Electronics give festival its charged identity

By Luke O’Neil
Globe Correspondent / August 22, 2011

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MANSFIELD - Electronic music is clearly having another of its ascendant moments, but one area where it still lags is on the summer festival tour. Identity Festival, which landed at the Comcast Center on Saturday, aimed to correct that, and succeeded overwhelmingly, with a nearly sold-out all-ages crowd. The all-day event was a virtual primer on the diverse genre, with 25 acts, both venerable and influential, such as DJ Shadow and Crystal Method and hit-makers at the top of the crossover game such as Kaskade and Rusko.

On the more intimate side stage tucked away in the venue’s wooded area, highlights included an aggressive hybrid rock electro set from Atlanta’s Le Castle Vania. The wood chip dance floor, tree cover, and mosquitoes (pretty rare at a nightclub), not to mention the strikingly youthful crowd all decked out in neon, effected a scene out of DJ summer camp.

The neon outfits proved to be a popular choice. Shirtlessness and fluorescent underwear-clad pole-dancer-in-training costumes abounded. It would have made great b-roll for a parental scare-bating special about how “kids these days’’ are out of control; it was certainly the most bacchanalian event I’ve seen here. They might well have called the tour Teenage Wasteland instead.

Over on the main stage, where Dutch house producer Chuckie was building crescendos of shrieking sirens and hip-hop samples, the main stage pavilion was swarming with chaos, with fans dancing on every inch of seat, aisle, and stair. It was like the inside of an at-capacity beehive, if the bees were really into bass drops.

A third stage in the parking lot made for another incongruous setting. One of the day’s top acts, London duo Nero, was holding court over an asphalt sea of dancing, playing such tracks as the darkly exuberant vocal dubstep hit “Me & You.’’ Fellow Brit Steve Lawler followed with a set of tech and tribal house that verged on the hypnotic. Popping back over to the main stage, Sweden’s Avicii proved the crowd could get even bigger, and more unhinged, during his set of more mainstream vocal-heavy house.

British superstar Rusko followed with alternatively adrenaline-tempering straight dub and reggae and intense dubstep tracks that squealed like overheating pitch-shifted power drills and video game power-up sound effects. The massive crowd danced in time. Halftime rather. The way the dubstep dance works, for the initiated, is a sort of combination cab hailing-head butt on the upbeat move. Repeat ad infinitum.

Meanwhile Steve Aoki tackled a big crowd with electro house tracks he mostly introduced while standing in front of the stage yelling as they played. The way you dance to Aoki’s music, by the way, is to do a kind of two-leg hop while pantomiming as if you are winning two simultaneous arm wrestling contests against invisible opponents.

Turntablist and breakbeat pioneer DJ Shadow provided a technique counterpoint. “I don’t come from the rave scene, I come from hip-hop culture. I’m here to represent skills-based DJing,’’ he said. His furious scratching and cut up vocal samples over stuttering snares and echoing kick drums were true to his word.

Headlining the main stage, Kaskade worked up a transcendent set that had the mass of party-kids heaving. Songs such as his hit “Raining’’ were built around romantic female vocal samples, trance-like keyboard stabs, and huge washes of static that coalesced around thick, sturdy bass pulses.

The crowd for Kaskade, as it was throughout the day, was in a constant state of flux: artists punching in and out, fans writhing on top of one another, then trekking back and forth between stages to do it again. No stopping, one beat mixing into another.

Luke O’Neil can be reached at

IDENTITY FESTIVAL With Kaskade, Rusko, DJ Shadow, and others

At: Comcast Center, Saturday