After Red Rocks orchestral triumph, Opiuo returns to Colorado and Belly Up Aspen
IF YOU GO …
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Thursday, Jan. 10, 9 p.m.
How much: $22
TIckets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
The DJ and producer Oscar Davey-Wraight, who performs as Opiuo, solidified his place in the annals of Colorado music history in April with a groundbreaking and by-all-accounts epic one-night performance with a 20-piece orchestra at Red Rocks Ampitheatre.
This meticulously composed performance — released later as a live album — to a sold-out and freezing crowd at the vaunted Colorado venue became one of the most talked-about and acclaimed concerts of 2018.
The New Zealand-born, Australia-based producer said that Red Rocks was the only place he wanted to stage this monumental crossover event.
“It’s the most iconic venue in the world,” he said in a phone interview from New Zealand on Monday.
Opiuo is back in Colorado this week for something like a victory lap, playing four shows at intimate clubs and theaters across the state, including a set Thursday at Belly Up Aspen.
Davey-Wraight said he’s planning to play two distinct sets here, beginning with a quieter one showcasing some Opiuo rarities and remixes. After a short break, he plans to come back with the kind of full-on multimedia extravaganza and electro-funk dance party he’s built his reputation upon.
“I want to extend the palate of music that I get to play,” he said. “It’s kind of like a dimly lit reality where you get to hear a whole other world. And then we blast off into space with all the lasers and everything.”
The Red Rocks performance was a feat of composition, conducting and EDM production, with Opiuo at center stage behind his DJ console and surrounded by an orchestra. It offered a glimpse of a new realm in classical music that, perhaps, the next generation of Aspen Music Festival and School students might perfect by melding the orchestral and EDM worlds.
“It took months and months to figure out if it was even going to be possible,” Davey-Wraight said.
He broke down songs from his catalog and rewrote them with the orchestral parts, rather than simply adding some live strings and woodwinds on top of his electronic performance.
“I was adamant to not do it the way that anyone else had done it before,” he explained.“So I couldn’t ask someone else how they did it. I had to completely build the whole idea and spent months pulling the music apart.”
Davey-Wraight enlisted Denver’s own Tom Hagerman, whose rock band Devotchka has collaborated with the Colorado Symphony, to assist with some creative and logistical challenges.
303 Magazine, on its best-of-2018 concert list, called the April 21 performance “the show of a lifetime” and “flawless,” raving “the strings melted into the upbeat bass rhythm Opiuo is known for, while the danceable beats kept metronome to your dance moves and the ensemble.”
In the days leading up to the concert, Davey-Wraight wasn’t sure the show would go on. Temperatures at the venue were hovering around 32 degrees, and snow squalls were a possibility. His manager lined up the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield as a back-up option. But Davey-Wraight was committed to making it happen at Red Rocks for his sold-out crowd.
“I had to call him back and say, ‘No, I have to do it this way. We have to try,’” Davey-Wraight recalled, adding that he did have to promise the orchestra members that he’d end the show if precipitation came down and threatened their very expensive instruments.
“I had to promise that if there was any moisture, we wouldn’t do it,” he said.
After triumphs like that night and sets at some of the biggest music festivals on Earth, Davey-Wraight said he loves returning to smaller rooms like the ones he’s playing on Colorado this week (DJs have been telling him for years, he said, that he needs to play Belly Up and the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins).
“I play to five people or 5,000 people,” he said. “It’s refreshing and it’s humbling. You have to remember your roots, remember what got you where you are. If it becomes a thing where it’s always big sold-out venues, then it’s never a challenge. Then you lose some of that spontaneity and fear that you can use in a positive way.”
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.