Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 16, 2024

JAM is hit and miss as performance, festival

By NIKITA SHTARKMAN | October 6, 2016


SACHYN MITAL/CC-SA-3.0 Robert Delong’s flashy equipment setup, face paint and use of superfluous props didn’t help his set.

Traveling in packs, students wandered past the FFC on their way to the Ralph S. O’Connor center, filtered past the security and entered JAM, the Johns Hopkins Annual Music Festival. There was a steady stream of roving students from 5 p.m. onwards. They were greeted by a gymnasium floor covered by a tarp with a raised platform and a big, curtained backstage.

The event was started off by Agni Bhattacharya, a Hopkins senior who ran the turntables for the first hour. His set was an incredibly eclectic mix of EDM tracks, warming up the incoming crowd for the rest of the show. Even when tasked with performing 15 minutes longer than expected, due to D.R.A.M’s difficulties recovering from a drugged out haze, Bhattacharya handled it perfectly, keeping the great energy going.

Soon though, D.R.A.M burst out onto the stage, wearing a simple baseball cap, an oversized coat and some Gucci flip flops. He hovered over the crowd with his dreads rippling and his eyes glowing, belting out the falsetto notes effortlessly.

“I think you’re cute,” he yelled through the pounding speakers.

With pitch-perfect vocals, he controlled the stage, stepping confidently back and forth and bouncing with the drums. Unfortunately, most of the Hopkins student body didn’t know the less popular D.R.A.M songs, so great tracks like “$” and “Caretaker” were met with less of a reaction than they should have been. As expected though, “Broccoli” was a clear standout. The crowd was singing every word to what was probably the song of the summer.

Party Favor was a great follow up. His set started off weak, as a great part of the crowd began to filter out, but within a couple minutes, he had most of them running back. By dropping short samples of hits, including classic Biggie and Chief Keef lyrics, and turning them into driven, rollicking EDM tracks, he created this distinct soundscape that called for dancing and celebration.

The drums knocked at high tempo and the bass hit violently. When the kicks rattled, chests shook. It was here that actual moshing really started. The crowd turned from a spread out, divided scene into a single sweaty mess, clambering as close as possible to the edge of the stage. When Party Favor finished, everyone was standing wild with anticipation.

Robert DeLong came out next, a skinny, blonde-haired multi-instrumentalist with a painted face. His set was a flood of energy. Hopping from drums to keys to mixing boards, he controlled every aspect of the music. He had a huge projector showing live footage and lyrics. Unfortunately, while his tracks are powerful and energetic, they just didn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the show.

Following Party Favor’s immense, booming production, DeLong’s subtler, smoother tracks felt like an anticlimax. What bothered me most is that at the peak of each song, DeLong would whip out a random game controller — I spotted a N64 controller, a PC joystick and a Wii-mote — and wildly gesture with it.

Along with playing some out-of-place songs, he also stayed up for an exceptionally long while. By the end most of the crowd was calling for iLoveMakonnen, only to be met by more synth-filled, drum-heavy indie EDM.

Finally, ten minutes too late, DeLong traipsed off the stage. All of his accessories were cleared, leaving only speakers and a table with a mixer. Makonnen’s DJ/hypeman sauntered onto the stage and flipped through hits, sparking with Future and The Weeknd’s “Low Life.”

After a few more bangers, Makonnen, dressed very casually and looking like an ordinary person, fitter and smaller than expected, burst out into the center and tore into each song. The mob at the front now became a sea of jumping and yelling. Screams tore through the audience. The energy only rose after that point.

After going through some of his lesser known tracks, including “Big Gucci,” Makonnen focused on his hits. Songs like “Wrist” and “Trust me Danny” were significantly better live than on the radio — they were loud and explosive. When he got to “Swerve” and “Tuesday” the crowd became one mass, each member hopping with eyes closed and mind clear.

Makonnen said that this concert had come close to being canceled because of this moist, horrifically depressing weather. “The dean told me that I had two options: cancel the show or come turn this b*tch up.”

Makonnen obviously chose the latter.

The biggest disappointment of JAM was the turnout. The space set aside for the crowd was never more than half filled. JAM was a divisive event, splitting the people who truly cared about the concert and those that didn’t.

Those that did care stood connected to the front of the stage, leaping over each other and waiting for the act they most wanted to see. Those that weren’t excited about the music hovered by the back and filtered out steadily whenever an act they weren’t interested in came on.

I wouldn’t call JAM a great concert, but I would definitely say it had some phenomenal performances. There are a few fixes that would make it an infinitely better experience.

A restructuring of the openers would have saved the show. With Delong first, Party Favor next and D.R.A.M just before Makonnen, the show would have had a logical flow. What’s more, the venue should fit the crowd. There is something disengaging about seeing an empty space near the back. With those changes implemented, I have no doubt that JAM could become one of the most popular events of the year.

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