Major Lazer, like many dance-hall and EDM artists, traffics in nostalgia via sentimental ’80s and ’90s samples. New Order, a band that helped forge the sound of dance music decades ago, traffics in the nostalgia of its own songs. At Coachella on Saturday night, the former was more effective than the latter.
Evidence of that was apparent from the crowd's reaction during Diplo’s sundown set with Major Lazer, which was packed to bursting with frenzied fans. Candy-coated samples from the likes of House of Pain, Eurythmics, and, gasp, Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” were employed to great sentimental effect.
Hours later, when New Order took to the stage, playing some of its classic hits — in a much too polished, too perfunctory way — fan participation was much more muted. Seeing the band, and how it had aged, probably had something to do with it, as did the fact that singer Bernard Sumner was wearing a New Order T-shirt. (He also didn't run over the crowd, gerbil-style, in an inflatable plastic ball as Diplo and Walshy Fire did during Major Lazer's set, a move that triggered nostalgia for a similar stunt by the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne at Coachella years ago.)
EDM is the new disco, and stands out in thumping relief from Coachella's treasured new wave, alt-rock, and punk staples, which basically amount to classic rock at this point. And its rise makes sense. The world is digital now — a sea of raised iPhones during Major Lazer's set paid testament to that fact.
And when Major Lazer samples a beloved tune such as "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," there is no visual reference point for the age of the song, so it is allowed to be timeless. That, and the whole danceable aspect of the mix, which flirts with beats perfectly calibrated to shift your groove thing into high gear.
Thousands of raves, in thousands of cities worldwide, over the past 20 years, prove the ongoing popularity — and efficacy — of this simple musical tactic.
“Coachella, make sure the person next to you has their shirt off,” yelled Fire halfway through Major Lazer's set. Suddenly, through the speakers came a crashing, creaking sound like a dungeon door closing. “Throw your shirts in the air,” he insisted.
Shirts came off. Red, black, gray, yellow, green, blue and more. Topless, the crowd swung the sweat-soaked fabric above their heads.
New Order simply couldn't deliver that same kind of electric vibe. That's not to say that the set didn't have its enjoyable moments. Any self-respecting post-punk fan has to have a soft spot for the band's music, even one who is, first and foremost, a Joy Division fan. It's just that it might have been more fun to watch Major Lazer gleefully sample "Temptation," especially while running over the audience in a big plastic bubble.
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