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.

Episode 3 of the EDMist Podcast Now Available

In Episode 3 of the EDMist Podcast, I talk with music critic Matt Bessey about the big stories of 2015. We discuss how Jack Ü, aka Skrillex and Diplo, reshaped the musical scene this year, and tackle the controversy surrounding their mega successful collab with Justin BieberWhere are U Now?” I ask Matt about the breakout artists of 2015, which he says include Lane 8 and Madeon (but you already knew that) , and he names a drum and bass album of the year: City of Gold by the PrototypesTowards the end we tackle the question of what genres will blow up in 2016 and where we see the EDM scene headed (hint: more diversity, which is a good thing).

This episode includes seven featured songs. They are:

1. “Blue Sky Action (Logistics Remix)” – Above & Beyond
2. “Beats Knockin” (feat. Fly Boi Keno) – Jack Ü
3. “Get Free/Cinema VIP” – Skrillex & Diplo
4. “Ok” – Madeon
5. “Urban Monks” – Jayeson Andel
6. “Slip Away” – The Prototypes
7. “Do You?” – TroyBoi

We recorded over an hour and a half of audio for this episode, which I whittled down to 34 minutes in the final cut. That means that people who follow The EDMist on Soundcloud may find some exclusive bonus content from the episode over the coming days. 😉

Let me know what you think of the podcast! Give us a shoutout on Twitter at @theEDMist or Snapchat at “theEDMist.”

Happy 2016!

The 5 Best Artist Albums of 2015

Above & Beyond at Bill Graham Civic Center. Photo credit: Drew Ressler/rukes.com.

Above & Beyond at Bill Graham Civic Center, San Francisco, in 2015. Photo credit: Drew Ressler/rukes.com.

The best-albums-of-the-year list is as traditional to a music blog around the new year as the ball-drop is to New York City. But it’s a bit of a different exercise in the EDM world, since albums are not a native format for electronic music. EDM as we know it sprouted in the underground, where the album-driven format of the traditional music industry was shunned in favor of sample-heavy, one-off tracks from bedroom producers. It’s only in recent years as EDM has gone fully mainstream that electronic artists have adopted the album as a way of packaging their work. That has led to a new kind of dynamic in the music world: whereas once albums were seen as the baseline for musical legitimacy, now they have become a badge of honor among electronic artists. A producer with an album can say that they dedicated themselves to a long-term project instead of just a string of singles. They can also use the format to show off a deeper artistic vision than they would be able to exhibit through one-off songs.

Consider, for example, two of the artists on the list below. Although Skrillex almost single-handedly lit the EDM explosion in America, it wasn’t until last year that he completed an album. Similarly, Madeon has been a big name in the scene since 2011, and even produced hits for Lady Gaga before finally releasing a debut album this year. Nobody questioned the credibility of either of these artists before they released their first LPs, but now that they have, their brand and carries extra weight and legitimacy.

Interestingly, 2015 seems to mark the first year where you can find electronic artists introducing themselves to the scene through an LP instead of through one-off productions. A prime example of this is another artist on this list, Jayeson Andel, whose album Urban Monks is a stunner of a work, although he has yet to achieve any kind of serious name recognition. This speaks to the increasing dominance of the independent dance music labels, some of whom have now become powerful enough to finance artists in the more traditional way of bankrolling a first LP before profiting off of their later success either as producers or DJs.

Because the role of the album is different in dance music, I actually think the criteria for what makes a good album have been raised. It’s no longer enough just to throw a bunch of cool songs together in one bundle. Nero did that this year with Between II Worlds, and the result is an ultimately forgettable collection of decent standalone tunes, and a significant step down from their whopper of a debut album, Welcome Reality. If producers who take the time to craft full albums want to be seen as true artists, then we need to judge them according to the rules of the art form. And this blogger is more than happy to do the judging.

So, which albums killed it in 2015? I’ve put together a list of my five favorite albums from this year, in no particular order. To make it on this list, each album had to fulfill three basic criteria: Is the album a significant artistic achievement? Does the collection form a coherent whole? And, overall, is the album worth spending some time with (i.e., would I recommend it to non-fans)?

The following albums answer those questions with yes, yes, and hell yes. I hope you’ll give them a spin, support these great artists, both newcomers and well-known heavyweights, and appreciate what they brought to the table in 2015.

The Best EDM Artist Albums of 2015

Above & Beyond, We Are All We Need


Having now built up an empire around the Group Therapy name from their last record (#ABGT for short), the pressure was on Above & Beyond to deliver something as punchy, polished, and memorable for their next studio album – and that they did. 2015’s We Are All We Need is full of arena-sized tunes designed for maximum singalong potential. With knockout favorites like the (almost) title track, “We’re All We Need,” the dark and delicious “Sticky Fingers,” and the radio-friendly “Blue Sky Action,” We Are All We Need stocks the pantry with plenty of treats for fans to savor for years to come. This album was certainly the highlight of the year in the trance and progressive corner of the scene, but also grabbed some mainstream attention with a grammy nomination. I also want to point out that this album is a whopper, clocking in at over 1 hour and 11 minutes long. If you’re going to charge fans a hefty amount for an album, I like to be sure what I’m buying has some value to it, and the prolific British trio have definitely packed in the tunes on this one.

Listen to We Are All We Need on Spotify.

Jack Ü, Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü

This album shares the title of “Most anticipated album of 2015” with We Are All We Need. But unlike A&B, who took their record in a safe and conservative direction, Skrillex and Diplo dropped into the scene like a grenade, introducing wild new timbres and beats that set the EDM world – and mainstream radio – on fire. From the juicy, hollow snares of “Take Ü There” and “Mind” to the sampled and re-sampled horns of “Febreeze” and “To Ü” and especially to the modulated flute-like lead sound of “Where are Ü Now,” the sounds, beats, and textures here are fresh, firey, and a little frightening all at once.

This is of course what Skrillex is best at, and it’s in no small part thanks to his passion for weird, challenging, forward-thinking sounds that the music in our scene continues to diversify and push forward to new and exciting frontiers. When I heard that the OWSLA head and his good friend Diplo, a.k.a. captain of the Mad Decent juggernaut, were teaming up for a music project, I set my expectations high, and I was thrilled to see the breakthrough success these two achieved with this album.

Of course, this epic pairing also smashed taboos by inviting the much-reviled teen hearthrob Justin Bieber to collab with them on the unexpected song of the summer, “Where are Ü Now.” And that song? That song went platinum and also earned this trio a grammy nom. While the song had plenty of detractors, their criticisms seemed to boil down to “It’s Justin Bieber!” I applaud all of the artists involved for ignoring the haters and taking on real musical and social challenges. While it may not have been my favorite music of the year, it’s undeniable that Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü was the defining album of 2015.

Listen to Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü on Soundcloud.

Madeon, Adventure

Adventure is the long overdue debut album from French electro house wunderkind Madeon, a.k.a. Hugo Leclercq. When he burst onto the scene with his legendary live “Pop Culture” mashup video in 2011, it was clear that Madeon was special. Since then, he’s a distinct style that fuses elements of house, electro, disco, and funk to create something bouncy and irresistibly danceable. Adventure is the synthesis of that sound and a manifesto of his signature style. Which means, basically, that it’s great as you’d expect.

Before releasing Adventure, Madeon was able to attain stratospheric levels of fame despite having a very short discography. Singles from him have been as welcome as they have been infrequent. So it was with all the fervor of a Thanksgiving dinner guest that I dug into the cornucopia of music Hugo released this year. Happily, Adventure is not only an excellent compilation of some of the best music we already knew (“You’re On,” “The City,” “Finale”), but introduced plenty of other versatile songs to flesh out his repertoire and discography.

I can’t mention this album without talking about the next-level live show that Madeon gave us along with it. If you haven’t seen the Adventure Tour (now the Pixel Empire Tour), do yourself a favor and buy a ticket immediately. The Adventure Tour is hands down the best show I saw in 2015 and you won’t regret going to see it.

Listen to Adventure on Spotify.

Jaytech, Awakening

This one is so fresh out of the oven you can still hear it crackling. Jaytech’s second album, Awakening, is a solid step up from 2012’s Multiverse, with an altogether more progressive, energizing, and visionary sound. Awakening is a concept album built around the question of what music will sound like in the future. This is a difficult concept to tackle directly (in fact, I’d say Jack Ü’s album is the most wholly futuristic – that is, the weirdest – album released this year). So Jaytech attacks it in a practical way by using a futuristic musical vocabulary to articulate his vision of the world to come. This means that he actually digs back in time to find sounds that promised an exciting future – specifically, back to around 2012, when complextro and dubstep were new and cool and decidedly futuristic. It’s a strategy that works: the outcome is a project that sounds familiar and modern but hints at a world more technological and overwhelming than our own.

The sparky vibe of this album is energized by dubstep-inspired growling basses that add some oomph behind Jaytech’s hopeful melodies, peppered through with complextro accents that recall the glory days of Porter Robinson and Wolfgang Gartner. Many of the track titles imply movement or a journey, which hints at the unique strength that Jaytech brings to full effect on this album, which is that his songs build and climax: each one is a mini arc within a larger story (like, say, books of the Odyssey).

The dubstep undercurrent culminates in the slow and heartfelt “My Heart Goes Out.” As for the complextro flavors, “Future Story” makes heavy use of sidechaining for some solidly pumping synth lines like the best progressive house songs of the early 2010s. The vocalized guitar riffs of “Odyssey” recall Jaytech’s older track “Pyramid.” “Yugen” and “Darkscape” would not be out of place on a Final Fantasy soundtrack. “Awakening” is probably the closest thing to “classic” Jaytech, with some vocals in the background recalling sonic themes used throughout Multiverse.

Two things make this album an improvement on Multiverse. The first is the switch from bouncy reese basses to growly dubstep basses. They add a real grit and energy to the music that propels it forward into the future. Second, while Multiverse certainly had a coherent sound, it was an incestuous aesthetic that trapped itself within the walls of that record, like a too-exclusive niche genre room off to the side of the big room. Some tracks there could serve double duty as singles, but most of them are sort of blah and not really worth listening to outside of the album. Awakening successfully walks that fine line of building a collection that can be enjoyed piece by piece, song by song, but whose beauty is enhanced by enjoying the album as a whole.

If you are looking for a record to give you an optimistic start to the new year, this is the album you want to check out. (And by the way – if you love Jaytech as much as I do, consider signing up to become a patron of his monthly radio show on Patreon for early access to his mixes and other exclusives.)

Listen to Awakening on Spotify.

Jayeson AndelUrban Monks

Jayeson Andel is certainly one of the breakout artists of 2015. When he started getting airplay in support of this album, I couldn’t believe someone with such a lush, soulful, and polished sound wasn’t already standing out among the legions of copycat progressive house songs saturating the progressive podcast circuit today. His debut work Urban Monks is a richly textured record full of deep grooves and delicious trip hop beats. This is straight up groove porn, with bass lines as luscious as a Kardashian booty.

Despite being an instrumental album, the crunching, squelching melodies riding on top of every song nevertheless seem to communicate with all the emotion of a seasoned vocalist. The twitchy, otherworldly electric soundscape of “Follow the Firefly Lanterns” got a well deserved round of heavy airplay on a bunch of podcasts this year, and is a great song to start with if you’ve never heard of this guy before.

With notes of Pretty Lights and Jaytech, Andel’s sound is familiar enough and yet altogether unique and supremely confident. From the childlike optimism suffusing the the opening track, “We’ll Build it Here,” to the reflective arpeggios of the closer, “Awe (Part II),” Urban Monks is brimming with emotion and verdant with sonic scenery, and is worth a deep exploration.

Listen to Urban Monks on Soundcloud.

Notable mentions

Matt Lange, Ephemera

This is a dark, beautiful, and expertly crafted album. I love the consistent feel of the whole thing, and to be sure it’s great to just press play, sit back, and listen to it. That being said, there are a few standout tracks here – most notably “My Love Aside” and the haunting “Inside My Head.”

Listen to Ephemera on Soundcloud.

ArtyGlorious

Consistent hitmaker Arty released his first album this year, and considering the relative diversity of sounds in his extensive back catalog, I was surprised at how well it came together. Full of his melodic, piano-driven tunes, and reinforced by the work of many talented vocalists, this Avicii-flavored album is definitely a delight for the melodic-minded.

Listen to Glorious on Spotify.

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.