Few people have been able to have as profound an effect on a genre of music as Canadian house DJ KAYTRANADA. Born in Haiti before immigrating to Montreal as a young child, KAYTRANADA grew up listening to the music of Montreal’s vibrant club scene, as well as the hip-hop that his brother, fellow DJ Lou Phelps, introduced him to. As he began producing his own music, his influences blended together, and his unique brand of rap and R&B-tinged house music has propelled him to pre-eminence in the house community.
The Midwest has long been a cultural hearth of house, with the genre being born in the underground clubs of Chicago in the 1970s. Detroit has an extremely strong relationship with house as well, with the influential subgenre of Detroit techno being a stated major influence of KAYTRANADA. In fact, the venue where I first saw KAYTRANADA play live earlier this month, Detroit’s Masonic Temple, has seen many of the city’s founding techno artists play there, such as the Belleville Three.
The set itself was a colorful, lively tribute to both the Masonic Temple Theater and Michigan’s love of house music. Even those in the rows of seats behind the small pit section could feel KAYTRANADA’s palpable stage presence despite barely seeing his figure. KAYTRANADA, to his credit, has an extremely unique stage presence for a DJ, combining his mixing (which for the most part, seemed genuine and live) with two-stepping back and forth down the turntables. His body language seemed to guide the crowd’s mood, and as the set crescendoed into its later acts, the kinetic energy on stage seemed to swell along with it. The graphics and lighting were also well-designed and executed, interacting seamlessly with the Masonic Temple’s ornate interior.
The order of the lengthy set felt natural, which showcased the depth of KAYTRANADA’s discography. He played through almost every track on his most recent album, Bubba (2019), and also played about half of the songs from his previous effort, 2016’s 99.9%. One might think the sheer length of the set would drain the crowd, considering many had been in the theater since doors opened at 7 p.m. and the headline artist didn’t come on until about 10:30. But as more concert-goers began to either peak on their molly or simply feel the music on a deeper level, the venue got louder and louder. KAYTRANADA saved most of his well-known refrains for late in the set, meaning the crowd was fully warmed up for the hits.
The crowd was so raucous that the question of whether or not there would be an encore was a mere afterthought. The “that’s all my time, thank you” at the end of KAYTRANADA’s official set felt almost facetious, and surely enough, after about 30 seconds of cheering, he was back on the turntables playing “Be Your Girl” for the second time. Though he was headed to Brooklyn the next day for a concert at the legendary Mirage, he still gave the crowd a 15-minute encore, complete with a raucous performance of his Internet collaboration, “Girl.” When he finally departed the stage for good, he only did so because he knew he had extracted every bit of the crowd’s energy he possibly could have.
Daily Arts Writer Ryan Brace can be reached at email@example.com.