Despite being the two of the biggest names in house music right now, FISHER and Chris Lake played a show that was less than the sum of its parts.
I know I’ve said this a lot, but this time it’s for real: FISHER and Chris Lake need no introduction. When Elon Musk tweets your song out to his twenty-five million followers, you know you’ve broken into the mainstream. And broken into the mainstream FISHER has; “Losing It” is a tech house crossover hit that has few equals, raking in tens of millions of streams without sacrificing its sound to the altar of pop. Combine that with an outlandish personality that capitalizes on his Aussie heritage, and FISHER has quickly taken the world by storm.
While FISHER might be the house producer of the moment, it’s been Chris Lake’s turn for the past decade. With a stacked career full of world-class collaborations and genre-defining originals, Chris Lake has become inseparable from modern house music. His name is synonymous with impeccably produced, invariably catchy house hits, and his collaborations with fellow producer Chris Lorenzo have pushed the boundaries of his sound to new and exciting heights.
Both are incredibly talented acts. To get reductive about it: FISHER’s got the flash, the flair, the fame; Chris Lake’s got the chops, both inside the studio and behind the decks.
So you can imagine my excitement driving up to Los Angeles on Saturday to see the two of them go B2B at the Shrine Auditorium. I’d already seen them both separately — FISHER in a packed Spin Nightclub, Chris Lake on the festival grounds of Audiotistic SoCal — and they didn’t disappoint. I felt confident they would deliver, based on my prior experiences. With both those previous sets being some of the best I’ve ever seen, what could possibly go wrong?
Unfortunately, my enthusiasm melted away when they started playing.
During the first hour, I realized that two great DJs don’t always sound great together. The biggest culprit of the night was a lack of momentum. The song choice was uniformly excellent, but the energy of them got zapped by drawn-out transitions and odd mixing. Songs seemed to take forever to go from one to the other, to an extent that I was worried there a miscommunication between the DJs. Bizarre mash-ups punctuated the set, turning crowd-pleasing songs into atonal rackets that must have sounded better on paper than in execution.
The performances of the two DJs did little to alleviate the production problems. Seeing FISHER at a vastly smaller venue like Spin in San Diego gave his energetic DJing a place to shine. Here, at the Shrine, he felt small against the mass of the crowd, and whether I was standing in the front-left or back-middle, it was hard to capture his energy. His winning style couldn’t make up for the disjointed beats of the set, and neither could Chris Lake’s knack for song choice, which served him so well at Audiotistic SoCal.
Another thing that was missing from the set was a sense of direction.
One philosophy that I think helps define a good set is the DJ’s ability to ‘lead you’ where they want to you to go emotionally. This means laying out and mixing the tracks in such a way that you’re never confused about what you’re dancing to or what they’re trying to make you feel.
For example, if a song dips into its outro, stripped down to its bare essential beats, you expect a new song to come in soon (hopefully in either eight or sixteen bars) and pick it back up. If it doesn’t get picked up and begins to drag on, you lose focus on what the DJ is trying to ‘tell’ you and get restless. Perhaps the DJ can pull something out of their bag of tricks to reel you back in, but if they don’t and let the track drag on before transitioning (or come in on an odd bar, God forbid), then it can feel sloppy. The natural momentum from the song is gone, and now you’re left wondering what’s coming next instead of enjoying the music as it is.
The set was full of moments like this where I had no idea where it was going to go.
Case-in-point: Fisher’s pre-“Losing-It” mega-hit “Stop It”. It’s iconic lyrics adorned shirts sold at the merch birth and worn by dozens of show-goers; it’s an instantly-recognizable tune. Here, however, it just kept going on and on and on, over and over again, until even the rabid crowd tired from it. Using the extended version of songs isn’t bad by any means, but when it just keeps repeating over and over with no variation the initial power of the drops and beats begins to fade. When it finally did transition, it was bad, smothering the vocals in a messy hand-off to the next song.
Luckily things began to pick up around the end of the first hour, and the rest of their set was relatively strong.
Maybe it was the duo shrugging off performance jitters or finally finding a groove with the audience, but from there on out the transitions felt snappier and the songs stronger. I’ll admit it: I shuffled my feet, swayed from side to side, even danced. Still, the damage from the opening was done, and at no point was the set as good or better than the previous sets I’d seen from either of them. I left the Shrine at the end of the night tired and a little bummed, maybe the previous two nights had been different.
Did I leave a bit disappointed? Yes, absolutely. Did I also dance my ass off until my feet ached and my knees felt like they would crack in two? 100%. It wasn’t as good a show as it should have been for two of the all-time greats, but it was good enough. In the end, what more can you ask for than that?