Ten years later, Canadian dubstep’s poster boy still channels simpler times

Tell any half-woke rave snob that you’re checking out a Datsik set in 2017 and they’ll scoff at you, like they’re in on a joke that you don’t quite get yet. Plagued by the bigheaded arrogance of long-time listeners, dubstep has found itself in a bit of a predicament since it burst onto the scene almost a decade ago. It’s a genre locked in an identity crisis, existing on either extremes of the spectrum.

Maybe you’re a ‘real fan’ who’s been rinsing the same tracks for years and continues to look for the straight-to-vinyl newness from obscure labels. Or maybe you discovered dubstep after hearing last summer’s Excision Shambhala mix, and have been devouring everything Never Say Die and Kannibalen have put out since. But those that live between those extremes are few and far between.


Datsik and the Firepower crew’s takeover of the Palace Theatre, then, served as an excellent state of the dubstep union. Tickets sold out well in advance, emphasized by the line that snaked around the corner of Stephen Avenue and 1st St. Two clearly-different tribes clashed in a mishmash of brightly-colored spirit hoods, kandi, techwear and sunglasses – festival-hungry vibeseeking old-timers and monochromatic bass junkies looking for their fix. Yet the atmosphere was harmonious, largely unaffected by the amateur hour shenanigans of St. Patrick’s Day.


Boundary breaker Kytami was up first, serenading the crowd with an eclectic blend of breaks, dubstep and violin alongside collaborator Phonik Ops. Fresh off the release of her new Renegade EP, the Vancouver native and ex-Delhi 2 Dublin member has made quite a splash, earning a vote of confidence from Firepower themselves.


From there, German export Virtual Riot ushered in strictly 140bpm business with remixes of DJ Fresh’s ‘Gold Dust’ and a smattering of hybrid trap by Getter et. al. Believe it or not, a healthy portion of those in attendance had never actually seen Datsik – some had never even heard of him. Virtual Riot served as an approachable introduction for the uninitiated, serving up all manner of YouTube-flavored heaviness and loosening up moshers’ muscles.


Crunkstep pioneer Crizzly was up next, returning to Calgary for yet another round. The Texas native’s been active almost as long as Datsik, and definitely aged gracefully. Opting for a set replete with throwbacks and sampling all sorts of classics, he acted as an eloquent bridging of the gap existing between the relatively new and future-facing sounds of Virtual Riot and the tradition-steeped methodology of Datsik.


There’s something to be said about Crizzly’s staying power, too; the energy he roused remained for a good half-hour after he finished. That half-hour was required to get everything in place for Datsik’s most visually ambitious production ever – The Shogun. By taking over Flames Central and making a few changes, The Palace cleared a path for mind-blowing big-budget shows, a long-overdue change in light of artists like Excision having to scale down or outright forgo their most outrageous ideas to fit venue parameters.


Taking a half-hour interlude to assemble a stage would be widely regarded as set suicide, yet the Firepower team was hellbent on making it happen. While a half-dozen roadies shuffled around the stage, attendees were handed the answer to the age-old question: “What do ‘Bananaphone,’ ‘We Are The Champions’ and ‘I Want It That Way’ sound like when they’re blaring from PK subs?” It was a self-aware twist on a movement that many would argue has lost its charm, leaving many wondering just how serious dubstep luminaries still are about their genre.


Walking onto the stage dressed like an EDM’d-out Raiden was a hell of a way to make an entrance. Covered head-to-toe in LEDs and buttressed by a Pagoda-esque stage covered in thousands more, Datsik was eager to prove that a decade of being on stage hasn’t bred any subtlety. Then again, old heads know the Datsik sound is anything but subtle. Case in point: even the most robust of earplugs were woefully inadequate in the face of what the West Coast luminary had in store.


Playing modern heaters like ‘Nasty’ from his recent EP and Virtual Riot’s own ‘Borg’ off against massive overhauls of classics like ‘Firepower’ and ‘Nuke ‘Em’ resulted in one of the most lively and animated moshes The Palace has ever seen – the kind of mosh that bleeds into the venue’s balcony and has it palpably, precariously flexing. Equally eager to shrug off the naysayers, Datsik’s mixing was on point, triple-dropping ‘Tantrum’ and Bassnectar’s ‘Basshead’ into a classic Mr. Carmack track.

In short, it was a revisiting of the types of sets that put dubstep on the map, and have kept it there as the years went on. Take that how you will.

Even though it feels like peak dubstep happened forever ago, there’s still a group of old-growth labels and newcomers dedicated to preserving the sound in all its forms. That same dedication is mirrored in the droves of fans that continue to show up, either for nostalgia’s sake or purely from the hype. After a colossal ambient flexing of the Palace’s PK rig, Datsik closed out his set with a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the fans set to ‘Stand By Me.’ It really is the little things.


Photos by Neil McElmon (aka ConcertSocks)

 Words by Max Foley

Peep the entire Datsik Ninja Nation album here.

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