After some rest I was back at it… more rest that is. That long night/morning led to much AC chillin Sunday afternoon, which led to yet more missed day sets. This day was packed, too, with a couple of choice bluegrass and funk acts that I fully planned on seeing. Oh well, such is festival life. But I made sure that I was at full attention when Papadosio made their appearance at the Sherwood Court stage. It was brutally hot once again, but this time there was a ton of people out — a true testament to the following of Papadosio. Sun be damned, these guys came to shred. They are definitely more of a nighttime band, but they demonstrated deft control with a now rare daytime slot. “Unparalyzer” was a smash, as was the exuberant “All I Need.” There wasn’t a whole lot of jamming, but this daytime set didn’t really need it; this was the best and highest attended day set I saw all weekend (granted there weren’t many, but you understand).
This is where you, my friends, get a little jealous. Luckily I ran into the guys from The Coop and they scooped me up for an awesome afternoon session at the VIP pool. I got to see how the other side lives and let me tell you, they are livin’ large. The artist/VIP area at Electric Forest is incredible, like a whole ‘nother world inside the festival. I spent some time soaking in the pool, then more time chillin’ in the shade, just soaking up the good life. Time once again slipped away from me, and after my brief sojourn as a festival 1%er, I was back out for a nonstop night of incredible music.
My pool session almost caused me to miss Gramatik’s set at Tripolee, but I was able to catch the last few songs. Much like Papadosio, I felt like Gramatik would heave greatly benefitted from the cover of darkness, but with so many ‘nighttime’ artists on the bill, there’s only so many slots to go around. I didn’t catch as much as I would have liked, so I never really got into the groove of this set. Nonetheless, it was the Gramatik I’ve come to know and love. This guy is one of the more underrated producers out right now. I mean, how many people are making the hip hop/electro bangers this guy is? Not many. Gramatik is the shit.
Keith Moseley, Dom Lalli, and Michael Travis
Michael Kang, Jason Hann, and Billy Nershi
After nearly missing one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend, I was on my A game as the rest of Sunday night unfolded. I made it back to Cheese in time to catch the end of the first set this time, a gorgeous “Colorado Bluebird Sky” aka the perfect Cheese song for dusk. Since I had missed every other Cheese photo pit opportunity, I made damn well sure I was in the pit for the start of the second set. A set which featured a few of my absolute favorite SCI songs. It started off with the always loved “Jellyfish” with the added bonus of Dom Lalli on saxophone. I didn’t expect to see him on the stage, it seems like Cheese always gets string instrument guests, but this was the ideal song for the added dimension of some brass.
After the photo pit I took to wandering around, which is when I realized another area where Electric Forest stands out from the rest of the festivals. I was standing near the middle of the crowd when all of a sudden a huge octopus puppet emerged and spread out over the a 20 foot circle of people. There is no other festival that puts such an emphasis on weird stuff for you to encounter on the grounds. There were multiple people all weekend dressed in animal costumes, a bunch of mushrooms running around, and a troupe of female mimes. There’ss already enough stuff at EFF to challenge your perception of reality, but there’s nothing quite like unexpectedly stumbling into a giant praying mantis while traversing a crowd in the dark with a weird head. This was just an awesome touch.
We got a more reserved dose of Cheesetronica (as opposed to Friday night’s “Desert Dawn-step”) with a mid-set “Bumpin Reel.” “Joyful Sound” was another highlight — everyone sings the words to this song, which makes the title extremely appropriate. There was a super psychedelic jam towards the end of the set, approaching what the Phish kids call a ‘type II jam.’ Pure space in your face. But the end of the set brought the power back around with arguably their best song: “Howard.” This one also evokes a certain Phish-like energy, with Michael Kang’s electric mandolin sounding eerily like Trey Anastasio’s guitar. That was the exclamation point on a patchwork meal of Cheese, where I didn’t see nearly as much as I planned, yet was generally blown away but everything I heard. String Cheese Incident was on top of their game this weekend, reminding everyone that they absolutely belong in the upper echelon of jambands despite not having a regular touring schedule.
I ducked out before Cheese’s encore to head over to Tripolee for the highly anticipated Richie Hawtin set. Heading into the weekend, this set really stood out to me. Hawtin is one of the foremost legends of techno, a pioneer of the genre. There simply wasn’t anyone else who embodied techno like this, much less with his stature in the EDM world. And his set completely lived up to his pedigree and obliterated any expectations I had going in. This was a clinic in highly technical mixing and fluid sound manipulation — basically the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the hideous Borgore set on Thursday. Instead of the massive swells and drops that were ubiquitous at EFF, Hawtin utilized a very deft hand in weaving small tendrils of tracks in and out of the mix, tucking lithe threads into one another like a musical linen. There wasn’t a single drop to be found, instead there were multiple times where the myriad sounds he manipulated would just come together, creating a blossoming sensation all white being driven by that swelling 120-130 bpm rhythm.
I plunged myself into the heart of the crowd, immersed my being in this wondrous set, and let my energy flow wherever Hawtin wanted to go. Being in those tight quarters in combination with the techno music truly made me feel like I was in an underground club. This was the only thing even remotely close to a club atmosphere, which is crazy considering this was an EDM festival. But Hawtin’s brand of EDM was just so different from the everything else featured at EFF. I was entranced for this entire set, entirely unable to leave this stage until the final wisps of music. I was blown away. In fact, this is probably the best set of pure EDM I’ve ever seen in a festival setting. Richie Hawtin is a virtuosic talent, and EFF hit a grand slam booking this guy as a counterpoint to the norm. There isn’t anyone better they could have found to diversify the EDM fare. This set was a revelation.
I felt like I was playing with house money after Richie Hawtin’s set. Absolutely anything else that happened on this night would be a bonus on top of an amazing weekend. But there was two huge sets left, and I had all the energy in the world to finish off my EFF weekend on a fantastically high note. I made it back over to Ranch Arena’s final show of the weekend. Which, not surprisingly, ended up being the biggest, rowdiest, most insane crowd of the weekend. Who else would it be besides Bassnectar? This dude has become an absolute monster in the festival circuit. Every time he’s at a festival, he draws the biggest crowd of the weekend. And for good reason: his sets are stupid amounts of fun. When I first discovered Bassnectar I was hooked instantly. But over the past couple of years, my taste for his music waned as he seemed to drift more and more into the brostep realm. Then last summer, he pleasantly surprised me at Summer Camp and I started to come back around. And now, after his set at EFF, I’m fully back around baby. I’m on the Bassnectar train.
Apologies for the awful audio… but I had to put this here. View from the pit.
He just brings such an unbelievable amount of energy to the live show and the crowd responds by going completely insane. Being in a photo pit at a Bassnectar set is one of the coolest things I’ve done as a music journalist. I spun around a few times and couldn’t help but burst out joy-laughing at the scene behind me. There was so much unhinged human energy that it was impossible to not get down. The beginning of his set was one banger after another, with the trademark Bassnectar drops coming in wave after wave. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: out of all these bigtime bass music guys right now, Bassnectar engineers the most devastating drops. He is a fully licensed, PhD holding Doctor of Drops. The first 45 minutes or so was a fun but one-sided display of wompery. It wasn’t unlike Richie Hawtin, in a sense, because it’s not like Hawtin did anything besides techno. But where Hawtin painted with these fine & intricate brushstrokes, Bassnectar came in with a paint roller drenched in paint and splattered that shit all over the canvas. There was no subtlety to his game, it was pure devastation. But as the set wound on, he began to explore a bit, teasing out the energy of the audience. While he might not readily demonstrate the technical prowess of some DJ/producers, he always shows a keen sense for taking the crowd on a ride. He moved through a pure drum n bass track, then through some more ambient stuff before bringing back the sledgehammers. Call Bassnectar what you will, but never call him an artist who goes out with some stock, pre-arranged setlist. He definitely veered off course for a while, toying with 20,000 people’s souls, before unleashing a hell-storm to wrap up his set. Bassnectar has become someone I do NOT want to miss at a festival.
Then there was one… One set left on Electric Forest’s schedule. And it was fitting that it was Big Gigantic, an electronic group that has absolutely exploded this year, ascending to the upper level of nighttime slot acts at every festival they played. In yet another brilliant move by EFF, they moved this final set from Tripolee to Sherwood Court, keeping everyone in range of Sherwood Forest as long as possible. After the insanity of Bassnectar’s set, it was amazing to see just as much energy at Big G. The crowd was massive, with huge glow stick wars at every turn of the bass. They got into a serious groove in their set, weaving a few choice remixes in to spice things up; Dom Lalli has a great way of transforming popular songs into festival-detonating bass bangers. But the rest of the set ended up feeling a bit monochromatic. Yeah, Big G got in a groove, almost too much of a groove. There wasn’t much that stood out from song to song. In fact, I felt like I kept hearing the same few sax solos from Lalli over and over again. They do have a very unique and fun sound, but after nearly two hours, everything besides the covers started sound exactly the same. Nonetheless, I raged until the very end, gettin down with a fire in my eyes.
After Big G’s set, wandering back through the forest was absolutely perfect. I ended up stumbling into a huge group of friends that I hadn’t seen all weekend and we posted up in chill position until the Officials started sweeping the forest, kicking everyone out for one last time. There was a palpable glow in the air out in the camping area, the energy of the night wasn’t going away quietly. I ended up stumbling across some people playing Mario Kart on a huge screen near the Glow Disk Golf course, where I talked with a few people equally as ecstatic as I was, giddy over the weekend we just experienced. But at some point, the previous night’s all-nighter caught up to me and I went to sleep off my life-buzz in the comfort of my car.
Looking back on the weekend: this was one of the best festival experiences of my life. The mind-blowing sets from Thievery Corporation and Richie Hawtin, the trip to the water park, the hours spent awe-gawking in Sherwood Forest, the Sunday morning sunrise, the time spent with awesome friends, and the Sunday afternoon pool session… all of these things added up to a weekend that I will never forget. I missed more music than I ever dreamed I would, but I also left on Monday morning feeling like I could go another two days. Normally I leave a festival completely spent but this one actually recharged me. I was able to infuse a little more of a vacation vibe into my weekend, which is something I rarely do but really needed this time around. This is one of the finest festivals I can imagine, even if some of the music was plain ridiculous. Electric Forest is just a top notch festival all around, and anyone who decided to skip it because of the bass music heavy lineup is a fool. There is nowhere on Earth like this place. This place is truly magical.
I wanna give a huge thanks to Carrie and Megan at Madison House Publicity for once again treating me so well. Also a shout out to the entire Electric-ology team for making this an exceptionally clean festival. And a special thanks to Sean Petykowski for killin it on the camera and being a fantastic festival work partner.
Electricologist Wells with a weekend’s worth of Eco Points. Every piece of paper in that bag represents one good greening deed by a festivalgoer.
(Part Three with my festival trends and top sets of the weekend coming up soon…)