By Karynn Brown
Photos by Stephanie Paul
Nov. 13, 2017
Bear Grillz is an EDM artist shrouded in mystery, currently on the American Freakshow Tour with DJs Kompany, Dirt Monkey, and Phase One.
Grillz’s careful narrative began in 2014 with an origin story from somewhere in Yosemite Park, and the release of his first EP, The High Grade. He has been performing in several iterations of bear costumes since. This tour’s costume is the classic bear head, with lighted eyes and mouth. Bear Grillz presents to the community with a healthy tone of sarcasm and satire, naming his albums such titles as, “Now That’s What I call Dubstep,” “The Unbearable” and “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”
Bear Grillz revealed his identity to the community on the Jerry Springer show in 2016, but still performs in tje bear mask, the silhouette of the performer creating a kind of suspense and mystery. American Freakshow is his latest headlining tour, having previously traveled alongside Datsik and other EDM artists.
Bear Grillz is a fast-growing artist said by Firepower Records to have changed the EDM scene with nearly every release. Truly an experiential, live-show artist, Bear Grillz and his opening DJs brought a packed house to The Bourbon’s Thursday night show. The show opened with the three touring DJs, playing nearly hour-long sets of their own. This showcase highlighted the collaborations and subtle differences between each artist. Each artist played an assortment of newer works, including Kompany’s slight on-stage freestyle track. Many of the newer tracks were said to have been written on tour, which hints at a very natural and crowd-oriented creations.
One lasting impression of the American Freakshow tour was its complete balance and uniformity. It was clear the performers knew their music and audience well enough to orchestrate the night into an overall rise and fall. Unlike other shows, each opening DJ traded the platform to one another with their final track. As one performer thanked the crowd, threw on the last beat, and jumped into the photo pit to dance, the next picked up right where he had left off. This format allowed the DJs momentary glimpses of collaboration.
From Los Angeles, Kompany started the show with a dominating stage presence and tracks rooted in the emcee style. With beats more akin to hip hop than dubstep, he showed up full of energy and ready to work the crowd. Sporadic, fast-paced and futuristic, Kompany’s music is set to fill the shoes of his tourmates and the EDM world. Kompany is finding his place in the culture with his third EP in as many years, Take Aim, which offers three tracks with heavy features and one solo piece. He was featured once again throughout Bear Grillz performance, and the headlining set ended with a Kompany song.
As the crowd grew, the EDM culture became more and more apparent. Concert-goers were dressed to the nines in fishnets, furry leg warmers, wolf hats, shorts, and neon tye-dye tank tops. EDM is a broad subculture founded at music festivals such as Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) and Electric Forest. The culture emphasizes values known as PLUR: peace, love, unity and respect. Such experiential music creates this community of mosh pits and head bangers that ultimately wants to support their fellow people and the artists. There was no shortage of this feeling at The Bourbon as the artists called to and danced in the crowd.
Equally as important to the crowd are the intense light and laser shows that accompany the music. The American Freakshow tour brought along ample extra subwoofers and a nearly half a million dollar set worth of panels, lights, lasers, and smoke machines to complete the stage. Bear Grillz performed at the center of it all, on a pedestal surrounded by screens, allowing the crowd to see him from waist to shoulders. The surrounded setup was a three-tiered system of screens that framed the pedestal, making the whole stage appear larger. Motion graphics that flowed with the music split across all the screens. Bear Grillz’s newest costume is the mascot style head with lighted eyes and a firm open mouth smile that gives an eerie emoji-like appearance. Often silhouetted against the other lights, the lighted face and darkened body created a unique stage persona and seemed organically a part of the rest of the lights show.
The show started with an announcer calling, “welcome to the freakshow! See the amazing half bear half man,” to which the crowd responded with a chant, “fuck bitches, get honey”
Bear Grillz played several crowd favorites, which included “Fuck Bitches Get Honey.” His pieces featured distinctive samples from favorite throwback songs such as blink-182’s, “Act My Age” and Drowning Pool’s “Bodies,” which kept the energy high all night. Grillz plays music that is hard-line EDM, with dramatic builds and even heavier drops. His music mixes steady dance meets with clashes of distorted, sampled vocals, and mechanical sounding loops and syncopate over themselves. Grillz has been performing as such since 2014, when he supposedly found a Macbook Pro in Yosemite park and walked out of the woods from bear to DJ. Since then he has found overwhelming support in the EDM community, having produced two volumes of ‘Bear Grillz and Friends” which feature collaborative songs.
This show was very much an all-encompassing experience. From the music to the lights to the crowd, the American Freakshow was hard to miss and hard to describe.
Karynn Brown and Stephanie Paul are multimedia inters with KZUM.