E. Rutherford, N.J.—It was hard to imagine at the time, but toward the end of Wolfgang Gartner’s Sunday-night set at New Jersey’s Bamboozle festival, it became apparent that something else was going on beyond the DJ booth.
As the last act of the three-day Meadowlands event, Gartner had fired up a chilly crowd that clearly didn’t want to go home. The makeshift dancefloor—basically an entry ramp to the football stadium—had filled up quickly after a day of live acts like Lil Wayne, Bruno Mars and Mötley Crüe, and Gartner’s electro-house buzzbombs were walloping the willing audience.
Gartner modulated the energy masterfully. Just as he’d done the previous Thursday night at Manhattan’s Irving Plaza, he brought the room up with cuts like Sandro Silva’s “Hands High” and his own “Illamerica,” then crashing down with M.O.P’s singalong, “Ante Up.”
But after an hour of exhilarating, crunching grooves, people inside and beyond the quasi-mosh pit began to show each other their iPhones and Blackberries. One after another, the response was a bug-eyed expression. I thought, “What the hell is going on?” It didn’t take long to find out.
Sure enough, within seconds, a text message from far away dropped an information bomb: Osama Bin Laden was dead.
Right then, Gartner finished his set and the crowd chanted, “One more beat! One more beat!” Perhaps breaking protocol (or curfew), he dropped another scorcher and the youngish crowd stomped and swerved and pogoed. It was hard not to look at the scene through the lens of the breaking news: Bin Laden is dead, we all know it, and we’re partying.
When the music finished, we caught up with Gartner’s agent reps and we saw him, obviously stoked from the great gig, come bounding down the steps of his stage setup. Someone walked up to Gartner and showed him his iPhone, no doubt breaking the news. Just like everyone else in the room that he’d just entertained, Gartner reacted like he’d gotten struck by lightning, his eyes getting as big as saucers, his mouth agape. That rocking gig that he’d just finished wasn’t even the center of his own world anymore.
The place was abuzz. “Is Obama going to make a speech?” “How did they get him?” “When did it happen?” “This is historic.” A walk through the Meadowlands parking lot afterwards would reveal a row of exiting vehicles blaring various news stations offering up-to-the-moment updates. People were high-fiving. There were smiles. Emotions came flying forward.
For some reason, I began to recall a pre-concert interview I did with Slipknot’s DJ Sid Wilson that occurred about six weeks after 9/11 on the same Meadowlands grounds. It was Halloween, 2001, and I remember how my photographer and I had to go through metal detectors to get into the gig—a disconcerting first for the two of us. We knew everything was about change and we were not happy about it.
This Jersey visit, however, was rather different. As odd as it might seem to celebrate someone’s death, that’s exactly what we did, with the Meadowlands complex serving as a very strange bookend and Wolfgang Gartner’s brand of banging house as its soundtrack. A night to remember, for sure.