Block Party Typhoon

Photos courtesy of the artists.

by Dan Harpaz

It’s easy to blame the premature close to Mad Decent’s ten-hour-long free concert at Williamsburg Park, NYC on Mother Nature, but curator/headliner Major Lazer (aka Diplo) could have avoided letting down fans by shortening sets earlier in the day.  While most of the opening acts managed to entertain the crowd, concert officials cut the show short just before the real star, Major Lazer, could perform.

I arrived halfway through the all-ages event to a blisteringly hot Williamsburg Park, which is actually an open asphalt lot situated in between warehouses.  Wondering why the event wasn’t more packed, I hypothesized the required RSVP and weather forecasts had scared off many fans.  The opening lineup was a mix of up-and-coming electronic artists, DJs, and rappers.  Among them was reality TV star Riff Raff, who kicked off his set by announcing, “They’re gonna play my new track: I’m not even gonna perform it.” While simply flashing his grill and throwing up gang signs earned him the public’s attention on MTV’s From G’s to Gents, the same strategy failed to entertain the masses at the Block Party.  Riff Raff spent his allotted time exchanging confused looks with his DJ and the crowd, and rapping intermittently.  Concertgoers’ boos intensified during the second half of the set, but Riff Raff wouldn’t stop.  The audience cheered once for a backflipping crowdsurfer.  Thinking the crowd was responding to his presence, Riff Raff improved his stage game momentarily, before quickly reverting to his unfocused, photo-whoring shtick.  After Riff Raff announced his last number, he played three more songs, further deflating the mood.  Tasked with mending the wreck Riff Raff left behind, DJ/producer Lunice killed it with his bassy hip hop beats.  Unfazed by sound issues, Lunice got the crowd headbanging and roaring for the sound guy to turn it up.

After an energetic, but barely audible set by Brazilian electro-pop band Bonde do Rolê, the sound guy finally increased the volume to concert-levels for the final opener, electro DJ Erol Alkan.  Erol made a few mistakes behind the knobs – unintentionally cutting the music and losing the groove – but fans were so eager to dance in anticipation of the more veteran Major Lazer that it didn’t matter.  Towards the end of Alkan’s set, stage crews assembled Major Lazer’s flashy speaker-and-light embedded DJ platform.  The temperature had cooled down significantly since midday, and a two minute drizzle sent waves of cheers through the audience.  Once the drizzle ended, I hoped we’d avoided the worst – but no.  A black storm cloud from Mordor was headed straight for us.  ”There’s lightning and we’re ending the event because of public safety…afterparty at Williamsburg Music Hall!” Major Lazer announced.  No sooner did torrential rain turn outraged fans into panicked ones.  I joined audience members in escaping for shelter at a local bar, where bouncers shamelessly kicked under-21 girls in bikinis to the curb in the face of flying debris.  Once the violent winds subsided, getting out of the powerful air-conditioning became my priority.  I packed onto a nearby L train with hundreds of intoxicated, drenched concertgoers wearing crop-tops and neon headbands.  I let out a sigh in relief and shared a laugh with friends about the predictable climax to our disappointing concert experience.

Perhaps I set my expectations too high.  I’ve had great luck with free shows in the city so far (NY Philharmonic at Prospect Park, Parliament-Funkadelic at Rockefeller Park, and Bootsy Collins at Wingate Field).  I knew that the lineup for the traveling Block Party varied from city to city and wouldn’t include all of the thirty artists advertised on the website.  And low production value at a free concert won’t burst my bubble. But as a spoiled New Yorker, I would have expected the cream of the crop – more polished, established acts like Flosstradamus or Brooklyn’s own Theophilus London.  Or talented up-and-comer Tokimonsta of the trip-hop duo Analogue Monsta.  I’m not trying to place New York on a pedestal above the other cities Block Party has visited (i.e., Toronto and Philly).  Nor am I suggesting my sourness compares to the disappointment thousands of Chicago music fans experienced at the Lollapalooza washout just a day before.  However, many fans feel robbed of what could have been a successful event, were it not for self-absorbed fillers like Riff Raff.  Fortunately for my friends on the west coast, the Block Party will make its last and probably best stop in Los Angeles, along with the aforementioned gems.  Sure, Los Angeles – the Block Party’s headed your way, bells, whistles, sunshine and all.  But nothing beats riding the L train with a bunch of glittery wet hipsters and horrified tourists.

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