SAN DIEGO — An ounce of hope and a ton of hype rest on the shoulders of a young genre of pop--electronic dance--that is only in its second summer of full-fledged, genre-bound concert-going in the U.S.
Considering the debut of the Electronic Highway Tour here on Friday, one of at least four major-act techno concerts scheduled to land in L.A. this season, watchers would be sure to be disappointed. Headliner Crystal Method did its job and turned the place out in a bolt of white light and hard-rocking beats that had flashes of the Chemical Brothers' pedal-to-the-metal performance in L.A. earlier this summer.
But what didn't turn out was the kids.
A crowd estimate was not available, but this much was clear: There was an indoor room, an outdoor tent and an outdoor chill-out area at this downtown gig. The tent was half-full. The room was empty. The chill-out area was fairly empty (some vendors packed up at midnight).
A key component of any rave-style event is a mysterious but electrified element commonly referred to as "vibes." Vibes usually involve good deejays setting off a young, positive audience that in turn sends electricity through the room like a dance-floor wave. The Electric Highway Tour was flat.
The venue, 4th & B, was ideal--a gym-sized place with Richter-scale sound. A parking lot provided the space for the main-stage tent. But the formula for the first night of this 156-city tour--which hits L.A. Sept. 12--was confused.
The main tent was open to all, but it closed down at 2 a.m. The indoor room, which was scheduled to close at 4 a.m., was restricted to those under 21. The main stage featured such acts as Arkarna, a British rock group that sounded tight and electrified for the few dozen present at 10 p.m.--but a rock band nonetheless.
The indoor room featured progressive drum-and-bass and funky break-beat deejays (exalted names such as Raymond Roker, DJ Icey and Jon Bishop were on the bill but were not announced). The deejay sets here had movement and motivation but no appreciation. There were, again, only a few dozen people, many of them police officers, flowing through the room all night. The kids were locked out.
The basic lessons have already been demonstrated. Last year's Organic, a summer festival held in the shadow of Big Bear and featuring a historic lineup (Chemical Brothers, the Orb, Orbital, Underworld, Meat Beat Manifesto), wrote the book on major-scale electronic music concerts--to the tune of 8,000 people.
By contrast, the Electric Highway Tour's debut was a commercial flop. It needs more youth, less beer; more techno, less rock.
The successful shows will handle promotion on the street level, put beer and bars in a tent in the back where they belong, and stay open till sunrise. And despite the atomized lineups, there could be a sneaker this season.
Consider Narnia, slated to settle into Organic's digs in the San Bernardino National Forest on Saturday with Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Dmitry of Deee-Lite and the original Sugar Hill Gang. This one is clearly aiming at a younger demographic. And it's promising to go way past sunrise. Not a bad idea for an electronic dance concert.
They used to call them "raves" for a reason.