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The great Skrillex mystery: How did SF pull off a 25,000-person show seemingly overnight?

Two men are in the foreground; one with a beard and headphones, focused, and the other is smiling at a keyboard. A large, ornate building is illuminated behind them.
DJs Skrillex, left, and Fred Again will be performing a surprise show at the Civic Center this Saturday. | Source: Illustration by Clark Miller/The Standard; Photos Getty Images

On Monday afternoon, the superstar electronic musician Skrillex tweeted a photo of himself smiling and gesturing at a black T-shirt. The message: He was performing an outdoor show with British electronic musician Fred Again this Saturday. The location: San Francisco’s Civic Center. 

Say what now? 

Out of seemingly nowhere, San Francisco was set to host a 25,000-person mega-show with only 96 hours’ warning. General admission tickets, priced at a no-nonsense $80 plus a hefty service fee, went on sale at noon Tuesday, and the show sold out in about an hour as fans jockeyed for the chance to see two of the most high-energy DJs and producers working today.

So how did San Francisco—a city known for wasting years and spending millions to do relatively simple things like install a public toilet—pull off something this big, this fast? 

In truth, it wasn’t an overnight success—just a secret one. Preparations had been ongoing behind the scenes for several months, confirmed Mary Conde, senior vice president of concert producer Another Planet Entertainment. Tamara Aparton, a spokesperson for the Recreation and Park Department, confirmed that Another Planet applied for a permit on Feb. 23.

The show went through the same approval process as any ticketed event on a Rec and Park property, Aparton said. But given that this is a public space with unique security concerns—City Hall is right across the street, while nearby UN Plaza and its environs often transform by night into a drug-dealing and stolen goods bazaar—this was still a considerable undertaking. “Civic Center is one of the largest plazas in San Francisco, and it can accommodate large crowds,” said Aparton.

Mayor London Breed, who has made it a priority to lure people back downtown, both day and night, agreed. “We are a city that knows how to have fun,” the Mayor’s Office said in a statement. “There’s an undeniable jolt of energy in this city, and we’re thrilled to welcome artists and entertainers.”

A person wearing a dark hoodie is smiling while using electronic music equipment, including a keyboard and various connected devices, against a blurred background.
Fred Again performs at the Electric Picnic Festival in 2023. | Source: Debbie Hickey/Getty Images

Last year, Another Planet—which produces the three-day Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park every August—won the right to stage a second, smaller event one week later. In return, the company agreed to produce several free outdoor music events downtown every year for three years. Saturday’s show, being not free, comes in addition to those concerts.

Another Planet’s offices are inside the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, just across Grove Street, said Conde. They couldn’t resist holding a concert right outside their front door. “I have a soft spot in my heart for the Beaux-Arts architecture and what the plaza can be when it’s activated,” she said.

There may be several special guests

What can attendees expect from a show they barely have time to get hyped for? Skrillex headlined the final night of last weekend’s Lightning in a Bottle festival outside Bakersfield, which included as many pyrotechnics displays as bass drops. There will be no pyro this Saturday, Conde said, simply because it wasn’t part of the show design. Also, contrary to the way the show is being portrayed online, it’s actually a Fred Again set with Skrillex as a special guest. “There may be other special guests,” Conde said. 

The show runs for three-and-a-half hours after its 6:30 p.m. start time, suggesting that it might resemble the two acts’ previous star-studded performances at Coachella and Las Vegas’ Electric Daisy Carnival. In addition to joint shows at various London clubs and at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Fred Again and Skrillex played a well-received set at Coachella in 2023, bringing out electronic veteran Four Tet.

A marquee reads "FRED AGAIN.. X SKRILLEX JUNE 1 CIVIC CENTER PLAZA." Below are doors and signs about re-entry, strobe lights, and safety information.
Construction is already taking place opposite Bill Graham for Saturday’s joint show. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard
A man with a beard and a top knot hairstyle stands behind a table, wearing white headphones. A desk lamp is on the left, and the background is a pinkish hue.
Skrillex performed in San Francisco last October at the Portola Music Festival. | Source: Jordi Vidal/WireImage/Getty Images

Though Skrillex’s intense, sample-filled style of dubstep and electro house may not be for everyone in San Francisco, the city will have to live with his penchant for playing at high volumes. His most recent appearance in San Francisco, at last October’s Portola Music Festival, generated noise complaints all the way across the Bay in Alameda.

Conde believes that shouldn’t be a problem, even at night in an area dense with grand buildings. “Public address systems and speaker boxes are so technologically advanced that you can really focus the sound where you want it,” she said.

It certainly won’t dissuade the fans. For anyone who didn’t act fast, tickets on the resale market are already creeping toward $350 each by Thursday afternoon, although Fred Again is playing three additional dates next week at Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater.