Thursday night was chilly, but not at The Sinclair in Harvard Square. Stepping onto the dance floor was like sinking into a warm, soothing bath, courtesy of British producer Gold Panda. Fusing together jagged beats, world music samples and soothing rushes of synth and keyboard, the Pitchfork-approved Panda created a detailed soundscape that blurred the line between ambient and danceable.
And the coolest thing? It was all live. Like, actually performed on the spot. Even as a dance music fan, I sometimes get a little skeptical of the amount of effort that goes into a DJ set these days (not naming names), but not so with Gold Panda — you could see the man, brow furrowed, sweating with concentration, as he wove together increasingly precarious layers of rhythm and melody to a delicious, delirious pitch. No laptop. No headphones. Hell, there weren’t even any turntables… Just a dizzying array of keyboards, drum machines, launchpads and other high tech musical gadgetry.
The first half of Gold Panda’s set was aimed at the head rather than the feet, with long stretches of swirling noise without a clear rhythm to grab onto. Despite a couple of enthusiastic dancers (your Sonic Agenda representative included), most of the crowd was engaged in subtle head bobbing and the occasional sideways sway. All this changed in the second half of the show, as Gold Panda kicked up the BPM and started throwing some of his better-known tracks into the mix. Highlights included the relentless yet oddly affecting “You” (memorably remixed by Charlie XCX) and the hypnotic “Quitter’s Raga,” which kind of sounds like a Bollywood soundtrack playing off a broken stereo… in a good way. My favorite song was the achingly beautiful “Reprise,” a shimmering, lighters-in-the-air anthem that wouldn’t have sounded out of place at an Ibiza beach party. Oh, and the dose of drum ‘n’ bass that Gold Panda played as his encore, to rapturous applause.
Despite his extroverted name, Gold Panda’s stage presence was surprisingly muted — no costume (just an oversized Boyz II Men T-shirt), limited stage banter, minimal crowd interaction. But that was no problem because opening act Slow Magic provided enough crazy theatricality for the both of them. Coming off like a rave version of Game of Thrones (just watch this video if you want to know what I mean), Slow Magic combined upbeat UK bass music with wild, tribal drumming and eye-popping neon headgear. Much like Gold Panda, Slow Magic added a fun dimension of live performance to the traditionally laptop-bound EDM show, coming down to the dance-floor to play amidst the crowd and even offering his drum machine to an audience member to help him construct a beat on the fly.
While my personal tastes lie closer to house, trance and techno, I have to admit it was a nice change to see a real live electronic show; one that didn’t just sound like my iPod cleverly mixed and channeled through a professional sound-system. As electronic music continues to evolve over the coming years, it’ll be interesting to see what other innovative and unusual performance schemes are dreamed up by aspiring EDM artists.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.