Early Tuesday evening, inside a nondescript North Hollywood studio, Troy Beetles, known to EDM fanatics as Datsik, is checking out the flood of images projecting against a structure that resembles the cone-shaped diaphragm of a speaker. He's especially taken by a Tron-like grid that moves through the 3D structure like it's warping. “That's dope,” he says.
One week before the start of his Ninja Nation tour, the British Columbia-bred, Los Angeles-based DJ/producer and his team are working on the finishing touches of his stage show. The Vortex, as it's known, is a bizarre, mobile DJ booth that has been a part of Datsik's road trips for the past couple years. This is the third incarnation of a structure so massive that it sometimes cannot fit comfortably into clubs.
In front of a room full of press, Beetles explains that the set up we see in the studio is the Vortex's compact form. For larger spaces, the light-up arrowheads on the sides can be spread apart to create a different look.
The 26-year-old DJ, who came to prominence when dubstep exploded on the North American circuit, conceived of the Vortex two years ago. He sketched the design on a napkin while in an airplane. He was traveling from an event that featured 3D projections and thought it would be cool to showcase those kinds of images on a 3D structure.
While Datsik worked with various specialists to create the piece — first V Squared Labs, now San Francisco-based Infinight Visuals — he appears to be extremely knowledgable about its design.
To his media visitors, Beetles explains to how the Vortex works. He and his gear are set up in a large gap in the cone. There's a screen on the back panel that appears to be white, but is actually see-through. That's to cut the shadows that might normally appear onstage and to keep the lights out of his eyes as he plays. The structure is made of steel; rubber in the hinges keeps it from vibrating.
From tour to tour, the Vortex has been a work-in-progress, a series of experiments to make something that is fun for the crowd, but functional for the DJ.
He tells us to “ninja” our way through the structure to see the space where he plays. As we do, he points out the velcro on a desk-like piece that juts into the cone's gap. It's an easy fix to keep his gear from sliding during the performance.
Beetles says that the Vortex does effect how he plays. Right now, they're organizing the visuals by “mood,” which will coincide with how he structures his sets. “Euphoric” images will start off the set. Some heavy-hitting strobes are intended for the drum & bass portion of the night. Bold shades of purple and green will accompany the slower numbers, and red lights are meant for the “lovey-dovey shit.”
The Vortex is a big prop for a big outing. For the Ninja Nation tour, which should clock in at around 60 dates, the caravan includes two tour busses, each with a trailer, and a semi. A nine-person crew will travel with Datsik, supporting both him and a rotating cast of seven opening acts, plus special guests for select dates.
This may be the Vortex's last jaunt. Beetles is thinking about changing up things after this tour. He might want to include mirrors in his set-up. For now, though, fans who have come to expect that Datsik will bust out the jams from inside the Vortex will get what they're looking for.