If you're familiar with 1970's Festival Express—where Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and The Band travelled across Canada on a train—the cross-Canada Full Flex Express concept was a familiar one. The similarities don't end there, however. The size of Full Flex's audience was a further reminder at just how big "EDM" has become in mainstream North America. It truly is rock music-sized at the moment.
What's perhaps most remarkable about the tour is its diversity—though dubstep posterboy/punching bag Skrillex sat atop the lineup, support came from Mad Decent magnate Diplo, Denver's self-made man Pretty Lights, Bristol dubstep outfit KOAN Sound and most surprisingly of all, fey chanteuse Grimes and Brainfeeder's resident daydreamer Tokimonsta. With a lineup as bizarre and unpredictable as that, it really did have the feel of a special event that shouldn't be missed, regardless of personal tastes.
Unfortunately I was still queuing while Tokimonsta and KOAN Sound were playing. By the time I made it inside, Grimes had taken to the stage backed up by fellow Vancouverite Blood Diamonds on synths and a host of stage dancers. It was a homecoming show of sorts, but the candy-raver crowd didn't seem to know or care what was going on, instead pumping their fists and jumping ecstatically every time Boucher randomly dropped a recognizable house beat. "Random" was the key word, as messy interludes between sloppily-performed songs amounted to little else than cacophony. I had seen Grimes perform earlier in the year where her set was tight and confident, but on the bigger stage her own straining voice was lost in a discordant sea of pre-recorded phrases, the whole thing failing to come together until the very final moments.
Up next was Diplo, who played the most "Diplo"' set imaginable, ticking all the boxes with a trap-heavy set and even throwing in "Pon De Floor" and other several-years-old anthems to an adoring crowd. His tight quick-fire blending of what felt like every modern dance style was the night's most engaging and interesting set. Unfortunately, he was followed by the consummately bland Pretty Lights, a Denver-based producer who has made a considerable name on the back of a series of free internet releases but whose set flitted between generically bombastic house and dubstep with a complete lack of personality or nuance.
Finally, at around 11:45 PM, what looked like a giant mechanical suit of armour appeared on the stage, bearing Skrillex at its centre. His DJing "throne" would morph and expand over the course of his set, until he was standing at its very apex in true heavy metal spectacle fashion—he even had pyrotechnics lined up with the bass drops. His set, easily the most visually impressive electronic music event this writer has ever witnessed, alternated between the dentist-drill dubstep and chugging electro house he's known for.
In between poppier fare like his remix of Avicii's "Levels" was the night's most unforgivingly aggressive, loud material, but what was striking about it all was how much room dubstep shared with other genres. Skrillex has been implicated in the meteoric rise of dubstep in the US, but the set he delivered was more than just wobbles, and the crowd ate up every four-to-the-floor kick drum bar as much as they did growling LFOs. I might have left the venue with a headache, but I couldn't help but be impressed by the sheer scale of it all.