It takes a pretty big act to convince people to wait outside a club in the Boston chill wearing little more than tank tops and t-shirts. And indeed, last Thursday was one of the biggest nights of the year for EDM fans in the Boston area as Anjunabeats wunderkind Mat Zo rolled into town. Zo’s been riding high the past few months following the release of his debut album “Damage Control,” which must have ranked with Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” and Armin’s “Intense” as one of the most anticipated dance albums of the year. Unlike those two records, though, “Damage Control” fully lived up to the hype, with Zo showing off his production skills in a melodic journey that traversed every genre from electronica to dubstep to trance with equal panache.
Zo’s live sets are just as wide-ranging and unpredictable; I’ve seen him twice this year and each time was completely different. His set at Electric Zoo was particularly memorable, as the DJ darted from uplifting trance anthems into lumbering dubstep grooves with barely a backward glance. There’s no doubt the guy’s a bit of a show off — his recent Essential Mix crammed 70 tracks into 2 hours, which is a little excessive if you ask me — but his talent is undeniable. And the kid’s only 23.
Kicking off the festivities on Thursday night was house DJ Treasure Fingers, who’s been on my concert bucket list ever since his infectious single “It’s Love” hit the blogosphere back in 2010. Treasure Fingers’ set was a fun mix of proggy house tracks (a little Pryda never hurts) and disco beats (Felix da Housecat, yummy), and he gave a nice flavor of the eclectic musical mixture to come.
Around 10:30, ominous middle eastern music heralded the arrival of Zo, who bounded on stage in an oversized baseball cap and baggy track jacket that made it look like he was on the way to the gym. His DJ set was a workout, of sorts: within the first 5 minutes he’d already covered trance, electro and dubstep, and he didn’t let up for the next two hours. If you’ve been following my reviews you’ll know I’m a bit of a genre purist, and mostly skeptical of DJs who try to blur the lines between BPMs. Trance and electro in particular can make for an oppressive and unpleasant combination, but Zo blends the two with such exuberance that it’s hard to resist. With almost every drop, Zo hurtles into a new track, barely giving fans a chance to ID songs before transitioning into the next one. His mash-ups often blend three or even four tracks into one; my personal favorite marries “Sun & Moon,” “Strobe” and “Boneless,” though I also liked his goofball combo of Blur’s “Girls & Boys” with Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction.”
Before the night was through we’d also been treated to tracks from Bassnectar, Dead Prez and even Janet Jackson — three names I never thought I’d see in one place. The trance fanboy in me was a little sad not to hear some of his earlier hits (no “Rebound”), but given the breadth and dexterity of his DJing, such omissions were understandable.
Reading back on this review, I realize it comes off as a little nerdy and technical, so let me just end by emphasizing the most memorable aspect of the night: it was really, really fun. Just ask the couple in front of me, who were so giddy with excitement that they spent most of the night rolling around on the floor.