EDM performance as whole — but in particular, the chillwave, bedroom dream-pop vein of EDM — is often directly at odds with its own creation. Producers toil away for hours, tuning every sound and note, remixing and sampling, constantly deconstructing and reconstructing. In short, it’s an art form steeped in perfectionism.
EDM performance, on the other hand, is all about the opposite. It’s about spontaneity; it’s about tactility. It’s about modulating and modifying those sounds, adding new elements and dropping others, all in bombastic fashion. It’s about feeling like someone isn’t merely playing a track off their MacBook through louder speakers.
Generating that sense of presence on stage isn’t easy — and it works better for some than for others. Sweater Beats (real name Antonio Cuna), who opened for Giraffage at the San Francisco-based producer’s sold out show at the Fillmore on Tuesday night, integrated two drum pads and even live electric guitar shredding to create a connection between the auditory and visual experience.
The music of Charlie Yin’s Giraffage project, more so than either of his openers, is difficult to run through that translation. His recent LP Too Real contains some of the most complex, articulate songwriting he’s done, bolstered by collaborations with vocalists such as Japanese Breakfast (Michelle Zauner) to give the whole thing a polished, mature sound. It’s not your typical EDM sound. It’s softer, more melodic. Less repetitive and predictable, and more like an amalgamation of M83’s 80’s-nostalgic Junk and a Muse track than anything most EDM producers are putting out.
That uniqueness manifested itself in a few ways on stage at the Fillmore. Tucked away behind his table, which itself was surrounded by concentric, LED rings, engulfing him in his own minisphere, Yin was distinctly isolated from the crowd in front of him. The setup itself was placed several feet back in the stage — logistically, it gave his openers space to set up and perform without having to rearrange the stage, but talking to Yin, it wouldn’t be surprising if he appreciated the distance.
The set started with some of the strongest cuts off of Too Real, after which Yin forayed outward, flexing his chops on some more typical remixes (including a well-received sample of “Pony,” the second of the night). Giraffage as a project has often centered more on its sound than its theatrics, and that shows: while Yin carries out all the DJ basics — the knob twisting in and out of drops, the pad tapping, the light bounce in the feet and body motions to cue the audience into the drops — they don’t carry him away. He seems most at home when he can turn, 90 degrees from the audience, to play at his keyboards.
That doesn’t mean the set was unenjoyable. Fans were happy to let Yin explore the subtler sides to his songs, and he was happy in turn to throw in some drop-heavy remixes to keep the crowd’s energy up. But it really was the cuts off of Too Real that made the ticket worth it. The acoustics of the hall bring the songs to life, and the first few seconds of “Do U Want Me,” “Maybes” and “Slowly” instantly drew raucous cheering — a testament to Yin’s ability to craft immediately recognizable and unique tracks.
All the while, the resplendent, psychedelic imagery of his LP’s album cover danced on the screen behind him, from puppies to a skeleton band and everything in between. Giraffage — and in fact, all three performers — had highly engaging light shows, and with Giraffage in particular, it became another layer of the onion, a carefully crafted piece of a large, interlocking puzzle.
After unabated cheers followed his closing song, Yin returned to the stage for an encore, joined by both Sweater Beats and Wingtip. The two openers danced around the stage to the beat as Yin steered the ship home. In a certain way, it served to highlight the line between DJing as a performer and producing as a musician. Nowadays, you’re expected to do both.
And sure, visually, a goofy smile and infectious jumpy energy in a performer are more immediately engaging than a more subdued, keyboard-involved performance. But at the end of the day, it was Giraffage’s tracks that felt and sounded unique and different, and that was the real treat.