PHOTO BY BRAYDEN OLSON
On Saturday, Manhattan’s premiere creative complex, Milk Studios, was transformed into a 14-hour multi-level musical labyrinth. The occasion was the launch of the Creators Project, Vice and Intel’s collaborativeall-media initiative. Much has been already been made of the event’s myriad of interactive art exhibits. Those on the eighth floor were bound by a performance of ritualism: Radical Friend’s “Digital Flesh” exhibit, wherein subjects from the audience were led by two ominous footmen inside a pyramid “portal” to have their facial data scanned. The second floor exhibits were more about obliterating the audio-visual senses: dizzying fiber-optic displays and “smart” panels of flashing lights–courtesy of collectives LEGS and United Visual Artists–challenged the viewer to see what would happen if you reached out and touch them. (Spoiler: they basically blink a lot and change colors).
While The Rapture, Gang Gang Dance, Neon Indian, Salem, and Interpol all impressed during their ground floor performances, it was easy to detect that the future of pop was located upstairs, in Gallery 2. Kicking things off violently at 8:30 pm, noise-electro duo Sleigh Bells set the tone for the polystylistic, ear-splitting mischief that continue for the rest of that evening. Alexis Krauss launched into “Tell ‘Em”, a popular underground summer song that sounds like a thousand dentist drills singing over a honey-sweet choir (in a good way).
“Offensive” best describes the facetious methods of South African-Dutch rappers and “zef” enthusiasts, Die Antwoord, who took the stage right after Sleigh Bells. It was their first American show, as they were only too eager to remind us throughout their blistering set. “We’re gonna come back and fuck this party in its fucking face!” frontman Ninja screamed at people in the front row, who responded in kind by sending their drinks airborne. It was a raucous set, brimming with far more nervy unrest than you’d expect a satirical rap collective to deliver. Despite the contrived gimmickry of songs like “Enter The Ninja,” in which the blonde, urchin-like Yo-Landi pleas, “I am your butterfly, I need your protection, need my samurai,” Die Antwoord’s imagining of a zef invasion are very real–and poignant. They live and die by their shtick.
Of course, no one arouses style vs. substance debate than pop provocateur M.I.A., who performed last as a not-so-secret guest. Maya Arulpragasm crashed onto the stage amidst the blitzkrieg pop of her controversial, Suicide-sampling “Born Free,” its controversial video flickering ominously behind her. Cloaked in an American flag, a rainbow wig, and an eye-popping Gerlain Jeans ensemble, she was in costume mode, even hiding behind a pair of sunglasses sporting a Mary Jane (as in, weed) motif. Her hits were strangely obfuscated, as well, mainly reinterpreted as partial chorus sequences that segued into newer, more punishing material, inclduing the stand-out “Teqkilla.” While she prowled, skipped, and shadowboxed the stage, two curiously manic male dancers bopped for dear life beside her while lights flashed viciously to the beat. The set’s highlight was not “Paper Planes,” but career-defining 2005 hit “Galang,” a pioneering song few people probably had ever moshed to–until now.