ZHU makes his North American debut at HARD Day of the DeadZhulistenout 1

ZHU makes his North American debut at HARD Day of the Dead

Earlier this year, ZHU exploded onto the music scene surrounded in complete mystery. From the lack of social media channels to clandestine releases, we still have only a faint clue of who he really is. More importantly, part of the ZHU brand (and appeal) is the fact that he always keeps us guessing what’s to come. Is this the full ZHU? Or just the tip of the iceberg?

We had seen photos of his Listen Out performance, and were treated toclues of what was to come from his debut. As expected, ZHU loomed behind a curtain of projected artistic visuals, with his shadowy figure serving as the backdrop for the night’s many dramatic moments. Complete with all his originals and remixes (as well as a bevy of new music), the ZHU experience was virtually just him — stunning when you realize he filled a full hour time slot despite having only released an EP.

Spinning behind a tapestry of animation and art, ZHU’s visuals were entrancing. Part stunning imagery, part gorgeous lighting effects, the visuals complemented the mood set by the music. In honor of Day of the Dead, light-hearted skeletons locked and popped across the screen to a special ZHU edit of the now sacred Michael Jackson classic, “Thriller.” “Superfriends” made great use of the screen, flashing the word across letter by letter, but “The One” featured out of place, awkward questions like “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” Sometimes studio ideas at 3 AM may not translate to evening festivals, but I have faith ZHU will be able to distinguish the two soon.

With a thumping bass throughout, ZHU played a deep house set with plenty of edits of his tracks. While I won’t completely spoil the surprise of his new renditions, expect to hear his interpretations of Outkast (a new one!), Queen B, and more. ZHU’s effort was the rare chutzpah of an artist on a major festival stage not succumbing to the urge of cookie-cutter festival drops. While legends like Eric Prydz and Deadmau5 have the brand equity and fan support to create their own path, ZHU is intent on setting a similar precedence for himself. Bravo.

Ultimately, what is special yet frustrating about the NIGHTDAY Experience is the clear, unfinished potential. The scale of the production is simply not big enough for a festival main stage. The product is clearly dripping with hours of thoughtful work and care, but the custom production does not fill the stage the way a Pretty Lights or Knife Party rig does. While an amazing experience, the full scope of ZHU feels a year away. Repeat viewings will definitely be in order.

Up close for fans in front, the experience is real and powerful. From the farther reaches of the crowd though, you see the first step of an unfinished long-term project. Or maybe just the placeholder for something bigger…

As usual with ZHU, we’re left in the dark. But at the end of the day, that’s a good thing.

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