I was talking with my friend the other day about how The Chainsmokers killed EDM. All the rage in the early 2010s (yes, we’re actually in the late 2010s now – holy shit!), EDM is suffering the blowbacks of shameless consumerism, and while The Chainsmokers catalyzed that by unabashedly stripping the genre of its artistry and using it as a cash cow, the descent has been gradual. The thirst to see European guys in tank tops hit a button and jump up and down isn’t as intense as it used to be, and artists like Imagine Dragons and Ed Sheeran signal a return of organic instruments to pop. On the other side of the electronic spectrum, however, is an underground movement of live electronic artists who do more than just press play. I attended the show dedicated to one of these at Brick and Mortar SF, presented by SF label Popgang Records.
I’ve never been to one of these. The only electronic shows I’ve seen are huge ones like Zedd or Porter Robinson, back when EDM was still cool. Either that, or I would go to EDM clubs where I’d get drunk on 6 shots and dance all night.
The first thing I heard from RZN8R (pronounced ‘Resonator’) at the show was, “This is all original live electronic music. DJs? Naw, we don’t do that.” I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Armed with Ableton, a mic, and a live rapper, RZN8R played consistently chill electronic beats that dipped into the hip hop range now and then, and became full-on hip hop when his collaborator Jeff (aka JAYEM) came on stage. Steady beats, dreamy synths and soaring, ethereal vocals dominated most of RZN8R’s sound palette, but JAYEM’s grounding, bassy freestyling filled out the low frequencies. I wasn’t really sure what he was rapping about, but it sounded cool.
RZN8R’s beats are steady and atmospheric, and they never drop too hard, but that’s a good thing. It directs attention to the musical composition and the textures that he uses to augment his
hip-hop roots, including weird metallic effects and 8-bit sounds. In particular, I really liked when RZN8R sings over his beats. He had an impressive range, and his live vocals added a surreal quality to his chill-hop production style. EDM DJs generally don’t that – well, sometimes they just talk into the microphone like DJ Khaled does. But I think more electronic acts should take a cue from acts like RZN8R – the vocals make electronic shows feel like a solo or band performance, as opposed to being DJ Buttonmash.
The Popgang Records show was a live electronic showcase, where producers performed all original compositions, often with their own live vocals. Watching RZN8R and the other Popgang acts was a great way to see and hear what was going on in the brains and the studios of electronic producers I would not have ever heard about. The colorful lights of Brick and Mortar helped set the atmosphere. It’s a different experience than huge EDM festivals or clubs, and it’s a lot more similar to watching show with live bands that play original music. I highly recommend checking one out!
Photos (c) Matthew Evearitt