BY MITCHELL HERRMANN For the Sun-Times
For a long time, electronic music at Lollapalooza has filled a particular niche. Perry's Stage, Lollapalooza's dance/hip-hop/miscellaneous venue, simply didn't seem to fit -- a small number diehards spent most of their day there, but most festivalgoers only gave it a sideways glance as they hurried from one end of Grant Park to the other.
That small number of diehards, however, gradually increased to the point of overwhelming the small stage. This year Perry's has been relocated, reimagined, and revamped to accommodate about 15,000 people (while still managing to eschew the corporate endorsements of the other stages at Lolla, from the Bud Light stage to the PlayStation stage).
Among the acts playing there Friday was the Italian electronic group the Bloody Beetroots Death Crew 77, comprised of two producer/DJs and a drummer added for live shows (hence the "Death Crew 77"). Despite their electro-house influences, the show they put on was far from a simple DJ set. It was instead an energetic live performance that made the Perry's tent feel more like a punk bar than a dance club, especially when an unannounced guest vocalist ran on to the stage and promptly climbed up the light scaffolding. Behind the band, a large backdrop read "Church of Noise." Well, there was little religion in the show, but quite a lot of noise.
Last year's dubstep acts at Lollapalooza, pretty much just Caspa and Rusko, sound downright mellow when compared with the distorted growls and screaming wobbles of Skrillex, and earlier in the day, Feed Me. Skrillex, a k a Sonny Moore, combines big trancey intros with pitch bending monster noises to create an inexplicably appealing juxtaposition of catchy melodies and twisted sonic chaos. Perry's tent had begun to fill up during the early evening, and when Skrillex came on at around 6:15, it overflowed. The crowd responded so energetically to the bass heavy dance music that Skrillex warned them against killing themselves before the show was over.
After a brief, unscheduled pause came Dutch house producer Afrojack, playing tunes featuring his signature high-pitched synths and rhythmically repeated vocals. Entering DJ Mag's vaunted Top 100 List last year for the first time at No. 19, Afrojack has found considerable chart success recently with high profile collaborations and remixes, such as Pitbull's No. 1 "Give Me Everything," which featured Afrojack, Ne-Yo and Nayer. As the sky began to darken over Grant Park, the much improved lightning system at Perry's became more pronounced, with rows of strobes and LEDs extending along the ceiling of the football field sized tent. None of this, however, was any consolation to the many people who were stuck outside the overcrowded tent and unable to see the stage or the lights at all.
A half hour gap had been scheduled before the end of Afrojack's set and the beginning of Girl Talk, the Friday night headliner at Perry's Stage. This provided a brief chance for the crowd to rest before the notoriously energetic laptop mashup wizard Gregg Gillis began his show. Part of the unique appeal of Girl Talk's brand of bastard pop is recognizing each familiar hook and then wondering at the way all of the disparate elements fit together like a sonic jigsaw puzzle. This plethora of genres was accompanied by an equally diverse series of images flashed across the giant LED screen -- just a few of which were horses, babies, and Stonehenge. The crowd was enthusiastic -- but the show ended on a sour note, as the shirtless pony-tailed Girl Talk complained to the crowd that he was forced to stop early.