Many old-school DJs lament the lack of skill and creativity of their newer counterparts. As technology has advanced, mixing and beat-matching has become easier than ever, meaning that the bar for entry into deejaying is low. This situation has created a glut of overhyped DJs who play pre-produced sets and rise to stardom for doing little more than pressing “play” on a laptop. Electronic musician XXYYXX’s latest show at the U Street Music Hall reflected the unfortunate reality of the modern world of electronic music, yet brimmed with all the allure and excitement of a well-produced set.
U Street Music Hall is a 500-person capacity basement dance club and live music venue whose greatest asset is its amazing sound system. The dark room features an elevated DJ stand in front of a cork-cushioned dance floor, lined with wooden benches and two full-length bars. Speakers are expertly placed throughout the room, so that music can be heard at a high volume across the dance floor. The venue’s staff members are friendly and relaxed, and the room never feels claustrophobic, despite the sizes of its crowds.
The crowd is diverse in style and mannerism, although many attendees of the XXYYXX show appeared to be in their early twenties. Concertgoers ranged from trendy head-bobbers to grungy ravers — one audience member, in particular, caught the attention of passersby, with his swirling, glowing fingertips. Those closest to the front were especially enthusiastic, dancing ecstatically throughout the entire DJ lineup.
Opening act Lean Quatifah, despite occupying the lowest-billed spot, made a strong appearance and managed to get the crowd excited early on in the night. The young DJ played a variety of dance tracks, from tropical house to more trendy trap and grime, and spun many remixes of popular rap hits, like Migos’ “Bad and Boujee,” which added a fun, familiar element to an otherwise dark track list. However, the up-and-coming DJ clearly knew when to cut back on production and let the original track speak for itself; Future’s raw and heavy banger “Covered N Money” was mercifully saved from electronic dance music glitz.
Lean Quatifah was followed by the less memorably named Antonio Mendez, who transitioned from a sparse set of house and techno tracks to remixes of crowd-pleasing pop songs like Skrillex and Diplo’s “Where Are Ü Now,” hitting his peak with dance-floor hits such as Kaytranada’s “Glowed Up.” Mendez’s song transitions and beat-matching were the smoothest of all three performers of the night, and his musical choices most closely mirrored the crowd’s mood, marking him as the most traditionally skilled DJ. However, transitions are not everything; the song selections of both Lean Quatifah and XXYYXX were more engaging and unique than those of Mendez.
Although the transition from Mendez to XXYYXX was impressively punctual and smooth, the same cannot be said of the headlining artist’s song transitions, which often seemed abrupt and awkwardly placed. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that XXYYXX is primarily known as a music producer rather than a live DJ. Rising to prominence in 2012 at the age of 16, the young Los Angeles-based artist is known for his creative use of sampling and crisp hi-hats and glossy synthesizers, similar to producers like Clams Casino and Shlohmo. His eponymous 2012 album remains his best-known work, although the producer has not released more than a handful of singles and remixes since.
As Mendez was replaced, the shy-looking XXYYXX smiled, introduced himself, and thanked the crowd as the opening vocals of “Breeze” began. The headliner’s songs took on a new unearthly beauty in the dark atmosphere of the venue, and finally had the crowd moving in unison. He interspersed his own work between tracks he selected from other producers, which led to a disappointing lack of the artist’s own material, despite his diverse track list.
The highlights of the show were the heavy-hitting “Witching Hour” and enchanting “Alone,” during which all concertgoers seemed to be entranced, unable to stop themselves from moving to the beat. As an hour rolled by and XXYYXX’s set ended, he again thanked the crowd and remarked positively about the quality of the sound system. When it became clear he was about to leave, several screams were heard from the crowd, requesting his biggest hit, “About You.” Unfortunately, XXYYXX did not indulge these requests, and left the venue quickly after.
Critics of live electronic music often point to its lack of substance; there are no instruments being played, or even lyrics being sung or rapped. This criticism is especially potent now, when even the art of deejaying is being replaced by pre-prepared set lists, as I suspect of XXYYXX. Yet despite this development, there is still something uniquely alluring about hearing live music, and feeling the heavy bass send tingles down one’s spine. A show like this will not blow audience members away with theatrics or outstanding musicianship, but for those who surrender to the synths, that simply will not matter.