Identity Festival Rocks Beantown

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Aoki rocks it

What: Identity Festival Review

Where: Comcast Center – Mansfield, MA

When: Saturday, August 20, 2011

By Paul Dailey

From my trips to the Newport Jazz Festival as a child, to a long, long weekend in Northern Maine when Phish made Loring Air force Base the second biggest city in the state; warm summer days and open air festivals are two of my favorite pastimes.  Back in 2001, when Moby brought his Area One (and later Area Two) shows to the Boston area, that love was enhanced as I was able to experience an outdoor festival and some prominent electronic music acts – Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold, and Prodigy to name a few.

In the last 10 years, I have attended a couple of Ultra Festivals in Miami and one Electric Daisy Carnival party in Vegas – but aside from a few much smaller local events, electronic music outdoor events have been generally absent from the Boston EDM calendar.  It is with this background that I headed to the Comcast Center in Mansfield, MA on Saturday, August 20th for the 8th stop on the 20 city, whirlwind tour called the Identity Festival.

The press release proclaims the festival as a “world within itself…with plenty of room for relaxing, mingling, eating, drinking and of course dancing”, and from my experience that was exactly what they delivered.  The Comcast Center was decked out with 2 major stages (Main and Dim Mak), and one smaller stage (Advent) – plus a plethora of vendors selling food, clothing, and other assorted flashing and neon goods.  The music was the star, but playing a close second was a day’s worth of top notch people watching – which proved needed distractions over the 10 hour marathon.

On the musical front, Identity assembled an impressive list of talent, representing the breadth and depth of modern day EDM.  From the electro sounds of Steve Aoki and big room house of Kaskade, to techno of Modeselektor, the tech house of Steve Lawler, and the Dubstep of Rusko– nearly every genre and style was well represented.

Gates opened at 1 p.m., and crowds remained relatively modest during the afternoon.  While this was to be expected, it was also unfortunate – as most of the truly creative acts pushing musical boundaries, were on in the daylight hours.  Late comers missed some excellent performances – but as the day turned to night, it became clear what the teen and tween aged crowd really wanted – big energy and big basslines and a heaping portion of cheese.  As such, Electro and Dubstep carried the day.

Not being a fan myself, I was not completely aware of just how big Dubstep is with the under 25 age group which made up about 99% of the Identity attendees.  While Chuckie, Nero, and Rusko – delivered the rolling basslines and cheesy pop vocals you might expect, nearly every performer (save a few – thankfully) added “Dubstep” style basslines and breakdowns to their tracks.  Even Crystal Method had the mid afternoon crowd jumping on a few occasions.  While I could go on and on with my criticism, I have to say – at the end of it all, the kids loved it and ate it up.  And if pleasing your crowd is a DJs ultimate goal – Dubstep DJs have it right.

As darkness ascended over the Comcast Center, the big names began to take the stage. Steve Aoki, known for high energy electro-house and over the top, circus act stage show, delivered with outstanding visuals and block rocking beats that made his set one of the day’s most popular.

At the other end of the spectrum, Kaskade delivered a signature pop house set – complete with an impressive stage show and a classy set of his massive club hits like “Angel on my Shoulder” and “Move for Me.”  This was the closing set on the main stage, and was by far the biggest and most popular of the day.

For my money, the only performer on the bill who can lay claim to the title “legend” is DJ Shadow.  I eagerly awaited his show closing set, and was not disappointed.  Surrounded by (and playing inside of) what amounted to an orb of gear, his stage show was an incredible combination of beats and visuals.  But the anonymity of the orb proved to be a negative at times – as unless you “got it”, it was unclear that he was actually in there – creating those beats.  Casual observers might have assumed they were listening to a Shadow CD – while they shined lights at the stage.   The crowd was too young and Shadow is too heady – and when he scratched in KRS saying “…fresh for 88, you suckas” – I laughed thinking most of these kids weren’t even born in 1988.

At the end of it all, I was exhausted, sun burned and very satisfied.  And by the only measure that matters, I had a great time.  The Identity Festival was a big success. Well done.