Blacklizted: ZHU just proved that he is the king of theme parties
Concerts are a way of life for the average New Yorker. The pressure to see your favorite artist when they come to the city is mitigated by the number of events taking place every weekend. Artists sometimes visit multiple times a year, and New Yorkers tend to adopt a nonchalant attitude towards even the biggest acts in the world. We shrug off Tiësto or Kanye coming to town because… give it a couple of months. They’ll be back. Plus, two or three of your other favorite artists are probably performing this weekend anyway.
I first caught wind of ZHU’s Blacklizt concert from my friend who said that I should text the letter “z” to a random phone number for more information. Intrigued by the unique invitation process, I sent the best “z” I could type to the mysterious number, and an automatic reply told me to wait patiently until for further instructions. This was unusual enough to get my attention. Could this be the novel concert-going experience I had been waiting for? About a month later a text came in that explained where to purchase the tickets: a random address on the Lower East Side. I’m generally against leaving the comfort of my home for groceries — let alone to purchase a ticket — but my interest had been piqued.
Upon arriving at the boutique clothing store in the LES where the tickets were being sold, I was greeted by a couple of friendly hipsters who asked for my contact information. They took my money in exchange for a black envelope that contained a “citation” and black bandana emblazoned with the word “blacklizst.” I was also informed that the location of the event would be texted to me 48 hours before the concert, and that it might be in Jersey (sigh — but let’s see how this plays out). The friendly hipster asked if I had ever seen ZHU before, and made sure that I knew I could not give my ticket to anyone. I was allowed to buy a ticket for someone else, but that person would only be allowed entry if they came with me. It couldn’t have felt more underground.
If you’re not already familiar with ZHU, you need to be. The Chinese American producer (who’s full name is Steven Zhu) has provided dance music with a much needed 4th dimension. He came out swinging with freshmen tracks like Faded and Cocaine Model that have paved the way for more serious collaborations, darker subject matter, and a more complex musical vocabulary. He also has a knack for remixes that reinterpret songs you know in ways you wouldn’t expect. Artistically, he’s grown up before our eyes in the past few years. Except that we didn’t even know what he looked like while he began releasing his music anonymously. And yes, he’s the one singing most of his tracks — and he does it live… while mixing. ZHU is to EDM what The Weeknd is to R&B music.
As promised, 48 hours before the concert we received a text with a video teaser for a new song ft. NERO, and the coordinates we had been waiting for. The concert wouldn’t be taking place in Jersey (phew). Instead, we were headed downtown to “130 Bowery,” an address between Chinatown and the Lower East Side and the site of a historic building from the 1800's that used to house the Bowery Savings Bank. The building’s dark twisted history would serve as a perfect backdrop to ZHU’s brand of brooding house music. After how meticulously thought-out the whole experience had been up to this point, I doubt this was just an accidental pairing. We were also told that we “must wear all black or entry will be denied.” And they actually sounded serious.
We arrived at the venue around 11:00 PM and the line was moving quickly. Security wasn’t messing around about the black clothing rule. They actually offered to spray paint any article of clothing that wasn’t black, including dark blue jeans. The guy ahead of us in line was hoping his black shirt featuring The Weekend’s “XO” brand logo was going to cut it. Surprisingly, there was absolutely no pat-down whatsoever. Inside, the atmosphere was the perfect combination of curated and chaotic. Black mannequins lined the walls wearing ZHU merchandise, and industrial scaffolding had been erected in seemly random places throughout the venue. The lighting was exclusively white and beamed out from behind the stage, obstructing our view. (This is pretty normal for ZHU concerts — remember how I said he likes anonymity?) The sound was boomy and raw. The speakers were hung low. It was the perfect atmosphere.
Let’s get one thing straight, this was not a PLURy, ravey, let’s-make-some-friendship-bracelets crowd. These were some hardcore clubbers who came for heavy EDM. Sadly, this meant that several of them were douchebags from Jersey, but it somehow seemed like an appropriate demographic for a Blacklizt party. At least we weren’t in Jersey.
Around 11:45, well before anyone in the crowd expected ZHU to make an appearance, we heard a voice from above that said, “look behind you.” Everyone turned around only to see the man himself elevated above the crowd at some turntables on one of the scaffolds directly behind us. The lights came up, and we realized that he had been DJing the whole time. He proceeded to play about an hour of techno, before leaving that rig and moving to the main stage. Dancers of varying ethnicities performed on the balcony and scaffolding to hold the crowd’s attention while he made the transition.
From the main stage, ZHU proceeded to melt all of our faces with track after track, all the while soothing our damaged eardrums with his coarse, yet smooth falsetto. I’m going to refrain from reviewing his set, mainly because this article is supposed to be about the Blacklizt event itself. Just go listen to his set from Ultra and you’ll get the idea. It’s a sexy brand of EDM that takes no prisoners. He only stopped the music a couple of times, once to start a “kick him out, kick him out” chant directed at a member of the audience who was wearing a white hat, and another time about halfway through the set because the FIRE ALARM went off. The fire alarm incident was unfortunate, as some of ZHU’s sound had to be cut while, I assume, everyone responsible for the production of the show had a mild heart attack. Oh, and he dropped that new track ft. NERO:
The night ended uneventfully. We left around 3:30 AM as things began to to die down.
The reason I decided to write this article is not because I’m a ZHU-worshiping maniac fangirling over my favorite artist. I’m writing this article because in a day and age where every shoe brand seems to be sponsoring some “la-de-da” cookie-cutter music festival headlined by the same old acts you’ve heard over and over again, ZHU decided to stay true to his brand. He decided that traveling to NYC and performing a set wouldn’t cut it. Instead, ZHU decided that he wanted to invite people to his party — not perform at someone else’s. He took a chance and bet on his music, and it worked. This wasn’t a mass-produced concert put on by one of New York’s many event companies. This was ZHU’s experience. He was calling the shots. He was kicking people out. And he truly produced one of the most unique concerts I have ever attended in this city.