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DubEra Exclusive: SUNSET MUSIC FESTIVAL (Review)

This past weekend, thousands of people flocked to Raymond James Stadium but this time for a reason other than football and monster trucks. The Sunset Music Festival line up was released months ago and with the help of promoters and local talent across the state it became electronic music’s #1 destination for Memorial Day weekend. With three stages, beautiful Floridians, great weather and killer after parties, this past Saturday was a perfect as our beaches and winter weather.

The first act I caught was Nervo. The insanely sexy duo pumped up the crowd at the hottest point of the day with their brand of girly house music. They began their set by prefacing that they would be playing some new tunes they’ve never played in Tampa, which is always cool. Nervo’s spunky energy, good looks and friendly music were enough to keep a thick crowd despite a merciless sun reaching nearly 100 degrees.


We walked around the festival and saw the most interesting DJ of the event, 6-year DJ Junior (pictured). This young lad mixed through a hit electro house set with only a little bit of help. It was one of the craziest things I’ve honestly ever seen in my life.

Following Nervo on the main stage was Nicky Romero. Having heard about the epic night that took place at Vain Nightclub the night before, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about.

Romero definitely killed it with the bassy electro that’s caused tracks like “Generation 303” and “Toulouse” to climb the beatport charts and sneak their way in to DJ sets across the world. While his set was strong, there were disturbing visuals of the twin towers on fire at one point during his set. Personally, it confused the hell out of me and pissed a few people off. It honestly put a damper on his set.

When Romero was through, the names got bigger and set times conflicted more and more. Music festivals always hit you with hard decisions of whose set to see and whose to skip. Luckily, the simple and small layout of Sunset allowed concertgoers to see mostly everyone they wanted to see without spending an absurd amount of time walking from stage to stage. It was relatively uncrowded and only about a 5 minute walk between the main stage, bass stage and Florida stage.

The bass stage had a handful of interesting acts to come through and drop bombs in a fairly intimate setting. It was a fun break from the primary 4×4 song structure of the main stage. We caught a really cool breaks DJ called Krafty Kutz that I had never heard of. As far as DJ techniques go, he was probably the best at Sunset. He was scratching and sampling every other act out of Tampa, quite literally. However in a day and age where live talent goes largely unnoticed, he had a small but dedicated crowd during his set that included breaks re-rubs and mash-ups of Pendulum’s “The Island”, Busta Rhymes’ “Pass the Courvoisier Pt II”, Skrillex’s “Reptile” and many more. He had a ton of old school hip hop samples and as a hip hop head, it was a refreshing sound for the festival. If you’ve never heard of Krafty Kutz, you should check him out here.

Paul Van Dyk dropping some grade A trance as the festival cools down and the sun sets

During the festival prime time the main stage got to see Gabriel & Dresden, Tommy Trash and Paul Van Dyk prepare the crowd for the mental frenzy Alesso was about to send the crowd in. Paul Van Dyk’s trance super set during sunset (the sun actually setting) was one of the more memorable parts of the entire festival. However, Alesso got the crowd stirred up like no other.

Playing cuts from Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia, Avicii and his own, Alesso had the crowd singing and dancing the entire time. As far as the progressive house sound goes, he definitely does it just as good as any you’ve seen. A personal favorite was the mix of “Around The World” with “Raise Your Head”, but with a set so packed with fun bootlegs, I’m sure everyone has a special moment for themselves.

Alesso’s set ended and a Wiz Khalifa track came on the PA. Followed by an Atmosphere song. There was a Kanye track in there. It was clear something a little groovier, a little funkier was about to take place. No stranger to Pretty Lights, I was really excited to see my main attraction to the Sunset Music Festival.

Pretty Lights taking concertgoers on a ride through the galaxy

The lights dimmed and the massive Derek Vincent Smith came on stage to introduce himself to the Tampa faithful with Raymond James Stadium as the backdrop. He busts in to “I Know The Truth”, but just a little taste of it. He isn’t going to spoil us with that quite yet. He transitions into “Hot Like Sauce” and started the funky ride. He started really really soft and smooth, and for a legitimate reason.

It was clear that Derek was weeding out the people who were there to “rage” to make room for that really heady crowd he likes to vibe with. With Alesso preceding him and Datsik playing just across the field, it wasn’t too hard to do. Soon the plethora of neon rage hats migrated to something that was a little harder and there is no problem with that. Just as they moved on, the rest of us had room to breathe and were finally moving as well.

Pretty Lights’ live mixes are always a little different than the tracks you have downloaded free (and legally) to your iTunes. There’s Gang Starr verses peppered in here, soul samples switched around there, certain parts are longer and others shorter. One thing I absolutely noticed is Derek’s new found love for talking to the crowd. He was constantly shouting out Tampa and getting the crowd worked up right before his signature glitchy drops. While I was too busy enjoying myself to try and pin an exact set list down, highlights included “High School Art Class”, “You Get High”, “I Can See It In Your Face”, “Finally Moving”, “The Time Has Come”, “How We Do”, “Ask Your Friends”, and plenty more.

One of Pretty Lights’ amazing visual backdrops

A certain highlight to me was the dramatic remix of Pink Floyd’s “Time”. While his sick remixes of Stever Miller Band, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nine Inch Nails, Run DMC, Led Zeppelin and John Denver were all absent, he did give us his remix to the Dark Side of the Moon classic. Having just seen the Flaming Lips perform it less than a week earlier at Hangout Music Festival, it was a really special track for me to hear. As Derek put it we “gave respect where respect is due”. Amen to that.

The finale of Pretty Lights set finished the same way it started. “I Know The Truth” was dropped and anyone who thought Mr. Smith forgot about his dubstep opus was pleased to scream “No Mercy” along with thousands of other party people. The long, wild day finally came to a close with a big bang.

However, with official after parties at The Amp in Ybor City (featuring Dallas K, Tommy Trash and Alesso) and right down the street (with GRiZ & Crizzly), the party was far from over. We head back to the hotel and drank some beers to get ready for the latter of the two.

When I walked in to Hawaiian Village and saw the massive pool party, it was game over. Unfortunately, I missed a large part of GRiZ’s set, but when Crizzly dropped Bassnectar’s “Wildstyle Method” I couldn’t help but to cannonball in the deep end. My friends quickly followed and we splashed around in the pool, drinking till nearly 3am as Crizzly served us up the illest hip hop / dubstep / drumstep / drum & bass mash ups we’d ever heard. It was the perfect and only way to end such an legendary day.


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