Contact CU Independent Entertainment Staff Writer Thomas Roller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have kind of a broad musical palate. Put my phone on shuffle and track forward for a few minutes and you’ll hear baroque music, classic rock, rap, heavy metal, new wave, indie pop, blues, jazz and a lot of other things that I’m sure sound really weird. But there’s one barrier I’ve never been able to cross: EDM.
Electronica, by and large, has always mystified me. I certainly understand the appeal of it, and even love a few artists and subgenres, but it’s never really tickled my brain in the same visceral way that many other sounds have. Well, I decided that I will be confounded no more by EDM. On Dec. 30-31, 2015, in Denver, I hurled myself headlong into one of the biggest EDM festivals in the continent: Decadence.
Featuring some of the biggest names in the game — Deadmau5, JackU, Hardwell, Big Gigantic, Excision and Bassnectar — Decadence was a perfect starter for a newbie like me. Or so I was assured by my friend Evoke, a Boulder-based musician with a lot of experience regarding the EDM community.
I decided that I would approach this endeavor as a study in musical anthropology, seeking to gain understanding of not only the music, but also the culture surrounding it. I wanted to figure out why people loved EDM so much, and why the festivals like Decadence were so huge. I would be like Jane Goodall, only instead of an experienced researcher, I was just some clueless college student, and instead of observing the rituals of a bunch of primates, I would… uh…
Let’s move on.
As part of my goal to ingratiate myself with the culture, I decided to dress like I belonged there, as opposed to my usual garb, which kind of looks like an unpopular kid from the 80s got sucked into a wormhole and brought forward into the present day. What I ended up with was a pretty plain outfit trimmed with glowsticks and a hideous neon-orange bandana. I even spent the best 99 cents of my life on a pair of glowstick sunglasses. What a time to be alive. Costume equipped, I flew into the breach. Or the Colorado Convention Center. Whichever.
The first thing that struck me was the sheer size of the crowd. I’ve been to sold-out shows at pretty large venues, but they shrivel before the might of Decadence’s turnout. It was a sea of people — pulsing, jumping, rhythmic. That was the second important thing I learned: If Decadence is to be taken as a litmus test for the festival scene as a whole, EDM festivals have a singular energy. It’s not the same tribal, battle-ready energy of metal shows. It’s a more relaxed thing. This came as a surprise to me. I was honestly expecting EDM shows to be more intense, but the difference came not in quantity, but more in flavor. It seemed very communal.
I wouldn’t say I’m bad at dancing. Everyone else would though. So I kinda had to work my way up to it, if you can dig that. For a good hour or so the first night I just kind of shuffled around the dance floors watching people do it. Then I had a breakthrough at the Silent Disco.
The Silent Disco, incidentally, was probably the coolest concept of the festival. It was an enclosed area where you were given a pair of headphones that had the ability to switch between three different color-coded channels, each playing a different song. Take the headphones off and the area was mostly quiet, but put them on and suddenly all the people dancing to nothing makes a lot more sense.
This is where the breakthrough came through: I didn’t have any idea what I was doing when it came to dancing, but neither did anyone else there. With that in mind, I kinda just tried loosening up and moving to the music, and I’ll be darned if it didn’t work. For the rest of the time at Decadence, I made an utter ass of myself on the dance floor and loved every minute of it. That definitely seemed to be a big part of the appeal; Decadence gave a lot of people the opportunity to throw aside the airs they put on every day and just kinda be goofy and have fun for a while. It was probably one of the least judgmental concert environments I’d ever been in. Everyone was just kind of doing their thing.
Oh, you probably wanna know about something else that EDM festivals are famous for. Yeah, there were drugs there. I didn’t actually see any get ingested, but everyone I talked to was very eager to tell me what they were on. I saw one fellow getting escorted out of the venue in a wheelchair. Here’s hoping he’s okay.
Another woman appeared to have been overcome with love for the filthy, sticky cement floor and was spread-eagled on it trying to hug it. Her companion tried to help her up, but he was also cursed with a bloodstream full of amateur chemistry and they just kind of ended up dragging each other to the wall. One girl even told me she was “looking for Molly.” I won’t lie to you guys, I had to stifle a laugh. Maybe I’m just a square, but I always thought “I’m looking for Molly” was something that extras in bad police procedural TV shows said to each other, right before Horatio Caine burst through the door.
The people were incredibly friendly, and they came from all walks of life. The age range was about 16 to at least 50. They came from everywhere, too. I spoke to people who came from Oklahoma, Georgia and beyond, just to attend this event. One person who left a lasting impression was a young man named Adam. He and I struck up a conversation while we were both cooling down from the dance floor, and to me, he seemed to neatly encapsulate the atmosphere of Decadence: open, friendly, unabashedly loving life and music and high out of his damn mind. Truly, his heart was as big as his pupils.
You may notice that I’ve been avoiding one of the key aspects of this music festival: the music. Well, it’s kind of complicated. In terms of the spectacle that comes from any musical performance, I couldn’t ask for anything more — thumping beats to dance like a loon to, dazzling lightshows and one performer (I think Big Gigantic) had aerial dancers.
As far as the music appreciation aspect? That’s a little more dicey. There were certainly standouts, people whose style or sound differentiated themselves. Excision’s deliveries and drops tended to be a bit more brutal, Big Gigantic and Bassnectar had the crowd in the palm of their hands and Deadmau5 was resplendent in his mouse helmet; but a lot of the actual music blurs together for me. Maybe this is kind of the point, with the tracks being mixed together into one continuous track, but when you’re getting lost in all the light and color and pure bass and buzzing mass of people, you really can’t judge the music properly. I’m starting to think electronica culture and festival culture are two separate things.
In spite of a little vacuity in the actual music department, I’d have to give Decadence a solid recommend. It’s a truly singular experience that even all my verbal diarrhea doesn’t do justice. Just don’t go to critique the music. Presumably, you’ll be too distracted by the incredibly high dude doing fingerlights.
Special thanks to Nigel Amstock for providing pictures and giving me the opportunity to have this experience.