WASHINGTON, November 17, 2014 – Attending a performance of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) by a band like London’s Delta Heavy is less about the group or performer than any normal concert or show. Yes, the majority of people who attend these shows do so because they hold a connection with the DJ, whether that DJ is spinning original creations, stylish remixes, or straight up playing songs.
But once the set begins, it becomes less about the performer and more about the show they’re crafting. It starts to take a life of its own, in no small part because of how the crowd reacts. We watched this unfold during Delta Heavy’s recent appearance at DC’s 9:30 Club.
Just like any other venue Delta Heavy performs at, the 9:30 Club generally puts the duo on stage like any normal band. But that’s where similarities end. Ben Hall and Simon James, the masterminds behind Delta Heavy, seem to serve the sole purpose of hyping up the crowd. But their physical presence, at least visually, doesn’t feel like it’s necessarily required.
That’s because once they start spinning, half the crowd stops paying attention to them. By the end of their show, it’s likely the audience has turned their attention away from the actual performers.
This doesn’t mean that their presence isn’t required on stage at all. But being front and center of the crowd at the 9:30 Club feels a little out of place. For people who don’t quite understand EDM or dubstep or any of the different electronic dance hall styles, Delta Heavy’s effort is marginalized to an extent.
The argument extends along the lines that audiences would dance to anything DJs played off an iTunes playlist. But this attitude ignores the craft that groups like Delta Heavy throw into every single set they craft.
Obviously, at a show like their recent one at the 9:30 Club, they’re preaching to the choir. Anyone who isn’t converted to the sounds of dubstep probably wouldn’t be there to see Delta Heavy perform.
It’s important to point out that the basic intention of Delta Heavy is to get their fans to dance and really never stop moving until the sets done. Turning them away from the stage but creating a cocoon-like atmosphere is an absolute necessity for this to succeed. The more the audience is focused on the duo, the less time they have to absorb the music and make it into something of their own.
Delta Heavy at their core is all about the audience and what works for them. Their set becomes malleable both in general output and time frame, because once they start playing, their own desires and needs become irrelevant.
Delta Heavy, like so many other EDM groups, doesn’t strive to be overly complicated or dense. That would defeat the purpose of their mission statement and would generally turn off everyone in attendance, because Delta Heavy is in total service of the audience.
They work within the general framework of what’s expected from dubstep. The rhythm and bass are strong, and the bass drops are somewhat predictable, but then that’s the point.
These performers are not in the business of providing some vaguely intellectual depth where the audience can dissect their songs. As DJs and producers, they’re much more concerned with keeping the pace and tempo at a level where no one ever stops moving. Ideally this would go on forever in a continuous loop until people just couldn’t dance anymore.
This is what Delta Heavy’s set at the 9:30 Club was striving for and what EDM as a whole is all about. There’s a basic selflessness to the way Delta Heavy plays song after song. Through individualistic touches, including the way they incorporate clean vocals into several songs to frame them in dynamic ways, they function in service, dedicated to getting people to lose themselves and generally forget about time and space.
Delta Heavy is modern dance.