Photos by Rod Deal
III Points Festival in Miami is one of the few local festivals trying to do something fresh. One of the ideas they keep pushing is that they fuse music and technology. Hence, screens and neon-lit pyramids and art projects all over the festival grounds. One of the "technological" items this year that piqued my interest was a DOOMSTARKS collaboration. The press release, also posted on MF DOOM’s own website, said that the notoriously prickly and mercurial DOOM, a Brit by birth who has refused to perform in the States since being denied entry into the country in 2010, would be “Transported Star Trek-style directly onto the III Points festival stage” to appear on a screen “from the other side of time.”
I, along with festival-goers I spoke to, naturally assumed that Ghostface would rap with DOOM during some sort of Facetime/Skype session. For more than a decade, Ghostface Killah and MF DOOM have teased their collaborative album Swift and Changeable, with numerous tracks, EPs, and features. Recently, Ghostface revealed it would be coming out this year under the DOOMSTARKS moniker. They released a track for the Adult Swim Singles program that sounds exactly how you expect it to sound: a forceful Ghostface yarn ripping over a jazzy, disconnected and stoned DOOM beat. So when III Points Festival promised that Ghost and DOOM would be presenting new tracks from the now Detox-level urban legend of an album in a “one-of-a-kind interactive performance,” I wasn’t so skeptical. III Points and Miami have been building up steam recently, and DOOMSTARKS would be performing after Run the Jewels as the headliner of the night. It didn’t seem farfetched that they would make a big showing.
The hip hop heads, high schoolers, and yuppie Miami festivalgoers were crowded into the venue—a massive art gallery transformed into a dusky concert warehouse—hotly awaiting sci-fi themed entertainment. Cloves were lit. Weed pervaded. A wrinkly screen hung on the back of the stage, revealing DOOM’s trademark mask in a wiry, CGI mesh. It rotated until cutting to a flat, fake looking (though possibly real) Between Two Ferns set with DOOM chilling between two palm trees in the night, while hovering over a DJ booth. He donned a New York Rangers jersey, his silver mask, and an orange snow hat.
The food obsessed, multi-moniker’d MC spun some jazzy piano riffs and peered into the camera filming him, ‘talking’ to us, implying there was some back and forth going on. “I see you out there,” he nodded, knowingly, providing no further evidence to that effect. He then put on some Tropicalia for the Miami crowd, lighted up a blunt, and jostled around listlessly. He walked off stage, and the screen cut back to the animated mask face. The crowd halted to a quiet murmur at this point, not sure what was happening. Was DOOM trolling us?
After a few minutes, DOOM returned with two bottles of Bacardi, dropped some drum beats, wiped off a pair of glasses, and put them over his mask to once again look into the void—er, audience. Cut to black and mask, once again. After another few minutes, a glitched out DOOM appeared in a pitch black room with a microphone and rapped “Hoe Bags,” at us, in an obviously pre-recorded, lip synched misc video fashion with video art editing. Parts of his body stretched out and compressed. There was a filter of static and wireframe over his body. The sound was album quality, and his flow immaculately disheveled. He performed a few classic DOOM joints: "Kon Queso," "Gazillion Ear," and a verse off of his De La Soul collaboration, “Rock Co. Kane Flow.” In between songs, there were little Miami call-outs, “Put your hands up, Miami!” that were not being spoken by the man on the screen.
At one point, he put the microphone down and still rapped at us, bringing the troll level to its logical conclusion. I asked a dancing, seemingly happy fan behind me if this was what he expected from the show. “I didn’t expect DOOM to actually show up, but I didn’t expect it to be this shitty.” Plenty of people trickled out towards the exit, either confused or annoyed.
Doom’s set concluded, and the screen went to black one again. Ghostface launched out, asked the crowd how many of us smoked weed, and launched right into “Ice Cream.” The crowd popped, having yearned for a real human connection for the last 30 minutes. While Ghost spit, the mask of MF DOOM still lingered on the screen behind him, suggesting some sort of back and forth that would never come. Ghost then made a promise to us that the album would come out some time this year.
Ghostface performed an abbreviated 20-minute set of verses from himself, Raekwon, and Inspectah Deck, on a bevy of Wu classics like “Cream,” “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” “Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin to Fuck wit,” and a part of “Cherchez La Ghost” off Supreme Clientele. Then he turned the set into a lovefest, asking the audience if they knew how many samples got him sued for all us mothafuckas. (One audience member responded, “Amistad, cabron!”) He gave props to Killer Mike for his set before his. He called us his family. He then concluded the show by asking the audience to join in on the mantra, “One…two…three…PEACE." And finally, “We got merchandise in the back.”
It was like going to an album release party for two greatest hits records, where one of the guys didn’t even want you to buy his record. I asked another audience member what he thought of the show. “It was nice that DOOM came to us with a curated DJ set," he said "If he was performing it somewhere else, then there’s no difference from it being live.” But it didn’t seem like he was performing it live, I replied. “Well, there were some problems with the interactivity. And without the interactivity, how do we receive his message?” At this point, I realized he'd clearly had a few. It is a worthwhile experience, communing with a musician via pre-recorded video? Maybe in our Star Trek future, it is. Today, not so much.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter.