Meltdown Festival: The Best and the Worst of Dance Music and Culture

The moment I became a believer came at 9:45 pm. The sticky, simmering sun had long since lowered, giving way to a clear night filled with cool gusts of wind. I had just sat through a few horrible sets at the Phoenix Rising Stage, deflated at how the festival had seemed to cater to the young, demographic that was more rooted in the genres histrionics than history.

Which is why the sound of Chicago house coming from Morgan Page's set at the Meltdown Main Stage was a welcome invitation. I made my way to the crowd, which was now almost at full strength, when I noticed a crack in the fence leading backstage. I made my way inside, flashed my wristband to a security guard and made my way up to the stage. As I walked up the steps, I saw for the first time, what the DJ sees as he looks out at the sea of people, controlling the tide with their magnetism.

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Page, without the pulp celebrity status belonging to Skrillex or David Guetta, had these kids entranced. Not in a Beatlesmania, cultish purge, but as a reaction to Page utilizing electronic music's greatest utility: expressing our rawest emotions through sounds, where words fail.

But let me rewind, because before this moment, I saw an EDM culture I want nothing to do with. DJs and production duos are playing on tropes of drug-culture, masculinity and "teenage dream." Bro Safari, Adventure Club and holy shit, Candyland are signifiers for the young, dumb and horny crowd.

Candyland in particular, performing on the Phoenix Rising Stage, put on an absolutely terrible set. The crux went like this:

Darude- "Sandstorm" J Kwon-"Tipsy" Coolio -"Gangster's Paradise" Lil John- "Snap Yo Fingers" Nelly- "It's Getting Hot in Herre"

Mind you, some were incompetent remixes, others originals. The crowd, a few hundred, ate it up, hoola-hooping, twerking and break dancing in fur boots to the beat. Never mind that the DJs stopped after every other song to plug a new song or website.

It made me wonder if the near future will see this current scene implode. The climate is becoming increasingly difficult to make a name for yourself using your, well, name. There's millions being pumped into the industry, and with Meltdown concert tickets going for $85, when will the economic climate reach the scene? How much longer can DJs demand astronomical set fees while the 20-year-old median market of last weekend's event (judged from the numbers of X'ed hands) continues paying up, while the market goes down?

Which brings me back to Page's set. I decided to stop thinking and join the party. It's hard not to get caught up in the feeling when it's done right.

Justice took the stage to Richard Strauss' "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," causing a new friend to remark, "All this other Dubstep, this Trap shit, this is why I'm here. This is the heart and soul of electronic music. These kids are confused right now."

And she had a point. The break-dancing and twerking of previous sets had no place here. The French duo came to take us to church. With each buildup the L- Acoustic stadium line K1 array sound system sent shivers down my spine. A representative for the company in charge of sound, Onstage Systems, called it "the best sound system in the world, hands down." No question.

So, how badass was Justice's set? Morgan Page was taking video. With the entire crowd in attendance, I couldn't help but become part of the energy and let myself go. Although I had major quips with the festival and its attendees, Justice proved to be its saving grace, with a baptism of brutal beats and bass.

How badass was Justice's set, for real? The cop performing security on-stage was taking video. The experience was summed up halfway through the set when the cop turned to me to ask, "Is this the headliner?"

"Yea, this is who everyone came to see," I replied.

"What's their name?" he asked.

"Justice," I quipped.

"Great name," he said, grinning.

Critic's Notebook:

Shirt Sighting: Party With Sluts

Overheard: : "Margaritas make me so horny," - Twenty-something telling a table of friends in VIP.

Shirt Sighting: : Don't Hate The Playa, Hate the Game

Overheard: : "Look at that bitch with her ass out," - Chick with a quarter of her ass out.

Shirt Sighting: People Look Ugly Rolling

Overheard: : "Son, look at her twerk!" - A mom to her 18-year-old son.

Artist quote: : "I'm here to see Carnage, that's my next door neighbor and I ride for my dawg," - 12th Planet when asked who he was here to see.

Overheard: : "I'm the baddest bitch here, bet," -A girl during a twerk contest in the middle of the walkway by the clothing booths.

Overheard: : "I love al l these songs, bro," - Bro to his bros during Candyland's set.

Artist quote: : "I wanna see some fucking hands!" - Almost every artist there.

Shirt Sighting: : I Love S&M

Overheard: : "I love this commercial!" - Someone when Adventure Club played a Bruno Mars song.

Shirt Sighting: : Bad Choice Make Good Stories

Overheard: : "Now they're turned up all the way!" - Sound guy talking about speakers during Justice's set.

Artist Quote: : "Do y'all wanna hear some fucking Dubstep?" - Candy Land.

Shirt Sighting: : Bass is Bigger in Texas

Overheard: : "It was like an eargasm," - Attendee and local producer, Ben, describing Justice's set.

Shirt Sighting: : "We're excited to be in Texas, we've had a good time for sure," - Justice's Xavier de Rosnay before their set.

Overheard: : "The kids now-a-days aren't as interested in drugs as they were ten-years-ago" - cop while watching the Morgan Page set.

Shirt Sighting: : Molly is My Homegirl

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