With what seemed to be a touch of a button and jiggling of a few knobs, the whole expanse of the Fox Theater on Oct. 5 was filled with a pounding, staccato bass so deep it could give you arrhythmia. It announced the presence of the relatively low-key man behind the beat: Brooklyn-based DJ and producer the Range. Clad in a nondescript T-shirt and a baseball cap, he appeared as anonymous as the distorted vocals that swoop in and out of his mixes. The message was clear — the music takes center stage here, not the performer.
This self-effacing approach has won the Range a lot of critical praise this year, especially with his arguably breakthrough album Potential. Its compelling main conceit — pulling all vocals from the depths of YouTube, like acapella bedroom covers of popular music (“Florida”) or rap videos by pre-teens (“Copper Wire”) — pairs well with the Range’s expansive, unrelentingly ecstatic beats, creating an uplifting ode to the act of musical creation even in dire circumstances.
The Range, like many musical acts that draw heavily upon internet culture, must contend with the unique demands that the act of live performance places upon their music. His music is uplifting and ephemeral, like a siren song whistling out of the corners of the internet, but can that delicacy survive the transition to the world beyond the computer?
The answer is mixed; the Range both gains and loses resonance in the transition. After the jarring wakeup call that was the first slamming bass, the Range brought out the delicate piano loop of “Five Four” into the mix. He then proceeded to whip up the crowd, jumping around behind his equipment while lip-synching furiously to every bar of the rap and turning up the usually mild bass of the song so high that the floor shook. This newfound energy bled over into even fairly sedate tracks like “Florida,” where the bass at some points seemed to be doing 16th- and 32nd-note runs, untethered from the rest of the song.
Indeed, the Range attempts to maximize his already heavily layered mixes, creating huge, overwhelming tapestries of sound. At one point, during a transition between two songs, there were multiple layers of distorted vocals singing in unison accompanied by a syncopated bass line, a shrill high hat, rapid clicks and, lost in the mix, a ghost of a chiming piano.
It’s impressive, undeniably, and certainly gives the Range’s music an extra oomph, but as demonstrated by the awkward shuffle the crowd was doing in lieu of dancing, it didn’t exactly go over as well as anticipated.
The shuffling audience members weren’t bored or unengaged by the music. They were just confused on what to do when confronted by the Range’s music. In style, he is comparable to Porter Robinson — they both seek to channel an almost spiritual high through the force of their music. Because of this, his music never seems to lock into a comfortable dance groove; it always builds, loops and gains new twinkling instruments throughout the track. In addition, the washed out vocals, rendered even more unintelligible by the louder production, hinder singing along to the exuberant choruses. Most of the Range’s set is more appropriate for a group listen than a group dance.
It’s a different atmosphere from the usual DJ set: People stand still, listening in awe or even bewilderment, as the Range whips up sparkling melodies on stage, like a pastor’s sermon to his loyal congregation.
On his last song, “1804,” he emphasizes the almost blissful nature of his music. While a steady vocal loop sweetly prays to God to “give one thousand blessings,” a stripped-down beat of twinkling pianos send the message home. The audience responded best to the serene bliss of this final song, putting down cell phones and swaying to the rhythm. Through honest emotion, the Range’s music breaks free of its digital origins.
Contact Adesh Thapliyal at [email protected].