Governors Ball this year was about one artist and one artist only – the man, the myth, the legend, the Prince of Darkness, Gesaffelstein.
Usually the music portion of my festival recaps are a highlight reel of my favorites, or possibly of memorable disappointments. But while I saw a good 6 hours’ worth of music at Governors Ball last Friday, only one artist matters.
I first heard of Gesaffelstein in pre-blog 2014. I went to Spring Awakening festival in Chicago and ended up on a group chat of roughly 30 people, all of whom had connections to some others in the group (and no one had connections to everyone) and various subsets of the group met up at different points in the weekend. One woman in the group was remarkably quiet every time I hung out with her, lurking around during our meetups, not being particularly chatty. But then in the late nights, when everyone was on their respective ways home from the festival and our group text lit up with talk of favorite sets of the day and favorite artists in general, she came alive.
“I love anything dark, deep and dirty. Like Gesaffelstein.”
Gesaffelstein, for the record, was not playing this festival. But she repeated this phrase countless times over the 3 days. Dark, deep, and dirty, like Gesaffelstein. It was a little creepy.
When I got back to New York, I felt compelled to check out this producer I had never heard of, after a weekend of not-so-subliminal messaging burned his name into my brain. I did this despite the fact that dark, deep, and dirty are not words I ever use to describe my taste in music.
To my surprise, I liked it. It sounded like the score to a horror movie, with someone about to meet their end in an abandoned warehouse. But…in a great way? It tapped into this dark part of my soul in an oddly delightful way. Dancing to Gesaffelstein felt like an upbeat exorcism. It is unlike anything else I listen to.
I saw Gesaffelstein live a number of times over the years, including on New Years Eve 2016 with my friend Cody who I didn’t know back during Spring Awakening but who shares a love of this producer. Each time I saw Gesaffelstein live, he had the same sort of stoic presence. He would stand still, wearing sunglasses and chain smoking cigarettes, never speaking. None of the, “Hey what’s up New York how y’all doin tonight??” between-song banter of other producers. Just silence and cigarettes. I chalked it up to him being cool and French.
At Coachella this year, Gesaffelstein was one of the sets that was live-streamed over YouTube, so I crawled into bed at 11pm on a Sunday night and pulled up the stream on my TV. I texted Cody – who wouldn’t be able to watch the set himself – with my excitement. And then the set began, and I continued texting.
He’s covered in glitter.
Even his face and hair.
I don’t know what’s happening but I like it.
He looks like a glitter statue.
I tried to take photos of my TV. I tweeted about it incessantly for days. I couldn’t get over the transformation. He of intentionally minimal on-stage personality all of a sudden had this jarringly incredible re-brand. I later learned that his outfit was not glitter but a reflective black, and he was standing in front of a monolith made of vantablack, a highly expensive material so dark it absorbs all light and causes confusion for the human eye.
This was the turning point for me that made me go from never wanting to go to Coachella to proverbially yelling, “COACHELLA 2020” from the rooftops, like a campaign slogan. If this was the kind of thing artists do at this festival, I am all in (Beyonce’s “Homecoming” movie also had a lot to do with my mind changing).
We bought tickets very shortly thereafter to the day of Governors Ball that Gesaffelstein was slated to play. I joked that if he didn’t wear the glitter outfit, I was leaving. But I knew that he wouldn’t wear it; that outfit was a Coachella special.
As we waited for his set to start, the anticipation was through the roof. We hadn’t seen Gesaffelstein live since New Years 3.5 years earlier. He recently put out a sort of poppy album, and we speculated whether his set would be intense or upbeat. I said, yet again, that my fingers were crossed for the glitter suit, even while knowing it wouldn’t happen.
Except it did happen. The vantablack monolith parted, and out walked Gesaffelstein, in his full sparkling glory. I was overjoyed. His set was incredible but short; it was scheduled for 75 minutes but he both started late and ended early. It was both intense and poppy, and appealed to both the light and the dark (and deep, and dirty) within us.
I think this contradiction is one of my favorite things about this performer. This is a man who makes music that is honestly a little bit frightening but is also creating a custom soundtrack for a high-end men’s fashion show in Paris later this month (for designer Balmain, who created his glitter suit). He never speaks on stage but he has collaborations with Kanye West, Pharrell, The Weeknd, and other huge names. It’s weird, but it works.
The best part is, I don’t have to wait 3 years before seeing him again. There’s a 2 night run coming this November in Brooklyn. I hope the glitter suit comes with him.