By James Dennis
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Many a concert-goer has departed the venue, ears ringing and head spinning with thoughts of what they might give if only they could be blessed with that experience all over again. Something about those songs that we cherish hits so much harder when they are performed live, as we stand amidst the crowd, feeding off the energy that radiates as much from those around us as it does from the stage. For me, The ‘Shelter Live Tour’, a collaborative venture featuring popular electronic dance musicians Porter Robinson and Madeon, is the show that most readily springs to mind when people ask me to recount my favourite concert experience. Both artists have been hugely influential in my life, and have carved special places in my heart with their respective discographies. As you can imagine, the release of their 2016 collaboration, ‘Shelter’, was an incredible time to be a fan, and the subsequent announcement of a joint tour was just about enough to make my entire year.
To discover what that might be, it is important to know each artist’s respective histories; only by tracing the pair’s separate journeys as artists can we understand what it was that made their coming together so powerful.
2012’s ‘Language’ – one of the most celebrated dance music tracks of the past decade – marked a turning point in his career, although perhaps one that went unrecognised at the time. The track, which saw Robinson embrace a more euphoric, melodic sensibility, was a precursor for what was to come; growing increasingly discontented with the soulless and sonically-restrictive trends that were defining mainstage sets across the world, 2014 saw the then-21 year old perform one of the most striking about-faces in recent dance music history. Taking to Twitter to offer a prelude in which he intimated a desire to write music that captured “the feeling of hugeness and gorgeousness and vastness and beauty”, EDM’s brightest young star discarded the pounding kicks and ear-gouging synths that had made him famous in favour of celestial, glimmering majesty and released ‘Sea of Voices’, an ambiently-tinged epic that was met with near-universal disbelief. The track served as a glimpse into the broader galaxy of Robinson’s vision for what electronic music could be, and was the first official step along a journey that would culminate later than year in the release of his debut studio album, ‘Worlds’
For many – myself included – ‘Worlds’ represents a landmark moment in their relationship with ‘dance music’; drawing on a sensitive yet grandiose emotional palette, Robinson showed the mainstream that electronic music didn’t have to make the listener ‘feel’ by bludgeoning them into submission with four-on-the-floor rhythms and speaker-mangling bass, and ushered in a new era in which more contemporary artists like Illenium, and perhaps even The Chainsmokers, have flourished. The release of the album was accompanied by the critically acclaimed ‘Worlds Live Tour’, in which Robinson stepped out from behind the decks and performed an intricately-crafted set containing tracks from across his catalogue of releases, tweaked and reimagined to be performed live with synthesizers, drum pads, and surprisingly serviceable vocals from the producer himself. In many ways, ‘Worlds’ is an album defined by its live performance, rather than the other way around; Robinson’s grand vision, coupled with an obsessive attention to detail, yielded an experience that many have held as life-changing.
The story of Hugo Leclercq, who releases and performs as Madeon, perhaps represents the other side of this same coin. Like Robinson – although born two years later – Leclercq began his career dabbling in the production of high-energy, ‘hands up’ music inspired by rhythm games and the intensely melodic ‘Eurodance’ scene, but also drew upon the influence of fellow French maestros, Daft Punk, when writing. Early in his career, Leclercq gained modest attention via a remix for iconic Australian drum and bass band, Pendulum; however, the moment at which the world really sat up and began to take notice of Leclercq’s talent came in 2011, with the release of ‘Pop Culture’ – a live mash-up of samples from 39 individual songs which has since been viewed over 50 million times on YouTube.
Where Robinson’s journey perhaps appears more meteoric, Leclecrq’s profile within the industry would steadily grow in a less-spectacular fashion, but with no less appreciation by fans of the scene. Madeon’s star continued to rise with support from legendary producer deadmau5, as well as several production credits on Lady Gaga’s 2013 album ‘Artpop’ and a supporting role on the accompanying tour. The release of various singles over the next few years saw the young Frenchman steadily accrue a dedicated and passionate fanbase, and his 2015 debut ‘Adventure’ was praised for its versatility, production value, and vision. His live shows incorporated the sampling and performance techniques from ‘Pop Culture’ that had put him on the map, and later progressed to incorporate the producer’s own live vocals on several tracks.
The similarities between Porter Robinson and Madeon are clear to see. On paper, then, the 2016 release of the collaborative single, ‘Shelter’, along with the accompanying tour, makes perfect sense; two young artists with similar musical sensibilities, performance styles, and hugely overlapping fanbases, each at the peak of their blossoming careers – what’s not to like? Considering these facts alone, ‘Shelter’ works, and no doubt would still have represented a well-received addition to their respective discographies had the story ended there.
However, more than superficial and career-based similarities connect the stories of Robinson and Leclerq; in fact, the two have been close friends since their early teens. Improbably united, as so many from their generation are, by the power of the internet, the two young musicians first came into contact via an online music production forum when they were 14 and 12 years old respectively, where their frequent submissions sparked a friendly rivalry; the pair would often exchange demos and critique each other’s releases, pushing one another to improve and evolve as budding producers. These exchanges soon grew into a close friendship that endured over the next decade.
The story of these shared beginnings makes the pair’s independent ascension to the upper echelons of dance music fame all the more remarkable; each has followed their own path, and yet all the while the two have supported one another and continued to solidify their friendship. With this in mind, ‘Shelter’ is truly elevated; not simply a fun record from two exciting musicians, but the culmination of a hugely significant relationship – after years of their fans begging for some form of collaboration, ‘Shelter’ felt almost like a homecoming, and it was this intangible element that made the experience all the more special.
The track itself is an accomplished and eloquent blend of each musician’s individual style; Leclercq provides the vocals, singing about the feeling of strength that he gleans from the support of those around him – a fitting theme given the pair’s history. The tour itself achieves a similarly perfect stylistic marriage, drawing upon each artist’s respective discographies through a variety of inventive mashups, medleys, and features both Robinson and Leclercq taking moments to cover a number of songs from the other’s catalogue. As I have previously alluded to, the former has spoken candidly of a desire to discover something more emotionally resonant amidst the cacophony of the modern dance music scene. The ‘Shelter Live Tour’ manages to speak to fans of ‘Porter Robinson’ and ‘Madeon’ as their respective, separate entities, but is greater than the sum of its parts in that it is imbued with a camaraderie and spirit that truly reflects the pair’s long standing friendship – ‘Shelter’ shows us what dance music can be, should we embrace the human element that is echoed in our most treasured relationships.
For me, at least, the best collaborations are those that manage to capture some of this intangible energy and reflect it back to us as listeners. In an era of calculated crossovers engineered by big-label executives to reach as wide an audience of potential customers as possible, ‘Shelter’ remains refreshing in its earnestness and desire to tell a mutual story; the tale of two young boys, separated by continents yet connected via computer screens and a desire to make music, who years later found inspiration in a shared desire to celebrate life, and most importantly, friendship.