Has enough time elapsed for electronic music as a genre to take a victory lap? For BBC Radio 1 DJ Pete Tong last night at the Hollywood Bowl, the answer was a resounding “yes.” The British DJ and tastemaker, now a Los Angeles resident, led a 65-piece orchestra through several beloved dancefloor staples as part of his “Ibiza Classics” touring extravaganza, performed previously at such venerable venues as London’s Royal Albert Hall. Thursday’s Hollywood Bowl show follows Pete’s recent “Classic House” album earlier this year, and precedes the upcoming LP release of “Ibiza Classics” on Dec 1.
“Ibiza is synonymous with the history of dance and electronic music, that’s what the show’s about,” said Tong in a promo video for the event. “There’s so much great music that means so much to so many people, I wanted to celebrate that legacy.”
And celebrate Tong and the Heritage Orchestra (led by avant-garde composer Jules Buckley) did last night, to a bustling crowd consisting mostly of Los Angeles area 30- and 40-somethings old enough to remember dancing to songs such as Inner City’s 1988 classic “Good Life” when the songs first came out.
So how did the classical (yet still with beats) re-imagining of songs such as Daft Punk’s “One More Time” sound with a full orchestra? That depended on the offering in question. Most of the arrangements were inspired, and even improved upon, such as the Heritage Orchestra and Tong’s lush string-laden take on house music evergreen “Strings of Life.” Similarly, the show’s opener was outstanding, a swirling, symphonic version of Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here, Right Now.”
The show struggled a bit when it veered into more current dance-music territory, like when Tong and the Orchestra tackled tunes such as Jax Jones’ 2016 release “You Don’t Know Me,” on which live vocal duties last night fell to Aluna Francis, who lacked original singer Raye’s sass to fully engage the listener. But other special guests at the show wowed the crowd, such as Aloe Blacc, who performed a stellar, near spiritual rendition of house music staple “You Got the Love” to close out the evening. And (adopted) hometown hero Moby fared well with two of his best-known tracks, “Porcelain,” and “Go.”
Still, the show was at its best when Tong and the Heritage Orchestra dug back deep into the archives for arpeggio-heavy anthems with iconic riffs such as Faithless’ “Insomnia” (1995) or Energy 52’s “Café Del Mar,” the classical arrangement for which was goosebump-inducing.
Tong’s timing for his “Ibiza Classics” couldn’t be better, as dance music’s growing obsession with live instrumentation has been supplanting just a DJ staring back at a crowd. The show also serves as a testament to the often-daring electronic music songwriting of the 1990s, something new producers surely learn from in 2017. “Ibiza Classics” at the Hollywood Bowl was both a fresh look back at a genre that has moved millions worldwide over the past few decades, and perhaps a hint of dance music’s more mature future, as well.