Global Dance Festival has survived a long history of setbacks. Whether it was Paul Van Dyk’s food poisoning or a national initiative against rave culture (the RAVE act, as championed by Joe Biden), what was once known as Rave on the Rocks has persevered and evolved to become a three-day spectacle of — you guessed it — global proportions.
Despite the close-calls, Global remains one of the few Colorado mega-festivals left, as Mile High Music Festival and Monolith slip into the past. GDF’s need to shoulder this cultural burden is possibly the most recent item in a long list of misfortunes — where the event had formerly thrived by bringing inaccessible European acts right here to Colorado, now the pressure was on to make the event as big and, more importantly, accessible as possible.
That’s why it was a little jarring to see the extra day had no DJs booked on the main stage. Saturday’s lineup featured plenty of the European stars you would expect to see from show promoters Triad Dragons. Many of my Global buddies illogically thought twice about this year after seeing hip-hop acts thrown into the mix such as Kid Cudi, Sam Adams, MTHDS and LMFAO (who sorta count).
At my first Global in 2008, I saw Deadmau5 for the first time; the event greatly redirected my musical priorities. I had never heard a Deadmau5 track before (or from headliner Ferry Corsten, as far as I could tell), I had never really been down with trance, and didn’t really know what I was getting into. Hearing the hypnotic track “Arguru” for the first time while at Red Rocks, witnessing the sea of electric light and neon fabric, and feeling the communal energy that would normally require expensive drugs, it all completely sold me on rave culture. It became the meter for every “rave” experience afterwards, and I am not trying to be melodramatic, it’s a foundational stone for why I am writing this now.
Ticket mishaps delayed us from getting to the Friday show on time. When we finally sorted everything out, there was still plenty of sunlight, but the Friday crowd was already electric, the main stands fuller than they had been at this time on Thursday. Manufactured Superstars (aka the lead minds behind Beatport) were naturally well-attuned to what the crowd wanted to hear. Friday had a much better turnout than Thursday, and not just in numbers. The rave culture I longed to see again was more prevalent, and the main stands were fairly full before the sun went down. While it was obvious that Thursday was for the Global freshmen, Friday met the beginners and the experts right in the middle.
I recognized the three-day progression immediately. Let the newcomers warm up on Thursday, bring in the American favorites on Friday, and hit them with the European cats on Saturday. It was logical, but polarizing. I knew none of the Sam Adams fans would get a ticket for Gareth Emery on Saturday, or that any Gareth Emery fans gave a shit about Sam Adams. On one hand, it was good that everyone could pick their day, pick their scene. On the other hand, it encouraged a decision between one or the other.
Though Boulder locals Big Gigantic definitely stole the show the day before, Friday was the big day for the Boulder student crowd, boasting a hefty dubstep pairing of Nero and Skrillex. My highlights of last year was the Kraddy/Ana Sia/Rusko dubstep triplet, so no problems there. Major Lazer and Porter Robinson would round it out later, and there was always consistent talent at the third up-and-comer stage.
Nero was down a man and Dan Stephens took the stage alone (Major Lazer would also be missing Switch later on), but neither had a problem holding it down on their own. The set flew through tempos and songs quicker than expected; as opposed to a flowing trance set, these were loud bursts of grooves that either forced you to hang onto the builds or gave a slight instant to take a metaphorical breath. It was an assault of dubstep and drum & bass expertly mixed, an extremely important sign that Nero will stay relevant as the two continue to merge in popular music.
Nero was Beatport’s winner of Best Dubstep Act — “Act Like You Know It” won Best Dubstep Track — and the intensity of the music proved why. “Promises” seemed to be the ace at the end of the set, though “Innocence” was equally deadly. His remix of “Warp 1.9” is always going to be a favorite of mine, and though you can say the same thing for the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” he added an extra glitched-out crunch that turned the guitar-driven interludes between verses into a separate monster.
Speaking of scary monsters, Skrillex slipped right into the end of Nero’s set without a pause and continued to test the limits of the crowd’s energy. He looked like the captain of a ship in a hurricane, sometimes looking like one more big wave would make him lose his grip and fly backwards off of the booth. Skrillex really succeeds in weaving together the various sounds of electronic dance music and stitching them tightly together within a single bar of music. He even pushed its limits a little further with a well timed “This is How We Do It” (the key lyric: It’s Friday Niiiiiiight!) so it was no surprise he absolutely won over the crowd who was looking for dubstep, trance, electro or even Montell Jordan.
Major Lazer’s frontman Diplo slipped in with even more ambition, hardly letting Skrillex finish his set. It’s a hard act to follow for anyone, especially since Skrillex got a half hour longer to play, but Major Lazer is in a far different category of music. Less producer than DJ, Diplo took the stage and completely reinterpreted the crowd’s energy, reviving the dancehall hype that makes Major Lazer unique and gives their golden-mohawked hype man, Skerrit Bwoy, his raison d’tre. Not so much a dancer as a flailing kamikaze jester, Skerrit Bwoy was almost immediately drunk on Hennessy, pants-less, and practically banging a backup dancer to the delight of everyone. It’s not lewd behavior as much as a caricature of having a good time, exactly the vibe you can see in the “Pon the Floor” video that lends the disarming touch that makes the Major Lazer experience so easy to enjoy.
Speaking of caricatures, LMFAO did not impress many. The stage lighting was well done and avoided a lot of overwhelming brightness, but that was probably the most impressive thing about LMFAO’s set. Why they were booked after Major Lazer is anyone’s guess, though it was nice to know I wasn’t missing anything after going upstairs to catch Porter Robinson continue the banger parade. The young electro producer knew exactly what to give the crowd and gets better at reigning it back in every time I see him. Skrillex was even spotted by the second stage trying to wish Robinson a happy birthday, at the consequence of an overwhelming fan mob.
I left wishing I had seen more poi artists and candy kids, more random gestures of generosity and backrub chains. But more than that, I wished others had seen more of it. The young kids who thought Sam Adams was a stud could have benefited from some different types of music, but I can’t shame anyone for not being a weekend warrior and stuck to what they knew. I woke up on Saturday afternoon feeling like my legs were two rusty kickstands taken from a bicycle. It isn’t easy to tackle those stairs in a perpetual state of dancing, after all.
I’m sure it was rewarding for some old raver to see me wide-eyed in 2008, and next year, I hope to see it as well. Synergy was what the event was really missing, my fear of Global losing touch with rave culture somewhat coming true as it moves into its future. However, if the event continues to grow, include and experiment, then the real problem will be how to fit everything in. As a concertgoer, that’s the best problem you can ask for.
Check out Jules Kueffer’s beautiful photos below.