Steve Aoki started by buttering them up.
“Yo, I just got off a long, f---ing flight from Brazil,” the DJ said before taking the stage a few minutes past midnight. “I was playing for a São Paolo crowd of 15,000 for one hour, because I knew I had to get back in time to play for you."
“I knew if I missed this gig, I’d be pissed,” Aoki continued. “I cut that s--- short so I could be with you guys. One of the best places in the f---ing world is right here in New York.”
The Westcott Theater holds up to 700 for sold-out shows, but some audience members didn’t even make it inside. “People are getting kicked out left and right, man,” complained a beefy 20-something wearing a STAFF shirt at 10 p.m.
The show's openers — Direktor, Mike Smiroldo, and Chemicals of Creation — harnessed the energy of the crowd, but to any person unfamiliar with the electronica scene, they were just four dudes taking turns onstage with loud speakers and stickered MacBooks.
Direktor, wearing what at first appeared to be a vintage gas mask with fangs, brought the darkness. He joined in dancing with the crowd after his set, but lost points for charisma for keeping the mask on the whole time. A crowd wants to see the whites of your eyes.
Smiroldo, in a black Dropbox T-shirt and miniature ponytail, typed on his MacBook with surprising grace, as if playing an actual instrument. After leaving the stage, he spent the rest of the show in front of the left-side wall, allowing a short brunette to grind on his jeans as he stood and bobbed his head.
Chemicals of Creation brought the most energy of the openers and remixed current tunes like The Wanted’s “Glad You Came,” but their set, peppered with intermittent seal or dolphin calls, lasted too long.
Smokers milling outside greeted anyone who exited with a very urgent question: Is Aoki on yet?
Finally, Aoki took the stage (with no stickered MacBook to shield him from the crowd). Unlike his openers, he didn’t rely solely on the throttle of the bass drop. Between esophagus-rattling thumps, Aoki spun metallic whirs of helicopter blades and chainsaws among light, haunting tings of a chime. His fingers pointed upward, waving and twitching along with the rolling vibrations, as if sprinkling the room in pixie dust.
You know you're watching a master DJ when he doesn't pump his fist to his own music, but rather stands still, arms outstretched, face to the ceiling, like Christ delivering the crowd from the mediocre opening acts. Somehow, Aoki managed this with zero pretension.
Music aside, Aoki fit Matt Groening’s rule of thumb for any good character: an identifiable silhouette. With slouching, sinewy shoulders, lemon headphones and long, stringy hair, the crowd never lost sight of Aoki as he jumped around the stage silhouetted by a nonstop barrage of blazing lights.
Aoki opened his set with a brand new track he said "no one’s heard before.” The crowd bounced madly. As a bass-dripping crescendo neared climax, silence fell. Was it part of his act?
“This mixer is all out of power, what happened?” Aoki asked. “Westcott Theater, the power just went out here. What just happened? Where’s the stage manager?”
Electro-house party foul. Most of the crowd started to boo. There were plenty, however, who didn’t seem to notice the problem. A curly-haired girl with dollar bills tucked into her blue bra yelled, "I love ganja!" and continued to dance by herself without music. The power came back in about 45 seconds and Aoki slipped right back into the rhythm.
The crowd knew the short lyrics by heart. “Attention passengers, this is your captain speaking,” Aoki screamed.
“We hit turbulence,” the crowd screamed back.
Then the music cut out again. Aoki got visibly pissed.
“Alright, seriously. Yo, who’s stepping on the goddamn plug?” he asked the theater. “Where’s the f---ing sound technician?”
Still, the music came back in a minute and Aoki, again, jumped back in. It happened a couple more times throughout the night, but only gave some crowd members a break to sample whatever they had left over from 4/20. Aoki’s fizzy Kid Cudi collaboration “Cudi the Kid” drew any wallflowers right back to the dancefloor.
Aoki knew how to build on his own momentum and bring the show a little higher with each new song. For the sweaty, neon crowd monster sucking on lollipops and throwing glow sticks, Aoki had the remedy for an otherwise sleepy Sunday on Westcott Street.
11:10 p.m. - Someone releases the beach balls.
12:50 a.m. - A wild inflatable raft appears. Aoki pulls a girl from the crowd in a shredded neon top. We can’t hear her, but she’s clearly yelling, “I’m so scared!” He sends her sailing into the crowd regardless.
1:05 a.m. - Aoki takes a carton of milk and pours it on the front row. Do people like this?
1:08 a.m. - Aoki stops the music to take a group photo with the crowd for his Facebook page, demanding all the press photographers onstage with him get This Shot. “I want Syracuse to represent on my f---ing Facebook tomorrow,” Aoki bellows. “I want to see all you motherf---ers. Everyone give me your f---ing rage face.”
1:13 a.m. - A new collaboration is about to launch. “No one else has heard this track,” Aoki yells. “You’re literally the first people in the world to hear this f---in’ record. Don’t YouTube this shit, it’s f---ing brand new, man. No YouTubing that shit.”
1:18 a.m. Aoki shakes and sprays another champagne bottle.
1:24 a.m. Aoki throws water bottles into the crowd. They appreciate a DJ who cares about hydration.
1:30 a.m. - Another girl gets caked. This time "Dim Mak" is written in blue icing. Don't tell my mother they're wasting this much food.