Review: M.I.A. Falls HARD in NYC

Pushing and shoving, hot sweaty shoulders pressing up against strangers’ backs, and paying $4 for bottled water isn’t the best way to spend a Saturday night. Yet thousands did, braving the 95-degree heat to witness M.I.A. and friends perform at the HARD NYC festival on Governors Island.

The day started off in a Woodstock-inspired setting, infiltrated by a crowd donning Urban Outfitters and geometric-print attire. Around 5 p.m., after a set by DJ Destructo, M.I.A. protégée Rye Rye took to the stage and showed off her calisthenics. As she brought out twin eyewear divas Coco and Breezy, the audience appeared hype for her remix to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” crafted by DJ Sega.

Dance duo Skream + Benga tore the house down with the longest set. Their fusion of harsh sound effects with fist-pumping techno beats kept the audience’s eardrums ringing. The simple twosome known as Sleigh Bells then graced the stage and rocked the daylight out of the crowd. Two fights rang out, but soon after all was copasetic. Next up, South African duo Die Antwoord permeated unsuspecting concertgoers with an interesting (and sometimes uncomfortable) interpretation on lust. Just around midnight, spectators became antsy for the headliner, which they didn’t know would put on a brief performance.

M.I.A. came out to a long intro, performing the noisy “Steppin Up.” Minutes later, she brought out three tables decorated with bottles of tequila. While performing the liquor-inspired track off her new album /\/\/\Y/\, she drew out the time by asking the audience, “Who wants to feel the beat?” only to throw full glass bottles of tequila into the crowd. “You have to catch them!” she forewarned. The crowd was later asked what they’d like her to perform next because she had no set list. Another 10 minutes went down the drain until she decided on the crowd favorite “Boyz,” which led into “World Town.”

At this point, the sky erupted and pouring rain cascaded over the event. M.I.A. stuck around until she was drenched, which took all but three minutes, before throwing her failing microphone into the audience, giving the proverbial “Peace out!” and sauntering off the stage with her crew. Where headliners usually bring in the bulk, this time M.I.A. ended up being the unsatisfying dessert to a meaty meal.

–Tanya Remekie