Review: Gramatik lights up Druid City in array of soundsBy Austin Blanks | 02/28/2018 10:27pm
As a long-time fan of Gramatik, I jumped at the opportunity to attend a concert here in Tuscaloosa at Druid City Music Hall. Best known for his older hits like "Just Jammin'" and "Muy Tranquilo," Denis Jašarević, known as Gramatik, is a Slovenian electronic music producer with strong hip hop, jazz, funk and blues influences. I had only attended one other concert at the Druid City Music Hall, a show on the Drive-By Truckers' Darkened Flags tour. Druid City was a great venue for the Drive-By Truckers' swings between quieter, more intimate songs and rocking ballads, but I wondered, "How well would it work for such a different genre?"
Any concerns I had were quickly dispelled with opening artist Balkan Bump's first song, as well as the misconception that it would strictly be electronic music. Will Magid, performing as Balkan Bump, transitioned quickly between managing the electronic beats and deftly playing his trumpet to bring a more traditional sound. Though the crowd seemed a little sparse at first, and I worried that the Monday night performance might be a dead show, people quickly filtered in and started dancing near the stage. Balkan Bump used his trumpet to take listeners on a musical tour of the world, drawing on his background as an ethnomusicologist to use his trumpet to evoke different musical traditions and genres, and fusing it with a diverse array of sounds to form a bright and upbeat performance. The highlight for me was his song "Irfan," showing his strong Balkan influence with the horns, merged with the thumping electronic bass line. Between his skillful trumpet runs, energetic performance and quick asides to the audience, he was clearly having a good time which carried over to the crowd.
Next up was Haywyre (Martin Vogt), a young composer-producer-pianist, who continued the theme of merging electronic music with more traditional forms with his classical and jazz-influenced piano skills that, along with the pixel art visuals on the screens around the stage, evoked a strong feeling of '80s and '90s nostalgia. Haywyre also seemed genuinely excited to be performing, and expressed gratitude to Gramatik for giving him a shot. He brought in chopped-up samples of older hits and a masterful performance on piano, ending with his most well-known song, his distinctive take on the Michael Jackson hit "Smooth Criminal."
Finally, Gramatik came out to a full crowd. By this time, there were LED hula hoopers in the crowd and a man by the stage entrancing other audience members with the dancing lights of his rave gloves. The crowd featured everything from fraternity shirts and cowboy boots to nightclub-appropriate dresses to the more EDM-style tights and neon colors. Gramatik and his guitarist wove a mellow tapestry of electric guitar, downtempo beats and samples as well as a newer dubstep influence. While Haywyre and Balkan Bump both had distinct sounds and styles defined by their main instrument of choice, Gramatik's performance covered a much wider musical range. With trippy graphics on screen, hypnotic sounds and pounding bass, he had the whole crowd swaying and dancing. The audience got particularly excited when Balkan Bump came back out to join Gramatik. His trumpet brought another dimension to the songs, and he danced around the stage and even into the crowd, who really responded to his exuberance and interaction. Gramatik brought out songs from his new "Re:Coil" EP, including the booming "Future Crypto," referring to Gramatik's involvement in crypto-currencies. After imploring the crowd to make some noise, Gramatik performed an encore with what sounded to me like his "Voyager Twins," a fast-paced and playful song commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Voyager launch, with Balkan Bump's trumpet replacing the saxophone of the original song.
Though you might expect Gramatik and electronic performers at an outdoor EDM performance, Druid City Music Hall provided a great venue for an electronic music show with some variety and interesting mixtures of genres, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in something a little bit out of the ordinary.