Midnight Sun contributor Ellie Kahn saw Skrillex headline Pimlico Race Course on Sunday night. This was her take:
The sky opened up Sunday evening at Pimlico Race Course, and a UFO touched down at the edge of the Infield, one that highly resembled a soundboard, a laptop, bright lights and a stringy-haired nerd with a half-shave: The DJ known as Skrillex, had landed, and docked his mothership for the night.
His stop — part of his larger tour “The Mothership Tour” and featuring artists Milo & Otis, What So Not and Dillon Francis marked his 11th in North America; Baltimore was his first destination after the three-day Governor’s Ball Music Festival in New York City and second-to-last warm-up before this weekend’s four-day Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn. Good thing he travels by spacecraft.
Skrillex, now a seasoned dubstep pro and visionary of the electronica world, drew a dense crowd to the racetrack turning its grounds of dirt and turf into a galactic supernova bright enough to power the rest of Baltimore. After Sunday's concert, Pimlico reaffirmed its success as a music venue.
When its doors opened at 3:30 that afternoon, concertgoers clad in wild prints, arms of beaded bracelets and clothing from the deepest depths of closets started to take over the grass — some sitting, others standing, many lying down, looking up at the sky.
Milo & Otis began their set, and everyone seemed to be relaxed, saving their stamina for what would come later. The Los Angeles duo spun a rendition of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” that put everyone in a good mood, and borrowed a playful “Watch Out for This” from reggae-dub kings Major Lazer that felt right for the time of evening.
Aussie DJs Emoh Instead and Flume, who comprise What So Not, followed, with a set that could have been louder and more inspired, at least for a mastermind like Flume. Their track “High You Are” vibed well and got people on their feet, but their remix of Lorde’s “Tennis Court” didn’t translate as well as it could have, due to its set position.
The venue smartly minimized lag time. Rather than half-hour breaks between artists of mic checks and adjustments and oldies blasted over speakers, each artist nearly interrupted the preceding artist, making for smooth transitions and good concert flow.
Producer Dillon Francis plugged in at around 6:30, causing everyone to move toward the stage in waves. The rave had begun. The moombahton DJ grinned and dropped a rowdy version of Diplo’s “Express Yourself” that sent twerkers a-twerking, followed by a perfected “Bootleg Fireworks” and a remix of Kill the Noise’s “Talk to Me” that made the usually unlistenable track listenable. Francis doesn’t take himself too seriously, although he deserves to because his sound is his own, and it’s impressive.
He seemed like a chef making a dish without a recipe, wildly flinging flour everywhere and turning up high flames. “Set Me Free” sent concertgoers up in the air and back down again, and his remix of Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” followed by a quick sample of Chris Brown’s “Show Me," and Lil Jon and DJ Snake’s “Turn Down for What” made mainstream cool. Francis closed with his own “Get Low." Its chorus, “Get low when the whistle blow,” turned the crowd into a washing machine sending ravers violently in all directions.
No one saw it at first, but Skrillex had hopped on stage. It really appeared as if he had shot, meteor-style, down to the earth from his own distant planet, ready to take the crowd somewhere far-off. He spoke a few words and launched into “Try it Out” off his recent album "Recess," affirming in an instant why his sound is so special. It’s electronic dance music that’s so clear you could see through it, but still dirty enough to maintain its place in the dubstep world. “All is Fair in Love and Brostep” blasted a radio-automated voice through Pimlico that told the crowd how much power a rocket would need to get a 1,000 miles from earth. “Make it Bun Dem” sounded with a drop so heavy it seemed like everyone would blast off.
The computerized graphics behind Skrillex were just as much a part of his show as his sound. Rainbow unicorns, bobbing ducks, Bollywood dance teams, fast-talking toddlers and a mirror image of the crowd itself all flashed across the screen, giving the concert even more dimension than conceptually possible. Skrillex then launched into his titular track “Recess,” followed by a rendition of his track with Wolfgang Gartner “The Devil’s Den” that had Skrillex, the 26-year-old born Sonny Moore, dancing and his hair flying (well, half.) “Stranger” was one of greatest tracks of the whole evening causing those near the front to form giant dance circles like supermassive black holes.
Skrillex then shot back through space to reach old tracks like “Summit” featuring Ellie Goulding, “First of the Year (Equinox)," and infamous yes-oh-my-god anthem “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites," all of which still seem innovative. Due to Pimlico’s curfew, Skrillex had to wrap up, which he did grandly.
He spun a remix of Diplo’s “Revolution” paired with Flux Pavilion’s “I Can’t Stop," which the crowd knew so well they could move perfectly to the drops, and then delivered “Breakn’ a Sweat,” featuring The Doors and pounding-chorus track “Wild for the Night” with ASAP Rocky. Skrillex finally ended with a mashup of “Bangarang," Disclosure’s “Latch," Nero’s “Promises” and “Scary Monsters," at which point he paused the music, pulled Francis back on stage and said, “I want everyone to get low to the ground.”
When everyone seemed to be practically in the fetal position, he started up the track again faster and faster, and said, “We’re gonna fly to f---in' outer space when this drops.” After an excruciating delay, an extraordinary bass dropped as promised, and the crowd flew.
Ellie Kahn is a rising junior at Emory University and a former intern at the Baltimore Sun. She last reviewed Rusko in 2012 for Midnight Sun. Wesley Case edited this review.