DJ Spooky's CRAVE performance disappoints

Review: The multimedia artist struggled to find the balance between concert and lecture Saturday at his Goldstein Auditorium performance for the CRAVE Arts Festival.

Spooky, stick to your party playlist and keep the lectures for class.

Fingers were drumming and heads were bobbing, but the lengthy explanations from Paul Miller, known by most as DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid, left listeners fidgeting, wishing they had heard more of his art and a lot less talk.

There are no complaints about the music; in fact it is clear why the Metropolitan Museum of Art selected him for its Artist in Residence program. There is reason for his eccentric method in creating music, and he made that clear on Saturday at Goldstein Auditorium.

He based most of his sounds on the mathematical concept of looping, sounds of water and fractals. Spooky's esoterically dark sounds take life, not only as EDM beats, but also as works of art.

DJ Spooky

DJ Spooky performed using different looping techniques, violins and water sounds. (Photo: Jim Tuttle)

He explained his music-making method between songs, but ended up talking more than the duration of the songs themselves. He included too much about why he is passionate about what he does, but did a poor job showing that passion through his music.

Don’t be mistaken: It was interesting to see how he manipulated songs on his iPad, but the show-and-tell was messy and even unprofessional.

Audience energy dwindled as he struggled to keep momentum going as he spoke. The demonstration of his workflow was not smooth, and littered the performance with momentary silences as he set up for each song. At first it was not an issue, but eyes were rolling toward the end of the show.

Classical music and EDM have long been partners in the dance scene. DJ Spooky's beats combine the looping of Bach, Wagner and Debussy’s classical music -- the same looping that made Tiesto’s "Euphoria" a hit.

What makes DJ Spooky unique is the addition of dubstep and other genres to create his art. Alongside him onstage were two violinists, Joe Davoli and Fedor Saakov, who would play Spooky's compositions.

Through his art playlist -- which are his personal projects -- he combines classical and EDM styles. His second playlist proved to be much more enjoyable. He sampled songs from his other genres, and they proved much more interesting than the “electro-Wagner,” which got repetitive, much like the works of Phillip Glass.


DJ Spooky

DJ Spooky used a mixture of music and lecture in his performance at Goldstein Auditorium. (Photo: Jim Tuttle)

The real issue was the drop. In his instrumental music, the drop had no prominence. DJ Spooky’s other music was much more varied and made for a more entertaining listen. In fact, sitting became uncomfortable because his beats were so ideal for dancing.

Take the song he made with Damian Marley for example. There was a deep, heavy backdrop familiar to all reggae-lovers, but it was the fast violins and very prominent drop that made this song the highlight of the night. He said, “This is another playlist, though. I’m here to show you the art.”

Had Spooky been at eye-level, the show would have been much more intimate and the DJ how-to more engaging. Fair enough, Spooky came to CRAVE to show off his personal art, not mainstream party playlists, but the Goldstein Auditorium was not the venue for this type of show. The concert seating gave the feeling of emptiness and made viewing the projection of his iPad a pain in the neck.

Without a doubt, DJ Spooky can put on a good show. Why he didn’t do that at CRAVE is the question. Had CRAVE been an electronic music scene, and had he provided a more varied playlist, the concert could have become a seriously musical experience, not a seriously musical lecture.

DJ Spooky

DJ Spooky is a resident musician with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Photo: Jim Tuttle)

In Response


You are correct, the misunderstandings that lead to a big artist, like DJ Spooky, to have a 50 person audience are unfortunate. There was too little publicity, especially if they had booked the auditorium. But had there been more people, the performance he gave on Saturday night would have been equally disappointing due to the lack of music. There is no attack to the musician, DJ Spooky is a pleasure to listen to. But there were only a handful of songs played. There was simply too little art in his show. The CRAVE audience wants to hear his talent through the music, not through a music lecture on a Saturday night.
I was genuinely disappointed after DJ Spooky, and I am glad to see that someone else wasn't.


Bad Press

Ms. Acuna,

As a journalist who aims to cover musical performances, I would assume you would be a little more thoughtful to the context of the events you aim to cover. I respect your critical analysis of this performance, but am offended by the direction of your assessment.

From listening to DJ Spooky, it seemed fairly apparent that he expected a different audience -- understandable to a musician booked for an auditorium meant to hold hundreds of people. There were, at most, 50 people. Maybe 30 were college students. I wonder when he was notified? I wonder "if" he was notified.

It seemed pretty apparent that the real failure of the night was the promotion of the event. When I arrived and saw the poor attendance, I was relived that DJ Spooky had the capacity to reformat his performance to be more suitable for the situation. The only fault I really saw with the artist was the amount of time he spent plugging his already successful iPad app.

It's hard to get artists of this caliber to visit Central New York because of irresponsible miscommunications like this. It was unfortunate that the event did not reach a tenth of its potential, but your misguided attack on this musician -- who might never come here again -- does not serve as an affirmation of this unfortunate turn of events, but rather, a selfish ploy to take down someone larger than yourself.

DJ Spooky put on a great show. Where was CRAVE?

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