This was a different sort of festival trip. Not only did this version of Electric Forest shift in new ways, but I’ve never experienced such a reversal of mood & energy at a festival before. These things are always a result of something in your head as well as your environment. I arrived early enough on Thursday to have everything set up with time to chill before the first artist of the festival. Upon first entry it hit me; whoa, the Tripolee stage was moved in a big way, right inside the entrance.
This seemed really cool at first, but as I walked past the stage I realized something I wasn’t prepared for. There was now a fence cutting off the massive area where Tripolee formerly sat. For the past three festivals at Double JJ Ranch, the Tripolee area was a site of great memories; from Pretty Lights on the 4th in ’09, to EOTO’s crushing finale set at last year’s EFF. Now this hulking black fence shunted everyone in one direction, down a long path made of even more intimidating fences. The entire process of moving through this area turned into a rat maze with really only one direction to go.
Even the Wagon Wheel felt more cut off — you really had to go out of your way to find that place this year. Basically, all of the wondering area NOT in the forest was eliminated. So before I even got to the music I had a sour taste in my mouth. This place is my all-time favorite place to see music, in my home state, it’s like if a festival could be your sibling. It’s a pleasure in itself to know that I’ve been to every festival there — I truly love the magic of Double JJ Ranch. Could this be the year it jumped the shark? Had Electric Forest Festival lost the magic?
These were the heavy thoughts floating through my mind as I made it to Ranch Arena to see Reggie Watts. This is where I stumbled into another disappointing finding. I might be the one of a very few people who even noticed this, but it was significant none the less. Looking at Ranch Arena stage, off to the right there was a water station, with a giant VIP tent next to it. Well, back at the original Rothburys, right in front of where the VIP tent now sat was this pillowy soft, mini-golf style grass. It was finely manicured with rolling topography and was pretty much the best spot on the whole grounds to lie back and people watch (again, NOT in the forest). But now, only a tiny, two foot diameter patch of that grass remained and the entire area was now flattened out, all it’s charm & character erased.
These might seem like trivial things, but there was something about these idiosyncrasies that went a long way towards making this place the most special festival grounds in America. But what about the music… man? Well, on this first day, I saw about as much great stuff as I did disappointing. Reggie Watts was everything was he hyped up to be. A brilliant blend of music and comedy, with various vocal effects and hip hop beats to accompany his strange lyrical style and vocabulary. His energy was perfect for an opening set and caused more than a few legit laughs.
Then Dixon’s Violin was a revelation at the Forest Stage. This guy is seriously talented, playing a violin much like Keller Williams plays a guitar — layer upon layer of looped sounds from one instrument to create a gorgeous symphony of sound. His violin lit up a little of that magic in the forest. The Forest Stage is the most unique music area at EF, and his strings sparkled through the tree tops like the last glimmers of sun from the dusky sky. This is the kind of virtuosic, truly impassioned musical creativity that I love.
But then Borgore slapped me across the face with one of the most intellectually insulting sets of music I’ve ever heard. It was every bit as awful as the 12th Planet set from Summer Camp that I tore to shreds, but this guy might have been even worse. He dropped the most stereotypically dubstep remix of Avicii’s “Levels” which is already played out as fuck. But then he just stopped in between songs, no mixing or manipulation at all, with the cherry on top being when he played Knife Party’s “Centipede” with absolutely no live touches. I’m pretty sure dude was up there with iTunes open on his laptop. A total joke, and basically an insult to any good or refined music sensibility. In the words of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson: How long, O Lord? How long will it be until these cookie cutter dubstep pole jockeys cease to thrill a mass of tweens? Not. Soon. Enough.
Borgore smeared my already fragile mood, but the first trip all the way through the forest rinsed that shit clean. I don’t know how it’s even possible, but somehow they figure out how to continue to raise the bar in Sherwood Forest; they one-up themselves every year. It wasn’t even fully dark yet and I could tell that Sherwood was going to be one visual orgasm after another. Hey, there’s a little bit more of that magic.
Then I arrived at Sherwood Court for Conspirator for yet more disappointment. I don’t know what the hell was going on with these guys, but this didn’t sound like the last few times I’ve heard them (where they completely kicked my ass). It was crazily overproduced. I know Michetti was being doing a lot more with his solo dubstep project lately but damn, this was over the edge. I only hung around for about 20 minutes, so maybe they played some other stuff at other times, but this was the first time I’d ever seen Conspirator and been turned off.