Something Wicked

Moving away from last year’s electronic-centric lineup, event planners have produced a more balanced bill. This year, the headliner is The M Machine, a rising electronic trio that has performed at high-profile events such as South by Southwest, Outside Lands and EDC. Opening for them is XV, a rapper who has made waves throughout the rap community with a plethora of polished mixtapes.

XV is part of the underground trend known loosely as “backpack rap,” and XV, born Donavan Johnson, is the rare backpack rapper that actually redeems the movement. So often, backpackers’ obsession with rejecting all things “mainstream” obscures what makes the movement so endearing: its intensely playful and clever lyricism. In this rejection, many backpackers end up sounding like that uncle you’re going to see this Thanksgiving, the one that mourns the loss of some mythical golden age you can’t be sure actually existed. No one wants to sit next to that uncle, and no one wants to hear a rapper bitch and moan about how everything sucks now.

XV, however, is a backpacker with all the positive characteristics of the movement and none of the negative ones. He is funny, enthusiastic and has an obvious passion for wordplay and lyrically-driven songs. His beats blend melodic piano tunes with more traditional heavy drum kits, and his youthful, excitable delivery keeps his songs sounding jubilant. Even when his tracks have names like “Everybody’s Nobody,” — the title track of his latest mixtape — they radiate an endearing exuberance.

The M Machine, for its part, makes up for a very brief musical catalog — they have one album and one EP — with the ambition of their projects. Their album, “Metropolis Pt. 1,” is a six-song concept piece that is supposedly inspired by Fritz Lang’s legendary 1927 German expressionist sci-fi film. And though how this completely electronic album tells the elaborate story of a future dystopian city remains to be heard, the music itself is creative and often extremely versatile: The group can seamlessly shift from dubstep to EDM to trance in the same track.

This sound, along with their live performance, has been refined in the company of some of the biggest stars in EDM today. Along with being signed to Skrillex’s OWSLA record label, the M Machine have performed with Pretty Lights, Diplo, Empire of the Sun and, of course, Skrillex himself. Perhaps the most tantalizing feature of their performances is the visual aspect. One of the band members constructed a giant “M” from LED panels, which looms behind them during some concerts and is used for a light show during their act. The extravagant, hype-striving statement will surely complement Hullabaloo 2012.