Cosmic Opera Act I at Hammerstein Ballroom: a solid rave with unrealized potential

From the beginning, Cosmic Opera branded itself as something more than the traditional rave. Promises of acrobatics, 3D imagery, and a complete “extrasensory experience,” had enough people interested: the first date sold out nearly instantly and a second show was promptly added. Deniz Koyu opened for Axwell on night one, which didn’t leave the best taste in many people’s mouths. (Our own Andrew Spada described it as “paying to see a dress rehearsal.”) Thankfully, we went on night two, when Thomas Gold joined Axwell to give Hammerstein Ballroom a second go. Yes, Cosmic Opera was supposed to be the fairy tale EDM show that everyone wanted to fall in love with — and it did succeed on many accounts. But there are also some serious flaws with the first go around, and we hope they can fix them for round two.

Hammerstein Ballroom is a beautiful venue that was definitely not the usual spot for a New York City rave and we were expecting to be blown away by the physical production. There was so much potential given its grandeur and size, but it didn’t have the “wow” factor we were expecting — or should we say where we were expecting. An underwhelming spider web-inspired DJ booth was perched front and center on a particularly bare-looking stage, and a modest light truss hung up front. The majority of the heavy-duty installations took place in the back of the venue, which had a whopping three balconies. We’re told there were four enormous 3D mapping projectors set up for the stage and sides, but it didn’t work properly with all the lasers and fog. It was more pronounced on the side balconies and back of the venue, but its failure to show up on stage was a disappointment.

The usual assortment of lasers beamed onto the crowd from both the front and back, but the focal point of the entire setup actually hung from Hammerstein’s ceiling. A gigantic disco ball towards the back of the venue was surrounded by shimmering strings of threaded crystals that reflected light in every direction. It was stunning to look at — and probably not cheap — but its placement far away from the stage further compounded the disconnect in the show’s design. To make things worse, the truss obstructed the view of the stage in the upper balconies. If it returns for act two, we’d like to see this whole contraption moved front and center where it belongs.

Around 10:30PM the music stopped completely for a brief interlude of three Cirque du Soleil-style acrobats who descended from above the center of the crowd. A somewhat awkward conductor stood on stage as the women contorted on dangling ribbons to opera-esque music. Acrobats at EDM shows almost always add to the experience, but the entire event came to a stop while they did their performance. Multiple people around us expressed interest for the first minute or so, but it quickly became apparent that the downtempo interlude wasn’t working and that people wanted some bass. Next time the acrobatics should be integrated into the DJ sets — not bring them to a halt.

Thomas Gold rarely (read: never) disappoints in his livesets, and he made the most of his 90 minutes after No_ID (who we unfortunately didn’t get to see). He opened with a special edit of his remix to Lady Gaga’s “Judas” infused with opera-style elements, and there was even a sequence from the Broadway classic Cats. The set employed the usual array of impressive bootlegs, but the heaping dose of brand new music made it difficult for us to keep up. A definite highlight was his mashup of “Pressure” with Afrojack’s “Lionheart,” and he even played a special private bootleg of “We Found Love.” We caught up with Thomas after the show where he owned up to playing unreleased tracks from friends like Jus Jack, and also took the opportunity to nag ask him about a “Sing 2 Me” release date (there still isn’t one). He also revealed that a new track he played with the “We Are Your Friends” acapella is currently called “Meow” — though the name could seemingly change before release.

Afrojack – Lionheart (Original Mix)

As Thomas’ set came to a close, a spotlight illuminated a futuristic / intergalactic opera singer on the third balony. After the awkwardly slow descent singing an unrecognizable tune, she was whisked to the stage. The spider web was split in half to reveal the conductor’s platform: a golden DJ booth disguised as an organ with maestro Axwell front and center. A perfectly-placed mirror was erected behind him and angled just right so that you could see exactly what was happening on the CDJs. It was the most unique element we’ve seen in an EDM production in a very long time.

Axwell opened with his biggest track of the moment, “In My Mind,” which has already received the coveted Anthem Status badge from DA and therefore needs no other introduction. He shuffled into a creative bootleg of Eric Prydz’s “2Night” with the “Together” acapella before dropping “Hertz” and “Resurrection.” He then played the all-new “Greyhound” track from Swedish House Mafia, which still has a weird name (but also kind of rocks). As he transitioned into “Calling,” he thanked everyone for coming — much like he did at MSG.

The rest of the set was filled with the tracks you would expect from one of the Swedish House Mafia boys at this point: “Antidote,” “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” and Qulinez “Troll” for example. Still, there were some interesting bootlegs like “Walking Alone” with “Miami 2 Ibiza,” and Faithless’ “Insomnia” with “Coming Home” and “Aerodynamic.” He of course dropped his remix of “Teenage Crime,” and the awesome SHM bootleg of “Bullet” with “I Love You So” and Nero’s “Promises.” At one point towards the end of the set, another acrobat dancer descended from the ceiling along with fake snowflakes. In the heat of the moment we were fooled by the faux precipitation, but the New York Times was quick to point out its true breakdown.

The first coming of Cosmic Opera was a solid dance music show, but it was also a classic case of over-promising and under-delivering. It had many of the right elements in place — the venue, the lights, the visuals, and the music — but they just weren’t in the right place, and the event fell short because of it. That said, there is a lot of potential here, but Cosmic Opera first needs to decide what it wants to be. Organizers can fix the lighting issues and bring in more stuff, but then it will still only be an EDM show in Hammerstein Ballroom. To truly become the “extrasensory experience” it set out to be, it needs the theatrical elements we were all expecting and they need to enhance the musical experience, not strangle it. It’ll take some work, but the future of this event hinges on whether it can deliver on the promises it originally made. We can safely say that Cosmic Opera is definitely not a standard run-of-the-mill rave — but it’s also not yet the “opera” it set out to be either.

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