Last Saturday night in San Francisco, it was impossible to look in any direction without seeing the same curious costume: an enigmatic figure completely covered head to toe in white with an equally white bucket on his head. Painted on the bucket were two black “x”s where the eyes should’ve been as well as an eerily long grin smacked from one side of the face to the other.
In any other situation, this would be an intensely unsettling experience, as if someone had accidentally walked into the headquarters of some underground cult that required such a uniform. But this was expected here, even celebrated, as everyone wanted to dress up as the star of the show. On Jan. 21, electronic dance music producer and DJ Marshmello played a sold-out show at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium as a part of “The Ritual Tour.”
Though his real identity remains unknown because of his Daft Punk-esque signature-mask look, Marshmello has been on an upward climb since 2015, when he began to gain recognition for his remixes of popular EDM hits such as Zedd’s “Beautiful Now.” In 2016, he released his debut album Joytime, and since then he’s only been gaining more steam — his biggest hit “Alone” has garnered over 70,000,000 views on YouTube.
But his iconic look would mean nothing without an iconic show to back him up. And he didn’t disappoint; his set transported the audience to a whimsical, magical place reminiscent of Narnia — that is, if Narnia were full of flashing rainbow lasers and sprout-like versions of Marshmello.
Marshmello utilized an effective balance of his original hits and ever-popular remixes to keep the audience enticed while maintaining a signature style throughout. He performed his breakouts, such as “Alone,” “Ritual” and “Keep it Mello,” all of which incorporate his explosive use of synth and bass in combination with his insatiably catchy grooves. Each song includes lyrics that, while simple, further energize the tracks with head-bobbing hooks that invited audience participation at the show.
He furthered his set with electrifying remixes of Adele’s “Hello” and Jack Ü’s “Where Are Ü Now,” which take the original hits and bling them up to Marshmello status. Using his signature style synth while adding in edgy shifts and banging drops, his live show brought more hype to some of the past decade’s biggest hits.
In almost every song, his iconic look was portrayed on screen in some twisted fashion, including mini versions of himself dancing and a logo version of himself undergoing multiplication. These flares were a signature, a specificity. No other artist can so blatantly include their image as part of the show, but for Marshmello, it’s the fuel for the hype.
Mixed within these representations were fascinatingly confusing animations — from endless pathways that spun toward eternity to painted splotches that shone with every color of the rainbow. They were a drug-like supplement to Marshmello’s music, inviting the audience to enjoy the dual experience of musical and visual overload.
And when the beat dropped, it was simply an excuse for the lights to go haywire, as if a gleeful child were rolling around the light board in tune with the music. Placing the cherry on top, there were constant stunts on stage, from confetti explosions to theatrical smoke, adding together to make an increasingly overwhelming experience of euphoria.
Besides those who decided to dress up as Marshmello, there were hundreds of others dressed for the occasion. From girls in only lingerie to guys shirtless and in shorts, everyone was prepped for the dance party inside. Some adopted glasses that refracted light to enrich the experience, while others wore countless bracelets on their arms, dubbed “kandi,” that were to be traded with other ravers.
When “Alone” played, the crowd shouted along with the lyrics “I’m so alone” over and over again as if it were their anthem, despite most being sandwiched between countless others in the crowd. This speaks to Marshmello’s ability to make songs that can both connect to an inner insecurity shared by many while also countering that by bringing people together in a way that calls for simple joy and fond flashbacks.