by Robert Kerstens
[three_fourth]The first time I saw Giraffage, he was opening for EDM’s lightweight champion Porter Robinson back in 2014. Both artists were riding creative peaks at the time. Porter was supporting his career-defining debut Worlds, while Giraffage had just released the No Reason EP to follow up his breakthrough album Needs, a lush pastiche of warped 80’s R&B samples. Fast forward to 2017, and Giraffage is on tour again to support his new album Too Real. With Giraffage as the headliner, the roles were reversed. Although Porter wasn’t on the bill, his brand of big tent N64 nostalgia was heard throughout the mixes of openers Wingtip and Sweater Beats. When they weren’t remixing Porter’s hits, it was the hits of his collaborator and sonic twin Madeon or other contemporaries like Flume and Chet Faker. Meanwhile, Giraffage was as vaporous as I remembered him to be, playing a sleepy bedroom mix more interested in lulling you into an 8-bit daydream than making you dance. The show was better for it: compared to his openers, Giraffage’s set depended less on the cheap thrills of EDM tropes that already sounded stale back in 2014.
Wingtip kicked off the show and his touring career with his first ever live performance. He played it safe for the most part, mixing universally palatable songs you might hear in a CVS. Dull bass plodded through his set at a steady pace, gilded in delicate arrangements of guitar, piano and dulcet vocal samples. It was all very pleasant, packing the canned sentimentality of a network TV show about parenting. Transitions between songs were seamless, but then again, beat matching is easy when all the songs have the same BPM. At one point, he warned the crowd that he would play a song that was a little hard, and it honestly could have been a little harder. Although I found myself a little bored, I was impressed by how smoothly Wingtip handled his first show. He had the remixing talent of a much more seasoned DJ, and I wouldn’t have known he was a novice if he hadn’t said anything. The crowd embraced him warmly, and he made a point of thanking everybody who came out to support him.
Having earned his name making people sweat in the club (before adding ‘Beats’ to his name so it would show up on Google searches), Sweater Beats had clearly been working the boards a lot longer than Wingtip. He knew all the hottest throwbacks and mashed them together in unexpected combinations, starting with a trap remix of Panic! At the Disco’s ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’ that flowed into Flume’s ‘Sleepless.’ Two days before Halloween, his set was a hedonistic binge of sugary rap and electropop hits, like eating all your trick-or-treating candy in one sitting. While the mix was bloated with bangers, none of the tracks had quite enough time to marinate. As soon as you got used to one song, it would be interrupted by the next, restlessly switched out after just a single chorus. And although the transitions were technically pretty smooth, the juxtapositions often felt jarring and careless.
I do have to give him credit for his versatility though. In addition to playing a wide range of genres, he juggled his laptop with a drum pad and a glammed out electric guitar that he shredded on for tracks like Kid Cudi’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness.’ Towards the end of his set, the iconic piano of ‘The Black Parade’ snuck in the backdoor of the previous song, and you just knew an epic guitar solo was coming. But Sweater Beats failed to capitalize, changing the song before he ever had a chance. While he did unleash a killer solo on the next song, the moment had passed. But given his stunted attention span, it was no surprise that he would miss such an obvious opportunity.
After Sweater Beat’s hyperactive set, Giraffage was a languid lozenge of relief. Clickity-clacking on an 808, he stepped onstage into an LED globe made from concentric rings of neon light. His first track was ‘Tell Me,’ a song as friendly and approachable as the wiggling Word-art lyrics flashing on the screen behind him. Honestly, the images on the screen stole all the metaphors I would have used to describe the show. Rendered in Kid Pix resolution, there were bubbles, clouds, and dancing animals that looked straight out of Leo the Lion. Skeleton musicians kept things spooky for Halloweekend, appearing individually before uniting to form a skeleton super-group. Every animation was dancing, whether it was aliens, Geico geckos, or an anatomically-correct nude blue man. Pixelated puppies flooded the screen, clearing up to reveal a gorgeous digital sky. Rarely do stage visuals so perfectly capture and enhance the mood of the music.
Like the cybersurfing imagery behind him, Giraffage’s music channeled the nostalgic joy of being 6 years old and waking up at 7am on a Saturday morning to play video games. The trap beats at the core of the songs twinkled harmlessly, bubble-wrapped in glossy MIDI key melodies that sounded like they could have been ripped straight from the Super Monkey Ball soundtrack. Although I wouldn’t call it vaporwave, the set drew from the same hypnagogic vintage funk and soul textures you might hear in an Occupational Safety cassette from 1987. His beats distilled the comforts of the 80’s and 90’s and refracted them through a prism of 2002 computer culture, as if compressing them into a .zip file and releasing them into the ether of Internet Explorer.
Other than a few old favorites, most of the tracks Giraffage played were off Too Real, including singles ‘Green Tea,’ ‘Slowly,’ and ‘Maybes.’ Things got a little ‘too real’ when he played ‘19 Hours,’ an ode to the millennial dilemma of living half your life in the virtual world of your cell phone. There were a few remixes thrown in to spice things up, including a barred-out version of Soulja Boy’s ‘Crank That’ that replaced the steel drums with an atmospheric cloud beat. While not every song was a total banger, Giraffage maintained an air of playfulness that kept the show interesting and full of life. I might have been a little drowsy by the end, but I sure had fun.