This past Sunday, on an unseasonably warm Ithaca evening, Major Lazer, the collective moniker for DJ’s Diplo and Switch’s joint musical venture rocked Barton Hall with an entertaining and extremely high-energy show. During several songs, the floor was quite literally vibrating as bursts of reggae-infused techno paired with pounding beats and more than a few rap samples shook things up. Though the performance was surprisingly undersold, the irresistibly dance-inducing mash-ups that the group delivered zealously more than made up for the somewhat lacking crowd size.
The Diplo-Switch combo is not a new one as both performers were producers on a string of hits including M.I.A.’s ubiquitous “Paper Planes.” These past experiences are visible in the duo’s seamless collaboration as Major Lazer, successfully modernizing traditional Jamaican reggae by injecting it with electronic influences. A distinguishing and often unknown feature of the group, however, is the elaborate backstory behind the cartoon character and their band’s namesake, Major Lazer. Apparently, he was a General in the zombie wars in Jamaica who, after losing an arm, was fitted with a laser and tasked with protecting the world from zombies, mummies and vampires. The character often appears in promotional material and the occasional music video and is something completely unique to Major Lazer. It shows that the group is pushing boundaries not only musically, but also with respect to multimedia inclusion.
After a sparsely attended set by nonetheless talented opener, DJ A-Trak, brightly clothed and sunglass-sporting concert-goers rushed toward the stage to see the main attraction. The mounting excitement was palpable as whispers of “Major Lazer” ran through the now swelling crowd. About ten minutes later, in a markedly faster transition than usual, Diplo was spotted filing out to much applause along with a hype man and two scantily clad and exceedingly flexible female backup dancers.
The group’s hype man was very active in keeping the audience involved at all times.
At one point, not far into the show, he heralded the call for volunteers to come up on stage and dance, fervently adding “No dudes, only girls!” In between songs the man would constantly initiate a call-and-response between the crowd along the lines of “I say major, you say Lazer” and at one point he requested that audience members get on each other’s shoulders. Though fun at first, his antics soon got tiring, and few people obliged his demands for jumping by the end of the show.
Throughout the evening, there was a lot of excited chatter over what is arguably Major Lazer’s best-known song,“Pon de Floor,” and when it would be played. “I bet they’ll wait till the end since it’s the best” said one pessimistic spectator. On several occasions, opening beats similar to that of “Pon de Floor” would cause people to perk up in anticipation, only to be disappointed seconds later. When the song’s infinitely catchy and danceable hook was finally heard, a united cry of recognition rang out. As energy levels hit a maximum, the now very sweaty crowd swayed to the beat, yelling their own, mostly unintelligible versions of the heavily Jamaican-accented lyrics.
In addition to several of their originals, Major Lazer remixed some familiar hits such as Tyga’s “Rack City” and Harlem up-and-comer A$AP Rocky’s dreamy and inexplicably smooth track “Peso.” These two cases coupled with the mayhem of “Pon de Floor” and the very well-executed final song,“Original Don” were powerful representations of the group’s ability to artfully combine current popular genres unconventionally with reggae. The outcome seen here was unanimously loud, different, catchy and a whole lot of fun.