Zedd delivers unabashed fun to San Francisco crowds aplenty

photo of Zedd performing during a concert
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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At Zedd’s Aug. 7 show, nature restored itself. The rave crowd, in all its MDMA-laden, sweaty-crotched glory, squeezed into Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. People sacrificed their sanity and more sanitary conditions for the pounding, pixelated sensory overload that was a Zedd show and rejoiced in the intricate art of forgetting for a night. 

It’s initially easy to write off Zedd and his audience. For those not as well rave-versed, the whole shebang resembled a cult gathering — except for the ubiquitous baring of buttocks, bold bliss and LED furry costumes that suggested more freedom than what would typically be allowed in such an event.

When people talk about Zedd and his music, it’s a rumination of his mega pop-hit past and becoming a household name out of familiarity. He’s the most Grammy-nominated electronic music act, and he — by his own estimation Saturday — has allegedly performed more shows at Bill Graham than any other act. This is due in part to the fact that tracks such as “Clarity” and “Stay the Night” are consumption-ready confections, anthemic with the power to rekindle repressed, middle school dance night memories. But mainly, it’s because Zedd structures his music exactly how he likes to have fun at shows — unabashed, while never sacrificing complexity in the thick of 128 bpm dance music. 

His set transformed the venue into violently explosive, pure euphoria. From the surface, it’s easy to question how anyone could possibly have fun listening to a little man pressing buttons to create synthetic pulses of music while breathing in shared, stale air. Add on to that the ludicrousness of short king Zedd violently tacking on “F—!” with every other sentence he said. The whole night seemed even stranger seeing people follow his every command, similar to musty disciples to his petite German deity.

Swelling, vibrating and sweating, the crowd was in mass hysteria just as Zedd emerged on the ominously smoking, floating stage, his robotic beats ready to beep and boop the night away. The people were starved, and Zedd promised deliverance. 

Saving the bulk of his chart-toppers for the later half, his setlist featured vocoder-guided remixes of classic throwback songs such as “Billie Jean” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” intertwined with some his own tracks, such as “Adrenaline.” At times, when the clang and clamor of too many Alvin and the Chipmunk vocal pitch remixes gone wrong was not doing it for the crowd, he would insert earworm hits such as Travis Scott’s “Goosebumps,” and bathe recognizable vocal melodies with signature lush pads. 

Hearing these tracks stretched out like taffy with an elongated, roaring synth played out like a time capsule. It’s as if he wanted to capture not only the hits of times past, but also times less turbulent — something the audience was constantly reminded of. “18 months!” he proclaimed, constantly marveling at the exhausting extent of quarantine. He would then start playing upbeat tracks such as “Stay the Night,” creating a dizzying sensation from pain to immediate elation where he would turn down the volume and let everyone sing. 

In a 2017 interview, Zedd emphasized that he will “never consider” himself a DJ. He’s more than that; his shows are more than that. They’re meant to be an elevating experience, fresh every night as he closely aligns audience’s vibes with signaling to unleash violent pyrotechnics. This was a misstep in the show, where, in tandem with the ground shaking from the sweat-anointed newcomers, the vibrant laser show served more to distract rather than refine the music.

Zedd, for the most part, is distinct in never sacrificing his musicality despite the lack of emotion throughout his show. It’s a heavy thing to look past the tragedy that the past has become and try to forget it all to live in the moment. 

He doesn’t demand that much from the audience. Instead, his show is more so about stretching the span of two hours, blithely losing yourself to the sensations, music and a brief feeling of normalcy throughout the duration. If pressed to be anything more complex or real, it wouldn’t be a Zedd show. 

Contact Kelly Nguyen at [email protected].