David Rudnick ’09, former host of some of Yale’s best parties, once told me he’d almost managed to get Justice for a concert in the Davenport dining hall, back when they were DJ-famous but not yet hipster-famous. He thought as many as 400 people might have come.
That was in another era, before Sonny Moore was Skrillex, before Steve Angello started Swedish House Mafia, before Calvin Harris could sell out stadiums. This year, Yale has almost as many Soundcloud DJs as we do rock bands, and I’ve heard more electro than rap in the TD gym. A brand-name DJ’s appearance would be a Spring-Fling-level spectacular, but in my time, that hasn’t happened.
Instead, YCC puts money into T-Pain and Macklemore, leaving EDM fans with the likes of 3LAU and RL Grime. Still, this is almost certainly the right decision. When we pay T-Pain, we pay for backup dancers and champagne showers and t-shirts thrown into the audience — and most of all, the famous name. But we can’t afford Calvin Harris, or anyone else Yale has heard of. Swapping Mr. Grime for someone pricier but still barely known (Steve Aoki, perhaps, or Wolfgang Gartner) would add thousands of dollars to Spring Fling’s price tag for a DJ most of us would still see as “random guy pushing buttons”.
Besides, do Yalies really care about electronic music? We might listen to it, but another thing about DJs is that they can all play the tracks we love; you’ll see 3LAU throwing down Avicii (and Carly Rae Jepsen), while Macklemore is unlikely to drop “Niggaz in Paris.” Few of us know enough to derive pleasure from a specific mixing style, or a clever reference to some British hit from the ’90s. Is a live DJ any more than an excuse for us to dance outside to the same songs we hear in Toad’s?
Judging by our showing at Electro last Saturday night, it’s hard to tell. Most of the six DJs in Commons played awesome sets, but without ever straying from the pattern of Top-40 pop layered over Top-40 dance. The crowd size never topped 400, and stayed under 100 for the first hour. Almost everyone missed Thomas Rokholt, whose funky, skeletal house was a fun exception to this night of rave.
Fortunately, those who came had the floor to themselves, and a few took full advantage of the space. The beginning of a concert is always high-variance, as the cool WYBC kids stand around with their arms crossed and the DJ’s friends spin around in circles and reenact “Stomp the Yard” on their personal patches of dance floor, as though they’d pregamed with Red Bull and Skittles. As a reporter, my dancing was limited by my note-taking, but I got the chance to appreciate YCC’s ridiculously crisp sound system, helped along by a pretty sweet Commons echo. Also, there were lasers, which we trot out several times each year, but which never cease to look awesome (note to fellow laser-lovers: If you just stand there and stare up at the beam with your mouth hanging open, someone will eventually knock you over).
Actually, except for the fog machine, which seemed to emit smoke early on, leaving the left side of the room to choke on fumes for half an hour, this was a near-perfect night. I couldn’t make out even a minor mixing mistake, and after an hour of stillness, the floor picked up speed around 11:30. The DJs were fans of each other (lots of hugs between sets), had fans among the student body (several people took turns holding a “We Love You Nick!” sign for the second man up), and even turned out not to be a boys’ club when a woman came on and spun for a while. There was also diversity among the dancers: While Yale parties follow the Pareto principle (20% of the moves are adopted by 80% of the people), students closer to the outskirts tried everything from T. Rex arms to finger-waggling (think “invisible rave piano”). My favorite group was an all-male kick line, whose members resembled a tipsy Riverdance audience getting their Irish on in the parking lot after the show.
And though I remained rhythmically limited by my role as a hired stalker (some people call them “reporters”), listening was often pleasure enough. Best moments of the night: extra percussion thrown over Alesso’s remix of “Pressure”; the word “slizzard” in “Like a G6”; and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” decades older than anything else on the floor, swirling up like a joyful ghost.
(Worst moments of the night: “Sexy and I Know It” getting cut before the chorus; the “My Humps” vocal dominating the mix for nearly two minutes; and every other word in “Like a G6”.)
But even in the night’s least tasteful moments, Yalies danced. Whoever RL Grime is, we’ll do the same for him. Get enough of us together, and we’d rock out to the Cha-Cha Slide. (If I’m ever called upon to DJ a Yale dance, this will be my secret weapon.) And though we may not know the difference between a sampler and a sample platter, we know how to have a good time, and that’s what electro is all about.