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VIRTUAL SELF @ Aragon Ballroom

Virtual Self
Where: Aragon Ballroom
When: September 7th, 2018
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed and Photographed by: Neil Miller, Jr.

It’s hardly uncommon for electronic music producers to release music under different monikers.  It allows them the freedom to step outside the box that their day job confines them to.  While some artists may not veer too far outside their comfort zone for side projects, Virtual Self is worlds apart from the rest of Porter Robinson’s catalog.  Virtual Self is an appropriate name because this project is most likely one of self-indulgence.  Instead of catering to his more EDM-centric fanbase, the Virtual Self project is packed full of electronic music subgenres that we just don’t hear about much anymore.  But it isn’t off-putting at all, quite the contrary in fact: it’s all run through the Porter Robinson brain, so he’s found a way to make all these crazy niche sounds appeal to a wide audience.  But for the real Virtual Self experience, it begs to be seen and heard live.  Luckily for yours truly, I caught the Chicago show this past Friday night.

The best way to really explain what a live Virtual Self experience is this: Imagine that you’re holding a flyer for a massive underground warehouse party circa 1995 through maybe 2002.  That flyer will likely have loads of DJ names on it, perhaps with what genres they spin or what rooms they’ll be playing in.  There’s probably some gabber, jungle, techno, Eurodance, trance, and the like.  Now get yourself a huge blender and throw those hypothetical DJ’s and their record collections in and puree.  There’s your Virtual Self show.  It’s the legitimate cross section between all those genres I mentioned and so much more.  This is music for electronic music purists and also gamer geeks who lose their mind over video game music being worked into DJ sets.

I, for one, loved it.  It was an absolute blast.  The light show was appropriately intense for the set and it wasn’t some huge overblown EDM spectacle.  The focus was placed squarely on the silhouette of Porter Robinson playing out a time machine of a setlist from his table surrounded by lights against the backdrop of a visual screen.  You couldn’t see his face for nearly the entire show and it’s fair to assume that’s likely intentional.  He was also feeling sick leading up to the show so for him to still play a nearly two hour set was impressive in itself.  He performed all the Virtual Self EP (save for “Key”) but it was the rest of the set that was appropriately mind-blowing.  It was essentially a DJ set, but it flowed nicely and once it got to be the last 45 minutes or so, it really picked up speed…literally.  The hardcore tunes came toward the end and really helped to weed out those who were maybe hoping for some lighter Porter Robinson fare.  But for the most part, the room was filled with people banging their heads and pumping their fists right along with the 160BPM+ cuts.

My favorite part of the show had to be the inclusion of Dance Dance Revolution music, though.  To hear the music I used to listen to during five hour stints of playing DDR at my local mall being played through a big soundsystem, by a guy who truly respects the music, was absolutely transcendent.  I am one of those previously mentioned ‘gamer geeks’ and I lost my mind over hearing that music in a big room.  Even if this is a project of self-indulgence, there are a lot of people who are grateful that Porter Robinson is doing Virtual Self – myself included.  Electronic music anymore has become so much about looking into the future for new sounds and production methods that we’ve forgotten about the music that carried the genre to where it is now.  It is possible to pay tribute in a forward-thinking manner and that is what Virtual Self seems to be about: a sort of retrofuturism.  If he managed to churn out a show like what Chicago experienced this weekend with only six released songs under his belt, I can’t even imagine what kind of a show we’ll get after there’s a whole Virtual Self album.  If you get a chance to witness a live Virtual Self experience, be kind to yourself and just get there.

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