Baauer’s Harlem Shake craze sweeps Webster Hall
Dropping four Harlem Shakes on a mobbed Webster Hall, Baauer was crowned king of the moment in the city that never sleeps on a meme.
Rewind three weeks. The Brooklyn native was toiling in relative trap obscurity, completely unaware that a YouTube user named Filthy Frank was poised to make him the site’s latest poster child for viral video stardom. Don’t get me wrong, Baauer has been one of his subgenre’s brightest talents for some time and his success is well-deserved. But until four men donned strange latex suits and even stranger dance moves to a clip from his year-old single, trap had not quite arrived on the mainstream radar. One thing led to another… tens of thousands of times. Nearly two hundred million views and thousands of truly bizarre 31-second snippets later, Baauer seemed at home with his newfound fame last Friday.
The producer’s homecoming stop on his Big League tour with Just Blaze was about as anticipated as it gets, and the energy in the hall was immediately apparent. The floor was full by default, with a jam-packed maze of sweaty bodies awaiting any aspirant entrants. Neon bandanas and sunglasses were out in abundance. On the balcony, one could barely see the stage over the stifling crush of fans. After fleeing a bathroom horde chanting the refrain from “All Gold Everything,” I climbed to a perch high above the balcony’s back corner. I was perfectly situated to survey the sweltering mayhem below.
Shoulder to shoulder in fresh white T’s and black caps, Baauer and Blaze had the sold-out crowd in their palms from the start. A manic MC spewed exultant hype over an energetic performance whose soundtrack was significantly more hip hop than trap. While this may just be a common side effect of sharing a stage with Just Blaze, I couldn’t help but muse about what the night would look like in an alternate reality in which “Harlem Shake” had never conquered the charts.
The set was smashing, but clearly geared toward mass-consumption. Hip hop gold standards like Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise” and Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” alternated with Daft Punk’s Discovery favorites. Welcome trap interludes often came in the form of crowd-pleasing remixes, including Carnage’s bass-heavy take on Hardwell’s “Spaceman” and RL Grime’s savage reworks of Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction” and Kanye West’s “Mercy” with Salva. Heroes X Villians’ remix of “Jah No Partial” by Major Lazer and Flux Pavilion made repeat appearances as well.
Hardwell – Spaceman (Carnage Festival Trap Remix)
Benny Benassi – Satisfaction (RL Grime Remix)
That’s not to say Baauer’s own material wasn’t well-represented. His anthemic remix of Flosstradamus’ “Rollup” elicited a huge crowd response, while his transcendent collaboration with Just Blaze, “Higher,” was one of my three standout moments of the show. The second came when A-Trak materialized on stage, briefly hit the decks, then stage-dived into the rabid crowd in the time it took most of the balcony faithful to crane their necks to catch a glimpse. I think the third was self-evident.
Just Blaze x Baauer – Higher (Original Mix)
Baauer teased the song on everyone’s mind three times before letting it ravage the venue in full. As the infamous intro sample cooed “Con los terroristas” over all-too-familiar Dirty Dutch synth stabs, the expectant audience roared with excitement and revved their engines one final time.
“Then do the Harlem Shake.”
Time seemed to slow to a stop-motion crawl as the bass dropped. Every single human being in the building commenced freaking out. Enduring images are manifold. The convulsive dance floor surging upwards into an inextricable mess of limbs. An intoxicated patron tumbling off the top of a VIP table. Baauer blissfully surfing the delirious crowd with a big orange cone over his head.
Baauer – Harlem Shake (Original Mix)
As the four-hour festivities drew to a close, the stage was flooded with gyrating fans and littered with empty beer cans and champagne bottles. Seasoned New York veterans crowed that they had never seen anything like it. I half-expected Baauer to loop a fifth frenzied “Harlem Shake” finale and watch like a latter-day Emperor Nero while Webster Hall burned to the ground. Instead, he simply beamed at the fans as the bass hung heavy in the air.
“Hey you! Get down from there!”
The bouncer below made me drop back to Earth, but I got what I wanted from my time at the top. Something tells me Baauer will feel the same when the fervor subsides.