I wrote this review as the final assignment for my Writing the Zeitgeist unit two study periods ago. I got a High Distinction and was quite proud of myself. I had to find a clip of the concert on YouTube because I couldn’t remember all that much of it (it was pretty awesome) but it seems I did a good job of capturing the essence of the show, nonetheless.
The Metro Theatre is the chameleon of music venues. On an almost nightly basis, the bare bones room morphs from seated comedy to rockabilly swing, bass thumping southern rap to sultry blues and everything in between. Tonight, Flosstradamus (Floss for short) are headlining and I’m entering the venue with some trepidation. Chicago-based duo J2K (Josh Young) and DJ Autobot (Curt Cameruci) are known for their raucous, no-holds-barred sets so I know I’m in for a good show, I’m just not sure I can handle it.
I’ve seen Floss before. They played at the Big Day Out back in 2014. At the time, I’d never heard of them but their killer, high energy set ended up being one of the surprise highlights of the day. I saw them on the Mad Decent Boat Party in November and I had very serious fears they would tear the room apart, if not sink the ship. They were named Into The A.M.’s #1 trap innovators of 2013 and they’ve become regular fixtures on the festival circuit, playing recent sets at Coachella, Ultra, Lollapalooza and SXSW, to name just a few.
Flosstradamus have seemingly mastered the art of trap music, or more specifically, an off-shoot of trap called EDM trap. Trap is a brutal, aggressive sound originally born in the early 2000s on the streets of the American South. It was pioneered by rappers like T.I., with his iconic album Trap Muzik, as well as Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame and Young Jeezy to name a few.
Trap taps into “the particular psychic state – a blend of paranoia and megalomania – that tends to accompany long-term employment as a dealer,” writes Miles Raymer for Reader. Trap DJ Trap-A-Holics tells DJ Mag, “It’s about the trap itself, whatever your definition may be. Some people say the trap’s a certain neighborhood, some say it’s a dope house. At the end of the day it’s just street music. It’s almost like how Dr Dre and Snoop were considered gangster music back in the day: it tells stories from the ‘hood”.
Other words get thrown around when speaking of trap: “epic … gothic … gigantic … scary” (DJ Mag). And they’re right, it is a scary sound. When the final opening act shuts down and the room is filled with silence and darkness, I’m suddenly more than a little bit concerned. I tell myself I’m far enough away from where a mosh pit might reasonably form and this calms me somewhat.
It’s a predominately young crowd, many of them wearing Floss’ HDYNTN branded merchandise. In fact, the familiar ‘warning sign’, a yellow exclamation point inside a triangle, is everywhere: on hats, t-shirts, bandannas, even on flags and proudly brandished tattoos. The whole concert feels like a big warning to anyone who might not belong here; get out while you still can. Floss fans are notoriously rabid. I consider my options for a moment. No, I belong. I like these guys. I’ll stay and see what happens.
Thankfully, we’re not left alone with our thoughts (or fears) for very long. A countdown begins and strobe lights beam around the room. Netting has mysteriously dropped across the stage – the kind reminiscent of dangerous bars where live acts need to be kept safe from wild patrons. J2K and DJ Autobot come out waving HDYNTN flags and wearing bulletproof vests and balaclava-like face masks. The pounding bass kicks in, the crowd goes wild and the show has officially begun.
Floss start off strong with Prison Riot, their collaboration with Lil’ Jon and GTA. The flickering police-like strobes mirror the anarchic lyrics of the song, words like “put your middle fingers up if you don’t give a fuck” and “act up like a motherfuckin’ prison riot”. Sirens and gunshots fill the air, recalling the violence this type of music often glorifies.
They follow this with TTU (Too Turnt Up) which features the hyped up, party-focused lyrics of Wacka Flocka Flame. Josh is literally standing on the DJ booth and there are people throwing their clothing in the air and putting warning signs up (thumbs and index fingers touch to form a triangle). There are people sitting on other people’s shoulders. People are sweating, shaking, throwing themselves from side to side. It’s not so much dancing as something closer to a bass-induced seizure.
The music flows in a steadily pumping rhythm of bass and searing sound. The biggest bass drop so far comes at the end of Floss’ remix of We Dem Boyz by Wiz Khalifa, a perennial favourite about women, money and marijuana. J2K is down in front of the crowd, inciting them to mayhem, before Mosh Pit, one of Floss’ biggest hits, comes crashing in and a thousand-odd voices scream along to the words “Hit the club and turn the crowd into a mosh pit!” The mosh pit doesn’t happen, not yet anyways.
The lights fade to a calming blue and a slightly less bass-y song plays. ILoveMakonnen’s Club Going Up on a Tuesday is a drug dealer’s ode to working hard all weekend and finally getting to cut loose in the club, you guessed it, on a Tuesday. The slow period is short lived, however, and the air is soon shrill with sirens and alarms as Big Sean’s mega hit, IDFWU (I Don’t Fuck With You) screams across us. The whole crowd starts posing and waving their arms around in imitation of the posturing rappers they see in music videos.
In hindsight, every song played falls into one of two categories: party, party, party (and don’t give a damn about the consequences) or the glorification of drugs, drug dealing and its proceeds (namely, money, women and expensive toys). I’m hit with the thought that this is a predominately white audience with presumably little to no experience with the gun-heavy, gang violent culture this music stems from. Looking around the room, I don’t know how many of these kids have ever run afoul of the law – aside from your standard traffic or drunk and disorderly offences – but they can certainly connect with the whole ‘defiance of mainstream authority’ vibe trap music puts out.
You don’t have to be a drug dealer being chased by the cops to understand the feeling of being trapped. You can be trapped in your dead end job. You can be trapped in your parents’ home because you can’t afford to move out (see: aforementioned dead end job). You can be trapped in the feeling of ‘life should be more than this’ that so many of us go out and get wasted to escape from. Our ‘trap’ might not be as extreme as those mentioned in our favourite songs but we feel it just the same. So, while trap music might have originally spoken mainly to black people living in neighbourhoods rife with drug and gang activity, with its catchy hooks and the influx of EDM producers, it quickly found a broader audience.
The next two songs, Who Gon’ Stop Me by Kanye West and Jay Z and Floss’ remix of Original Don by Major Lazer, showcase this crossover. Who Gon’ Stop Me samples I Can’t Stop by Flux Pavilion and was one of the first mainstream hip hop songs to feature an EDM trap sound. Original Don was created by a white man-led group and is more typical of the current EDM trap style, with heavily produced beats and minimal yet still rap-like lyrics.
The blurring of the lines between EDM and trap has become quite a controversial issue in some circles. In Complex, David Drake puts it best when he says, “We’re all forced to choose sides: Trap is good, and can bring artists and fans from different worlds together. Trap is bad because it trivialises serious issues stemming from the American ‘War on Drugs’ and an accelerating prison population”.
According to Reader, when the worlds of trap and EDM mix, we find privileged white producers co-opting and profiting from the primarily black gangbanging, drug-dealing, street violence experience. As Reader notes, “DJ/production duo Flosstradamus have been mixing dance music and rap music for years, so their recent transition into trap was a natural one”. But does that give them, and others like them, the authenticity that so much ‘hood’-based music requires? It’s a contentious question with no clear answer.
As if to remind us all of where their music comes from, Flosstradamus launch into a quick lesson in rap. We start with DMX’s Ruff Ryder’s Anthem and end with Dr Dre’s voice booming “Smoke weed every day!” The words “I’m stoned, I’m stoned, I’m stoned” blast from the speakers and Rollup (the grass) kicks in with green lighting, just in case you missed they’re talking about marijuana.
GQ describes trap music as “ominous melodies, and rhymes about money, power, women, and, above all, dealing drugs”. But, we shouldn’t forget that it’s also about doing drugs. Trap music is deeply connected to weed smoking and ‘purple drank’, a mixture of cough syrup and soda.
And here in this dark, sweaty box, drugs are definitely being done. The fug of marijuana smoke hangs in the air. People everywhere have the wide eyes and jittery jaws associated with methamphetamine use. The euphoria level is abnormally high for normal concert attendance. There’s definitely some assistance of the chemical kind going around. And while marijuana and ‘purple drank’ may be the drug of choice for rappers and purveyors of the original trap music, the fusion with EDM has brought amphetamines into the mix in a big way. Yet while the people in this room might prefer MDMA caps to sipping on ‘purple drank’, they’re still satisfying the same desire to get high and escape from the reality of their lives.
Without missing a beat, the boys belt through a number of huge hits: Lil Wayne’s A Milli, CoCo by O.T. Genasis, Bugatti by Ace Hood and Floss’ remixes of Pillz and Piss Test. These are all songs that tie in tightly with trap and EDM trap’s themes of drugs, drug dealing and partying with absolute abandon, as seen in Piss Test’s lyrics “Fuck a P.O. [parole officer], fuck a piss test” or O.T.’s “I’m in love with the coco … I got baking soda, I got baking soda”, a reference to the creation of crack cocaine.
Just when I think I can’t take any more bass, J2K screams, “This is the last song of the night!” There is a collective sigh. I’m not sure if it’s of relief or disappointment but surely we don’t have much left to give. I certainly don’t. He instructs everyone to get as low to the ground as possible. “If you see someone standing, pull them down. When this shit drops on the count of three, I want everyone to jump up and touch the damn ceiling!”
He counts us down and we’re hit with a massive bass drop. The hair goes up on my arms and I’m swept up in the chaos: the lights, the screams, the vibrations from the bass. Everything’s so intense, almost visceral. It’s almost as if I can feel the bass in my organs, like even my heart has been corralled into following the beat.
Mosh Pit plays again with Josh instructing those down the front to form a mosh pit.
“I want y’all to destroy these niggas – one, two, three, go!”
On his word, people run at each other and begin swirling around in a big, sweaty melee. I see one man, sitting atop another man’s shoulders, getting swished around in the mad whirlpool of people. He soon disappears and I spare a thought for his fate. What happened to him? Has he survived? I can’t imagine so.
Turns out Mosh Pit wasn’t the last song. Rebound featuring Ekka slinks on, a sultry, chilled out vibe and a welcome moment of peace after the madness that was. In a call out to EDM’s mantra of P.L.U.R. (peace, love, unity and respect), Flosstradamus play a voiceover track that seems to sum up the dull glow of love and affinity that has settled over the crowd now that the bass has gone.
“As the sun sets over the earth, the youth from all over the world, thousands of hoody boys and hoody girls, gathered together under one sky, one roof. Your brothers, your sisters, your family raising their warning signs as one, pledging allegiance to one flag, one party. This is Hoody Nation”. These words are greeted with a cacophony of screams and warning signs until Floss leave the stage, the lights come up and everyone comes to terms with the fact they need to re-enter reality.
Almost literally battered and bruised, I begin the journey back into the real world. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the relentless energy of the two showmen and, now that it’s over, a deep, bone-crushing exhaustion settles over me. It feels like I’ve been ‘trapped’ in that black box of bass for days but my watch confirms otherwise. My ears ring. My sweat cools. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.
Image credit: OC Weekly blogs