The first few hours on Friday of North Coast Fest are as close to “the calm before the storm” as it gets. Union Park opens its arms wide at 2pm with an anticipatory sigh, readying itself for the onslaught of energy about to rain down. While most people are still wrapping up their workday, the music begins to a trickle of humanity, warming up for the massive weekend ahead. The first few sets are always sparsely attended, it’s just the way it goes. The last two years have opened with with Chicago legends Orchard Lounge, but this year it was Auto Body who got the party started for us. This group consisting of Thibault and Felix Moreno has become an absolute monster. Their unique electro-pop style is right at home at NCMF and this set was as potent as ever. They’ve matured by leaps since their inception, but despite their progression, they still manage to hold onto that old ‘jam’ ethos thanks to Moreno’s slick & provocative basslines that glide in between songs. He’s great at laying back in the cut, letting things unfold, but when he and Thibault got raging in a song, he’s an explosive component. This set was long enough to include a large chunk of their catalogue, including a brutish “The Drop” to bring things to a close. This is one group we simply cannot get enough of… Returning for their second North Coast appearance, Two Fresh displayed a massive growth and maturity from two years ago; they also managed to pull out some new tricks and show the crowd they were still evolving. The brothers Nicholls were locked in from the very beginning, stacking jazzy grooves on top of hip hop samples to create a very unique and hypnotic sound. Colby Buckler’s drumming was crisp and precise as ever and it complimented “the twins’” beats just right. The biggest surprise of the set came when the Nicholls’ picked up the microphone and freestyle’d over a couple hip hop tracks. As soon as the audience picked up the flow, they started getting louder and a rush of energy appeared to sweep over everyone. The trio felt it well and became even more animated on stage. By the end of the set, it was tough to find anyone that wasn’t dancing. Overall, it was good to see some variation from this trio and it gave us hope that
others artists would follow in a similar fashion… Meanwhile, on the main Coast Stage, EOTO was twirling their one-of-a-kind brand of live improvised dubstep. But there was something a bit amiss with this set. For whatever reason, it never really seemed to achieve lift off the way they’ve been known. It appeared for a stretch like some technical issues were rearing their ugly head, which is never conducive to a smooth set. They sounded alright, but they’ve played better in the past and certainly will again… Then there was Mord Fustang over on the Red Bull Stage, which ended up being one of the truly pleasant surprises of the whole weekend. This guy doesn’t have much material available, so it was anyone’s guess how this set would roll out. But it was a very impressive showing. His style was all over the map, from devastating dub-electro tracks to a dark, almost ambient energy at times. There was no telling where he’d go next and no two songs sounded alike. This guy is relatively new to the scene and it’s safe to say he will be around for a while — his set was amazing… As the sun began to set on Union Park, the crowd ballooned a considerable amount, as did the glow toys. There was no denying the power of the massive audience that showed up for Knife Party, who was making their first Chicago appearance. The Australian duo describes their sound as ”seizure music” and when the drops occurred, the title really fit. Their electro-dubstep brand of EDM drew a rabid response from the audience; this was possibly the most energetic crowd of the entire weekend. Serious insanity. A sing-a-long began during their own remix of “Save the World” by Swedish House Mafia and seemed to energize the crowd even further…The newly-located Dos Equis stage proved to be one of the most unique and musically diverse venues of the weekend. The smooth, ethereal tunes of Papadosio snatched our attention at this location. Although they were delayed by a ridiculously lengthy soundcheck (seriously, putting a 5-piece band in between DJ/producers is a terrible move that must have stressed the stage managers out and robbed everyone of a solid 20 minutes of music) they managed to make the most of their time. This beast of a band delivered an unearthly blend of live electronica that seemed to dance around effortlessly in a subtle yet prominent way. Their sound was a revelation on
this first day, a stand-out act amongst the pack… Night one closed out with a scorching, balanced set list from familiar favorite STS9 that featured older tracks, as well as newer cuts. The show carried a solid flow that featured several segues between tracks with natural progressions and a pulsating euphoria permeating throughout. This was not the same band of past years, this was a different beast altogether. Beginning with two newer tracks, “20-12″ into “When The Dust Settles,” they quickly transitioned into a healthy duo of old crowd pleasers “Arigato” and “Rent.” The lights were brighter, the sound bigger, the energy raised to new levels. It was almost like witnessing a rebirth, but one of a band you once adored and forgot how much you appreciated. The wall of sound was massive, with the fantastic lights to accentuate the psychedelic soundscapes. A major highlight of the show was an explosive take on one of their older tracks “T.W.E.L.V.E.” They even threw in a Bloody Beetroots and Cool Kids track in for good measure. This was the STS9 of old, as sharp and powerful as ever before.
NCMF after-parties at Bottom Lounge are about as perfect as possible. Being less than a five minute walk from Union Park only makes this venue more appealing, which is crazy to fathom since it’s already one of the best venues in Chicago. The night got off to a fantastic start thanks to Chicago’s own jam-electronic pillar The Coop. Having broken so much new ground this year, playing so many new places, some previous sets this year felt a little ‘boxed in.’ But not this one. They broke free of any pre-conceived notions and threw down a set rife with improvisation. Danny Biggins’ guitar sounded exceptionally crisp as they tore through some older material, dropping a silly amount of unhinged jamming all along the way. This set was absolutely phenomenal.
Up next was North Coast Fest veteran Thibault, making his second appearance of the day. When it comes to a Thibault set, you better expect to have your face kicked in because he brings as much aggressive electro as anyone on the planet. The opening throes of his set, however, felt a little flatter than usual, like he was really setting up something big. Which he was. The ever-popular “Air Jaws” got everyone going apeshit and his remix of Future Rock’s “FM1000″ brought the hammer down in a huge way. It feels, at this point, like his work as a DJ is but a side dish for his sheer brilliance as a producer. It’s only a matter of time before he has a whole catalogue of original songs with which he can crush audiences.
And wrapping up the night (and first day of North Coast) was venerable producer Eliot Lipp, who oddly didn’t have a set at the festival proper. And after this awesome late nite set, it was clear he definitely should have been at Union Park. He played a bunch of material from his latest album (and first release on Pretty Lights Music label) Shark Wolf Rabbit Snake, including an amazingly manipulated “Mountain.” This dude has a ton of his own material, enough to fill multiple sets, but he pulled a few tricks out of his sleeve by dropping a pair of pure trap tracks. Trap is, by all accounts, the newest EDM fad and susceptible to quick fatigue and general boredom. But Lipp’s deft incorporation of these tracks added a dimension to his set that was completely unexpected. And not the least bit boring. This was a fantastic way to wrap the first day of Chicago’s best music festival.