I know because I was there. HARD NYC was part of the "HARD SUMMER" concert series put on by M.I.A., and last Saturday thousands of people got ferries over to Governor’s Island to see acts like Rye Rye, Skream and Benga, Sleigh Bells, Die Antwoord, and of course M.I.A. herself. I was one of those people. So, how did this extremely hyped concert live up to my expectations? Let’s go through, act by act. (Spoiler: M.I.A. was a fucking shit show.)
Rye Rye — I love this girl. She’s a nineteen-year-old rapper from Baltimore, she was dressed like an alien gymnast from 1992, and for the only act to play entirely in daylight, she sure managed to make people feel like they were in a club. At one point, she enthusiastically asked the audience, "Who likes to smoke?!" And when the audienced whooped back at her, she dead-panned, "That’s not cool." Like I said: love.
Skream and Benga — I knew nothing about them before this, except that they played dubstep. But after seeing them, I’m not sure why anyone would listen to them anywhere but at a concert filled with tons of trashed people. All of their songs seemed to end with the same crushing, somehow mosh-friendly beat. Can anyone tell me if that’s normal for dubstep? Also, they kept shouting "Fuck you!" to the audience.
It was also at this point that I was surrounded by a gaggle of what looked like fifteen-year-old hipsters. I felt old, and also like I need to go to the gym more.
Sleigh Bells — The act I was most looking forward to. Ever since I heard one of their songs, I knew I had to see Sleigh Bells live. And while they didn’t disappoint — they were fun and loud and everything I imagined — I think they suffered from being the only straight rock act in a group of electro/hip-hop artists.
Die Antwoord — These guys are fucking frightening. In case you don’t know them: they’re a South African hip-hop group so bizarre I was sure they were a joke at first. But they are not a joke. They honestly seem like they will kill you. Their music is somehow almost un-listenable but mostly incredible, and everyone loved them. And Yo-Landi Vi$$er, the girl in the group, earns those dollar signs in her name. (Hint hint, Kesha.)
M.I.A. — The lady of the evening. Everyone was dying to hear her, and even though most people had been on their feet since 4, very few were sitting when she started at 11:50. Here is what happened when she took the stage:
– A group of women in neon burkas comes out weilding fluorescent power drills, the sound of which almost splits my ears. She starts with "Steppin’ Up", but her mic is fucked. She sings "10 Dollar" and invites female audience members on stage, which was cool if weird, since the song is kind of about sleeping with men for money and/or goods.
– Eventually, she starts in on "Teqkilla." Official length of the song: 6 minutes, 20 seconds. Approximate length of the song at the concert: 30 minutes. After stopping the song to have the burka ladies bring out tequila shots (even though she was clearly already hammered), M.I.A. proceeded to ramble about whatever, while the speakers screamed with feedback, the sounds of shattering glass and gunshots punctured my brain, and blinding lights flashed randomly. At one point she says, "Can I get some more gunshots, please?" Word.
– She repeatedly slurs, "I don’t have a set list, what do you want to hear?" Despite everyone and their mother shouting "Paper Planes", she insists we’re saying "World Town" and "Born Free." She invites people to shriek into her mic. People start to leave.
– Finally, finally, the technical problems seem fixed and she begins to perform "World Town." As she starts, it begins to rain heavily. It’s been hot as hell the whole day. The remaining audience (a large group, it should be noted) erupts into dancing and cheering.
– Until the thunder began. The tech people shut everything down, basically, except for her mic. So she sings two minutes of "Born Free", totally a capella while thunder booms all over the place. The concert is shut down.
Conclusion: Most of the acts were phenomenal. And M.I.A… well, a lot of people wanted to punch her. But I will say it was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen on stage. Was it performance art? Was she having a breakdown? Was she just hammered? I don’t know. But at least I got a good story out of it.