Published Jul 19, 2012Although the idea behind the Full Flex Express travelling extravaganza was inspired by the 1970 Canadian train tour by Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, the Band and others, there was nothing retro about it.
Rising from the stage from an elaborate spacecraft that could have been a prototype from Star Wars, backed by a huge HD screen that flashed sci-fi-inspired visuals, live crowd shots and videogame clips, and surrounded by enough lights and multi-coloured lasers to make even the biggest arena rock band jealous, Skrillex and his Full Flex Express was fuelled by dubstep's unforgiving bass, dancehall's bump and flex vibe, and electro's unhinged party anthems.
There was no doubt who the swelling crowd at Winnipeg's Shaw Park were there to see, and Skrillex's carefully choreographed show made sure they got the biggest bang for their buck. Tracks like set opener "Right In," "My Name Is Skrillex" and "Bangarang," along with some of his own remixes of acts like the Beastie Boys, catapulted the energy on the field into the stratosphere as Sonny Moore pushed ecstatic festivalgoers into ebullient climaxes, only to be followed by the deep, rumbling bass drops he has become known for. It wasn't all tension and release, though, as Moore moved between heart rate-inducing rhythms and more melodic moments that went a long way to giving his set the type of real dynamics he was missing in the past.
Prior to Skrillex, Colorado's Derek Vincent Smith, aka Pretty Lights, worked the lower end of the BPM scale with his own glitchy, sample-heavy, electro hip-hop soul that relied on his intricate sound design, carefully compressed kicks, crisp percussion, understated bass melodies and silky vocals typified by his instantly recognizable track, "Finally Moving," from his 2011 album, Taking Up Your Precious Time.
Probably not accustomed to playing such an early set, Philadelphia's Diplo wasted no time in raising the energy level after Grimes, unleashing a torrent of crowd-pleasing cuts that included an AC/DC mash-up, some Jay-Z and Missy Elliott, his new single "Express Yourself," some dancehall-poppin' electro and a few New Orleans bounce rhythms. He even managed to work in some drum 'n' bass near the end. Although in the hands of a less skilled DJ, the Mad Decent boss's genre-jumping performance could have come across as disjointed, somehow he made it all work.
Despite being sick, making it difficult early on for Grimes (aka Claire Boucher) to hit the high notes, her sometimes shambolic performance with her caped cohort, Vancouver's Blood Diamonds, was nonetheless captivating. Using what she could squeeze out of her already tour-weary voice, her layered, looped sound, simple drum beats and synth-draped melodies have a real playfulness that is hard to ignore. Set highlights included her collaboration with Blood Diamonds' Mike Tucker, "Phone Sex," and her own cut, "Oblivion," from her album Visions.
As far as the tour openers went, KOAN Sound's hip-hop-influenced bass workouts and Tokimonsta's edgier beats and forays into witch house on the second stage gave the festival early momentum that carried throughout the day, with the exception of five-piece indie electronic act Hundred Waters, who seemed ill-suited for the bill and whose subtle ambient textures and understated drums faded into the background or were just ignored.
If there was any doubt that Skrillex is the reigning king of electronic music in North America right now or that his success can't be sustained, the Full Flex Express tour put all those fears to rest.