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Why Eric Prydz's EPIC 3.0 at Madison Square Garden Was a Middle Finger Aimed at Lazy EDM

The revolution will not be pre-recorded.
Eric Prydz at Madison Square Garden. (Photo by AJR Photography)

It's easy to understand why Eric Prydz would want to play at Madison Square Garden, the holy grail of all concert grounds, the most mega of all mega-venues. It's New York City's most iconic music hall, and the third busiest in the world. Just opening the doors requires a massive fan base—and giant, swinging sacks of money. One show at the Garden can make an artist—or break them. The risk/reward goes as follows: they're left with either a catastrophic financial disaster, or the ultimate sign that they've vanquished their haters, conquered the charts, and climbed their way to the elite ranks of pop music history.


But really, it's impossible to grasp the grandiosity of Prydz's one-night-only EPIC 3.0 show at Madison Square Garden until you step into the arena—after a long journey up the towering stack of escalators, past endless celebrity photos on the walls (Hi Paul! Hi Britney! Hi RiRi!), and through the hordes of wild-eyed fans running past you into the strobe-lit darkness.

That's when it hits you. Rainbow lasers as tall as skyscrapers turned on their sides. The world's largest hologram beaming Eric's head over the crowd like an omnipotent, bald god. (Tupac had nothing on this.) Digital screens bigger than jumbo jets. A strange roar that you realize is the sound of tens of thousands of people screaming all at once. In sum, all the big and bright and loud things you find at a dance concert—and some futuristic things you don't—amplified to their absolute limit. This is the spectacle of EDM at its zenith.

Eric Prydz has made it no secret that he is losing money on every EPIC show he's done, starting with the first, limited-run EPIC 1.0 tour in 2011. The Madison Square Garden event, despite being promoted heavily as a custom-built, never-to-be-repeated experience, did not sell out—and with tickets priced on the relatively low-end (they ran from $40 to $100), it's likely that EPIC 3.0 was not a profitable affair.

But that's not the point. Eric Prydz is not trying to out-sell the other EDM superstars who have or will grace the Garden this year—marquee names like Steve Aoki, Srillex and Diplo, Bassnectar, Above and Beyond, Hardwell, and Armin Van Buuren. He is trying to out-perform them. Because what's remarkable about the EPIC shows is that everything is done live. From Prydz deciding which track to play next to the VJs controlling the graphics, from the lighting operators working the lasers to the crew deciding when to flip on the 60-feet-wide hologram. Everything.


EPIC 3.0 featured the world's biggest hologram. 

Basically, EPIC 3.0 is a big middle finger directed towards pre-recorded sets and DJs who just press play. Over the last few years, as EDM concerts have gotten grander in scale and spectacle—fireworks, pyrotechnics, LED lights, the works—it's become more acceptable for DJs to pre-mix at least a portion of their "live" sets.

The most infamous case of this happened in 2011, when Steve Angello of the now-defunct Swedish House Mafia was accused of faking it after a video of him playing from one CDJ and sans headphones at Amsterdam Dance Valley went viral. Angello defended himself on Twitter, saying, "When I do some festivals, I have a team that does all my pyro, fx and co2s. Most of them have a 'fireworks show' that is synced to the music so nothing goes wrong… Timing everything is extremely hard for them, so I have a medley mix I close with so they can have everything synced, most big festivals have that and its nothing new." His flippancy revealed everything we needed to know.

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Post by Eric Prydz.

"It's only for the climax, the last few minutes of my set." "I need to pre-mix to make sure everything goes smoothly. "It's just because of all the crazy special effects going on." These are all excuses we've heard over and over again, not just from Angello, but from others caught up in pre-recorded-set snafus, like Calvin Harris, Deadmau5, and Avicii. Of course, they're scarcely the only ones getting away with it.


By insisting on spontaneity even for a show like EPIC 3.0, which takes live visuals to the next level, Prydz is trying to prove that there is another way: improvisation—the key factor that elevates DJ sets into artistry—does have a place in the world of EDM spectacles.

He's said as much in multiple interviews, perhaps to the point of self-aggrandizement. Talking to the Village Voice, he admitted that he doesn't work with tracklists: "When the other DJs are around enjoying themselves I'm in my dressing room like 'What the fuck am I going to play?!'… Then I just improvise. Cause, I mean, that's how you DJ." He continued, "When you go on these festival tours that I've done, cause then you see them every day, it's the set, the same track, exactly the same mix in the same place… and I'm like 'Wow!' I'm surprised people get away with it!"

Of course, EPIC 3.0 wasn't just about saying a big "fuck you" to all the DJs who take the lazy way out. Spanning three hours, Saturday's show was the longest EPIC yet, giving Prydz the space to work through the full range of sounds he's developed over a decade-long career. His set moved seamlessly from the melodic progressive house he's released under his "Pryda" moniker, to the harder, darker techno he's put out as Cirez D, and of course, the big room anthems that have made him a household name—and even helped coin the "Pryda snare," his oft-imitated signature sound.

None of this would matter if EPIC 3.0 didn't live up to its name. So thank god it did. The spectacle was completely transportive. Unlike raves or clubs, where there are ample opportunities to interact with your neighbors on the dance floor, this was a concert that you experience on your own, swallowed up by a hurricane of lights and sounds. You don't talk, let alone look in any direction but frontwards. In between songs, gasping for air, maybe some people turned to their friends to ask how they're doing. "Fucking fantastic," was the standard answer.

Nearing the end, Prydz decided it was time to bring out the big guns: Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus"—a song he loves and has remixed before, but prefers in its original form. The lasers cut out, the hologram disappeared, and stained glass windows materialized on the digital screens behind him. For a rare moment, we were given a glimpse of the man at the controls as a giant beam of white light shone down on his tiny black silhouette. He stretched his arms out wide in the classic Jesus pose. The obvious symbolism was lost on no one. Here was a DJ made for our moment in time—a self-declared savior, a hologram of a God.

Michelle Lhooq is an editor at THUMP - @MichelleLhooq