By Jean-Luc Marsh
On Nov. 7, Mike Lévy, the French techno artist better known as Gesaffelstein, thrilled a rowdy crowd at Terminal 5 with his belligerent take on electronic music.
He was preceded by FIXED, an East Coast duo who spun a tamer strain of electro from their small DJ booth relegated to side-stage. The BPM throughout much of their set rarely strayed from a baseline level, and the slow transitions between songs lent their performance a sense of coherence at the cost of being truly riveting.
By the end of FIXED’s performance, the bottom floor of Terminal 5 had filled up to capacity with a largely male demographic. Among the sea of man buns, beanies, and snapbacks, the furtive flickers of rave paraphernalia began to emerge: gloves with lit fingertips, shirts adorned with small glowing orbs, and even a hula-hoop that emitted coordinated LED flashes.
In contrast, Lévy works within a narrow aesthetic, as evidenced by his choices of color scheme and sound. He took to the stage at 10:15, dressed sharply in a well-tailored black tuxedo, his tousled hair bouncing slightly as he stepped onto the DJ rig, puffing on the first of many cigarettes he would smoke that night.
The strobes alternated between blinding white light and pitch darkness for much of his set, only deviating from this pattern for a few well-timed flashes of red. Behind him were monochrome images of guns, an undulating American flag, and slow-panning shots of Versailles. The music inhabited an enthralling territory between hypnotic and apocalyptic, utilizing militaristic drumbeats, synths reminiscent of sirens, dystopian AOL dial-up noises, and the occasional scream.
If this could be considered a rave, it was certainly at the angriest extreme of that subculture, and no place for the gauche toys brought by some members of the crowd.
There was an air of refinement to Lévy performance, from the perfectly calibrated drone and bass, to the nicotine phantasms that hovered around his chestnut curls as he bobbed to the beat, his nimble fingers keeping time to the rhythm while clutching a lit cigarette. It was easy to see why Kanye West had tapped him to collaborate on “Yeezus,” the abrasive tone and metallic melodies of that album were abundantly evident, in addition to a certain French je ne sais quoi.
It was the two tracks that Lévy produced with West, “Send It Up” and “Black Skinhead,” that elicited some of the greatest audience responses. However, Lévy’s own material off his 2013 record, “Aleph,” notably “Pursuit” and “Hate or Glory,” drove the crowd to similar frenzies through bellicose bouts of crowd surfing and moshing, in a sort of pugnacious male fantasy.
At the end of his set, following a double encore, Lévy stepped down from the DJ rig for the last time and made a series of deep bows at the front of the stage. He had not said a word throughout the entire 90-minute affair.
For a man who works with sound, silence has never been so commanding.
Jean-Luc Marsh is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org