This weekend, Leeds dub-stepper Rusko (Christopher Mercer) wobbled his way through a two-hour set at the Orpheum Theater. Although his music lacked diversity, Rusko proved he knows how to keep a crowd invested for an entire show of rib-shaking bass.
Plenty of people showed up in their rave gear, some bringing glowing hula-hoops, others sucking pacifiers. The dance floor at the theater never looked so big. Recent renovations at the Orpheum have removed rows of the theater seating to make room for the undulating crowds that fill the floor.
Those who have seen videos of Rusko’s shows would not be disappointed Saturday night. The crowd in Madison was as colorful and lively as any international audience. Eliot Lipp opened the show with a diverse set mixing electronic and hip-hop genres from across the spectrum. Lipp’s set lightened the tone of the show, which otherwise would have been four hours of enough wobbling bass to loosen the historic bricks in the Orpheum’s walls.
Rusko brought a set that included some of his famous releases like “Cockney Thug” that bled into a set of often-indiscernible songs. His upbeat take on dubstep translated to a relentless show that left the audience trapped in dance. To a genre originally immersed in dark atmosphere and irregular rhythms, Rusko brings a pop sensibility that resulted in a packed crowd ready to dance, roll, make out and everything else the pounding bass and strobes of the club entail.
Although there were plenty of blinking lights of all colors, the visuals at the show were disappointing. Electronic music by its nature limits its musicians’ freedom to be compelling performers. No matter how much Rusko hopped around his computer screen and shouted nonsense into the microphone, he failed to create any visual interest. While other electronic artists provide spectacular lightshows and jaw-dropping video effects that provide plenty of entertainment on their own, Rusko relied on himself to make the show. However energetic he was, he did not have the personality to control even the modest size of the Orpheum’s stage.
Had he been wielding a guitar or a pair of furiously tapping drumsticks, Rusko would have had something resembling a stage presence. But the sight of the Leeds musician hopping around his MacBook was hardly inspiring. The crowd was far more interesting than anything transpiring on stage. Some glowed, while others showed enough skin to star in soft core porn.
Rusko’s modest stage presence notwithstanding, the audience was clearly enjoying the music blasting out of the theater’s sound system. Aside from the poor souls trapped in the theater seating above the floor, everyone was doing their best to imitate the quick bass by bobbing their heads or flailing their limbs. Yet it was difficult to maintain the stamina required to dance in a sweaty mass for two hours; many people filtered out during the final half of the performance.
By the end of the show, the floor looked like a war zone. Discarded cups lay strewn on the ground. People carried their friends out into the lobby where they got water before nearly collapsing on the red carpet. Although Rusko offered a flat set of decent tunes, the show was satisfying for those who let themselves get lost on a Saturday night.