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Live Review: Dillon Francis has sold his soul to the devil

Dillon Francis has sold his soul to the devil. Just kidding.

Yes, Francis played an invite-only show last night (July 16) at New York’s Highline Ballroom, produced and presented by MTV. In fact, the DJ/producer has been branded as one of the new faces of the cable channel’s “Clubland” series, and will headline its first event at ComicCon this year (just announced yesterday). But despite fronting what seems to be the media juggernaut’s broader push to ingratiate itself with the ever-growing EDM crowd, Francis isn’t changing up his signature oddball style any time soon. “This is more an MTV event with Dillon Francis than it is a Dillon Francis show with MTV,” the nice lady at the press entrance told me last night. Oh, how wrong she was.

Thirty minutes after doors opened, the room was completely filled with the exact audience you’d expect to find at a typical 19+ night at any local nightclub. Even though nobody was on stage yet, a woozy-looking girl climbed up onto her boyfriend’s back holding aloft a green poster with the question “Dad?” written on it. Everyone cheered her on. There was no mistaking it: this was Dillon Francis’s flock.

For a while, a Clubland logo displayed prominently behind the stage, but right around the time Tommie Sunshine walked out to deliver his blink-and-you-missed-it opening monologue, it disappeared for good. The display oozed red and black, eventually forming the words “The Chainsmokers” as the opening act emerged from offstage and the flock yelled their approval.

New York-based duo The Chainsmokers (Drew Taggart and Alex Pall) opened hard with their own “Talk Is Cheap (Marquee Sunrise Edit),” a loud, bass-driven electro house assault. It was exactly what the crowd was waiting for. Limbs flailed, strobes flashed and bros swooned. The two DJs played right into the tastes of the audience. Their only real misstep was dropping Kanye West’s “Blood On The Leaves,” which brought the dancing to a standstill and actually elicited a few boos. “Does anybody here like Kanye?” an exasperated Taggart yelled into the mic. If anyone answered, it was quietly. This crew was not interested in Top 40, not even Yeezus.

By the time the Chainsmokers finished their quick 35-minute set, latecomers had filled in gaps that nobody knew were there. The flock had grown to fire hazard proportions. And then Dillon Francis took the stage.

The background music was off, but the room was filled with more noise than it had been all night. Cardboard cutouts of cats on sticks were brandished. More girls – so many more – climbed onto their boyfriends’ backs and waved posters, all relating in some way to the various gags and in-jokes on Francis’s Facebook page that the fans love to show they know.

For his part, Francis just laughed, then dropped right into one of his prototypical sets. Trap was mixed into moombahton which was mixed into Dutch house and back again. Francis sets are always nimble and bizarre, effortlessly flitting between tempos and moods, and last night’s was a shining example: Flosstradamus’s trap hit “Rollup” made an appearance beside Blur’s “Song 2” and nobody batted an eye. Equally bizarre were his visuals, which made liberal use of a picture of Francis’s head badly Photoshopped into various absurd situations. The silliness hit its peak when about a dozen giant-sized cutouts of the same picture were passed out among the flock, blocking the view of all but a few with huge, cheesy smiles.

Fellow producer Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs made an appearance to plug a new track, and after a burst of confetti and a rendition of his “Suit and Tie” remix, Francis’s set was over—all too soon. “I love you New York!” he shouted as he walked off the stage. “Thank you MTV!”

Funny. Right up until that point, I had forgotten where I was.