Two days, 12 hours in, and I feel like a stuck balloon. No energy drink can pull me from the oppressive blankness that clouds my mind. I lie in a broken, noodle-like mass on the floor outside of the main stage, searching for restful escape in an iPhones' application folder. This is the consequence of Lights All Night, or perhaps more accurately, an EDM overdose. I'm toxic: My blood pumps with all the sexless, whitewashed bacteria of a music that forgot imagination. Techno and IDM never happened, and the furthest historical reference point is Daft Punk's Discovery -- in here that might as well be 2,000 years ago. Put this event down as another dot on the timeline for how dance music became toothless, another point for Radio Disney to be filled with Rebecca Black's "Friday" and all your favorite One Direction bangers.
Forgive me for being predictable, but the repetition is exhausting. And no, I don't mean in the conventional swaddling, tension-build that represents house/techno music's soul; I refer, instead, to EDM's '1-2-3 bang' crescendos that occur far too often, reducing the music to a series of big reveals that strip away its ability to surprise and inspire. At first, these big bangs are moving, almost shocking, but after 20 or so releases they become mundane, like the way something as poignant as a sunrise becomes commonplace in the face of everyday repetition. What remain are songs that have nothing left up their sleeves, which robs the music of its drama.
It's midnight and the only thing that stands between me and escape is a final date with Major Lazer, a set that I have been anticipating all weekend. Still, I'm not convinced I have anything left in the tank for it. I somehow manage to drag myself over to the stage nevertheless. To start, the crowd is amongst the thinnest I've seen all weekend; there are diehard Major Lazer converts speckled throughout, adorned in palpable excitement and telltale merchandise. Everyone else seems a touch confused, perhaps simply as tired as I am.
The music begins. Diplo, Jillionare and Walshy Fire appear in the DJ booth landing, Walshy Fire takes up a dangerous post on the landing's highest edge, arms outstretched like Jesus welcoming home his flock. The stage is one mammoth screen that reads "MAJOR LAZER" in tropical colors, several hundred feet wide. Bass permeates the air and the crowd begins to fill as the recognizable Major Lazer animations flood the stage. These THC-colored images have a grandeur that bleed into your headspace, and the result is illogically uplifting, like some blissful dream where you've fallen into the television screen as your favorite music video plays. Seconds, literally only seconds in, and this already surpasses everything that's happened all weekend.
A countdown appears, 30 is the top, and what happens at zero? Not much actually, other than an increase in both the sound's volume and the intensity at which Walshy Fire's dance moves flirt with a 50-foot freefall. The lights grow more violent, and highlighter colors fly, explode into dots and squiggle in a dozen erratic darts that threaten to tattoo darkened splotches onto brainstems. Now, there are two long-haired dancers on each side of the stage, spinning ropes of hair as their bodies contort, throwing beads of sweat that become airborne pearls when met with flashes of white. My God, it's all so beautiful.
The music has hit its stride, it's in full swing now -- a globally eclectic, electro-dancehall music that sounds like a dub house party from outer space. The crowd is drunk with elation, but nobody is having more fun than Diplo on stage. The fans feed off his whimsical fury, and as if connected by invisible wires, both audience and performer inspire one another to higher planes of enjoyment. This is the most sensually rich canvas dance music has enjoyed all weekend. The good mood and high-energy participation of the three performers is the main reason why. At various points throughout the night, each artist has made his way down from the DJ landing to engage the audience more intimately, whether that be through stage-side dancing, operating blowtorches of fog or, as in Diplo's case, walking over the crowd encased in a human bubble. The level of showmanship is unlike anything else at Lights All Night.
Too many high points, too many stellar singles: During "Bubble Butt," Walshy Fire asks all the "biggest assed" women to come upfront. Security guards escort them to the stage, and then, under eruptions of glittery steam, the liveliest twerking rally ever commences. This isn't merely electronic music, this is performance art. The scene is so silly and willfully vapid it's more funny and fun than crass or dumb. And the instructions from up on high keep raining down. "I want to see everybody take your shirts off," so we do. Shirts are now lassoes swinging overhead. A drum 'n' bass interlude precedes another command: "I want to see you throw your shirts into the air ... on the count of three." One ... two ... three, and you almost can't believe it, nearly everyone obeys; it's Mardi Gras inside the Dallas Convention Center.
And the bangers just keep coming. The apocalyptic march of "Original Don" is met with screams that leap out from the crowd and melt into the stuttering whistle of air horns. "Watch Out For This," "Express Yourself" and "Oh My (Not Afraid to Die)" are equally celebrated. The ground actually, really and truly, shakes. But here's the mountain top: "Get Free," and what happens next is a vortex that will crack you open, empty you and, over the course of five impossibly long minutes, fill you with memories that will last a lifetime. No one is spared, even the security crew is smiling, laughing, dancing and shouting. There's no shame, no pride, no ego in these five minutes, just a coursing synergy that unites thousands. Everything is a blur: a blowup doll surfs the crowd ... a blizzard of confetti blots out all sight ... bodies carve sweaty patterns in the air ... blankets of laser green break softly into warm, glowing waves. A lyrical bar repeats, "I just want to dream, I just want to dream, I just want to dream." We listen, and it happens -- we succumb -- because this is the closest to a dream that real life gets. The fatigue from earlier is now a lifetime ago. I've never been so alive.
In this instant, I feel genuine sympathy for all the poor bastards that chose to see Kaskade instead. Because this is the single most joyous live performance I've ever experienced.
In a moment of clarity I notice, for the first time, the guy next to me. He's muscle-bound, wearing neon red sunglasses, a helicopter beanie cap, suspenders, and the brightest tennis shoes Converse ever made. He's a cartoon, and not in a goofy, mocking way, but in a surreal, magnificent way -- like one of Major Lazer's animations come to life.
Diplo, Walshy Fire and Jillionare end their set to rapturous applause, and respond with a short encore. When it's over, everyone starts heading for the door. I'm almost out of the stage room when I realize that yet another encore has begun (it would last just one song). As I make my way back toward the group, I survey the scene one last time, and it's the strangest thing: I see a whole audience of cartoons.
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