Go to any gig and you’ll see, amongst the endless sea of crowd, an island of stony-faced people huddled together in front of the stage. They’re the journalists and media photographers waiting to enter the pit for their allocated three songs. They’re a tired bunch, dead sober, ears plugged against the thundering bass. They’re the ones who take those great shots of the headliners, the crowd photos people love to tag themselves in on Facebook to show that they were there; the writers responsible for the articles that made you wish you had forked out the ticket price to experience it for yourself.
Getting that perfect shot involves a long night standing around waiting to enter the dreaded pit – where the photographers have to protect their ridiculously expensive cameras from the demolition course of flailing hands and empty cup grenades, fighting for space until they’re unceremoniously booted out to wait for the next act. They’re jostled and shoved by drunk guys looking for a fight, spilled on, sworn at – sometimes a PR person will offer a cup of coffee that never materializes, a security guard might block their access because he wasn’t briefed. It’s a long, uncomfortable night of navigating hostile territory. There’s no glory in it, no money, so why do it? Well, it’s a job. And that job is to capture that one moment in time – the experience – that one night where it all happened. The media’s discomfort is irrelevant. The photographer might be freezing to the bone because his jacket is in the car and the venue doesn’t allow pass outs, but that’s not important. All that matters is that one great shot, that one perfect line. They are the ones there to tell the story of a great event. Nothing else matters beyond that.
So what can be said about the Skrillex Mothership Tour? Was it an epic night? Of course it was. The sold-out event was held at the West Coast Ostrich Farm, only 20 minutes from the city, but also remote enough for the music to blast as ear-splittingly loud as possible. What better place for a mothership tour than a farm in the middle of nowhere – the natural habitat of UFO spotters? Fans turned out in their thousands, ready for the mothership to touchdown and transport them to the land of ecstasy.
The outdoor venue also gave the gig a festival feel, an impression affirmed by the handful of guys in full-body animal costumes bouncing around. By late afternoon the bars were packed with dubstep lovers eager to party, the mood expectant, excited. When Niskerone hit the decks at seven, he played to an already full crowd, which had swelled even more when local superstar DJ Haezer stepped up. By the third act the crowd had become a surging beast, fueled by the non-stop bass dropping that came hard and fast. Skrillex had chosen his supporting artists well. Glitch-hop artist Alvin Risk kept the beats coming, followed by Los Angeles dubstepper 12th Planet. The vibe on the dancefloor was insane.
Those souls that had lost their way from the dancefloor littered the field like flotsam and jetsam – smiles permanently etched on their faces, their arms still lifting to the music, even though their bodies lay broken among the cigarette butts and plastic cups. This is all part of the live music experience, the human debris, the waking up with grass in your socks and dust in your nose. This is Friday night. This is Skrillex.
The expectation for the main act kept the thousand strong army stationed in front of the stage for the half hour it took for the crew to assemble the main act’s rig. And boy, was it worth the wait. A countdown was displayed on the huge screens, heightening the anticipation, reigniting the fuse that would detonate the crowd into action. When the numbers counted down to one, every single person in that crowd screamed themselves hoarse for the bespectacled Grammy Award winner responsible for bringing dubstep into the mainstream.
There was earth-trembling bass, there was smoke, there was fire, the lights of the mothership did exactly as they promised and beamed the crowd up to a higher plain of music. This is what they came for, this is why members of the media stood shivering for hours. They had come for Skrillex. The mothership had landed and the DJ at its helm commanded his audience with the skill and authority of a pilot.
For the short time that Skrillex performed, his audience was part of something bigger, a collective euphoria joined together by the music. It was impossible not to dance, to move, to nod your head. For that short time we were all lifted to a place unaffected by the violence in the headlines that shout from every streetpole.
And that’s the hardest job for the writer – to capture that unity, that feeling of elevation. Perhaps it’s easier for the photographer. After all, it’s easier to visualise yourself there by looking at the pictures. But after it is over and the mothership has sailed, all the writer can do is try her utmost to recapture the magic of that one epic night, to help those that were there remember the glory of it, and to make those that weren’t there wish they had been. Until the next big night that is… and the next. After all, the beat will always go on.
Skrillex performed at the West Coast Ostrich Farm on 1 March 2013.