Bummer Stage: Santogold and Diplo at Central Park

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The queue never ceases to amaze me. Folks line up dutifully for an iPhone upgrade or a last-minute look at the Telectroscope or the All-Star Game, and a grandmother’s position ahead of an American Gladiator is respected as tantamount to a constitutional commitment: do not cut, do not push. It’s a British convention that, while retaining that country’s predilection for rueful politesse, not to mention a uniquely Stateside bent towards compassionate competition, is still about as close as the common capitalist can get to egalité, fraternité, liberté while still pursuing his gadgety passions and hard-on for spectacle. It’s a sublime compromise. To get the things we want, we must wait our turn, stomach a couple seconds of social collectivism in the name of stuff, stuff, stuff.

Sunday’s Santogold/Diplo show at [Central Park’s SummerStage] not only had a queue out of Exodus, but an aesthetic mentality poised on the cusp of one-world wishwash and consumerist crassness. Waiting in a line that snaked about a mile out into the wilderness, we panted and smoked and looked for shade, all the while hoping that the thuds emanating from over the foliage-soaked horizon were, in fact, the concert and not some carefully concealed guy with a boombox having a picnic. When the baggage check did come into sight, so did the skeletal outline of an impromptu mini-stadium, covered in banners for Time Warner, Snapple, and white-dudes pistol-poking the air. For some reason, security at these events are under the impression that they’re responsible for peacekeeping at a Gaza checkpoint. They gesticulate and yell like everyone is under fire, waving the crowds through with a gritty desperation I haven’t seen since those tapes of Hilary Clinton landing in war-torn Bosnia.

Somewhere, a friend of mine had seen this show advertised as the “sounds of the future.” While that pitch was obviously written by someone over the age of forty, the claim does have some basis in fact. Diplo and 8-Track are masters of the mash-up, not so much DJs in the traditional, coherent sense as much as rap-radio recontextualizers, patching our favorite bits of our favorite thug anthems into each other and changing the recipe often enough to let us forget that we’re hearing a Frankenstein. It’s cool for about twenty minutes, but then you just want to hear a fucking song, one full song, any song! The strategy works in clubs, where it’s air-conditioned and dark and loud as an airport. But in the open air, in pulverizing heat, on a surface that seemed to be stolen from the nearest putting green, only drunk, fat people in bikinis want to dance. At one point, a hype man shouted “Get your guns out!” If he’d been serious, I’m afraid we’d have had another Jonestown on our hands, except the Kool-Ade would cost something like $7.

I missed Santogold and went to hang out under a tree. “Get off the grass!” yelled some enormous guard from afar. This is something I wouldn’t expect to hear in a park, but of course, it had been years since I’d been to football camp. In the distance, I could hear the boom-boom of the backing DJ, the singer’s quasi-bhangra balling. It was a short set, by all accounts, about 6 songs and half-an-hour in length. When I opened my eyes, I saw a sea of people cascading out of the bleachers, a queue rolling downhill with terrible and anarchic velocity. It was like the stadium had suddenly gagged on the thousands of hands that fed it.

[Photo courtesy of Gayborhood Gringo on Flickr]

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