Imagine seven men onstage beneath the glowing half-moon bandshell of the Hollywood Bowl, the whole scene Sunday night bathed in serious blue light and engulfed in gusts of stage fog. Like an Arctic Ocean thunderstorm at night, picture a British dance band spinning in a sort of whirlpool while half a dozen jumbo strobe lights relentlessly pulse. Catch the occasional whiff of marijuana smoke drifting through the air.
Sight and smell accounted for, now imagine Hot Chip, touring in support of its typically infectious new record, “In Our Heads,” locked in rhythm, banding together to make hard, levitating dance music live. Feel the exuberance of the groove, of singular minds melding to achieve something huge, and a capacity crowd reacting by dancing. “Over and over and over and over,” band members sang in unison during their 2006 hit “Over and Over,” one of many highlights -- “Like a monkey with a miniature cymbal, the joy of repetition is really within you.”
Hot Chip has for the last eight years has harnessed the power of said repetition, building atop a foundation of propellent house and techno music sweet songs about life, love and joy. The band headlined a three-act bill Sunday as part of KCRW-FM’s World Festival 2 that also featured Syrian singer-songwriter Omar Souleyman and Boston dance-rock band Passion Pit.
But this was Hot Chip’s night, and its members took full advantage by filling the Bowl with a brand of beat music rich with pop hooks, singalong choruses and a wit and intelligence that belies the single-minded thump-thump pelvic thrust of what’s come to be known as EDM.
After all, being an American captivated by the melding of house rhythms and hooks has been difficult of late. The lightest, dumbest, thumpiest version of the music has in the last few years found purchase on the charts in the music of Chris Brown, LMFAO and Rihanna and their thunder-beat producers Swedish House Mafia, David Guetta and Afrojack.
At the other end are countless intriguing solo artists and duos making bedroom electronic music whose version of stage performance involves standing in front of some gear and a laptop and nodding heads while pressing buttons.
Hot Chip illustrated the glory of people -- not computers -- creating a killer groove. And not just locking into it, but getting lost within it to such a degree that at certain points a switch seemed to flip, and the groove seemed to be steering the musicians, not vice-versa. At these peaks, including “Ready for the Floor,” “One Life Stand” and “Flutes,” Hot Chip offered pure thrills; singers Joe Goddard and Alexis Turner swapped lines and harmonized while guitarist Al Doyle poked through with sharp lines and percussionists Felix Martin, Jim Orso and Rob Smoughton offered real and digital percussion as bassist Owen Clarke tugboated along assuredly.
In fact, both Hot Chip and Passion Pit thrived Sunday because each understands that the power of human expression is lifted when a group of humans are doing the expressing. As longtime Hot Chip labelmates and peers LCD Soundsystem proved, just because much influential dance music (disco, house, techno, electro) has been made on machines doesn’t mean it’s always better served by being performed exactly as it’s created.
Passion Pit, best known for its anthemic hits “Sleepyhead” and “Little Secrets,” has over the last three years gained a devoted audience whose affection for singer Michael Angelakos’ soaring falsetto and gymnastic vocal runs Sunday night prompted pockets of scream-along fans to lose their minds. Also adept at transforming studio creations into human-centered performances, Passion Pit’s touring band moved from instrument to instrument throughout its set: Sometimes, the group belted out guitar, bass, drum and synth jams; other times, as on the beguiling “It’s Not My Fault I’m Happy,” saw its members all on various synthesizers.
Souleyman had only a single musician working two different Korg synths behind him. The singer’s progressive mix of traditional Middle Eastern rhythms and steady beat music has been slowly crossing over of late due to a reissue campaign and a few Björk remixes. Only alotted half an hour, the singer took advantage of the time by pushing his voice into the ether. But given that in Syria his normal venues are day-long weddings in which he performs for up to eight hours at a time, Souleyman, who made no mention of the troubles in his native country, seemed to be just getting started by the time he had to stop.
Hot Chip, too, was still gaining momentum as the Bowl’s curfew loomed. But the band’s members filled so much joy within their repetition that it feels as if whatever living, breathing thing they created Sunday is still rolling along somewhere in the mist.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit