Live: Mad Decent Block Party in New York

Photographer Geordie Wood
August 07, 2012

At Puma’s Mad Decent Block Party in New York, a proud father in a Jaylib shirt and a Dilla hat unloaded his fourish-year-old son from his shoulders and readjusted the boy's lime green ear muffs, posing him for a picture with two teen girls in sports bras. The rim around Williamsburg Park, with its pale blue concrete floor, was dotted in sandwich trucks, foosball tables and small circles of suntanned tank-top wearers splayed on their backs. More than one woman brought a hula hoop, and more than one wore a trucker hat that said "Dirty & Filthy & Grimey & Dubstep" (sic). But you didn't really see Diplo. The Mad Decent brand's founder and face spent most of the day tucked somewhere backstage, and only appeared once near a microphone, to announce the festival's evacuation, due to lightning, just minutes before his duo Major Lazer was scheduled to perform. Essentially without its figurehead, the day was de-centered, but also more traditionally block party-like, best enjoyed in weirdly overlapping, sun-baked small groups of friends.

Besides Major Lazer, the most anticipated set was from Riff Raff, making what I believe was his New York debut. Despite booing and at least one stage-thrown bottle in Philly, the day before, the New York crowd seemed to receive Riff Raff warmly—lots of "Look at this guy! Have you seen his YouTubes?" and a few people rapping along. He didn't perform his first song; he just played it from the speakers. Between tracks, his camera-posing seemed nervous, like an attempt to fill time without using the microphone. Once, in the middle of a verse, he stopped rapping to whisper to the DJ. Riff Raff's surreal mannerisms make him a singular figure online, where every video is like its own bizarre world, but in the festival context, with dissimilar artists performing on both sides and skeptical, normal people in the crowd, his alien awkwardness drowns out the hammed-up confidence. He looks lonely. After Riff Raff finished, the first song Lunice played was Machinedrum's "#SWAGFUNERAL."

Lunice was impish and invigorating, his set like an inflating balloon. After cuing a song, he'd confidently bounce across the stage and flap his arms, and upon spotting a transfixed camera, lock eyes with the lens and high-kick towards it. It was hot, and Lunice's ever-whipping neck was surely sore, but his energy was high, only to be topped by Bonde do Rolê, the Brazilian group that followed him. For a group who performs in Portuguese and without a release in four years, Bonde do Rolê were granted a high spot in the lineup, just third from the top, and they made strange use of the spotlight, stumbling into each other erotically before unveiling an array of filthy props. As the set progressed, the sleaze level escalated over and over, with shaken beer cans and jugs of milk dumped over heads, and a milk-filled water gun with a white dildo strapped to the end variously shot and sucked. The gang of photographers who'd pushed to the front of the crowd retreated 15 feet back, out of the spray zone.

During Erol Alkan's set, which would turn out to be the day's last, the darkening sky dropped a few alligator tears, and at first sight of lightning, the show was cancelled. From the stage, Major Lazer told the confused crowd they would play for free at Music Hall of Williamsburg, a few blocks away, then the skies opened for a torrential downpour. The mob charged into the empty streets like bugs poured into an ant farm, blindly wriggling down every available street, an increasingly sopped and let-down mass looking for a party, not sure where it was.

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Live: Mad Decent Block Party in New York