July 12, 2012

Son Raw never saw so many people smiling because of music so pardon him if he gets a bit personal today. This is part show review, part confessional and mostly him just getting it all out on paper. We’ll return to your usual brand of snark and mockery ASAP.

Full disclosure: had The Digital Mystikz never existed, I might not be here today. Without being too melodramatic about it, I discovered the darker strains of Dubstep at a time in my life that could charitably be described as a low point both in terms of my relationships and music. In 2008, after a disastrous attempt at living in Saigon and a half decade of seeing everything I enjoyed about Hip-Hop stagnate or devolve, I was down about pretty much everything and didn’t see much hope for the future, musically or otherwise.

Discovering that people half-way around the world were making original music informed by the hardcore urban aesthetic I grew up on and rejecting boom-bap traditionalism, commercial rap compromise and effete hipster sensibilities shocked me into realizing that not everything had been done: there was still something new out there waiting to be discovered. And had the Mystikz not written their first genre-defining singles, those raves I went to in Montreal wouldn’t have happened and God knows where I’d be.

So suffice to say, Mala & Coki’s first North-American joint-appearance was going to be special for me. Not even a minor early morning bout of food-poisoning was going to stop me from attending the night. It wasn’t just the music: it was seeing familiar faces that had long since left the scene come back for a special night and the palpable excitement of my friends who’d been waiting for years to see these guys play live. It’s easy to be cynical about the direction Dubstep has taken over the past few years in the hands of outsiders who completely misunderstood the point of the music, at best, you become pragmatic about things and realize just how many careers it launched and how far the scene has come, even if it means watered down shows and a sense that the peak is long gone. But yesterday took everyone back to a time when it was a privilege to hear this music: when you had to hunt down events on obscure message boards and God-forbid-you-missed-one because there might not be another for months. This wasn’t just a Wednesday night, it was an event.

When DMZ finally took to the stage, they didn’t disappoint. This wasn’t a performance in terms of showmanship but neither was it a standard: everything from the dimmed lighting to the calibration of sound system to the records they selected combined to create an atmosphere, a vibe between the DJs on stage and the audience on the floor. For a few hours, they completely transformed The Belmont into their own demilitarized zone, alternating between dark tribal rhythms that harken to the dawn of time and futuristic electronic vibrations pushing the boundaries of what can be considered music. Great live events usually come in two varieties: giant, stadium sized performances by superstars and intimate musical happenings for the privileged few. This was the latter: Mala & Coki rarely release records and will never blow up to be Kanye West or Jay-Z but I have no doubt that I’ll be talking about last night for the rest of my days, the same way my Grandfather talked to me about the dawn of jazz. This was deeply spiritual music, an exchange between performer and audience that can’t be measured in objective terms or popularity.

I’ll end this piece with some thanks: to Mala & Coki for daring to cut through the bullshit and create a singularly pure strand of music. To DJ Vilify, Boudah Slinky and The Belmont for putting together a great show. To my friends who I was privileged to share this with. And perhaps most importantly, to the awesome crowd that came together to make this night so special. I can’t tell you how much joy I got seeing so many young kids get their minds blow and their idea of what music could be completely shattered yesterday because a few years ago, that was me. Now let’s move forward, never backwards.

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