Show Review: Madeon’s Pixel Empire Tour at Emo’s

French electro-house DJ and former teenage prodigy Madeon visited Austin last Friday on his Pixel Empire tour, the most recent incarnation of his immersive live show originally known as the Adventure Tour. I was fortunate enough to witness the debut performance of the Adventure Tour at the Warfield in San Francisco last year, so I was looking forward to seeing how much had changed in the intervening year (and 1,500 miles!).

Madeon's Pixel Empire Tour features impressive graphics that make great use of his stage rig.

Madeon’s Pixel Empire Tour features impressive graphics that make great use of his stage rig. © J.T. Fales

The answer is: not much! Apart from some new material and some token trap beats thrown in here and there, the show sticks with pretty much the same live setup and feel as the Adventure Tour. This would be disappointing if I didn’t already think the Adventure Tour is one of the best EDM experiences you can spend your money on outside of a festival right now.

Because there’s no denying it: Madeon (a.k.a. Hugo Lerclercq) has not only created a dazzling, slick, powerful stage rig that leaves you feeling guilty every time you pick up your phone to take a picture; he has also developed a level of showmanship and verve worthy of a veteran rock star. (Oh, here’s your obligatory reminder that the kid is only 21 years old.)

The Venue

Emo’s is a large boxy space, something like a warehouse, located in the Riverside neighborhood of Austin. It was my first time there so I can’t compare the atmosphere to that of other EDM shows at this venue, although the people around me in the 20-minute line kept mumbling that this was the biggest turnout they’d ever seen for a show at Emo’s. That as may be, the space was big enough that, there was still plenty of space for shuffling in the back.

The diverse crowd was relaxed, with people wearing everything from collared shirts to sweatpants. I spent the first half of the night on one side of the room, where I gradually realized that the sound quality was impaired. After I moved to the back-center, the show sounded much clearer, and hit much harder.

Madeon, a.k.a. Hugo Lerclercq, is the soul at the center of the audiovisual extravagance who generates an electricity all his own. © J.T. Fales

A Pixellated Adventure

Despite the new name, the Pixel Empire Tour is substantially similar to the Adventure Tour I saw last year. The stage is exactly the same, and since Madeon hasn’t actually released all that many songs, you’re guaranteed to hear all of his hits (“You’re On,” “The City,” “Finale“… you know the rest). That being said, Hugo dropped at least two new tracks for us, which while not particularly mind-blowing, at least held up to the standard of the rest of his oeuvre. (A Youtube tipster calls one of them “Albatross”.)

What makes the Pixel Empire/Adventure Tour stand out among the many EDM tours going on right now is the many live elements Madeon brings to it. At the heart of the show are the Novation samplers that made Madeon famous in the first place, which he uses to delay, stutter, rearrange, filter, and generally explode his songs into echoes of themselves. Hugo showcases his remixing skills in the live mashup of his first hit “Pop Culture,” which throws in 42 samples from well-known pop songs. The impressive act demonstrates his ability to turn even dry old material into juicy, exciting new flavors. I also noticed his presence on the keyboard much more prominently this time around (although whether there was actually more of it or whether I was just more aware of it I can’t say for sure). These kind of live elements make every night unique, and in a culture where DJ’s just “press play” even (and especially!) on the biggest stages in the world, seeing a musician perform live music and mashups over his own tracks is refreshing.

But the true soul of Madeon’s show is the man himself. Hugo is a small, skinny guy, but like Freddie Mercury, he turns his lithe, little body into an asset on stage. You can see the passion radiating from every inch of Madeon’s body as he jumps, spins, and reaches toward the ceiling. He is as in tune with his own music as computer with its CPU; as the music rises, drops, and bends, so does he, an avatar of his own sound. One tiny example of this was when the screen behind him quickly went to black, as if a curtain had been dropped over it, just as the music went quiet for a moment. As the light moved down the screen, so did Madeon’s hand in front of it, like he was going down with it, or even pushing it himself. It was an effect that lasted maybe half a second, but it’s the tiny, perfectly synchronized details like this that make his show so captivating.

It’s hard to look away from Madeon’s performance. © J.T. Fales

I noticed an overarching story as the graphics evolved over the course of the show from large two-dimensional pixellated displays to ever-finer boxy images and eventually three-dimensional shapes, landscapes, and more traditional animations. The fantasy worlds depicted onstage very clearly resemble those of Porter Robinson‘s Worlds Tour, but this isn’t surprising given the duo’s close ties and perhaps decade-long association. His other biggest influence, Daft Punk, is equally as clear in the Pixel Empire tour, as samples of and homages to the robot duo’s electro-house backcatalog are scattered like easter eggs throughout the show.

Worth Seeing A Second Time

Madeon has developed a unique live rig for his shows. © J.T. Fales

If you’ve already seen the Adventure Tour, this show won’t be a surprise for you. But I personally think it’s good enough to see multiple times. We’ve all been to shows where DJ’s play the same sets you saw them play a few weeks or months ago, where you find yourself asking what you just paid for. With the audiovisual extravagance of the Pixel Empire and Adventure Tours, Madeon has given us a special, unforgettable experience that is worth revisiting for the energy and the details.

Show Review: Madeon’s Adventure Tour Debut at the Warfield

On Friday night, Madeon kicked off his Adventure Tour with a highly-anticipated show at the Warfield in San Francisco, with SF natives The M Machine joining him as openers. In fact, there was so much pre-show buzz that the venue was moved from the Regency Ballroom to the Warfield in order to meet demand, according to the promoters. It was an interesting change, as the two venues are very different spaces, but in the end a welcome one, as the tiered, theater-style seating allowed much of the audience a great view of the show.

The M Machine: Hometown Heroes, Hampered as Openers

The M Machine took the stage a few minutes before 9 PM. During their hour-long set, the duo (until recently, a trio) played their best songs from their Just Like EP, including “Just Like,” “Don’t Speak,” and “Pluck Pluck,” plus some of their classic material from Metropolis parts I & II. Most of these got the remix treatment, though they did play the lush and funky “Immigrants” in its full, original glory. Among the non-M Machine tracks they played was Valentino Khan‘s “Deep Down Low.”

The show was held at the Warfield, a theater space, instead of the Regency Ballroom.

The show was held at the Warfield, a theater space, instead of the Regency Ballroom.

I had been excited to catch the guys at a rare hometown show, albeit as openers. When I saw them play at Ruby Skye on the 4th of July of last year, the audience had been sparse but passionate, freeing them to play a weird and impressively hard-hitting set. That same atmosphere did not carry over to the proscenium stage of the Warfield, unfortunately. While a certain portion of the crowd was definitely into it — even chanting “M Machine! M Machine!” at one point — the majority of people bobbed along to Eric and Swardy‘s unique brand of house music half-heartedly while waiting for Madeon to come on. Swardy seemed to acknowledge the lackluster reception at the end of the set, saying, “I know it’s early…” in a way that seemed to be part admonishment, part apology.

Madeon: His Own Secret Weapon

After a brief break to clear The M Machine’s gear, Madeon took to the stage in a leather jacket, unleashing his massive energy

Madeon's Adventure Tour rig invokes Daft Punk and Porter Robinson

Madeon’s Adventure Tour rig invokes Daft Punk and Porter Robinson

on the audience to the sounds of “You’re On” (feat. Kyan). He’s a tiny guy (and still not even drinking age!) which makes his incredible stage presence and clear enthusiasm all the more striking. Part of a DJ’s job is to lead the audience in energy, and even with a light show as elaborate as Madeon’s, if the DJ isn’t into it, the audience won’t be either. But from the second Madeon, a.k.a. Hugo Leclercq, strode on stage, it was clear that he was there with us and for us, just as excited for his tour’s debut as we were. Just moments into the show he was taking power stances, throwing his arms up into the air, leading the audience in rounds of clapping, and even throwing his arms out to the side in classic Armin van Buuren style. His intensity was on the level of the greatest of live DJs like Seven Lions and Skrillex, and like Skrillex inside his mothership, Madeon served as the beating human heart of the epic stage rig, from which all the energy in the room ultimately flowed.

Touring Under the Influence (of Daft Punk and Porter Robinson)

For the tour, which supports his brand new, #1 albumAdventure, Madeon has built a stage rig to rival the most famous setups of EDM stars like Feed Me and Sub Focus. The stage itself, all angles with diamond structure surrounding the DJ, seems to invoke Daft Punk‘s unparalleled Alive 2007 rig. In fact, it’s clear that Daft Punk is this fellow French producer’s biggest artistic influence, from his funky electro-house sound, to the live triggering that makes up the backbone of his show. There was a moment where I was sure he was going to drop “Robot Rock,” and, as the video below makes clear, some of the lighting effects on his rig seemed to be a direct homage to the androids’ Alive tour (compare to footage of Daft Punk’s live “Television Rules the Nation/Crescendolls” mashup).

The rig also strongly resembles Porter Robinson‘s Worlds setup (another influence and a close friend of Madeon’s). The main difference here is that Worlds is an artistic statement in which Porter strives to distance himself from his electro-house past, while Madeon fully embraces his sonic origins with the Adventure Tour, bringing you a stunning spectacle that is ultimately all about dance music.

A Stage Show for the Ages

IMG_8987The stage rig included what seemed to be a couple of laptops, three midi controllers (including the Novation Launchpad that helped launched his fame with his “Pop Culture” Youtube video), a keyboard, and a microphone. Madeon performs with the midi controllers tipped towards the audience, which is an awesome touch. It of course helps show off the undeniable technical ability that sets him apart from “button pusher” DJs, but I also like that it celebrates the small, beautiful wonder of midi controllers themselves: you can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on building fancy stage setups, but at the end of the day, most of what’s coming out of the speakers is reproducible on that one tiny, light-up device.

Welcome to the Madeon Show

The song selection was almost all Madeo and included plenty of live exclusives. One of the age-old criticisms of DJs is that, unlike instrumentalists, they’re not creating anything onstage – just reproducing things. Madeon knocks down that criticism handily, crafting one-off remixes of his tracks using his midi controllers as a canvas. He went most wild with “Technicolor,” leaving aside the melody of the recorded version to improvise the lead onstage.

Song selections included “You’re On,” “Cut the Kid,” “Imperium,” “The City,” “Raise Your Weapon,” “Pay No Mind,” and “Finale.” (I was secretly hoping to hear him drop some Lady Gaga, whose recent album ARTPOP he contributed to but alas, it was not so.) The audience cheered loudly when he dropped “Pop Culture” itself in a deftly reproduced live mashup.

Madeon kicked off his Adventure Tour at the Warfield in San Francisco on April 10th

Madeon kicked off his Adventure Tour at the Warfield in San Francisco on April 10th

One of the best surprises of the night was when he brought the energy down low, turned to the keyboard, and started to sing over the smooth tones of a Rhodes to “Home.” It was a special moment, even if I couldn’t make out the lyrics due to a buzzing crowd.

A Show for the Ages

Madeon brought his A-game for the first night of the Adventure Tour, and I’m confident that his passion will continue to make this show come alive for all audiences over the coming months. It had everything you want in a live show: great music, spectacular visuals, high energy, and an excited crowd, plus live creations and exclusives. The tickets for this show got pricey ($52 for the most expensive seats), but if you can scrounge up the cash, I highly, highly recommend going for the experience. You will not regret it.

Below is the Snapchat story I took during the night, including The M Machine’s and Madeon’s performances. If you want to catch these stories as they happen, follow me on Snapchat at theedmist.