Sometimes I dislike the fact that I have to write “reviews” of live shows and concerts. The rationale is simple really. A great show or concert rarely can be condensed into words and thoughts on paper or screen- the genuinely great show is an experience that has to be lived to be fully appreciated. Markus Schulz’s theatrical open to close set on August 8th at the Avalon in Hollywood is already an instant classic- a performance that transcends the boundaries of the terms “set” or “show” that is commonly used to describe a live DJ performance. You could make the argument that what Markus Schulz delivered on Saturday night in Los Angeles was performance art, and at the very least a historic night in the world of dance music.
The open to close experience that Markus Schulz has become famous for over his career was crafted from his many years as a resident DJ at The Works in Scottsdale, Arizona in the 1990s. On Friday and Saturday nights, Markus could be found at the nightclub performing from “open to close”. That meant that he was the only performing DJ on those nights, and for seven years Markus used that opportunity to hone his unique sound and masterful craft of creating a memorable night from the moment the doors opened to the moment the lights went up. Fast forward more than two decades, and Markus is still performing his signature open to close sets, but this time he is doing it around the world and far less frequently than twice a week. In fact, this year has only given rise to four of these unique nights- the first on March 20th in San Francisco, followed by dates in Seattle, Ibiza and now Los Angeles. The sparseness of these sets is a testament to the fact that they must be performed at the right time in each city, at the right venue, with the proper lead up and anticipation building towards a specific date. With that in mind, Los Angeles was definitely primed for an open to close set this summer. The last time Markus was in LA for a solo set, he played the massive Exchange LA nightclub in the downtown district of the city. And while Exchange LA is a proper dance music club with all of the bells and whistles you come to expect from big budget venues, it was missing the history and soul that the Avalon has provided to Markus’ performances over his career. His last Avalon set was back in May of 2013, and ever since then his fans have been begging for a return to the iconic Los Angeles nightclub.
If the speed of which tickets to the event sold out wasn’t enough to prove that Los Angeles was waiting and willing for this special event, the line that wrapped around both corners of the venue all the way down to Hollywood Blvd. by 10 PM was all you needed to make the point. It’s a shame that hundreds of eager fans were not able to witness Markus’ first tracks. We were some of the very first people in the venue that night, and we can testify to the fact that the man was there behind the decks at 10 PM as the first fans started getting let in. It would make more sense to open the club an hour before his start to allow everyone the opportunity to be there for the beginning, but that’s a logistics issue with the venue and not the artist. Lesson learned for the next time.
Earlier in the week Schulz posted to his Instagram account a teaser of his plan of action for the night. It included two hour increments appropriately titled “Warm Up”, “Heating Up”, “Main Show”, “Chaos”, “Rabbit Hole” and “Classics”. For the most part, Markus stuck to the plan. “Warm Up” filled the room with pulsating bass and slow melodies, saving the big riffs and white noise for the “Main Show”. It was a calculated move by Markus to start this way, building up the night with layers upon layers of sounds to increase the sense of anticipation and to also not fatigue the ear drums of fans who were knowingly in for quite a long night. The first hour of the set was accompanied by LED panels showing giant candelabras flickering in the dark, while Markus zeroed in on his deeper sound. He rarely looked up from the decks during this time, content to hiding in the shadows of the dimly lit stage. It was enough to give you goosebumps, and a few times we found ourselves having to physically shake ourselves from the spell that was cast over the venue. By 11 PM the dance floor was at capacity and the balcony had begun to fill up, yet outside the line getting in still wrapped around the building. This was going to be special.
The “Heating Up” portion of the night ushered in a more Progressive House style that Markus feels right at home digging into, but the moment that the “Main Show” hit it was clear that this was going to be a night to celebrate Trance music and the legends that have molded it over the years. Enough has been said about Markus and his position in the world of Trance music. What doesn’t get mentioned enough is how Markus’ has crafted a unique sound and flow to his sets that goes beyond genre classifications. Markus has always taken a theatrical approach to his music in the studio and live, and his open to close sets are the greatest stage of all for his performance. The “Main Show” included live performances from the beautiful and bubbly Adina Butar and the ethereal voice of Delacey on a haunting rendition of “Destiny”. It was the perfect timing for such performances, breathing fresh air into the Avalon and ushering in a new wave of energy across the dance floor. And even though we were entering the admittedly more accessible “EDM” portion of the night, Markus continually brought it back to a sound that felt more in line with his work under the Dakota alias compared to the last two Scream albums. This is where Markus shines, in his ability to create a musical journey that sounds more like Markus Schulz than it does any specific genre.
Markus has used the “Rabbit Hole” as a device to change the way we experience live DJ performances. During this portion of the night, the goal is to break people away from focusing their attention on him and to instead interact with the friends and fans in the crowd next to them. This is the time when it’s encouraged to explore the venue, strike up a conversation with a stranger, grab a drink at the bar, or simply get lost in the music and dance away the hours. From the “Rabbit Hole” to the “Classics”, everyone was given the opportunity to become a part of the story of the night. This was a party that demanded your participation and energy to make successful. It was amazing to see the dance floor packed at 5 AM, and still again at 6 AM, 7 AM, 8 AM, 9 AM and finally as the clock reached for 9:30 AM and Markus concluded the night. This night wasn’t about going to see a show, it was about being a part of a historic event (nearly 12 hours non-stop by one performing DJ) at the Avalon with Markus Schulz as your conductor and guide. If the open to close sets are his grandest stage of all, then it’s fair to say that this may have been one of his greatest performances to date.
Photos provided courtesy of Sean Moore Photography.
Keep track of Markus’ tour dates on his official website for the next open to close set. For more exclusive interviews and features with Markus Schulz click here.
The songs that are still playing in our head from that night:
“Remember This” – Markus Schulz
“Destiny” – Markus Schulz with live vocals by Delacey
“Seven Sins” – Markus Schulz
“Loops and Tings” – New World Punx (played around 7:30 AM!)
“Radio Slave” feat. Danton Eeprom – Grindhouse (KhoMha vs. New World Punx Bootleg)
“Strobe” – Deadmau5
“Opus” – Eric Prydz
“Ruby” – Cirez-D
“Cloudchaser” – Ilan Bluestone
“Rave” – Sam Paganini
“Sun and Moon” – Above & Beyond