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Coachella 2013: Baauer works a crowd awaiting 'Harlem Shake'

April 13, 2013|By Randall Roberts | Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
  • Festival goers enjoy "Harlem Shake" DJ Baauer at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival.
Festival goers enjoy "Harlem Shake" DJ Baauer at the Coachella… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

The question lingered for nearly the entire set: When would Baauer drop "Harlem Shake," his syrupy instrumental dance track that spawned a viral craze?

Would he do it early to get it out of the way, as Gotye did when he played "Somebody That I Used to Know" this time last year? Would he pull an MGMT, which memorably ignored its anthem "Time to Pretend" in 2008? Baauer's ubiquitous jam had to come -- didn't it?

For 55 intense minutes the New York producer teased the audience, working to deliver proof that he's not a one-hit wonder, but a production force working to bring the hot subgenre of trap rap to the masses. He did it with lots of bass, some choice samples -- Chief Keef, Outkast ("Bombs over Baghdad"), Jay-Z and Lil Wayne, and the crowd lapped up each quote. All the while he tried to keep his baseball cap on, but his heave-ho rhythms propelled his noggin like a metalhead working a riff, and the hat came off. He wiped his head with a towel, covered his face with it and banged some more.

FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2013 | What to see and do

And then the beat stopped, and Baauer vanished. He didn't even say goodbye as the crowd, a little stumped, started mumbling. Then a chant sprouted -- "Harlem Shake! Harlem Shake!" -- as various inflatable creatures started bouncing among the dancers. Two painted pigeon signs were particularly giddy.

Then, out of the blue, Baauer appeared on the big riser above where he was DJing, and the crowd erupted. He dropped the squiggly riff that spawned a million clips, heads nodded for 16 bars, and the Sahara Tent heaved with the bass drop. Whether you like the song or not -- I do, and think it's a telling signal of the convergence of hip-hop, dance and rock -- the vibe over the following minutes was one of pure joy.

When it was over, fans quickly recovered. They knew that a few tents down, rapper 2 Chainz was headed down a similar, if more twisted, path. As fans jogged forth, a new chant burst: "2 Chainz! 2 Chainz!" The race was on.

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