Porter Robinson’s ‘Worlds’ Tour: A Stunning Spectacle of Self-Expression

Porter Robinson used over-the-top EDM theatrics to bring a fantastic video game world full of charm and emotional depth to the 9:30 Club on Oct. 13.

The rising star’s debut LP, Worlds, invited listeners to the mythical realms of Robinson’s mind, driven by his passion for video games and anime. The show brought that concept to life visually with a stunning LED light show brimming with confetti climaxes and pulsing strobes, all commanded ostensibly by Robinson and his glowing blue, arch-shaped glass controller.

District fans eagerly accepted Robinson’s invitation to his imaginary world despite it being far outside of mainstream culture. Some female concertgoers dressed for the video game theme, donning anime-inspired outfits with bright, tight skirts and tops, crowned with plush toboggan-style animal hats with attached paw mittens. Men wore vibrant tank tops, with more than a few opting for light-up gloves that have become ubiquitous in the EDM scene.

Often, EDM artists are guilty of playing prerecorded during live shows while they hype up the crowd. Robinson, on the other hand, used his set to showcase his musical talent, adding synthesizer phrases to “Fresh Static Snow,” pounding an electronic drum on “Fellow Feeling,” singing on “Sad Machine,” and weaving elements of his hit “Easy” throughout the set. He dripped charisma, but not in the traditional sense — the source wasn’t a commanding physical presence or self-centered stagecraft, but rather, Robinson’s passion for the project. As lights splashed around but not quite on his slight figure, Robinson’s signature black bangs bounced, often over a proud, wide, bright smile. The audience’s reaction to Robinson was rapture, as the air filled with jumping bodies and flying fists on the artist’s command.

Digital consumption was not only the inspiration for Robinson’s show, but also the driving force behind it. Anime characters acted out drama on-screen, with Robinson’s lyrics (sometimes in Japanese) as dialogue. Messages danced across the screen in pixilated LED video game font, with prompts to hit the “R Button” to get to the next screen. Fantasy characters explored mystical worlds, sometimes lush with clouds, other times shattered with rigid edges. The 9:30 Club transforming into a sea of raised smartphones mid-set would ordinarily be a nuisance at best (and a show ruiner at worst), but the phones held high in the air Monday seemed at home, like the fans holding them were playing along in Robinson’s world on their own portable consoles.

Robinson’s visually enchanting dreamscapes accompanied stirring instrumentals and what he, without a hint of cynicism, called “cute” vocals. When the beat dropped though, all hell broke loose. What can only be described as demonic beats interspersed Robinson’s serene and poignant instrumentals on songs like “Fellow Feeling,” replacing on-screen fantasy with a different kind of magic: dark static, red shards and blazing strobe lights.

On more accessible hits, bass drops brought ecstasy. The screen behind Robinson exhibited dreamy cityscapes and Japanese temples. Pokemon-esque creaures cascaded down the display as confetti cannons fired, streamers flew and steam exploded from the stage. At times, the production was overdone though, and what may have been intentional sonic and visual glitches came off as mistakes caused by the tour pushing technology to the breaking point.

Robinson’s ambition for the tour paid off, though. The show was a spectacle for the senses that left the exasperated audience members near me in utter amazement, muttering things like, “Porter is amazing!” and “this is so touching!” Robinson had the presence of an EDM superstar, but he derived power from personality, passion, ideas and emotions. The set was a statement of self that thrived under his decidedly outside-the-box taste. The pronounced success of Porter Robinson’s show in the context of cultural grumblings rejecting all things “basic” demonstrates that EDM, and pop culture more broadly, is entering a new era, one in which nerdy is the new normal.

This article originally appeared in The Downtowner’s October 2014 issue.