It’s hard to call Saturday night a once in a lifetime experience. After all, the weather in this wonderful state is notoriously unpredictable. The odds are that it will, in fact, snow again at Red Rocks Amphitheatre during concert season, whether it be next week or next year. However, as I traversed from my parking space and made the climb towards the amphitheatre, the night instantaneously took on a magical aura and certainly felt unique in every way. I was surrounded by smiles, laughter, unparalleled enthusiasm, bewilderment and sure, the occasional complaint, as the snow fell ever harder. The electronic signs on I-70 warned commuters all of the heavy snow expected for the evening, yet the line into the venue snaked around and around as far as the eye could see. The weather was simply not a deterring factor for patrons eager to watch Gramatik, Cherub and special guests. Rather, the weather added to the splendor of the evening and surely will resonate in the hearts and minds of all those in attendance at the Rocks for a long time to come.
The opening acts (Opiuo, Russ Liquid and Luxas) played abbreviated, but highly enthusiastic sets to get the night rolling, and what an evening it turned out to be.
After a brief intermission, which included adjusting huge plastic tarps over the electronic equipment and the utilization of an entire snow-shoveling team to clear the stage, Cherub emerged from backstage. With Jordan Kelley (who happened to be rocking the most hipster haircut I’ve ever seen) on the guitar, supplying synth-y, funk infused tones and howling vocals, and Jason Huber’s work on the bass guitar and backing vocals, the duo conquered the stage and snow alike. The electro-pop sounds electrified the crowd and sent a wave of energy throughout the amphitheatre.
Determined to put on a great show, Kelley told the crowd at one point, “Normally, I play guitar here. But I can’t feel my fingers, so we’ll see how this goes.” Yes, it was that type of night at Red Rocks. Brutal conditions, ravenous fans, and truly professional musicians onstage, catalyzed by sheer will and the love of music. Cherub scorched through a great setlist, playing hits “Disco Shit,” “XOXO,” and the crowd favorite, “Doses & Mimosas.” The live rendition of the latter was incredible to watch. The duo had the crowd singing to the top of their lungs, and dancing like there was no tomorrow. Not to go unmentioned, dancing became a necessity at this point in the evening in order to keep warm as temperatures continued to drop, the wind blew increasingly harder, and the snow dropped tirelessly from a grey sky.
Cherub then took a bow and it was time to prep the stage for Denis Jasarevic, better known as Gramatik. The crowd huddled together like Emperor penguins in the Antarctic in preparation for the funky, soulful, jazzy and impossibly groovy sounds of the night’s headliner. Minutes passed, snow accumulated, outfits were entirely soaked through, and then it was time.
Gramatik took the stage, accompanied by Russ Liquid, the talented multi-instrumentalist who alternated playing the saxophone, trumpet and keyboard throughout the night and guitarist extraordinaire, Gibbz, whose playing was the rock and backbone of the show and whose energy was infectious. If the crowd had cooled off during the intermission, that was quick to change. The set opened with a palpable force and exuberant energy, curtailing any negative moods that may have begun to take shape amongst the frigid audience. “We Used to Dream” was the first song queued, and how appropriate it was. The sun went to bed and the snow continued to fall, leaving us all in a dreamlike state of mind. The entire amphitheatre was enchanted and for as far the eye could see, heads were bobbing and bodies were swaying.
The show flowed infallibly, and encapsulated the entire audience from start to finish. Gramatik’s set felt more like one long song, with jazz taking precedence at times (“While I was Playing Fair,” “Just Jammin,'” “On the Boardwalk”) as the saxophone or trumpet was showcased and then subsiding so funk became front and center (“Break Loose,” “It’s Just a Ride”). It was a pleasure to watch the artists perform so flawlessly despite facing obvious adversity. With heads buried underneath that massive black tarp for a large part of the evening, Gramatik queued the beats and Russ Liquid tapped rhythmically on his keyboard, while Gibbz supplied electric, sizzling guitar play. Other high points of the show included the sanguine dance number, “Expect Us,” transporting the crowd back in time while simultaneously reminded us that the future of music is bright, and the performance of his latest song to date, “Corporate Demons.”
At one point, the gentlemen of Cherub joined Gramatik onstage to perform their collaboration “Obviously.” It was an eclectic mixture of sound and energy. Huber channeled his inner Michael Jackson and moon walked onstage– the snow providing the perfect lubricant. The mutual admiration between the artists was evident all night, but never more so than during this brief collaboration.
About an hour into the set, Gramatik took a moment to relay to the audience that the City of Denver would allow just 15 more minutes before calling the show. Safe travel home for the patrons became the priority. Thus, the show’s energy amplified tenfold. It was clear that Gramatik and crew wanted to make up for lost time. During the latter portions of the performance, a memorable, magical, hell yes type of moment occurred. Gibbz came front and center and beautifully covered Prince’s “Kiss.” His falsetto and energy were a combination made in Heaven as he danced in the accumulating snow.
After the applause had faded for Gibbz’s remarkable rendition and the chorus of Parliament Funkadelic’s “Give Up the Funk” was played repeatedly, (and naturally, picked up and sung loudly by the audience) Gramatik swallowed noticeable disappointment and announced his fifteen minutes was up; the show was over. He bowed, took a few epic selfies with the thoroughly soaked crowd, and made his exit as The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” bounced off the rocks and served as an anthem for the departing crowd. However, it never felt like a show that was cut short. Rather, it felt like one that packed as much energy and enthusiasm as humanly possible into the time that was allotted. And what more can we as fans ask for? It was a night for the books; one that will not soon be forgotten. It was one of those nights we can all look back on and remember; a night that will live in infamy; a night that will become legendary.
Fortunately, we were able to catch up with the electro hip-hop pioneer before the show and discuss his upcoming EP Epigram, his creative process, and his thoughts on Red Rocks. Check out the interview below and keep an eye out for his new EP!
303 Magazine: Your sound is incredibly unique, with hints of hip-hop, funk, reggae, and rock. How’d you find this sound and when did you realize it could all coalesce and fit beautifully under an electronic umbrella?
All these are the sounds I grew up with. Funk, soul, jazz, hip-hop, blues and electronic music. In Slovenia, electronic music has been around since the ’80s and in my home town there is a 3k cap venue where Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren, Carl Cox and other big names played in the past 15 years. All the big names in trance, techno, house and other electronic genres came through. One of my first albums was Expedition 44, which was my take on genres like tech-house, house and similar. Nowadays, I just try to make music that I like with talented people I respect musically. We don’t care for genres, we just use them to make music we enjoy.
On that note, what can we expect from your highly anticipated EP, Epigram?
The first single, “Native Son,” is a soulful song written by Orlando Napier and we invited Raekwon, one of my childhood heroes, to record a verse on it. The second single I produced with my friend from back home. It’s our homage to famous French sound. The EP will be very diverse, another of collaboration with Haywyre and Gibbz. An old school hip-hop banger with ProbCause and so on. Eight tracks all together. Funk will hold everything together :).
Your Red Rocks show sold out in 2014 and repeated that trend this year. Can you explain what makes Red Rocks so special?
2011 was the first time I played Red Rocks; I opened for Pretty Lights and it was unbelievable. There I was — a dude from Slovenia playing at one of most amazing and legendary venues in the world. And I played there every year since. Knowing that I have so many fans in Colorado is pretty overwhelming, so every year when we come back we want to bring a bigger, more elaborate show — musically and visually. We always premiere new songs there and we always have special guests sitting in. All this qualifies as very special right?
The acoustics of the amphitheatre must catalyze your already bold sound.
Definitely, and it doesn’t have to be very loud and still everyone can hear it perfectly.
Do you have a favorite memory while on tour?
[Laughs] Yes. Being off tour.
Can you tell us about your creative process? It must be long, diligent hours in the studio in order to find the perfect combination of sounds– that beautiful cacophony.
It definitely takes a lot of sitting behind the computer just putting all the pieces together, utilizing all recorded samples, time consuming, mastering… The most fun is when you can collaborate with someone and see his perspective on the track, see his creativity. Mostly these things happen really spontaneously, and on Lowtemp we have a lot of talented artists, so we collaborate on a regular basis.
Which of today’s artists are you listening to?
I’m very open with the music I like; you can find it all over my social media and streaming platforms like Spotify, Deezer and SoundCloud. Through our Lowtemp I listen to all applications so I can decide what to release. I made a mix for Thump recently where you can find music that I like.
In a genre becoming more and more crowded with an influx of hopeful artists, you are top-of-mind recall for many and your sound is perpetually unique. What’s your secret?
[Laughs] I don’t know. Unique in the eye of the beholder so maybe we should ask the beholder. I think the key is staying loyal to yourself and your vision and not compromising your art for career boosts, label sign-ups and money opportunities. I’m doing my thing.
Do you have a strict setlist entering each performance, or is it a more spontaneous decision? Do you have a favorite song to perform live?
I perform live right now with two instrumentalists and our shows are getting more elaborate musically and visually, so we consider ourselves a band performance. At shows everything has to be perfect, and to bring you the best live experience we usually perform what we’ve practiced so there aren’t any surprises on the stage. But, we try to be spontaneous as much as we can in the circumstances.
Any pre-show rituals we should know about?
Not really, I light a joint and I go on.
How’d Coachella go?
Perfectly. We premiered our new song from the stage with Raekwon and Orlando Napier and there was around 20k people in the Sahara Tent. It was pretty amazing. The second weekend I dropped “C.R.E.A.M.” by Wu Tang Clan and Raekwon dropped his verse on it. Now I can cross it from my bucket list.
Can we expect more guests as the tour rolls on?
Russ Liquid and Gibbz are playing with me throughout the summer festival season in the U.S. and EU and apart from that we have a couple of surprises ready to unleash.
Finally, describe your concerts for any potential first-time attendees this year. What sets you apart? What do you hope to leave your fans with?
Huh, that’s hard. I think that I came this far because of my fans; I never signed with any major label, never got in the mainstream media, never been on the charts, radio or TV. And I still get to play Red Rocks. So, I’m immensely thankful for all the fans that found my music on the internet despite all odds and found it so special that they allow me to perform it at Red Rocks. I hope that when they leave a Gramatik show it will forever stay in their memories as the one worth mentioning.
Written by Connor Young of 303 Magazine.