Reviews

Giant Village 2005 With John Digweed + Paul Oakenfold + The Killers + The Crystal Method

Mike Prevatt

In the face of anti-rave legislation and increasingly stringent laws for maintaining nightclubs, L.A. takes to the streets.

Giant Village 2005 With John Digweed + Paul Oakenfold + The Killers + The Crystal Method

Giant Village 2005 With John Digweed + Paul Oakenfold + The Killers + The Crystal Method

City: Los Angeles
Venue: Downtown
Date: 2004-12-31

John Digweed
Paul Oakenfold
The Killers
The Crystal Method
When Giant, Los Angeles' predominant megaclub party, began in 2000, it was hardly risky to throw a huge street event featuring electronic performers. That was the year club music nearly went mainstream, thanks to the explosion of trance music and the media attention for European DJs such as Sasha, John Digweed, and Paul van Dyk. Cities such as Las Vegas opened multiple nightclubs while in Los Angeles tens of thousands attended outdoor raves. When Giant debuted its New Year's Eve event that year, staged on Hollywood Boulevard and headlined by Van Dyk, three major rave promoters produced "Together as One," a stadium party near USC that attracted over 50,000 revelers. A lot has happened in five years. Electronic music and club culture have experienced popularity slumps, hit hard by Internet piracy, anti-rave legislation, increasingly stringent laws for maintaining nightclubs, and the embrace of hip hop and remixed rock on the dance floor. Giant has had its fair share of struggles; shifting venues from year to year until finally finding a home in 2004 at Avalon, formerly the Palace, in Hollywood. It also has to compete with two other megaclub parties, San Francisco-based Spundae and the English import Godskitchen. For Giant to continue its New Year's Eve tradition, aiming to deliver the biggest 21-and-over dance party in the country, now seemed open to a potential giant-sized disaster. During last Friday's eight-hour event -- held at the intersection of Hope and Wilshire in downtown Los Angeles, stretching a block in all four directions -- you continually got the sense that something was on Giant's side. Everything that could have gone wrong didn't and as a result the L.A. nightlife institution produced its best-ever New Year's event. For many of the nearly 12,000 attendees, the greatest part of Giant Village was the weather. In the past week an uncharacteristically high rainfall had hit Southern California -- and downtown L.A., in particular -- and on December 31st it rained all morning. The rain-or-shine event might have been a big bust had the showers not stopped in the late afternoon. By the 8 p.m. start time the sky was almost perfectly clear and the temperature did not drop precipitously until 2 a.m. that night. Even if it had rained, you could imagine many of electronic music's most devoted fans braving the bad weather for the big-hitter lineup. Two of the world's most popular DJs -- John Digweed and Paul Oakenfold -- headlined their own stages, while San Francisco house favorite Mark Farina took top billing at a smaller side stage. The roster's most noteworthy inclusion was also the night's biggest musical crapshoot. For the first time, Giant had invited a band to play the party: Las Vegas quartet the Killers. The decision was met with mixed reactions prior to the big night, with dance purists bemoaning the inclusion of a rock act at a techno party. However, Giant founder/director Dave Dean justified the booking as an acknowledgement of the mutual influence between rock and dance music. The Killers, who played an enthusiastically-received set just three weeks earlier at L.A. modern rock radio station KROQ's "Almost Acoustic Christmas" show, were picked by Giant expressly for their rhythmic, synth-friendly aesthetic. Judging by the enormous sea of gig-goers poised in front of the main stage before the band's pre-countdown, hour-long set, this decision was a brilliant one. The crowd responded to the entire performance physically. The set opened with the resonant "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" and hit a high point with the propulsive single, "Mr. Brightside." No doubt audience members were clamoring for something more melodic than progressive house music, but their energy indicated an appreciation for the band's uptempo approach to alternative rock. If any DJ was going to follow that act -- and, for that matter, the midnight countdown, featuring fireworks shot into the air between the bordering skyscrapers -- it had to be Paul Oakenfold, famous for spinning anthems with rapturous synth choruses and remixed rock classics. At 12:01 a.m., in fact, he began his set with a Ferry Corsten remix of U2's "New Year's Day" -- a perfect programming choice, except that the rendition is more than five years old and Oakenfold did the same exact thing at last year's Giant NYE event. U2 showed up yet again 75 minutes later, when Oakenfold spun the 4/4-beat arena classic "Where the Streets Have No Name" -- his post-countdown track from two years previous. In fact, most of what the former trance king spun during the two-hour set were either the recurring standbys he never seems to flush out of his record box (his remix of Radiohead's "Street Spirit") or obvious inclusions that show he hasn't moved away from late '90s-era Euro-trance (Tiesto's "Traffic"). However, having 12,000 attendees means courting the mainstream, and for the fair-weather clubber, Oakey's pop-oriented set list proved to be ideal. This was fine for more sophisticated electronic music fans, which had Digweed and Farina to choose between. After a groove-friendly, prog 'n' breaks set from up-and-comer Desyn Masiello that could've stood on its own, Digweed launched his five-hour performance not with his trademark dark and minimalist tech funk, but a more playful and sometimes flamboyant style of progressive house. Also gone were many of the ambient waves that marked the music he played with DJ partner Sasha for much of the '90s. Most of Digweed's selections were marked with punctuated beats, proactive synth elements, and melodies less saccharine than those championed by Oakenfold but nonetheless euphoric. Perhaps ironically, Digweed snuck in what sounded like Oakenfold's Perfecto remix of U2's 1993 hit "Lemon." Another Diggers surprise was a blissed out Future Shock Worlds Apart remix of Underworld's 1999 single "Jumbo." This, too, may have been geared toward expectations of a more mainstream audience, but Digweed is such a fluid mixer and skilled set programmer that he could spin any style of dance music and still move a crowd. Digweed has become an L.A. favorite, having spun here on New Year's Eve for three years straight to capacity crowds. Here, he once again proved he could do no wrong with this audience, in ecstasy from the time he started until well after his last song, screaming for the post-curfew encore that it would not receive. Farina was the true alternative choice of the evening, favoring a more traditional house sound than Digweed and offering more eclectic remixes than Oakenfold. His post-countdown set began predictably: deep-grooved house showing his Chicago roots and occasionally touching on his "Mushroom Jazz" sound, building in energy over four hours. Given the clear plastic tent encasing the DJ booth and dance floor, Farina's performance -- as well as that of local fave Jason Bentley -- felt intimate, separated from the clatter near the other stages. And speaking of clatter, the most bombastic showing came from locals the Crystal Method, who spun such a raucous set that even Ken Jordan -- the duo's more reserved member -- came out from behind the turntables to dance on the stage. This was the only set of the evening where such behavior could be welcome. The Method's preference for breakbeat techno (Adam Freeland and UNKLE) and rock-oriented dance music (Bjork and the duo's own catalog) made for a livelier atmosphere, as the group eschewed its sparer inclinations for songs with denser, fuller synth arrangements. This aggressive approach lasted until the very end of the festival, when member Scott Kirkland signed off with a drunken, profanity-laced shout-out to Los Angeles. He deserved it -- and so did Giant.

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