Review: IDentity Festival

Although IDentity generated a mixed bag of feelings from a lot of different people in the weeks leading up to it, the event itself was ultimately a revitalizing change of pace. Day-long festivals are common at Verizon Wireless, but never of the electronic music genre. So to convene with the greater Indianapolis community of EDM fans inside the giant venue was an inspiring day for underground music fans.

In a snarky tweet earlier this week, I criticized promoters of the Indianapolis IDentity Festival for charging true fans full price for their tickets when they bought early, only to see posers pick theirs up for free all across the city in the days leading up to the event. Some agreed that they felt it was an unfair scenario, while others argued that people (be they early-buyers or late freeloaders) were seeing the show for what they personally valued the experience at. In the end, getting hung up on ticket prices wasn’t worthwhile. What mattered most was that people were there and they were having fun.

Security Issues
I arrived early enough to see Modeselektor on the main stage, but lost a lot of jam time sitting under a tree just outside the gate removing the yardstick from my WOMP sign. “You can’t bring in a sign on a stick,” the security guard said as she sized up me and my rage accessory. “What if there’s no stick?” I asked with hope in my voice. 20 minutes later, I had successfully extracted the yardstick while preserving the precious lettering and began my day at IDentity.

Due to my compromising run-in with security at the gate, I hit the main stage later than intended and caught the end of the Modeselektor performance. Even playing at 3 o’clock on a warm August afternoon, the duo’s set was very energizing and the pit of people before the stage was quite active. After the final 20 minutes of Modeselektor’s set, I scurried across the pavillion to familiarize myself with the other stages.

The Eye
I found a DJ called The Eye playing on the Advent Stage (conveniently located along the midway) who’s booming electro beats possessed the energy of dancehall mixed with the swagger of crunk. I stopped briefly to mesh with the crowd and quickly found myself involuntarily overtaken by beats for the first time of the day. I waved my WOMP sign and did a little dubstepping before moving on to find the Dim Mak Stage. There, I watched only a few minutes of Holy Ghost! before wandering back to the Advent Stage, lured by The Eye’s on-going dance party. It happened again after getting a quick dose of Datsik’s dubstep, returning to The Eye after concluding that his dirty beats were the strongest force of the afternoon.

IDentity: a true music festival?
Identity felt like a true music festival, in large part to the midway atmosphere and the vendors who lined it. It’s a corporately-produced, multi-city festival, so there were a number of obligatory, big-name brands in attendance. But there were also a lot of fun, underground organizations selling one-of-a-kind accessories such as rage glasses and shirts with clever sayings like “Let’s Dub to Fuck Step” and “I love you, but I’ve chosen Techno”.

The seats on the pavilion (as well as the pit) in front of the main stage were also a free-for-all, rather than being strictly enforced by assigned seats per ticket. Rather than being pinned to one spot, patrons were free to move about the rows of seats to meet up with friends and get as close as their heart’s desire to some of the biggest DJ’s in today’s electronic world.

It was carefree, laid back, and a generally enjoyable atmosphere.

The Disco Biscuits
The Disco Biscuits played the perfect timeslot, beginning right after 5 o’clock, bridging afternoon and evening with free-flowing electo-fused rock. Their spacey instrumentals were a welcomed break from the hard-hitting electronic beats being served up everywhere else. Again making nods to traditional summer music festivals, IDentity’s inclusion of the guitar-noodling live band was an important one that signaled their recognition of the ever-blurring line between electronic DJ’s and full-blown jam bands. Closing song “Caterpillar” became my new favorite Biscuits track with a nerve-racking, circular buildup that concluded in a regal key change and unexpectedly abrupt stop that simply left me longing for more.

The Crystal Method
The Crystal Method destroyed The Dim Mak stage, playing everything from a raucous rendition of “War Pigs” (complete with male and female moshing) to an epic work-over of “Personal Jesus” that felt both dignified and grimy in a wickedly awesome way. The Crystal Method, legends in the underground electronic scene, thumped hard with loud industrial sounds, but balanced the edginess with detectable samples of familiar songs and a special element of grunge that set them apart from others. It was also at this point in the evening when the sun finally began to release its grip on concert goers and hide behind the stage- a much-needed moment of solace in an intensely long day of rage.

Rusko put on an incredible performance, bouncing around behind his DJ table like a tiny jumping bean from start to finish. His dance moves were sharp, defined, and flowing. Frequent use of the microphone was more distracting than anything- hard to understand, except when he referred to the crowd as dubsteppers (which was nearly every time he got on the mic). Rusko played an equal balance of old and new- trying out fresh material on IDentity’s first leg of the tour, as well as pleasing fans with popular, familiar favorites.

Steve Aoki
I think it’s safe to say that Steve Aoki made the biggest impression and gained the most new fans in Noblesville on Thursday. The sun was still up when his set began, allowing his elaborate stage setup to be admired in full daylight. But the night had fallen before he was done, which also allowed the large video letters that spelled out his name to be viewed in appropriate conditions. The bass was pulsating in a different way than any of the other Dim Mak stage performances that day and my eardrums felt violated on a whole new level.

Aoki’s music possessed the same notable industrial qualities that The Crystal Method portrayed, but his work was deeper rooted in the repetitive nature of house music and less in samples. In addition to fun tracks like “I’m in the House” and “Let the Bass Drop”, Aoki ran bizarre and seemingly unrelated video streams on a giant screen behind him- everything from sexually suggestive girl-on-girl footage to pictures of cows with the word “beef” crossed out.

Aoki radiates a lot of energy from his towering DJ booth, but he’s also not tied to the podium. Once, he disappeared from his deck and reappeared at the edge of the stage, just within reach of the pit. He had a bottle of champagne in his hands and paced back and forth. “How you doing Indianapolis?!” he yelled before unleashing a stream of bubbly over the crowd. He vanished into the pit for a minute or so before reappearing and returning to play more music for us.

Aiming to catch the first half of Kaskade and be back to the Dim Mak stage in time for the full DJ Shadow set, my crew departed just as Aoki began a full-blown metal song. “We stepped away just in time,” I said to the confused faces looking over their shoulders toward the banging set we had just left. Props to Aoki for a musically diverse, visually stimulating, and totally engaging performance.

DJ Shadow
For me (and, I assume, anyone who has seen him elsewhere), the bar was set pretty high for the night’s final performance with California-based, electro/hiphop DJ Shadow. His famed Shadowsphere and the tricky visuals that it produces would be the perfect finale to a grand day of dance and EDM at Verizon Wireless. At least, that’s what I thought.

After a 15-minute delay, DJ Shadow came on stage to apologize. “One of my projectors is broken. What that means is I’ll be playing with The Shadowsphere open for the duration of the show.” The news that the show would still go on was promising, but it was surely a major letdown for any DJ Shadow fan. As with any live music performance, it’s often as much about the experience as it is the tunes. So when the flat screen behind DJ Shadow turned into a distant ball park and I knew that the dark, blank Shadowsphere was supposed to be illuminated to look like a baseball flying through the air, I felt like the audience (both veterans and rookies alike) we being robbed of something special.

Even without The Shadowsphere in proper working condition, DJ Shadow still gave it his all for his first-ever Indiana performance. His infectious hip hop-inspired beats were an appropriate end to the day- gentle enough to contrast the hammering beats of dubstep and techno, yet groovy enough to keep listeners engaged and moving. We heard “I Gotta Rokk” from his six-track EP by the same name that was released earlier this year in anticipation of his September release The Less You Know The Better, in addition to a lot of his customary tracks, including signature opener “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt”.

To add insult to injury, Shadow had the plug pulled on him before his set had come to a proper conclusion. “I think that’s what it means when my shit goes dead like that,” he said to a confused audience as they began to disperse. DJ Shadow had the opportunity to gain a lot of new fans on Thursday, but I fear that his troublesome set did more harm than good. He’s making no excuses for the technical difficulties and was completely transparent with the crowd when explaining the late start- both admirable moves in a commonly egotistical industry. To anyone who was hoping for their first DJ Shadow experience at IDentity in Noblesville, you owe it to yourself (and DJ Shadow) to give him one more chance next time he comes around.

Final Thoughts
In the end, IDentity proved to be a rejuvenating celebration of electronic dance music. Produced on such a massive scale that no single organization, collective, or business could have done it alone, the event brought together fans of electronic music from all walks of life. Traditional ravers dressed in fishnets and tutu’s sat amongst average joe’s wearing cargo shorts and t-shirts on the lawn. Veterans to the underground electronic scene relived their fondest memories of shows past while the youngsters enjoyed their first encounter with some of electronic’s biggest, most-legendary names. Indeed, it was a great day for EDM in Indianapolis.