Live review: Gesaffelstein at the Fonda


If anyone can bring back smoking on stage, it’s Gesaffelstein’s Mike Levy.

On Thursday night at the Fonda, the French electronic music producer stood backlit by a few beams of amber light while a hazy cloud floated from his cigarette. Dressed in a black blazer and top-buttoned white dress shirt, he made little come-hither gestures that signaled something big was about to happen.

And when it did, it came in a hail of digital drums and synth noise that felt as cool (and as poisonous) as his vice of choice behind the mix console.

Right now, Levy is probably the most influential French musician who doesn’t wear a robot helmet. Pop fans know him from his two exemplary tracks on Kanye West’s “Yeezus” -- “Black Skinhead” and “Send It Up,” each of which is a fine example of his aesthetic. Songs are built on heavy, propulsive percussion and analog synth clangs that have all the sex of early Nine Inch Nails but with Gallic suave replacing Trent Reznor’s mortal terror.


His breakthrough album, “Aleph,” is a harsh reaction to the smoothed-out disco tones that have dominated radio and mainstream clubs of late. It’s too steely for bros and too twitchy for ravers, but it’s a high watermark of the current underground where gothic moods and noisy textures reign. At the Fonda, he proved that the growing American appetite for punishment on a dance floor is nowhere near sated.

On stage, Levy didn’t have a microphone to address the crowd, but he didn’t need one. His fog of smoke and silhouetted head bobs said more than enough about his intentions. Though his record sometimes seems to be resisting its urges toward dance music, he fully gives into it live.

His edits of tracks like “Pursuit” and “Trans” trimmed off the rough edges and put them firmly in a context for moving bodies, not just assaulting them. His signature cut “Hellifornia” winks at the air-raid synths of ‘90s West Coast hip-hop, and it’s no surprise it found a particularly receptive audience here.

Levy is as much a showman as he is a producer, and his lighting rig at Thursday’s set was a benchmark for how a lone DJ can put on a convincing live show in a rock setting. Crisscrossing spotlights formed geometric figures above his head; backlit strobes and crowd-fanning beams gave depth and presence to a minimal stage setup.

Some moments of the set seemed a little overtly crowd pleasing, given his flintiness on record. Levy walks a line between the danceable and the subversive, and on this tour at least he’s planted his flag deeply in the former. But none in the throng of heaving bodies on the Fonda floor had any complaints about it.

Right now, Levy is in a similar spot as his countrymen Justice were around 2007 -- new, noisy and intimidatingly cool. But he’s still a DJ at heart and knows the first rule is to keep people moving. All he had to do to win them over was light his cigarette.