TOKiMONSTA @ The Sinclair

featuring KAMI and Kingdom

October 10, 2017 @ The Sinclair

By: Robert Kerstens

[three_fourth]On the cover of her latest album Lune Rouge, a cartoon of Jennifer Lee, the beatmaker behind TOKiMONSTA, lounges on a hovercraft cruising an extraterrestrial landscape. In the background, the titular red moon looms low in the sky. It’s fitting; after a brush with the rare brain disease Moyamoya, Lee became an alien to the world around her. The album is her first since a life-saving surgery in early 2016 stripped away her ability to speak, walk, and most devastatingly, hear music. But being alien is nothing new for TOKiMONSTA, who’s astral beats routinely blend the synthetic with the organic, and the abstract with the familiar. In an astronomical set at the Sinclair, she brought trap to places it didn’t belong, creating a lucid dreamscape that moved the crowd with a spiritual zeal. Like the sunrise of LEDs radiating behind her, the performance represented the promise of a new day following a nightmare, and the hope for reawakening after trauma.

First to perform was rapper KAMI, whose stylistic roots could be traced through Atlanta, Detroit, and his hometown of Chicago. His set closely followed industry trends, evoking Travis Scott with an auto-tuned howl on songs like ‘2 Td.’ On other tracks like ‘Home Movies’ and ‘Miami: White Limousines,’ his sound was glazed in 80’s synths. He was his own hype man, hopping around the stage and energizing a still-thin crowd. Despite his up-and-coming status, KAMI performed with the confidence of an established rapper, jumping into the audience and taking selfies with his new fans.

But for all of KAMI’s enthusiasm, it wasn’t a true party until Kingdom took the floor. In a departure from the dewy sound on his latest album Tears in the Club, Kingdom’s DJ set pulled together trap, UK garage, 2-step, deep house and even moombahton into a potent blend that demanded to be danced to. There was a noticeable shift in the crowd as the pit filled in and people realized the front of the stage was the place to be. Normally my obligations as a critic would compel me to take notes, but this time my body was swept away in a white-water deluge of bangers, too entranced to do anything but dance.

Strung out from Kingdom’s euphoric mix, the revelers were desperate to keep the party going. But TOKiMONSTA had other plans, teasing her fans with 10 minutes of lunar ambiance as her logo creeped into focus on a screen behind the boards. Just when it seemed like she wasn’t coming out at all, the suspense broke and the tiny DJ finally came out. She seemed taken aback by the ensuing applause, as if it was her first time seeing her fans in front of her. Soon enough the red moon lit up the screen behind her as the beat dropped into ‘We Love.’ The party picked up right where it left off.

TOKiMONSTA played a mix of new material and old favorites, working in chart-toppers from the likes of Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake, and Kendrick Lamar. Transitions were smooth to the point of imperceptibility. Danceable hits like ‘Steal my Attention’ and ‘Gamble’ retained their psilocybin sheen, giving the show an ethereal aura. However, fans expecting to hear her trippier beats a la Flying Lotus would be largely disappointed; her set consisted mostly of trap and EDM songs more at home in a nightclub than an Adult Swim commercial. By the end of the show TOKiMONSTA had ratcheted up the rave into a full blown electric daisy carnival, blasting festival ready EDM as a beach ball bounced around for a photo opp. Needless to say, the Sinclair got a lot sweatier than most nights.

The most emotionally charged moment of the night came when TOKiMONSTA played ‘I Wish I Could Be,’ the first song she wrote following her surgery. Despite a fairly soulless EDM core, the song packed a wallop of grief and frustration when set in the context of TOKiMONSTA’s impassioned introduction, detailing the struggles of her recovery. With lyrics like ‘I Wish I Could be Better’, the voice of Selah Sue wailed with the despair of a mind held prisoner by the brain.

Jennifer Lee has certainly come a long way since her surgery, rebounding from the total loss of her ability to comprehend music to produce a new album and take it on tour. Her miraculous recovery would not have been possible without the constant support of her adoring fans, many of whom were seeing TOKiMONSTA for the third or fourth time. She was sure to express her gratitude at the end of the show, reaching out and touching as many fans as she could.



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