a-trak chooses the 5 greatest festival sets he's ever seen
(not including his own, of course)
Photo by Matthew Williams
On September 7, the fifth annual Fool's Gold Day Off will take over Brooklyn Live at The Inlet with a versatile showcase of some of the most thrilling names in hip-hop and electronic music. The lineup includes Meek Mill, Post Malone, Flatbush Zombies, Skepta, and of course Fool's Gold founder A-Trak, who's transformed his record label into a full-blown cultural force, responsible for breaking acts like Run the Jewels, A$AP Rocky, and Travi$ Scott.
Since beginning his career as Kanye West's tour DJ and evolving into a headlining act in his own right, A-Trak has spent the better part of the last decade at festivals around the world. So in honor of his own festival this coming Labor Day, we asked the Brooklyn-based DJ, producer, and fledgling mogul to hit us with the five most transcendent festival sets he's ever witnessed.
Outkast @ Audiotistic, SoCal 2002
Festivals changed a lot in the last 15 years. There were a couple promoters who were throwing raves in the '90s who transitioned into cleaner, more organized events in the early 2000s. Audiotistic was one of those, in SoCal. I think it was in San Bernardino. You would find a mix of “electronica” DJs (remember that term?), turntablists, and mid-sized rap acts beloved by all. I played this festival and stuck around to watch a bunch of my favorite groups perform, including The Roots and Outkast. This was before Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, right when the group was about to hit their creative peak. “Bombs Over Baghdad” was already out for at least a year, and they just seemed unstoppable. I clearly remember Andre rocking his silver wig, Big Boi holding down the player persona, I think they had a horn section, they definitely had dancers. It’s rare for rap groups to expand on the formula and to get it right. A lot of backing bands end up sounding like gospel church bands. But OutKast (in their prime) were tight—it’s still one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
The Strokes @ Summersonic, Japan 2011
I played this festival with a couple of other DJ friends and wandered off to watch other acts. All the DJs were on one stage, but we wanted to see some bands, so we ventured through some Japanese shrubbery into a Japanese stadium. My friend DJ Mehdi was with me, rest in peace. I was a Strokes fan since their first album, but never got to see them live in that era. I always heard about how tight they were, how it sounded “just like the albums”—which isn’t always the objective with every band, but for them, having such rigid form to their music, that’s how you wanted to hear them. And finally, 10 years after Is This It, I got to watch them in Japan. And it was perfect.
Juicy J @ Fool’s Gold Day Off, New York 2011
On our second year of organizing Fool’s Gold Day Off, we were all banging Juicy J’s Rubba Band Business 1& 2 mixtapes that summer, which were his first true forays as a solo artist after Three 6 Mafia. I knew Juicy a bit from my years touring with Kanye and rubbing shoulders with rappers, so I reached out to try to book him. He wasn’t with an official booking agent; you just had to call his homie Ray. And Ray would negotiate a price, but then you’d call him back to do a contract and he’d give you a different price. I remember Juicy was surprised that we wanted to bring him to New York. He wasn’t sure if people in New York really knew his records then. It would be his first solo show there. I don’t think he realized the power of the Internet generation. When he performed, the crowd rapped along to every word. They even knew the Bombay Gin dance from his videos. And a then-bubbling A$AP Rocky came through and just hung out on stage during his set. It felt great having an idea based on our read of the zeitgeist and having it work out!
Chromeo @ Coachella, 2014
For those who don’t know, my brother is onw-half of the band Chromeo. So as you can imagine, I’ve seen the band evolve from Montreal sideproject to indie-dance 2009 blog favorites, to what they’ve now become, which is this finely tuned touring machine with a song that broke into top-40 lists last year, after more than 10 years of doing their own funky thing. The Coachella organizers must have sensed the band’s new growth when they decided to put them on the main stage last year, and I just feel like they delivered straight to the bullseye. It was amazing to watch them pack a bigger punch and for it to work!
Richie Hawtin presents Plastikman @ DEMF, Detroit 2010
In the landscape of DJs at electronic music festivals, there’s basically two kinds: The ones who play the big jams to make the crowd go crazy, and the ones who put on an artistic show and lure you into their world. In the latter category few are as respected as the techno don Richie Hawtin. It’s fitting that I saw him in Detroit too, in the mecca. I can appreciate all kinds of DJs, but once in a while it’s good to go see the purest of the pure and to dip your toes in the holy water. He performed inside this sort of cylinder of lights, and it was translucent: Sometimes you could see his silhouette in the middle, like the brain. At one point towards the end of the performance, he walked out of the thing, up to the front of the stage looking particularly human after that long sci-fi experience, and did a song standing up there with a simple drum machine. It was so cool.