Lil Jon took the main stage at the Yost Theatre in Santa Ana on February 12th for another eventful installment of Havoc Thursdays by White Rabbit Group. Daily Beat has been covering Havoc for a few months now and we have seen guys like Jauz, the PandaFunk team, and Branchez turn the Yost into a weekly party destination more than it is a concert venue. This particular night took that to a whole new level. Yes indeed, from windows to walls and the perspiration dropping down people’s balls, even though it had a rocky first half this night was one for the books. Check out this full recap of the event and see why you need to make it down to Havoc to experience this all for yourself.
One of my first interactions of the night was with one half of the opening DJ duo Themdems. I spoke to him, and he told me about how they played the side stage at the PandaFunk takeover show, and how that opened an opportunity for them to play on the main stage that night. This is a popular way for DJ's to make a name for themselves on the local circuit and, for many, can be the beginning of a much longer career. White Rabbit is wise for allowing space on their stages for less known acts, as it could benefit them in the long run. When one of these acts ends up being somebody like Jauz, who is now collaborating with Skrillex and selling out show after show with Buygore, the group that exposed them can capitalize on their success. Despite that, it can be a gamble with artists that are less experienced. It may not always work out with such a fairytale ending.
The duo that went on right after Themdemz opened their set with some more mellow vibes than other DJ's who have played their time slot. At first, I thought it was working out well, but the set in general seemed to fall short of being noteworthy. Any great DJ that I have listened to has distinct moments in their set that call out to their audience, giving them musical cues and maintaining constant engagement. Guys who are just starting out seem to overlook this element, and it makes the set feel more like background music at a house party than a main-stage presentation. In fact, this duo was so relatively obscure that I was not even able to get their stage name on the night of the show. Granted, I did not have a chance to speak to them directly or someone in White Rabbit who handled the booking, I was still surprised that I couldn’t track down their identity. (After reaching out to WRG, I found out they go by High Roller$) On top of their unintentional anonymity and less than stellar set, one of the guys would often abandon his partner on the riser and run out to the front of the stage to dance and wave his hands up and down with the people in the front row. In a flurry of light and sound that didn’t stand out as anything strange, but that is exactly what is most unsettling. As a DJ myself, I often get gripe from some of my musician peers about how us “button pushers” have the easiest job in the world. Watching a DJ duo that nobody could name send one of its members up to physically petition a room of hundreds for attention with his dance moves, and then carry on without any noticeable objection made me hope that none of my peers were at this show.
Padlock was the third DJ of the night and took the stage as the main room started to fill up. At this point, I had written in my notepad that dubstep was dominating most of the song selection thus far. After taking a quick survey of the crowd I realized that it wasn’t working out too well, and that made perfect sense to me. The last time that I was at Havoc, the front row was wall-to-wall with mostly girls, all of whom were jumping and having the time of their life. At this particular moment though, as I stood backstage looking out to the crowd, I noticed that a big portion of the front row were not even facing the stage, but were in fact turning around to chat with their friends. That’s no stab at the DJ though; they were all just saving their spots to see Lil Jon. Therein lied the root cause of what made the ambiance feel dissonant: people only came out to see the headliner. There were at least some fans of dubstep in the crowd, so I came to the conclusion that the lineup just wasn’t curated for the night. Most people came out to see Lil Jon, and the openers were guys who are grinding their way up the ladder. It’s an unfortunate reality, but it remains true that people only listen to what they care about. That point was exemplified on this night, and it was evident that the headliner was disproportionately the biggest selling point of the show.
With all of that said, there was a big turning point in energy when Padlock started to wind down his set, and security became increasingly more active. At one point, every person who was backstage was pushed back out into the crowd, including some guys in White Rabbit, and people started to direct their attention to the commotion. The crowd also seemed restless, as evident by a full on fight breaking out on the bottom floor of the room. The music started to feel less like a set and more like songs played end-to-end to kill time. It suddenly felt like the entire theatre was just waiting. The lights were dim at 12:37AM as I saw a technician setting up the CDJs, and I started wondering if the main act was just late. It was no sooner that the thought crossed my mind when I heard the very same voice that I’ve heard sampled in every DJ’s set from the past decade ring out through the Yost’s loudspeakers.
Lil Jon took the stage with a fury, invoking a large response from the crowd as soon as we all heard his voice. He held nothing back, dropping his unidentified collaboration with Flosstradamus and GTA while pulling down the volume faders to do live vocals on the spots where he is featured. Immediately the energy in the room was transformed from an awkward mesh of anticipation and boredom to high-energy bangers and uninhibited dancing. The act of ‘turning up’ has become an infamous but ubiquitous term that was born out of necessity. How else could we describe the new generation’s sound that took the raw hype of hip-hop and blended it with the loud and technical features of a rave? If I couldn't say that Lil Jon had the club straight up turnt up that night, I would have to invest at least three more sentences of pure verbal prowess to paint that picture. Fortunately for us, you know what I mean, and turnt up indeed it was.
I was impressed to see that he was jockeying his own discs. For some reason, I half expected him to MC the whole night while somebody else manned the play buttons. I can definitely attest to the fact that his proficiency on the decks is at least up to par with any other trap DJ, and that was plenty of skill to keep him afloat. It also didn’t hurt that his set list was comprised of almost every major club hit since we were still saying “crunk.” It didn't feel cheesy, though: amateur DJ’s have been regurgitating his songs into generic backyard sets for years and he managed to show us exactly how they should be played by weaving them in with all of the songs that are in vogue right now. There was not a soul in the room who didn’t sing along to “Tuesday,” Hannah Montana was there in spirit courtesy of Migos, and the Project X “We Want Some Pu**y” song got turned into Lil Jon screaming “show me your titties” to a room full of chicks with black X’s on their hands. Just when I thought he had pulled out every party-starting trick in the book, “Turn Down For What,” “Get Low,” and “Yeah,” got dropped on us like we were at the Trinity Site in 1945. I kid you not. Minds were blown. Babies were made.
All in all, the show developed in a strange way throughout the night, but the closing set was satisfying enough to call it a mission accomplished. I didn’t have the privilege of attending the first Lil Jon show with White Rabbit Group, but I now understand why they opted to bring him back. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Santa Ana loves to party. The young crowd may not be very open to unknown acts, but they’ll reward you if you throw a few bangers their way. Fortunately, the Havoc Thursdays team seems more than happy to oblige. As always, we thank them for their hospitality, and if you’re ever even remotely in the area you should catch one of these shows. Hit us up, we would love to say hello when you do. SNBRN + Mija will be there on 2/19 and Black Tiger Sex Machine will be there on 2/16. Grab your tickets for those shows here and here.
Photos by Gilbert Sanchez.
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