“I can’t believe we threw a rave at Madison Square Garden,” Skrillex announced at the mid-way point of his marathon set at the venue Saturday night (Feb. 18) in New York City.
Indeed, gazing around around the packed arena — where hanging Knicks jerseys were lit with the flickery glow of the six disco balls spinning for the show — the vibe was vastly more Boiler Room than big room, with loads of fans in sunglasses, fuzzy hats, bunny ears and other ravey paraphernalia altogether giving the arena a loose, festive, familial feel that ramped up in tandem with the music during the five-hour headlining show from Skrillex, Four Tet and Fred again...
Indeed, after a long absence, dance music was back at the Garden for a night that felt ecstatic, historic and rare. Throughout the evening both Skrillex and Fred again.. noted that playing MSG had been Four Tet’s idea, and what a stroke of genius it was, with the show selling out two — yes, two — minutes after going on sale the Wednesday (Feb. 15) prior, after having been announced just earlier that day.
The trio — key figureheads from different generations of dance music who’ve been referring to each other as “brothers” in their recent Instagram posts — played b2b2b from 7 p.m. until the house lights came back on at midnight. It was altogether the climax of a week-long commandeering of New York City, with the guys playing small room pop-up shows in Brooklyn and Manhattan on Tuesday and Thursday and on Friday (Feb. 17) pulling a crowd of thousands to Times Square to celebrate that day’s release of Skrillex’s sophomore album, Quest For Fire.
This masterclass of album rollout hype-building began in January with a litany of new Skrillex singles, with the impeccably orchestrated effort reaching a place beyond frenzy last night when, around 10:30 p.m., Skrillex got on the mic to announce “I dropped an album last night, and I dropped another one right now.”
Indeed, the 20,000-person celebration for Quest For Fire incorporated the surprise release of Don’t Get Too Close, the second Skrillex album in 24 hours and his third in nine years, with the pair of LPs coming after the long stretch following the producer’s 2014 debut, Recess. “Surpriiiiise!” Skrillex said upon announcing this second album, which features Justin Bieber, PinkPantheress and Bibi Bourelly among others, and which Skrillex described as “not really as much rave music as something you guys can listen to on the way home.”
This was just one of many high points of the extended affair, with Fred — wearing a black T-shirt and saggy khakis — getting on the mic at 8:15 p.m. to advise a crowd steadily filling out the venue from the pit to the rafters that, “We’ve got four more hours. We’re going to build this thing slow.”
Indeed, the show started with the house lights on, with the scene and sound, as promised, growing darker, louder and more intense (think lots of lasers, the aforementioned disco balls and, inevitably, a burst of white confetti) as they together played the breadth of Skrillex catalog, from classic collabs like “Where Are Ü Now” with Jack Ü and Bieber and “In Da Ghetto” with J. Balvin, to long stretches of straight-up body pummeling dubstep including the all-time Skrillex classic “Bangarang” (shout out to everyone in Section 106, rows 1-5, who all headbanged in unison), along with every track from Quest For Fire, a deeply texturous, sophisticated, heavy, smart, danceable and often euphoric album that’s not only been extremely well received in the 60 hours since its release, but which sounds even better through stadium speakers.
Quest For Fire‘s lead single “Rumble” — which based on the crowd reaction can be filed as a new classic less than two months after its release — was rinsed at least four times, with plays later in the night trading the “killers in the jungle” lyrics for “Skrillex in the jungle, Fred again.. in the jungle, Four Tet is in the jungle.” The words became a sort of mantra for the show itself and the three artists at its center, who powered the sweaty, loud, often raucous party from a simple set-up located on a slightly raised platform on the floor of the Garden. While MSG famously became an EDM prestige play during the genre boom 10 years ago, Saturday night the vibe was much more pared down from the massive stage setups of old, reflecting the maturation of the U.S. scene itself.
Added to this friend group was Porter Robinson, who came out to play his Quest For Fire closer “Still Here (with the ones that I came with)” a sentiment that felt especially true given the long duration of Robinson and Skrillex’s friendship. (“I love you,” Robinson told Skrillex over the mic, the only thing he said during his quick appearance.) Everything else from Quest For Fire — particularly “Tears,” “Hydrate and “Inhale Exhale” — sounded tough, rich, massive and the right kind of aggressive. It was especially thrilling when Skrill stretched out the Missy Elliott featuring “RATATA” — winding the crowd up by stop-starting five or so times until letting the track play out.
“This is a very special night,” Skrillex announced amidst this long tease. “This night will never happen again.”
But while Skrillex’s return was the reason for the season, it was also very much Fred Again.. and Four Tet’s show. Each of the U.K. producers played their own biggest songs, including Fred’s “Kammy (like i do),” “Strong” and “Jungle” — the latter of which came near the end of the set and created such an intense energy rush throughout the crowd that a lot of people were simply just screaming with their hands in the air. Four Tet, dressed first in a pink hoodie and then a pink T-shirt, was playful as always, remixing Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” over percussion-heavy IDM while dropping loads of riddim and U.K. bass, along with his most recent hit “Looking at Your Pager” and his slow-build edit of Donna Lewis’ “I Love You Always Forever,” which deserves an official release and which saw many in the crowd FaceTiming those who couldn’t be there, with members of this satellite audience seen dancing in their respective kitchens and living rooms.
It was, as intended, a genuinely special night, with the factors leading to show creating a singular energy that everyone in the room could feel — and that Fred, Four Tet and Skrillex seemed acutely aware of throughout the evening.
“A couple of days ago, we were in the Empire State Building just hanging out, and I had to go downstairs to make a phone call,” Skrillex announced at one point. “I knew we had just put the tickets on sale for this show. I thought maybe the day of, maybe we’ll almost sell out — you know, maybe. But then Kieran comes downstairs and he’s like, ‘It’s done. It’s done mate.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean it’s done?’ He’s like, ‘It’s done, all the tickets are done.’ I almost fainted, all the blood rushed out of my face.”
Whether or not this supergroup will continue beyond last night remains to be seen, but the show demonstrated just how much cross-collaboration they’ve done over a relatively short time, with Four Tet on Quest For Fire‘s “Butterflies,” Four Tet working on Fred’s “Jungle,” Fred working on “Rumble,” etc. (Fred also shouted out his “brothers” Swedish House Mafia when playing his track with the trio, “Turn On The Lights again..”) What’s certain is that the NYC takeover and the music that’s powered it has, if only ephemeral, been a meeting of the masters, with Saturday night pulling a Venn diagram of the fans who love them. Many younger fans knew more Fred than Four Tet songs, with others in the crowd dancing more heavily to Four Tet’s output and pretty much everyone in attendance going hard for Skrillex, who 12 years after exploding into electronic music, remains one of its best and most beloved artists.
“I want to thank everyone here so much for just being here,” Skrill continued in his speech. “It’s simple, it’s not that deep, we’re just here dancing together. I really like this crowd, everyone here looks really respectful. Everyone’s got room to dance, everyone’s taking care of each other; everyone’s allowing each other to be themselves. We’re all family out here. There’s enough s–t going on in the world. We can have this moment right now and just love each other and appreciate the differences in each other and love each other for the different parts. Fred, Kieran and I are all from different backgrounds, but somehow we made it on the stage at MSG with all you people, and, I don’t know — that’s it.”
Skrillex — who started the night in a black puffer jacket and who by the end was wearing a Skrillex jersey given to him by someone in the crowd and a towel on his head — then spent the next several minutes just standing on the decks, soaking up the the energy of the arena as thousands of fans held their phone flashlights in the air and cheered for him. One felt truly happy for the guy, who — after previously addressing that he’s had a tough year following the death of his mother– has returned in rare form with an excellent album (two, actually) a sold-out show at one of the world’s prestige venues and support from a pair of good pals who also just happen to be fellow scene heroes.
Perhaps Skrillex could have done it all on his own, but certainly it felt better and more meaningful to celebrate alongside friends. That same energy extended into the the crowd, where people who’d been strangers at the beginning of the night were seen hugging each other goodbye, grateful to have shared the experience.
The set fittingly wrapped with a mashup of Skrillex’s 2011 “Cinema” remix, Four Tet’s “Teenage Birdsong” and Fred’s “Danielle (smile on my face),” then a Skrillex-led singalong of Fred’s “Billie (loving arms.)” Fred, who spent a good deal of the show dancing on the decks, then got on the mic once more, closing the night with incredulous gratitude.
“Thank you so much for coming out tonight,” he said. “I swear, it is the honor of our lives, thank you so much. We will never forget this. What is going on?”