August is the rainy season in New York City, and trust me, when it rains, it pours. The instant a falling drop of water hits a New Yorker’s head, he or she often scurries for the closest awning in sight. But at Central Park’s famed Summerstage (Rumsey Field), there was nowhere to hide: Hundreds of fans basked in the downpour as Grammy-nominated DJ/producer Paul Van Dyk dropped four hours of heart-pounding electronic music, less than a week after the release of his new album, In Between. Bombarded by spurts of torrential rain, PVD kept Summerstage’s speakers thumping and the soaked crowd dancing.
Van Dyk’s set began a little after 6pm under surprisingly dry circumstances. Although Rumsey Field hadn’t quite filled to capacity at that early point in the evening, vocal enthusiasm from the fans could be heard two fields over. An ear-to-ear smile covered the famed DJ’s face as chants of “P-V-D” echoed from every corner of the crowd. As soon as the lush beats exited the venue’s gargantuan speakers, an animated Van Dyk started pumping his right hand in the air while controlling the bpm with his left. Roaring approval intensified throughout the meticulous build-up sequences… and then oceans of rainfall transformed the venue into mud-puddle city.
Under these kinds of monsoon-like conditions, it’s not uncommon for a normal DJ to stop the show and wait the tumultuous weather out. But PVD is not your average DJ: Love him or hate him, the globally respected DJ/producer who has revolutionized the way audiences around the world listen to electronic music. And he doesn’t stop for the weather. No, our hero simply pulled a blue tarp from backstage, shielded himself and his equipment, and kept the adrenaline going.
Dampening concertgoers from all angles, the rain had evolved into an unstoppable force of nature; once people began realizing that things weren’t going to get any drier, the umbrellas went down. Resigned to (and in some cases content with) their fate, audience members allowed themselves to become uninhibited as PVD’s cathartic sounds initiated a cleansing process (no pun intended). People from all walks of life seemed to enjoy the experience of being wet together: Saturated dance circles, reminiscent of festivals such as Glastonbury and Woodstock, began to form.
After 30 minutes of the tropical shower, a break in the weather got our legendary DJ out from under his tarp hideaway, and gave sopping fans a glimpse of the luminous rays of the sun glistening through New York City’s towering skyline. Purples and pinks turned the summer sky into an elegant pastel painting, while beams of yellow light reflected off the silver Apple Powerbook placed above the wheels of steel. Recognizing the awe-inspiring visual himself, Van Dyk directed everyone’s attention to the fire in the sky, as he simultaneously mixed tranquil sounds to form a euphoric ambiance to match the picturesque scenery. When the sun finally retreated behind the clouds, electronic audio collages once again began to flourish, and so did the rain.
As nightfall’s darkness swallowed the damp, gray sky, bursts of illumination shot from the three large screens above the stage, commencing the show’s more visually pleasing portion. Images of Cuba combined with mind-melting patterns and colorful stage lighting, while laser effects magnified the celestial depth of PVD’s compositions. With these psychedelic backdrops amplifying each song’s potency, the emotional rush only grew stronger. Fans patient enough to endure the earlier weather obstacles were treated to a slew of live performances by singers who lent their voices to various PVD-produced songs. Jessica Sutta of the Pussycat Dolls performed a sensuous version of hit single “White Lies” which sent the now-capacity crowd into a howling frenzy; Ashley Tomberlin performed “New York City”; and newcomer Merchant expressed himself in a lively rendition of “Talk In Grey.” Friday night’s crowd got a full taste of Van Dyk’s catalogue with an ethereal mix of “The Other Side” and a show-closer that included Vega 4 singer Johnny McDaid reprising his vocals for the encouraging “Time of Our Lives”, off his Grammy-nominated album, Reflections.
After finishing his set, a humble Van Dyk greeted people at the stage’s front area, shaking their hands, taking pictures, and, of course, signing autographs. Watching the pioneer of epic electronica smile as he hugged crowd members offered proof that the success of being one of the world’s number-one DJs hasn’t distanced him from the fans. “I don’t really care what people rank me in, I just do what I love doing and I’m very passionate about it,” Van Dyk said to ClubPlanet.com after the show. “You always have to prove that you’re a good DJ, a good musician. This, I believe, is what I did tonight with the help of fantastic artists.”
Van Dyk’s live shows have amazed techno devotees on a global scale for more than a decade. Central Park’s August 17th show may have been just another day at the office for this phenomenal entertainer, but to all the thousands of us who sat through rain, shine, and kaleidoscopic wizardry, it was the (wettest) time of our lives.