Concert Reviews

Beats, Strobes and Shirtlessness: The Best (and Worst) of EDM at Lights All Night 2013

Two blocks away from the Dallas Convention Center for Lights All Night, and that rumbling, white noise roar of a crowd pre-concert is already audible.The colossal sonic happenings inside - thousands of feet removed, and buffered by countless layers of stone and steel - vibrate the downtown concrete architecture both overhead and underfoot. Once in sight, the entrance line is a daunting mass, a costumed hoard that represents the ultimate 'camel through the eye of a needle' scenario. What strikes you at first is how reminiscent the general fashion aesthetic is to classic, acid house rave culture: sunglasses, pacifiers, beaded jewelry, extravagant headgear. Although there is a strong MTV, bro-heavy, Spring Breakers flare to the whole scene. Everything is so obviously candied, surface and low-art cheesy that it's vaguely poetic..

See also: The People of Lights All Night (NSFW)

Inside, the initial impressions are like a punch in the face. This is going to be a wild ride; this place is a circus. The number of people in here alone is cause for breathlessness. As a solidly massive EDM festival, Lights All Night provides an unparalleled sensory overload. At first glance, the stage rooms appear to breathe and swell -- the result of a continual series of crescendo-cued strobe-heavy explosions of lights. The production quality, the merciless synths and the frenzied so-large-it's-anonymous crowd coalesce to create an environment of total, spellbound immersion, all set to an ADD rattled, YOLO-generation species of dance music that's essentially a soundtrack to recreational drug use. LAN allows concertgoers a certain measure of freedom to be what or whomever they want. In virtue of this unspoken rule, there are no people inside LAN, only masked characters, animals and creatures. Point of reference: bikini-clad barely-legals fall into the modest end of this outfit spectrum.

Marijuana smoke hangs in the air like a swampy haze -- halos signifying a thousand heavenly experiences. Delicate tendrils of confetti streamers sway from the ceiling like Technicolor jellyfish swimming overhead. Glowing fluorescents and neon lighting are fireflies painting the dark, framed by triangular shapes of actual spitting fire. Thunderous shockwaves of bass crinkle the air, scuttle down your throat, and then your stomach acid seems to boil. The air is thick and chewy - a vaporous stew of fog machine geysers, pyrotechnic aftermath, and perfumed sprits - so much so that when the spotlights flash the air takes on aqueous shapes, like the whole convention center is, at once, under water. The main stage, dubbed "The Mothership," stands before a sea of dilated pupils, a gyroscope of blinding colors and screaming sounds that spews an impossibly intense current of sensory eruptions. This synesthesiac blare is the real Stargate, and it's swallowing everyone whole. There's a Santa, a Power Ranger, Jesus, and countless half naked people all within five feet of me.

Lights All Night's radiant, million dollar productions make for the most interesting ceiling watching imaginable. OK, ceiling watching isn't a real thing, but after this weekend it should be. The streaming rays of transparent light, the whiteout strobes, and the living color stage projections all find their endpoint on the Dallas Convention Center's ceiling. This brilliant luminescence runoff, a cross between low hanging stars and phosphorescent marine life, produces a manic procession of flickering shadows that's like pictures perpetually moving in and out of focus. At its most gorgeous, the DCC's ceiling is a pinball machine malfunctioning with schizophrenic, beautiful effect

As headliner Deadmau5 delays his start time due to audio equipment difficulties, a disgruntled fan behind me spouts a line of welcome, deadpan honesty, "It's not that hard, just press play!" A note to cynics: the EDM legions are self-aware--they have their DJ heroes pegged.

I'm informed that one of the women's restroom floors is caked with glitter and blood.

Once Deadmua5 finally smoothes out his pre-start obstacles, his set kicks off with a whimper not a bang. Still, on his full-on mouse-head appearance, a field of smartphones spring up like a thousand blades of shimmering grass. He manages to lose most of them within 30 minutes. The reason is that his music, in all its primary color, no-tricks-under-its-sleeve glory, is painfully and completely un-danceable. The EDM demi-god's first few tracks produced shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, and now there are as many patrons in the lobby socializing and watching stage side. As the synths spray and Deadmau5's masked eyes of white bobble left to right and up to down, I count seven people within eyeshot who are tending to their Facebook pages. If, as we are lent to believe, functionalism is the lifeblood of EDM, then Deadmau5's set at Lights All Night is resolutely unforgivable.

Above and Beyond brought a tranceier flavor to Lights All Night, reminiscent of a less ambient, overblown Moby DJ set..

A-Track employed some of the strangest textures of the festival. Unlike many of the more typical acts at LAN, this set was less about appropriation and more about innovation.

Paper Diamond sidestepped the infamous perma-crescendo, tension-less EDM trappings by working in traphouse shapes and footwork styled edits. His set is noticeably more immediate, and the fans respond in kind. Next to Deadmau5's performance, Paper Diamond is a revelation, making the former's tracks seem both two dimensional and antiquated by comparison. As Paper Diamond's trademark face graphic swirls on screen, basking the crowd in a spectrum of varying pinkish hues, it made me think, "Surely this is the future of EDM."

After two days and over twenty hours of music, Lights All Night comes to a close. The sobering overhead lights are almost immediately switched on and the mass exodus to escape the festival's day-glow debauchery begins. Now this is really a sight. Imagine over twenty thousand human beings packed like sardines trying to escape one building, through one exit, all at once. It looks not dissimilar to a school of lazy, uncoordinated fish attempting to flee a slow-moving predator en masse. The tempo at which progress occurs is snail-like, at molasses break-neck speeds. I think I'm touching fifteen people all at once and the smell in here is sharp, musty and sour: human odor laced with tanning lotion and body spray.

See also: -The Top Ten All Time Best Replacement Lead Singers in Rock and Roll -Songs That Have Hidden Messages When Played in Reverse -The Ten Best Music Videos Banned by MTV

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Jonathan Patrick

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