ACL Live Review: RL Grime

DJ walks line between commerce-driven parlor tricks and art

There's much to dig about RL Grime (born Henry Steinway), even after setting aside the concept of Atlanta-born trap music dominating festival stages without any call back to the originators. At the T-Mobile stage on Friday night, the California-raised DJ and producer brought his big bag of drops.

Photo by John Anderson

The crowd knew what hit them, too. In fact, they counted on it.

Given the nature of the venue, nuances aren’t at all useful. Massive drop after massive drop is the name of the festival game. Understanding consistent engagement is the master key, so the producer blended cuts of newer material with remixes sure to get reaction.

Grime is not at all a lazy DJ. There’s a lot of knobby, knobby, twisty, twisty, as is customary in these settings. However, he kept his energy on full tilt – making full use of the digital displays – and the audience kept pace.

He opened with “Feel Free,” off 2018’s Nova, as introduction to a mostly spaced-out set. He deftly transitioned the anthemic “Reims” into a mix with an a cappella from Kanye West’s “Power,” which ventured into his cosmic-trap flip on the hit record. These connections occurred regularly, including big, booming takes on EDM classic “Promises” from Nero, one of the genre’s heroes. Kid Cudi’s “Day N’ Nite” also made an appearance in the rousing set.

Where it’s feasible, Grime occasionally works in some drum and bass and jungle essences, though very briefly. In these subtle moments, the past meets the present, in a circle, informing the young crowd of history that brought artists like himself into existence. Walking the line between commerce-driven parlor tricks and art is a razor-thin boundary to navigate.

Grime, an artful dodger in plain sight, lives in-between.

RL Grime

Friday, Oct. 10, 6:30pm, T-Mobile stage

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RL Grime, ACL Fest 2019, Henry Steinway, Kanye West, Nero, Kid Cudi

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