When it comes to EDM, Hardwell actually seems like he’s all things to all people, as he showed Friday with his sold-out set at Sands Bethlehem Event Center.
In a set that just crept over 90 minutes (more about that later), Hardwell, who last year was chosen DJ Magazine’s top DJ in the world, offered a range of styles, mixed a bunch of musical genres, had more stage flash than ever, and even was a little experimental.
He offered hip-hop, sampling ASAP Rocky’s “F—kin’ Problems” fairly early and Fat Man Scoop’s “Put Your Hands Up” in the middle and a hugely thumping Alvaro and Mercer’s “Welcome to the Jungle, Bitch” late in the set.
He offered a lot of indie-pop, mixing Lana del Ray’s “Young and Beautiful” and a long offering of her “Summertime Sadness,” and an especially cool mix of Bastille’s “Pompeii” that made his set seem current and fresh.
He even reached into rock with Linkin Park’s “Numb,” R&B with Jay Z’s “Holy Grail” and straight-up pop with One Republic’s “If I Lose Myself Tonight.”
Of course, the majority of his set was electronic house music. He played his own single “Dare You,” DJ Calvin Harris‘s “Under Control” and Krewella’s “Alive.”
That gave Hardwell the opportunity to showcase a lot of electronic elements to his show: Lots of futuristic computer-esque “Tron” lights on his playboard and big screens behind him, strobes and an especially impressive laser show throughout nearly the entire show.
There also were occasional plumes of steam, and four (count ‘em) confetti blasts. The show essentially opened with a confetti blast, amid a rainstorm of lasers, after his simple introduction of “Welcome, Bethlehem.” Then that was followed quickly by a drop of paper streamers.
The 26-year-old Hardwell is a far more participatory DJ than his fellow Dutchman and mentor, Tiesto, who also sold out the event center in its first EDM show in February 2013.
While Tiesto seemed to concentrate on his mix, Hardwell was just as often jumping and waving his arms or instructing the crowd.
Fifteen minutes into his set, he had the crowd enthusiastically waving its arms – and mind you, this was nearly five hours into a night that opened with two regional DJs, then Hardwell’s main supports of fellow Dutch DJs Dannic and Dyro. That indicates how high-energy of a show it was.
Occasionally, Hardwell seemed to get sidetracked into the experimental or edgy – wholly replacing music with sound effects. Or reducing the music to a simple beat, to which Hardwell had the crowd wave its arms in the air.
Those forays, and the fact that Hardwell covered so much diversity in his set, exposed Hardwell’s one weakness: His set seemed far from cohesive, and instead seemed to jump from station to station. Hardwell’s performance seemed a much more cohesive concert.
But the truth is EDM – at least the concerts offered at Sands Bethlehem Event Center – is far more an experience than a concert. The volume was loud enough to make the walls, quite literally, vibrate.
The crowd, overwhelmingly college-aged, included many who were dressed in DayGlo colors, with lots of very short shorts (mean and women), glowing apparatuses (men and women), bunny ears (men and women) and even tutus (women only – I think).
Most definitely were there to party – security, which was proactive and swift to respond, escorted four people out past me before the first opening act and a couple later. A medical station in an adjoining room had steady clientele.
But with 3,500 people partying for six hours, the night was very controlled. It was much more an experience than a concert.
Fifteen minutes before the scheduled end of his set, Hardwell brought out his supporting acts Dannic and Dyro (he called the gathering “the Dutch Hose Mafia”) for Fat Boy Slim’s “Eat, Sleep, Rave Repeat” – an appropriate choice, since all three DJ’s played it in their sets.
That points out another weakness of the EDM experience – a lot of the music sounds alike, or at least very similar. Hardwell did a good job of diversifying his set, but after fives hours, it clearly wasn’t only the music that was driving the night. (Re-read the segment five paragraphs above.)
After two (count ‘em) more confetti drops, Hardwell reached the curfew hour of 2 a.m. – his set had started at 12:30 a.m., and even though he announced he was going to perform another song, the sound was cut off. He begged for one more minute and seemed to get it, but his sound was cut a second time at 2:30.
“That’s f—king amazing, that we cannot get one more song,” he told the crowd. “I’m sorry, the fire marshal is in the building and we need to quit.”
Sometimes there’s not enough time to be everything to everyone.
Of the supporting acts, Dannic was the better of the two. Perhaps because he was the earlier of the two, the crowd had more energy — literally hopping and jumping. His set was sometimes almost symphonic, edgy with a lot of electro, but also like Hardwell’s in his diversity.
He hopped from Tiesto’s “We Own the Night” to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “By the Way” and Daft Punk‘s “One More Time.”
Dyro did a lot of the same—he played “Never Say Goodbye,” his collaboration with Hardwell, and two Krewella songs—” I Live for the Night” and “Alive” – as well as REM’s “Losing My Religion.” But he didn’t seem to make quite the connection of the other two.