10/9/14 – House of Blues

The crowd is alive, a sea of faces, smiling, yelling, and cheering. Many people are dressed in tank tops, sports bras and shorts, despite the chilly weather outside. Braving the Boston cold, they have trekked to House of Blues to witness one of the most original, respected, and youngest producers in dance music. With a reputation as an absolute crusher of life performances, this show is set to be extraordinary.

Inside, the venue is dark except for an empty stage bathed in blue light, shining down on a curved LED table holding three keyboards and a laptop. Fixed to the front of the table is a microphone.

Down in the photo pit, a technician quickly runs along the length of the stage, tightening the knobs on the Cryo cannons. Making last minute adjustments, he speaks into his shoulder mic and sends a nod to the side of the stage. The background music fades out.

Cellphone camera lights pepper the audience, illuminating the darkness like a glowing mass of fireflies. The Snapchat race has begun.

The head technician raises his hand with a thumbs up, signaling to the light team in back. The blue light fades to a lonely single beam, the crowd roars, and Porter Robinson takes the stage.

Cueing up his laptop, the 22-year-old producer raises one hand in the air with the other on the mic. A small white dot flashes on the black screen behind him, beeping at a fixed interval and growing louder and bigger with each repetition.

Hooded, with one hand still in the air and a giant grin on his face, Robinson lets the tension build amid howls of anticipation. Everyone knows what’s coming. You can feel the crescendo on the rise, much like a tsunami rumbling towards shore. Ethereal vocals drift through the music hall, complemented by a beautiful bassline and airy synths that tickle the ears and hearth with a warm touch. Robinson’s “Sea of Voices” intro edit has everyone swooning.

The music fades to a crisp sizzle as the low frequencies are cut and the catchy hook of “Sad Machine” punctures the silence. Finished teasing the audience, Robinson finally gives the crowd what they’ve waited so patiently for, unleashing the drop of “Sad Machine” in a brilliant explosion of lights that rival a supernova. We have just witnessed the birth of a true star.

For anyone familiar with Robinson’s signature sound, his new music is a complete 180 in direction from his roots. Rising to fame with his Spitfire EP that was released on Skrillex’s OWSLA label, the North Carolina native has proven to critics the true span of his musical reach. Hot on the heels of his debut album Worlds, Robinson left his dirty complextro behind, instead focusing on ethereal vocals, emotional landscapes, and a soul-riveting experience.

Even though Robinson’s performance consisted of completely different music than what catapulted him to fame, the audience seemed to initially be receptive of the change. Playing new tracks off of Worlds, Robinson kept the audience engaged with a versatile performance. Applying filters, effects, and playing the main hooks of his popular tracks on his three keyboards, Robinson proved that electronic music does not need to be performed with the stereotypical mixer and turntables. His approach to his music was very passionate, raw, and real.

Leaning forward and closing his eyes, Robinson softly sang into the mic, joined in by the entire audience as together they sang the lyrics from “Sad Machine,” a hit from Worlds.

I’ll depend on you…” The words flashed on the giant LED screen behind Robinson in perfect timing with the audience’s choral injection.

Throughout the night, Robinson cleverly mashed up tracks from Worlds with older productions, occasionally teasing the crowd with a familiar hook or melody. Notable inclusions were the acapellas of “Say My Name” and “Easy,” a collaboration with Mat Zo, as well as the familiar melody of “Unison,” a record of off Robinson’s Spitfire EP.

Another highlight was the dropping of “Lionhearted,” a collaboration featuring Swedish indie pop band Urban Cone. Robinson joined in on vocals once again, and together all of House of Blues chimed in on the song. It was delightful to witness an electronic musician singing live over a recording, a rare spectacle in today’s play-back world.

However, while Robinson’s set struck an emotional chord with a deep, sustained resonance, the entirety of his set was not a sing-along. A few people here and there would frown at the cartoon Japanese vocals coming out of the speakers with confused looks on their faces. Others too expected a more traditional dance-fueled rave performance, evidenced by their “Eat Sleep Rave Repeat” tank tops and the disgruntled looks on their faces. Even a few people at the front would bob their head during the song drops, the rest of their body stationary in contrast to those jumping around them. Whether this reflected actual enjoyment or rather mediocre approval is hard to gauge, yet the emotions painted on their faces seemed to contradict even the slightest movement of their bodies. There was general approval for Robinson’s performance and new sound, albeit scattered with nostalgia for his older and more upbeat material.

Porter Robinson should stick to making dirty electro anthems, a skill he has absolutely mastered, but for the time being, his performance was enjoyable. Closing out his Boston appearance with a mashup of “Language,” Robinson did make sure to please the section of his fans that longed for his electro sound, while simultaneously demonstrating his ability to conquer change. It is always exciting to hear a new side of any musician, and the courage it takes to explore new styles contrary to a producer’s traditional releases should not be overlooked. However, despite the success of Worlds, I found myself wishing that at any moment, a switch would flip and Robinson’s grimy electro would flow through the speakers, soaking everyone in its viscous and delicious liquid dirt.


A Fresh Face: Porter Robinson
  • Fantastic visuals and lights
  • Dynamic stage presence
  • Live instrumentation and singing
  • Somewhat stagnant music style
7.5Overall Score

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