BangOn!NYC Elements Festival 2016 Highlights: Claptone, Mija, Ghastly & More
BangOn!NYC's Elements festival returned on Saturday for its third year at the abandoned Red Hook Grain Terminal, a blackened concrete structure that looms on the waterfront in South Brooklyn. Sweltering heat did not deter fans hoping to catch sets from Claptone, the Desert Hearts Crew, and Ghastly, or watch an assortment of extra-musical entertainment from the wakeboarder Steel Lafferty, tight-rope walkers, and fire-breathers. Billboard Dance recaps highlights from the event.
2:20 p.m.: On a hot day, the Air Stage is one of the best places to be: a concrete peninsula stuck between the Loujaine — a rusted gray hulk lightly dappled with reflection from the water — on one side and a low-slung, wooden passenger boat on the other. In front of the DJ is the old Grain Terminal; cloth panels shade the dance floor and float in the wind, the breeze blows in with the beats. The day's first few earnest dancers start moving as Rachel Torro teases a skipping, wood-block rhythm.
2:36 p.m.: Claptone holds court on the Water Stage, which is the first dancefloor that eager listeners encounter as they enter the festival grounds. It's currently jam-packed, and the DJ takes advantage of the crowd, providing them with a slice of house music history via remixes of Mike Dunn's undeniable "God Made Me Phunky" (made as MD X-Spress) and Hardrive's "Deep Inside" (Barbara Tucker's vocal on that track reappeared earlier this year on Kanye West's "Fade"). Claptone is wearing a black suit, a top hat, a gold mask with a protruding beak, and white gloves — his sense of showmanship remains unaffected by the heat index.
3:05 p.m.: The Fire Stage is little more than a small clearing between massive stacks of truck tires, wrecked cars, and old crane shafts. Milangeles uses this setting to bring the day's first dose of hip-hop, revealing a flowery, schizophrenic version of Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen" that caroms thru wildly different tempos. He then boldly played a rendition of War's "Low Rider," mixed it with squiggly saxophone trap, and somehow ended up on Kraeyshawn's "Gucci Gucci."
3:37 p.m.: 2melo's set includes what sounds like a remix of Elvis Crespo's "Suavamente." A woman standing on a bank of tires sprays anyone in a 15 foot radius with a hose, providing relief from the heat, and turning a portion of the dance floor into a mud slide.
3:45 p.m.: Nicolas Matar unleashes something with a groovy descending bassline that evokes Gusto's classic "Disco's Revenge;" a playful keyboard solo streams on top. Minutes later, he mows down a house best with rapid fire hi-hats. The Air Stage breeze sweeps in again, but it's still hard to believe that someone here is dancing in knit argyle socks.
4:11 p.m.: The Desert Hearts crew is kicking off a six-ish hour set at the Fifth Element Stage. Early on, the minimal concrete structure that houses the dancefloor provided respite from the harsh sun; after hosting a few hours of fierce dancing, it's already a sauna. Claptone — or a highly dedicated imposter — appears at the back of the dance floor. His mask, hat, and gloves are intact, but he's changed into shorts.
4:55 p.m.: Be Svendsen is working with rippling, Miami Vice synths and a flat, hammering beat. An assistant, manager, or angel places a wet towel on the back of Svendsen's neck, and he mimes a sigh of relief.
5:18 p.m.: A tight rope walker attempts to traverse the distance between the old power plant and the Fifth Element Stage. He balances on the wire cross-legged while a nasty beat emanates from Pierre-Estienne on the Fire Stage. The acrobat eventually falls, but the beat remains unchanging.
6:00 p.m.: As Opiuo begin his set, Lafferty — a Red Bull athlete — prepares to make the wakeboard leap from stage right off a ramp and into the Gowanus canal. A boat pulls him forward, he clears the ramp and flies through air. Unfortunately, he loses balance as soon as he makes impact with the water: the Gowanus claims another casualty.
6:21 p.m.: Le Youth is doing his best to keep an eye on his equipment as the dancers crowd him during Bag Raiders' gleeful '80s homage, "Shooting Stars." He ends his set with Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," which almost seems cruel for the next DJ.
6:30 p.m.: In a dizzying series, Jackson's track is followed by 2pac's "California Love" and the wild keyboard playing of the Who's "Baba O Reilly." Klingande arrives with his saxophone player in tow, adding a rare touch of live instrumentation to the day's sets.
7:15 p.m.: "If there's nothing wrong with you, make some noise!" Ghastly shouts. He head-bobs as vigorously as any of his fans and shoots off finger guns like a Sheriff in an old western. In between jets of squiggly electronic dissonance, he plays several abrasive rock cuts, including "Bodies" (originally by Drowning Pool) and Papa Roach's "Last Resort."
8:22 p.m.: With the moon rising over her stage and lit cigarette in one hand, Mija makes one of the day's most surprising segues, creating a brief moment of tranquility by incorporating a passage of classical music into her set. Later she offers a message of persistence — "If we stick together, love each other, and take care of each other, we can get through anything." But "Better," her collaboration with Vindata, is a more convincing expression of optimism, erupting repeatedly in joyful waves.
9:41 p.m.: The night is beginning to wind down, but don't tell Blondish, who seem ready to play for 12 more hours — the duo's unswerving rhythms begin to approximate one long song. A gentler form of the lightning that flashed indiscriminately an hour before lights up the sky behind them. Each time the two DJs drop a new beat, it's arrival is emphasized with a squeaky, cartoonish air horn.