By Jared Alokozai
Last Friday night, over 5,000 people crammed into the Bren Events Center to revel in ASUCI’s biggest fall quarter production, Shocktoberfest. Thanks to the high-profile headliners, as usual, this year’s tickets sold out fast. Those lucky enough to get in inaugurated the upcoming basketball season before diving into the star-studded concert.
To kick the night off, UCI Athletics rolled out the Spirit Squad in full force: the dolled-up dance and cheer teams sporting sprightly spirit, the Anteater Band blaring brass and booming percussion and, of course, Peter the Anteater strutting around the court and working the crowd.
But despite resident broadcast announcer Robert Espero’s mic-savvy calls to action and free T-shirt-chucking, the crowd of ‘Eaters that night was less than impressed with UCI Athletics’ Midnight Madness. Even the cheer team’s stunningly aerodynamic routines seemed ill-matched to the event, which floundered somewhere between a pep rally, a cheer exhibition and an inauguration.
Most stayed seated, rising only to admire themselves twerking with Peter on the Bren’s suspended jumbo screen — should the camera land on them — to the band’s pepped-up remixes of dated top 40 hits and an incongruous club/dance mix of more recent chart-toppers. The music meant to ignite the crowd instead petered out under the too-bright stadium lights and anticipation for the headlining acts.
The familiarly heroic entrances of the men’s and women’s basketball teams elicited a more obvious crowd response; friendly shooting and dunking contests gave the crowd reasons to cheer. It was when the teams finished their charming dance number with UCI Athletics’ in-house hip-hop dance group MCIA that the lights were dimmed enough for the real party to start. Or, at least, ASUCI’s approximation of a party.
If the aim of Shocktoberfest is to inspire student unity through a huge dance party, then the Bren’s narrow auditorium seats and the concert’s VIP section deflated the high-minded dream. Of the over 5,000 attendees, only an enterprising and well-connected 200 or so, donning desirable holo-green wristbands, were permitted to mingle in true, united fashion in the walled and guarded mosh pit. A luxury mosh pit — only at UCI.
Vancouver-based producer Ekali took the strobe-lit stage first, and it didn’t take long for him to show why he’s one of the most sought-after producers of this year. His set was a masterclass in contemporary EDM — omni-referential samples cut up, reworked and laid over a heady drum n’ bass beat. Bren’s stadium-type seating made no sense to his set’s buildups and bass drops which evoked the feelings of a raucous, neon Coachella night concert. Compounding the awkwardly-compartmentalized crowd were at least a dozen cops in fully-armed regalia and event ushers stalking the thruways, obnoxiously glaring flashlights on partiers, demanding people not have too much fun lest they block the stairways. The fire marshall would have been proud of these literal fun police. After all, fire safety rightfully (lamely) trumps revelry.
But Ekali’s set managed to transcend the strictures of stratifying ticket prices and panoptic policemen, making nosebleed-seated ‘Eaters dance with almost as much enthusiasm as those crammed up at the stagefront. And the crowd, wherever they sat, cheered with fangirlish gusto once Vic Mensa, rising rap phenom from Chicago’s Southside, took to the stage.
Where Ekali chops vocal samples into stuttering dance numbers, Vic Mensa demands to be heard clearly. He is, at turns, a disaffected, cross-faded rockstar — sex and drugs and careless ennui — and a politically-charged entity outspoken about police brutality, especially of the sort that victimizes unarmed black men and women across the nation’s metropoles.
As he performed his song “16 Shots” (the title an oblique reference to fellow Chicagoan Laquan McDonald, who in 2014 was killed by a police officer; a total of 16 bullets fired) Vic Mensa laid on the stage as if it were a crime scene, in an act of protest to the sound of siren wails and police radio chatter. A bit awkward, considering the team of policemen prowling the perimeter of the Bren. The crowd, in sync with him, raised their smart phone flashlights in the air like lighters, or stars in mourning.
But just as soon as the atmosphere turned somber, the performer switched gears to sing “Stoner,” a new song about his cavalier tendency to smoke too much weed.
Content to leave the heavy lyrics to Vic Mensa, Atlanta-based duo Rae Sremmurd injected some much-needed, party-centric fun to the show as the finale, elevating Vic Mensa’s introspective party boy to a fantastical level. Providing much-needed levity, Rae Sremmurd coaxed the crowd to their feet with their charismatic single “Start A Party,” and deftly segued into another platinum-certified chart topper, “No Flex Zone.”
Enrobed in tattoos and muscle, the Southern brothers energetically and easily earned the crowd’s admiration, at one point tossing water bottles into the writhing mosh pit to hydrate their fans for the next hour of trap-inspired pop music. Swae Lee, one of the duo, went face to face with the front stage crowd, much to the delight of his fans and to the dismay of the leery security guards.
What can be said about Shocktoberfest than hasn’t been said before? This year’s lineup was accessible, edgy contemporary hip-hop, with nods to Shocktoberfest’s EDM past. But what is a set without a setting? And the setting, convenient as it is, leaves much to be desired.