doorly’s variety. Three pure dub sets in a row would have been a bit monotonous.
At 10pm, the crowd waited anxiously for the superstar headliner Rusko. This is his second appearance at the Fox in less than a year, the last time being last August’s Hard Summer Tour with Crystal Castles and Sinden. About five minutes of lights-on in the theater and excited chatters, the heavy red velvet curtains of the stage drew open to reveal five monolithic light structures spelling out RUSKO and the silhouette of a man with an almost-mohawk leveled atop a platform.
Rusko used this first stop on the tour to introduce and showcase his newest stuff, most of which we heard for the first time and could not identify. Fifteen to twenty minutes into his set, I still hadn’t heard anything that I recognized and was borderline disappointed with the much-hyped show. But almost all the Rusko classics made an appearance later on in the night, which lifted my spirits, including hits off O.M.G.!: “Woo Boost,” “You’re On My Mind Baby,” and “Hold On” (first the album version which gave way to the Sub Focus remix, whose ethereal breakdown and charged buildup were the highlight of the entire set). Rusko was seen hilariously flapping his arms like a chicken, stomping left and right in front of his decks. Signature move? Now it is.
Most of the drops induced extreme back-bends, flailing arms, and just overall body spasms. There isn’t really a correct way to dance to this kind of dubstep, most just feel the bass and ride its vibrations naturally. In all honestly, when Rusko’s remix of The Prodigy’s “Take Me to the Hospital” dropped, the track played along to the infamous video of WOBBLEGIRL (click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lLqqR2pcws if you haven’t seen it), everyone on the floor ceased all rhythmic movements to become seizing animals at that first drop. It was barely dancing, but the great thing was witnessing how dubstep allowed everyone to move freely to sound and not to some contrived dance move, a temporary regression to our animalistic roots.
At the end of the set, which ended a whole eight minutes early, Rusko was called back for a three-track encore which included “Cockney Thug” and his recent collaboration with Reso “Lick the Lizard”, tracks I had already forgotten about after the momentous show. But hearing those two after being blown away by the regular set felt like eating your favorite ice cream on an extremely full stomach. No vomiting, though.