Skrillex and Four Tet in London

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  • On Sunday, March 29th, Skrillex closed the main stage of the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, and his set culminated in a joint performance with Diplo as Jack Ü. With a WWE Wrestling-level of theatricality, there were surprise appearances from Puff Daddy—who at one point climbed onto the wobbly DJ table to hype the crowd with Diplo—and Justin Bieber, who mimed his vocals on "Where Are Ü Now," the Jack Ü track on which he recently appeared, and pulled choreographed dance moves that probably made some teenage girls in the audience wince. The stage was a staggering visual assault made up of lasers, video screens and projections, and it seemed like a large chunk of the festival's 60,000 attendees was watching the spectacle. Almost exactly a week later, Skrillex passed a pair of headphones to a smirking Four Tet, and a lump of sweat dripped off the ceiling and landed next to them. They were playing back-to-back at Underworld, an endearingly grotty 500-capacity events space under a pub in North London, which is known for hosting rock and metal shows. The event had been announced a week earlier, and was met with a collective "huh?" on RA and social media—"thought i was in wunderground for a second" said an RA user named Mar1o, referring to the dance music spoof site. In essence, people wanted to understand why Four Tet, a respected artist known for his eclectic tastes and productions, and Skrillex, one of the biggest draws on the EDM circuit and the guy who repackaged dubstep for the mainstream, were sharing a bill. Neither Kieran Hebden nor Sonny Moore publically explained how the gig came together, but 20 minutes into their set, the question became, "Why haven't they done this before?" As Moore said to the crowd at one point (he was on the mic constantly) they had only met for the first time in person earlier that day, and, as I was later told, they managed to make time to play a few records at the soundcheck. Based on the way they performed together, you never would have guessed any of this. They opted to play one track each, which made for wild stylistic collisions and impressive improvisatory mixing. Nothing was left for more than a couple of minutes before being smashed into the next track in a blur of filtering and fading. Moore frequently reached over Hebden to tweak the mixer. At the side of the stage, a group of artists that included Ben UFO, Pearson Sound, Pangaea, Floating Points and Caribou wore expressions that said, "I can't believe how well this is going." Musically speaking, the set was an assembly line of bangers. It was obvious that Hebden would need to amp up what he'd usually play and Moore would have to tone it down a bit, and they established a sweet spot that didn't feel like a compromise for either of them—in fact, if you weren't watching, it wasn't always obvious who was playing what. Hebden tended to reach for jungle, garage and grime, while Moore veered towards trap, electro house and dubstep. In one particularly memorable mix, Hebden stomped all over an emotional EDM number with the grime classic "Pulse X." Moore pulled a similar trick later when he mixed one of his own impossibly rowdy cuts over Joy O's "Ellipsis." There were rewinds for Double 99's "RIP Groove" and Jack Ü's "Take Ü There," a tune I liked before and now love. "I'm gonna play the lion king. Don't worry it will be fine," Hebden tweeted at Moore the next day, and indeed, Moore's version of "Circle Of Life" was one of the night's most memorable moments. Around 2 AM, Heben played a track by The Doors, which didn't go down too well but spoke to how ballsy he was feeling. Below Moore and Hebden, the crowd were in a state of barely controlled delirium for most of the night. The party had a sloppy, last-day-of-a-festival feeling, coming as it did on the final night of the long Easter weekend. The venue was oppressively hot. Standing at the back of the gig area, I watched two people slip down an incline that had been greased by sweat. Towards the end of the set, an otherwise stoic security guard with face tattoos had to stop a guy from crowd surfing. Moore's music is not to everyone's tastes, but the frenzied effect it had on people was occasionally jaw dropping, and his showmanship stole the show. He came out of Hebden's final track, Wu-Tang's "C.R.E.A.M.," by playing Toto's "Africa," and he had all the house lights turned down so people could wave their phones as though they were candles. "O.M.G." said a girl to her friend on the way out. "That was insane." Any supposed boundaries between underground and mainstream, between highbrow and lowbrow, had been temporarily melted.