The guy that Skrillex fans recognize as their favorite super producer and EDM icon is the one with the giant black spectacles, the perpetual fist in the air and the spaceship, that ridiculous structure onstage where he resides and drops the beat from at his electronic extravaganzas. The man who conducted a veritable orchestra of rock, rap, reggae and indie legends and (legends in the making) last night at Bonnaroo was the same Skrillex, but he didn't stick to the space ship. Or the laptop. Or the telltale wub wub wub wub-es of the genre he's helped define. Skrillex spent the majority of his Bonnaroo super jam bouncing back and forth between his trusty laptop and a guitar, and the shift between tools of the trade wasn't the only surprise that unfurled before the crowd over the course of the following three hours.
At Bonnaroo, Skrillex, more or less, became the conductor of the orchestra of modern music. The super jam isn't a new thing for Bonnaroo—Jim James led a particularly epic one last year that involved R. Kelly belting out Sam Cooke songs into the wee hours of the morning—but it is the first jam with an EDM bent. Huge talent from the Bonnaroo lineup (Janelle Monaé, comedian Craig Robinson, ASAP Ferg, Warpaint, Cage the Elephant) were tapped for the super jam, with surprises delivered via cameos from Mystikal and Ms. Lauryn Hill.
After blasting a handful of sing-along favorites (Toto's "Africa," Naughty By Nature's "Hip Hop Hooray") Skrillex quit with the armchair covers and picked up a guitar to turn the festival's biggest dance party into one with live instead of canned entertainment. The band Skrillex assembled to back the variety of guests was exceptional, and it was especially fantastic to see the DJ and producer ditch his typical set-up to grab a guitar, jump on top of his console and rip into some chords for a change. Nobody went into this thinking they'd hear "Shake Ya Ass" or a perfect "Pump Up The Jam" cover via Warpaint, so cheers to Skrillex for embracing a love for Jock Jams 2 and the forgotten hits of middle school dances of the '90s! (Seriously. Nothing but love for Jock Jams.)
In between the blasts from the past, dance floor staples and guilty pleasures, the Skrillex super jam embraced a ton of reggae between Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, his Rastafari-flag wielding comrades and Lauryn Hill's Bob Marley-heavy contribution to the program. No "All Night" or "Doo Wop (That Thing)" from either party, but everyone seemed to be totally into the irie escape--especially the man juggling the headphones and guitar.
And this gets to the core of why the Skrillex super jam was so completely and totally awesome: the variety of songs performed in that mini marathon of hits reflected the passion and tastes of the talent involved, and each and every performer on that stage was committed to losing themselves in a song for the sake of a legit jam session with someone else holding the reigns.
When Janelle Monaé bit into Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and James Brown's "I Feel Good," the band was having just as good of a time as the audience. Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant joined Robby Krieger of The Doors and the band for a frenzied production of "Break On Through To The Other Side," and you could tell that the front man, Skrillex and the rest of the guys onstage were totally freaking the hell out about the fact that they were playing one of the most iconic riffs in American rock 'n' roll with the guitarist that made it happen. For a second, the dude lighting a cigarette and slumping over the pick guard of his guitar wasn't one of the biggest names in EDM. He was a guitarist backing one of the most incredible voices in pop today, loving absolutely every second of it, and the singer wasn't the star of the show but the part of a greater whole whose fire had the band's full dedication and support. There were no headliners at the super jam, the majorly enthusiastic host included, and that just speaks to how special and successful of a mix tape brought to life it was.
Maybe the super jam articulates exactly why we need festivals like Bonnaroo: the opportunity it provides to catch our favorite artists breaking the mold and trying on different passions and collaborations for size is a rare one, and one that can hardly be manipulated on any given night on tour. For those that shied away from Skrillex's space ship, they were drawn in by his unbarred enthusiasm for music and teamwork--and that kind of love for the beat crosses genre lines.