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David Guetta at Electric Zoo 2012: Mr. EDM finally delivers an unusually risky set to mixed reactions

David Guetta is probably one of the most interesting artists still heavily involved in the music scene today. On one hand, he’s one of the most prominent, longest-standing DJs in the game, getting his start as a seventeen-year-old jockey in Parisian nightclubs. On the other hand, he’s the man who brought the world such anthems as “I Gotta Feeling” and “Sexy Bitch,” which have become positively ingrained in American pop culture.

There’s no denying that Guetta’s mainstream appeal has led to his exponential rise in popularity for the past number of years, and his ability to attract long-time dance music fans and new-to-the-scene teenie-boppers is both a blessing and a curse. Never was this more apparent to me than after watching his set at this year’s Electric Zoo.

Last time I saw David live was at Ultra Music Festival in Miami this past March. At the time, I wrote that his well-mixed blend of established favorites worked wonders with the crowd, and that he arguably “stole day 3″ of the show. Of course, the tracklist was essentially all top 10 hits that your parents probably know most of the words to — but since David produced them all, he’s allowed to play them all, right?

The David Guetta at this year’s Electric Zoo Festival was someone more willing to diverge from his usual shtick — a David Guetta unwilling to play only the songs that everyone expected, and only songs that he had produced. He knew that the New York crowd demanded more than the usual rotation of pool-party starters, and one night before Axwell blew everyone’s minds, he decided to change things up for himsel. A number exceedingly hard productions that gave the set a much darker start than usual — even if he did kick things off with back-to-back Sia tracks.

Things seemed normal in the beginning when the set got underway with Alesso’s remix of “Titanium,” but from there he quickly got into the new music. He proudly proclaimed that he was playing his newest single “She Wolf” for “the first time in the US,” but the crowd had a muted reaction to the dramatic, heavy track. He even tried to start an impromptu wave from his perch high atop the main stage platform, but that was only questionably successful with the crowd.

David Guetta feat Sia – She Wolf (Falling To Pieces) (Extended Mix)

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From there, he proceeded to take things along a much darker path than usual. DJ Obek and MC Ambush’s just released track “Craissy” was bootlegged with another acapella, and the hard-hitting electro offering was followed up with the most recent Jack Back release from Spencer & Hill, “1234.” Despite the rather aggressive (and admittedly quite good) music, the crowd’s energy faltered noticeably during the sequence. I was surprised by the relatively tame response to the usually-epic opening sequence of “Sweat,” which he used to coax the crowd back in. Perhaps a long day of partying under the nearly 100 degree heat was finally getting to attendees, but the reaction was just not the same as at past festivals.

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Spencer and Hill – 1234

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After the slow first 30 minutes, David got back into a groove and quickly commanded the crowd’s complete attention and enthusiasm yet again. Afrojack’s “Rock The House” got Estelle’s “One Love” acapella, and that refreshing combination was followed up with the hotly-anticipated Sebastian Ingrosso / Tommy Trash collaboration, “Reload.” He played a new track called “Just One Last Time,” along with established overplayed anthems “Atom” and “Troll,” which at least got Will.I.Am and Eva Simons’ “This Is Love” acapella. It was certainly a different selection of tracks from Guetta, and I was personally surprised by many of his choices. Still, he needed to reel the crowd back in, and he was able to do so with these established favorites.

He kicked off the last leg of the set with Thomas Gold’s awesome bootleg of “Fix You” with “Apologize” and “Million Voices,” allowing me to forget the first half of the show and start fresh. Afrojack’s upcoming “bedtime track” helped bring the energy back down, before Michael Calfan’s remix of “Turn Me On.” There was also a medley of “Can’t Stop Me” with “I Can Only Imagine,” and bits and pieces of “Sunshine” with Florence and the Machine’s “Spectrum” vocal thrown in for good measure. By now, David had fully regained the crowd’s attention, even if it took him a bit longer than normal to do so.

David Guetta ft. Nicky Minaj – Turn Me On (Michael Calfan Remix)

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Guetta’s last song selection of the night was poetic: his aptly-titled collaboration with Usher, “Without You.” It was a fitting end to a set that had a noticeably different energy from what I’ve personally come to expect. Things started off rather slow, and I think David’s newer tracks would’ve gone over better later in the set after people warmed up with some more of the classics.

I would be hard-pressed to say that this was my favorite Guetta show, but it was still a positive experience for me as a person fixated on the longevity of this music. Guetta announced his Jack Back imprint just a few short months ago at Ultra, and he is already slowly introducing his fans to what he believes is the next step for dance music. So no, don’t expect to hear “Sexy Bitch” in many sets moving forward, but do expect to hear more new sounds and new selections if you catch him live. In the same way that David’s previous unique brand of pop-house music seemed so new to us a few short years ago, I suspect he’s sowing the seeds for the evolution of that sound now.

Even though David Guetta’s Electric Zoo set wasn’t his best, his willingness to take risks and his effortless ability to turn around a crowd personally renewed my faith in his ability to keep things fresh — and that’s exactly what a good DJ is supposed to do.

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