clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Arcade Fire’s Win Butler is DJing at SXSW under the name DJ Windows 98, and this is what that’s like

New, 12 comments

Earlier yesterday, the second full day of SXSW music, I was talking to a friend in a bar about how there aren’t really any indie rock villains — and how, as a writer, that can make the genre less interesting to write about. I love writing and reading about EDM even if it isn’t what I’m listening to all the time, because so many of those dudes (yes, mostly dudes) are like real-life Bond villains, or drifting astronauts, cut free from the bonds of reality by their stupidly huge paychecks. Indie rock guys, publicly at least, tend to read, at worst, curt — at ultra-worst, a little pretentious. But mere hours later, as Arcade Fire’s Win Butler took the stage at the FLOOD fest showcase, wearing a black baseball cap and a black bandana over his face, I realized I had been terribly remiss.

Butler has the curious ability to get in beefs with some of The Worst people in music

When he’s just doing his own thing, whether that’s making jammy-jams with his Grammy award-winning band (which, for the record, I have very much liked at various points in their career) or dressing up in disco mariachi suits, Win Butler is okay. A little self-serious, maybe, but there are certainly greater sins. But Butler has the curious ability to get in beefs with some of the worst people in music — Wayne Coyne (another great candidate for indie rock villain), deadmau5 — and make them seem sane and decent by comparison. It’s such an uncanny yet consistent phenomenon, like the way orange juice tastes after you brush your teeth, that I’m tempted to call it a talent.

Butler’s feud with deadmau5 was around some boring anti-electronic music comments Butler made on stage last year at Coachella. ("Shout-out to all the bands still playing actual instruments at this festival," he said, I assume while peering out at the crowd disapprovingly through a tiny monocle.) But now, perhaps in an act of deviously clever irony, Butler himself has taken up the turntables and the knobs and is playing all week at SXSW under the name DJ Windows 98.

Let’s talk about that name: DJ Windows 98. If Butler is going to sully himself with computer music, he’s clearly going to align himself with a charmingly antiquated operating system — you know, back when computers still had a soul, man. (His set begins with the sound of a dial-up modem.) Butler actually began DJing at after parties during the Reflektor tour, so about the same time as his EDM kerfuffle. To read it as anything other than a response to a popular, and yes, completely oversaturated form of live performance would probably be disingenuous.

Let’s talk about that name: DJ Windows 98

As the static from the modem faded, Butler played about five seconds of Shania Twain’s 1999 hit "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" before launching into Joan Jett’s "Bad Reputation," during which time he he fussed despondently with his levels and repeatedly yelled to the stage managers, "Cut the lights. Cut the lights PLEASE." The house finally obliged, drenching the stage and audience in darkroom red. Then it was time to worry about sound. "Turn up the monitors," Butler intoned, calmly at first, then loudly, "TURN UP THE MONITORS, I BELIEVE IN YOU."

To be fair to Butler, the FLOOD fest stage was kind of a shitshow. The sound was mostly unintelligible, and the entire evening was about an hour behind schedule. But the sense that on some level this performance was a joke to Butler didn’t help the vibe, especially during the first half of the set, during which I could see several girls up in the VIP section side-eyeing the stage.

Of course, there will always be religious Arcade Fire fans willing to follow Butler down whatever side ventures he chooses to pursue, and the kid next to me was one such admirer, taking a photo of Butler on his own pocket computer and captioning it "GOLDEN GOD" before sending it out to all his friends. In the front few rows, all eyes and camera phones were fixed on Butler, despite his previous requests that people dance at his sets rather than try to watch him (which I’d echo for any DJ performance, golden-god-fronted or otherwise). When he took a swig from a flask, the couple next to me gasped, scandalized.

DJ Windows 98

When Butler brought out a pair of Congo drummers and a dancer wearing round sunglasses and head-to-toe gold, the mood lifted considerably. According to the official SXSW listing, Butler’s set was entitled "Naïve Melodie" and, Joan and Shania aside, mostly featured African and Haitian soul music. In keeping with the vague Talking Heads theme, near the end Butler played a pitched-up version of "Slippery People," and for a few minutes the crowd got truly slippery and genuinely dancey. It reminded me of one particularly drunken college-break summer in my hometown, when someone put on "Power Out" at a house party, and everyone erupted into sweaty, stompy chaos.

Oh, DJ Windows 98, don’t you see the kids just want to dance? Some of them want to dance to authentic rare Haitian vinyl, and some of them want to rage to the latest DJ Mustard blorps. Some of them want to do both! You should have let that Shania song go on a little longer, though. People go nuts for the ’90s.