Since the release of Thoughts Become Things (2009) and Thoughts Become Things ll (2011), fans of Markus Schulz’s experiment with the darker, progressive side of electronic music have been yearning for a Dakota performance. Those who were at Dreamstate San Francisco 2017 had the privilege of witnessing the reemergence of Schulz’s Dakota alias and the debut of his Nine Skies project.
Schulz told Angus Thomas Paterson in an interview for Insomniac that the tragic shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and the “turbulent political developments” of 2016 were some of the events that motivated the Miami-based artist to resurrect his techno infused trance.
Schulz said about the upcoming project:
“What I’m doing with the Dakota show, it’s almost like a dark dancefloor musical. It’s called Nine Skies, and it’s the nine steps we go through in our quest for enlightenment . . . The live show has big moments . . . But it’s essentially a deeper, more thoughtful affair, and definitely not one of the shows where we’re shooting off fireworks at every drop.”
When the lights finally turned off Saturday night for Dakota, all of the chattering conversations turned into a roar as the screen behind Schulz was filled with bright stars mapping out a constellation of Earth and then of a (trance) baby. An ominous voice introduced us to the first “sky” as hymns filled the room. Everyone’s eyes glistened like the constellations on the screen, reflecting the LED lights projected from behind the man of the hour.
“I have been listening to Markus Schulz for years, and I love his Dakota stuff,” David Lopez, 28, Marin, told me before the set started. “To be honest, I never thought that we would even see a Dakota set. At least not in America.”
Fans were hypnotized by the beautiful visuals composed of vivid color and eliciting images that ranged from political strife to vast landscapes, to lustful bodies falling into carnal temptation. Schulz used symbolic images like the All-Seeing Eye (representing the physical, spiritual, and mental aspect of enlightenment) and the Power Fist to further highlight the message of a “sky” .
Dreamers heard a range of music from the familiar horns of “Mota-Mota”, a new production from Dakota, to classic tunes like “Cafe del Mar”. Schulz set was flawlessly strung together by powerful percussion and heavy synths. The crowd’s bodies became puppets to the string of beats from Dakota’s turntables. Aggressive kickdrums determined the intensity of one’s dance moves while euphoric melodies encompassed lovers to sway back-and-forth.
Schulz also used lighting as a means to reflect the tone of the “skies”. When the theme contained pain, anger, and lust, shades of red and orange were used on the LED screen and shot through as lasers. Washes of blue and white illuminated the Civic Center during times of happiness and euphoria. A prime example was during Dakota’s recent release “Running Up That Hill” (featuring the angelic vocals of Bev Wild).
Emotions ran high during Sky Five: The Activist, the path of change in humanity. Fans saluted their middle fingers to the screen when a video of President Donald Trump’s inauguration played in black and white. The audio recording of Trump being sworn in was met with thundering anger from the fans. All of the rage in the room was soon soothed by images of Dr. King, Tupac, and the famous Tank Man at Tiananmen Square. Along with the iconic chords of “The Way It Is”, the duality of hate and peace was perfectly put together.
This was the moment in Schulz’s Nine Skies where I felt a connection with Dakota. A connection that I have not felt before in my ten years of festival attendance.
To be honest, I felt nervous during the first red-tinted video of CGI soldiers marching under a red sun. This feeling during a music festival was foreign to me, a little uncomfortable. I’m sure many others were in the same situation. But I realized this uneasy feeling was what Schulz wanted to evoke out of us, something that connects us to his artwork that transcends cliches of DJs and festivals. At the end of the whole journey, I was glad I was able to feel a rollercoaster of emotions at a music festival. Experiences like this are what makes a performance memorable.
Before Schulz finished his time with Paterson, he spoke of his legacy and what he wanted to leave behind. “I want to create something that will endure for many, many years to come,” he said. “Something that people can look back at whenever they have hard times to listen to, watch it, and hopefully be enlightened by it as well.” It’s hard to not dwell on your own legacy when a man who has traveled the world and achieved many accomplishments in his life leaves you with pondering words.
The audiovisual experience of the Nine Skies sets a new benchmark of storytelling at a music festival. Trance Family SF will remember this masterpiece in their hearts as they reflect on Schulz’s legacy. With promises of a unique Nine Skies experience every show, I can only hope to see what Dakota has in store for the Electric Daisy Carnival.