If there’s one thing TOKiMONSTA has come to fully master both in her booming production and in her ecstatic live shows, it’s the art of push and pull. Combining lush melodies with thumping hip-hop beats in her tracks, the LA-native producer and DJ otherwise known as Jennifer Lee has a sound that, much like her name (“toki” means rabbit in Korean while “monsta” is quite self-explanatory) shines a light on the symbiosis that exists between the beastly and the delicate.
By the time TOKiMONSTA took the stage at Friday’s semesterly ASUC SUPERB Welcome Week concert in Pauley Ballroom, the crowd was reeling from the pseudo-rave atmosphere unleashed by LA-born DJ MNTRA’s set — little more than generic EDM delivered with awkward PLUR-invoking hand gestures and lackluster guest appearances.
After MNTRA, TOKiMONSTA slipped on stage silently in an all-black outfit. She smiled brightly at the crowd equipped with flashing LED gloves and a burning desire to release the frustrations of the first week of the semester and immediately got to work setting up for her show. Her quiet pre-show demeanor and poise stood in stark contrast to MNTRA’s frat star-style grandstanding.
Opening with glowing sateen synths tumbling into a dark cacophony of sound and back again, TOKiMONSTA allowed for a momentary come down before she allowed her set to burst with hollowed-out vocals and teetering percussion, which dissipated back into heavenly melodies as if nothing had happened at all. She offered just enough of one extreme to leave a crowd wanting more before switching to the other and allowing the two to meld into one impossibly coherent sonic entity.
TOKiMONSTA’s performance became a test of patience and a game of call and response — mellow electronic soundscapes built anticipation for the moment TOKiMONSTA would infuse her set with a new banger, and just as this anticipation boiled over she would quell the crowd with a danceable track. She never made any gestures or dropped any hints of what was to come. Her set was peppered with small surprises — quick shifts in tone, fulfillment of the desire to celebrate — that fell into the fine spaces between gently stuttering synths, each eliciting pleased amazement.
While these surprises may have been crowd pleasers, they stood in quite stark contrast to many of TOKiMONSTA’s other sets. The artist, known for her trap and bass heavy sets, pulled out pop and rap tracks by high-profile artists at just the right times to entertain an audience of rowdy students.
Throughout her set, the producer wove together tracks as disparate as Hardrive’s deep house cut “Deep Inside” and her own remix of R&B queen Tinashe’s “2 On” without ever sacrificing the audience’s attention in the process. She generated crowd singalongs where moments before there had been nothing but dense percussion. Crowd surfers, casual dancers and wallflowers alike remained enthralled by the set.
Despite the fact that her engagement with the audience was limited to an occasional glance up and an unfailingly beaming smile, TOKiMONSTA had an almost supernatural understanding of how to craft a uniquely pleasing set. She knew how to draw people in just enough to leave them wanting more.
The night’s most noteable crowd-pleasing moment came when, about halfway through her set, TOKiMONSTA played YG’s anti-Donald Trump anthem “FDT.” Gasps of recognition were followed by the night’s loudest, most enthusiastic singalong. Chanting erupted across the room, proving the night to be a triumph in spite of the day’s political events. The producer’s promising to “celebrate ourselves” and “leave the inauguration drama behind” proved true as thoughts of the day’s events drowned in a sea of dancing bodies.
By the end of the show, the small crowd that had stood huddled near the stage for the opener had blossomed into a fully packed room. Two hours of flashing lights and dancing had melted away the personal and political stresses of the past week and unveiled a small and quiet sense of shared triumph.
Sannidhi Shukla covers music. Contact her at [email protected].