So, on Friday March 21st I had what I can most liken to a very successful date with Excision, helped by wingmen – Dirtyphonics and ill.gates. The entire crowd at the Electric Factory was courted with the forethought and precision that the headliner’s name implies and I don’t think I was the only one who left highly impressed (and hoping for a second date!).
The night commenced with ill.gates spinning one of the most successful opening sets I have seen in a hot minute. Boasting an excellent reputation with his contemporaries and fans alike, this Toronto-based producer drew some pretty impressive punctuality from a lot of concertgoers who obviously knew this was a set not to be missed. This is an artist who has managed to stay somewhat under the radar, despite his overwhelming contribution to the world of electronic music, both as an artist and as a teacher and innovator. His set was a tribute to this, featuring collaborations with tons of industry darlings like Bassnectar, Datsik, and Ana Sia. The versatility yet familiarity of his style, an elegant blend of hip-hop, glitch, and drum & bass, as well as the quality of his production (there’s a reason his DJ and Studio templates are used by heavyweights like Pretty Lights and Bassnectar) served as an approachable and provocative invitation to the evening. With an opener like ill.gates, an artist who has headlined at festivals like Burning Man, the World Electronic Music Festival, and Jazzfest, the night showed a lot of promise, and the bar was set very high from the jump.
The dance floor was almost completely full and a tangible energy was growing in the Electric Factory by the time Dirtyphonics took the stage, super soakers in tow. These Parisian boys laid on the charm, drawing in the eager crowd with the Irreverence their 2013 album title suggests. Obviously prepared to give us a good time, they began their set with an irresistible sample of Jay-Z’s Dirt Off Your Shoulder. They also subtly and successfully shifted the ambiance of the show towards the darker and more aggressive, integrating the iconic theme to the movie Halloween as well as Knife Party’s Internet Friends. This shift was not, however, at the sacrifice of the jovial atmosphere they created. Instead they conjured a sense of unity and comradery with their enthusiasm and interaction with the audience. They invoked crowd participation that was almost mandatory, abandoning their turntables and swan diving into the audience to crowdsurf, not to mention they had the entire building chanting along to the entirety of The White Stripes Seven Nation Army. Their set ended on an almost sentimental note. Well, as sentimental as one can get during their hedonistic anthem, #DIRTY. They created the atmosphere of an old school rock concert, calling on the crowd to put their lighters up. Refreshingly, there was not a cell phone in sight as they asked, “Who’s here for the music?” Then, to keep things from getting too emo, closed out by asking “Who’s here to get fucked up?”
This was one of those very special nights where as the headliner is coming on, you feel like you’ve already been treated to a complete, and epic, show. However, in this case these openers felt like a calculated, and necessary, warm up to the full sensory experience that was about to begin. Along the same lines as, (but arguably superior to) the Sound Vortex touted by fellow Canadian producer Datsik, Excision is touring with a 150,000 Watt sound system by PK and the projection mapping video and lighting installation, Executioner. Despite the fact that I had experienced the Sound Vortex in the same venue a couple months ago, I was completely unprepared for the show that Excision has created.
The curtain was pulled back to reveal Excision’s Executioner which spanned the full width and height of the Electric Factory stage. When the small DJ booth in the center of this creation was revealed and the projections began, Drowning Pool’s Let the Bodies Hit the Floor felt like a most appropriate opener. The huge increase in sound from the two opening acts was literally breathtaking, yet not overwhelming. Unlike Datsik, who weeks before literally almost blew my ear drums out by turning it up to 11 right from the jump, Excision did not begin by unleashing the full power of his audio, Instead he used his aural power very tastefully, which sounds kind of funny, but as his precisely composed set revealed, was the absolute truth.
Initially, the most striking thing was the optical illusion his lighting installation created. Using an increasingly popular, and totally freaking ridiculous, technique called projection mapping, Excision transported the audience through a compelling journey of what I found most comparable to a video game.
The projection mapping technique was originated by performance artist, Amon Tobin. (You can watch a wrapup of his debut show ‘ISAM’ at Montreal’s Mutek Festival in 2011 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWai4UZ0OqI). It combines mind-boggling calculated projection angles with physical sets which are constructed to create the illusion of inconceivable three-dimensional scenes (who knew geometry could be such a trip?). In the case of Excision’s performance, these scenes were alternatingly the illusion of Excision at the helm of a spaceship and POV visuals a la racing games on old school video gaming systems. They even evoked the same combination of fascination and fear as Rainbow Road in Mario Kart for N64 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then get the fuck out!). All of this was then mixed with special effects like CO2 blasters and dinosaurs (yes, dinosaurs…I’ll explain that in a second).
As the show progressed the intensity and tenacity heightened, with switches in speed from the typical 140ish bpm beats to some serious junglist 170ish bpm d&b beats. There were samples from hip-pop artists like Jay-Z/Kanye (an intense Niggas in Paris) and Waka Flocka Flame, but also some major surprises, like an unexpected remix of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
It may have been the 150 kilowatts of sound vibrating through our bodies, but Excision had this entire crowd on a string, and he took full advantage of it. The “windshield” on his spaceship went up and down, bringing him in and out of sight as the visual production played out, creating the illusion of leveling up in a video game. Towards the end a frighteningly realistic raptor (a person in a cleverly engineered and convincing costume) appeared on stage and after some running around, busted out some dance moves. And finally, with DMX barking “X gon give it to ya!” the show and the full 150 kw of sound built to a climax as confetti poured from the ceiling.
The full 150 kw of sound was a pretty tremendous visceral experience, almost overwhelming at times…almost. I, like many, have a love-hate relationship with earplugs, but they were definitely essential that night. It felt like going to the beach on a sunny day without putting on sunscreen. At first you feel like, ‘eh, I probably should, but whatever…’. But later in the day, as you start to notice your shoulders are turning scarlet, you scramble to apply, knowing you’re gonna be feeling the burn later. Excision’s PK sound system had me ditching my earplugs out of curiosity, and then quickly popping them back in when the sound actually started to give me an earache. Metaphors aside, it was a most successful performance and a pretty amazing sensory experience, one that I was super glad to be a part of. The success was all in the genius composition. Like a dream date, I started off the night impressed and from there my expectations were continuously exceeded until Excision closed the deal. With dinosaurs and confetti. Everyone lucky enough to have made it out to the Electric Factory last Friday left with their body vibrating and their world rocked, as promised, the only thing we’re left wanting is a second date.