Event Review: How Kaskade Conquered the Elements at Virgin Mobile Free Fest
The pitter-patter of rain gradually began to crank up, flooding the fields of Merriweather Post Pavilion. Rather than taking shelter, crowds began to amass in front of the West Stage. Not prepared for the torrential downpour around the corner, the audience clad in tanks and underwear stood planted in front of the stage.
Slotted at 5:15 PM because of a later show in Denver that night, Ryan Raddon (Kaskade) typically does not play these unusual times in the afternoon. However the early performance didn’t go unnoticed: throngs of fans spilled into the lot, bringing the space to full capacity. Crowd control was needed to organize the rainy chaos, an unheard of phenomenon for an afternoon act.
Meanwhile, Kaskade backstage soaked it all in. The rain over the gorgeous green venue with the misty smoke emanating for the stage added an extra layer of intrigue around the fan’s excitement for his appearance.
Chatting with Kaskade about his favorite venues, I ask him if performing ever gets stale, having played at the biggest of stages in the world.
“Never – I’m not that jaded.”
He pauses to think. “My career trajectory has mirrored the scene’s growth,” he continues. “Right when I’m blown away by a stage, I come the next year and it’s bigger, crazier.”
The crowd begins to chant his name, and he stares out at the waves of drenched fans, speckled with neon tops, fluttering umbrellas, and bleeding signs. A fleeting moment, you can feel him basking in the glowing energy, and with that he walks towards the stage.
He takes off his flip flops and steps behind the booth where a towel is carefully unfurled. This is Kaskade’s escape – with the bare feet, the setup looks fit for yoga session instead of a performance in front of thousands. With a quick whirl, “Raining,” as apt of a song for the day, gently begins trickling from the speakers.
You never forget your first Kaskade performance. All his shows are tours de force showcasing his musicality; Raddon’s personal church were he preaches his musical tenets. Almost all his productions get reworked, tweaked for live settings or mashed up in his own private edits. He weaves through songs new and old, from new album hits “Atmosphere” and “No One Knows Who We Are” to classics like “Eyes” and “Don’t Stop Dancing.”
Because his edits have elements familiar yet new, his sets constantly feel paradoxically comfortable and adventurous. You know the lyrics, but when set to his personal edits of Deniz Koyu’s “Rage” or Nicky Romero’s remix of Green Velvet’s “Flash,” the revamped songs are fresh again. The audience thinks they know what to expect, yet Kaskade inserts unexpected twists that unhinge them mentally from musical auto-pilot.
It’s this surprise that Kaskade capitalizes on, building an intangible sense of wonder. Fans sing their favorites with him. During the breathtaking builds, the audience collectively quiets, awaiting the surprise Raddon has prepared for them while he continues to hop on stage to the transforming beat.
This is the catharsis Kaskade performances offer – that split second of hushed silence before the drop. His performances are crafted with careful musical peaks where he fills audience with anticipation to the point of bursting. When the climactic drops blasts out of the speakers, a reciprocal wave of simultaneous oohs and ahhs crash back towards the stage. Today, thousands of soaked arms and fists flail in the rainy air – a mesmerizing, glistening sea of limbs. His bouncy energy wills the crowd’s momentum through these moments, carrying them long until the next track.
After Kaskade closed the set with a special “Turn It Down” edit with Martin Garrix’s “Animals,” he steps into his flip flops and walks off the stage. Fully relaxed and at peace, he asks rhetorically how the set was.
Looking out at the crowd, you can see their spent, disheveled mess. Having just journeyed through an hour of Kaskade’s musical road trip, they all look at each other, abuzz with confused discussion and slowly coming back to their senses after sixty minutes of inhibition. Wet and exhausted, it seems Kaskade just led a massive outdoor workout.
It’s only six o’clock. And pouring hard. What do we do now?
Photo Credit: Richie Downs