Music has been an important part of what I do for a while, but somehow, until now, I had never attended a real music festival. I'd gone to small day-long "festivals" like Download and Identity, but never one of the multi-day benders that everyone gets so excited about. Electric Zoo didn't seem to be a bad way to inaugurate myself into festival life, since it was happening nearby and at a time when it was possible to swing the trip. In addition, a lot of cool people I know were going, which meant the festival promised to be a great time.
This post is probably going to be pretty lengthy — I've never written about a festival before, and I want to give every set that I enjoyed the attention it deserves. I'll try to break it down as well as possible, though, so that it's readable and so that you can find the things you want to read! Because festivals can be a bit of a blur (and I was sober for the first two days and almost all of the third), this post will probably end up being as experiential as it is musical. On another note, I attempted to do fan interviews at the festival, which some of you might stumble upon this post because of. That whole thing didn't work out as well as planned, but I'll include what was retained!
Make the jump for tasty tracks from a wide variety of genres at the festival (we've got house, trance, minimal, dubstep, and everything in between), full mixes from Armin van Buuren and Afrojack, and reviews of a whole bunch of acts!
Friday, September 2
The first set that we caught on Friday was the tail end of AN21 & Max Vangeli, which turned out to be quite appropriate, since their remix of Pendulum's "The Island" (with Steve Angello) was one of the most played songs of the festival (and I'd include it in this post, had I not already included it in my preview, yeah, who called it). What we saw of their set was a lot of fun. Tiga, who I've never listened to before, took over the Main Stage when they were done, and what we heard of his set sounded awesome. Next up, we wandered to the Red Bull Riverside to catch Feed Me, who I didn't realize looked like Neville Longbottom (not to worry, Feed Me, I definitely mean the badass incarnation of Neville as seen in HP7). His set was the heavy, raging music that you'd expect.
With our mentalities set to bro out, we made our way to the main stage for Rusko. Rusko has reached the point of mainstream fame where you don't get a lot of street cred for being a fan, but honestly, the dude throws down hard every. freaking. time. I'd just seen him two weeks ago at Identity in Boston and had a great time, and he didn't disappoint at the Zoo. I've never seen another DJ pump up the crowd like Rusko does — his energy is infectious and even a hater of the so-called "brostep" category would probably come out of one of his sets happy (as much as they might try to hide it).
After Rusko's set, we took a break before making our way back to the Red Bull Riverside for Sebastian. Although I have already described his set somewhat in my interview from the festival, I want to reiterate how amazing it was here. The chain-smoking, constantly-drinking Sebastian incorporated awesome visuals, sinister electro, and personal performance into an act that really stood out. In his interview, he described how he always wants to do something different, even when it comes to club music, and he has definitely succeeded, and played to an enthusiastic audience. Sebastian, we've been indoctrinated. I don't know how far out of my way I'd have gone to see Sebastian before having the easy chance to do so here, but now, I'd definitely go to a decent bit of trouble to see him perform live. He mainly played his original material, but his remix of Toddla T's "Watch Me Dance" also made an appearance.
The next set that I caught a significant part of was MSTRKRFT. I can't say I've listened to too much of their material, but their set was a good time, and their awesome visuals definitely kept me hooked. After we'd had our fill of MSTRKRFT (it was just about time for their set to end anyway), we wandered next door to catch a little bit of Crookers. We then decided we needed to sit down, so we sat on the grass near the main stage to watch the beginning of Tiesto's set from the ground. Eventually, we mustered enough energy to join the tightly-packed crowd, and Tiesto made one of my absolute favorite drops of the festival: "Epic" by Sandro Silva & Quintino.
I've been loving this song all summer, but I haven't heard it played by anyone, so it was absolutely unexpected and even my tired self went nuts when I heard it (probably more nuts than most). I was skeptical of Tiesto because he's such a hyped DJ, but he really did play something for everyone and I now have a better understanding of why he's earned such a major reputation. I'm not quite sure how I survived this, as it meant dancing for basically 12 straight hours following a day of moving, but I also caught RJD2 at Webster Hall as an unexpected little interlude from the Zoo.
Saturday, September 3
The beginning of Saturday looked scary. Not bad scary, but good scary, with conflicting early sets from Daedelus, Mat Zo, and SBTRKT. I guess it was sort of a blessing of decreased stress that we arrived later than expected and missed all of them (which I justify as okay because I would pay to see any of them individually). It was also an absolute delight to be able to start the day with James Holden, another of my absolute favorites of the festival, in the Sunday School Grove. He seemed genuinely pleased that the crowd was enjoying his set so much, and his more minimal styles made for a nice way to ease into the day (but don't be mistaken, there was still plenty of dancing to be done). Also, I had no idea that he was such a cutie. Not that I'm shallow or anything. Music precedes cuteness in terms of priorities, I swear.
We caught the beginning of Steve Bug's set before moving over one stage to see some of Sidney Samson, the first of many to play the oh-so-reliable "Warp 1.9" by The Bloody Beetroots feat. Steve Aoki (another track that was endlessly repeated at the festival). Sidney Samson mostly played reliable, sort of cheesy tracks, but sometimes that's just what you need, and it helped with the transition into "rage" mode after James Holden's more chilled-out set. We had hoped to catch Porter Robinson next, but the Hillside Arena was so packed during his set that we weren't quite ready to sweat it out as hard as needed. Instead, we sat and listened his set from the ground outside. Inside reports indicate that he was awesome.
I haven't seen Skrillex before, and since I'm not really down to pay to see him individually, this seemed to be as good a time as any to check him off the concert bucket list. Skrillex's set was pretty much what I'd anticipated, originals interlaced with other heavy dubstep. We caught the end of Andy Moor's trance set before, honestly one of the silliest transitions I've ever seen since it was pretty clear there was minimal overlap between audiences. I'll admit that I had a lot of fun, until the lack of any real rest began to kick in and my feet could no longer support the whole act of standing up, let alone jumping around and dancing. My friends stayed, but I wandered out to lie on the ground and bob my head to Above & Beyond who were on the main stage. I'd seen them play once before in Boston, where the crowd was super weird, but here, I really liked what they were playing and trance was just what the mood called for.
Next up was David Guetta, who we watched out of a similar sense of obligation to that which we had felt for Tiesto. However, while Tiesto left us surrendered to the fact that okay, yes, you are awesome, we now get it, we left David Guetta feeling somewhat less excited. Obviously he played a good set and the visuals were pretty awesome, but we weren't overwhelmed by how amazing he was or anything. I guess it's just not my thing. Saturday was closed by Bloody Beetroots Death Crew 77, whose mixture of the live and the produced was a crowd-pleaser. We didn't catch all of it, since we wanted to beat the mass exodus from the island, but we enjoyed what we saw.
Sunday, September 4
Sunday started with the biggest disappointment of the entire festival for me: we missed TOKiMONSTA's set because the ferry that was said to come "every 15 minutes" actually took "over an hour" to arrive at the dock. Thankfully, the rest of the day manage to overshadow this saddening start. We started the day by catching the last 20 minutes or so of Gramatik's set, which was awesome. Gramatik, who is on Pretty Lights' label, blends genres and creates a unique sound that stood out at the festival, with a more hip-hoppy, funky, groovy feel than anything else I saw (though he also fit in fine since elements of other electronic genres are also a significant part of his music). I also interviewed Gramatik later in the day, so expect that post soon for more about him!
Next, we saw Alesso at the main stage. To be honest, I often felt like I was listening to Avicii's Essential Mix during this set, but I can't really complain, since I got to hear Alesso's own remix of Dune's "Heiress of Valentina" live. The crowd was also loving Alesso and danced hard despite the intense heat. Martin Solveig's take on Dragonette's "Hello" was a common choice that made an appearance here, and the entire set was laden with bangers.
The set that I missed to do my interview was Arty, who I'd wanted to see but I'm sure I'll have many more opportunities to catch since he seems to be blowing up a bit. I had planned to see Hardwell next, but when I went to meet my friends at Excision & Datsik we ended up staying the entire time. This was pretty unexpected, since I thought I'd had my fill of womp-laden dubstep on Friday with Rusko and Feed Me, but for some reason it just hit the spot. Datsik's remix of Dragonette's "Animale" is a rare Datsik track that I truly like, and they also dropped plenty of other heavy tracks. The crowd is so important to enjoying a show like this, and the people around me at this set seemed to have the right idea: there's definitely a hint of irony to raging like mad to really, really heavy beats, and I think we all got it.
After this set, we decided to break yet again before continuing into the nonstop final stretch of evening partying. We sat outside as Carte Blanche took the stage and appreciated their set from a distance until we wandered in for the end. Carte Blanche's visuals were pretty sweet and so were their beats. We then went to the Sunday School Grove one last time for a taste of Brazilian Gui Boratto's minimal techno stylings. His set conflicted with Fake Blood, who I was sad to miss, but all in all my anticipation and desire to see Gui Boratto won out. Yet again, the Sunday School Grove brought a refreshingly subtle touch to electronic music, not to mention a super-enthusiastic crowd.
We meant to see Jack Beats before moving on to Afrojack, but it just didn't work out. Festivals are weird that way: at the beginning, I was determined to see every single one of the artists I liked, but by Sunday, I was almost desensitized to concerts. I guess the fact that I've seen Jack Beats before made it easier, but it's still weird to approach a pretty sweet set as "oh well, it's just a concert" by the end of something. We saw a few minutes of his set, but the logistical desire to meet up with more members of our crew before continuing the evening led us to go sit in the trees for a while until Afrojack actually started.
Afrojack – Live at Electric Zoo (9/4/2011)
I've never seen him before, and I'm glad I finally managed to. His set brought a ton of exuberant energy, and he played both old classics, like "Take Over Control (feat. Eva Simons)" and "Replica" and plenty of new material (he announced that he was debuting a new track at least twice).
The grand finale of Electric Zoo was a legendary set by Armin van Buuren. The fact that I didn't manage to take any presentable photos of anything that went on is probably the strongest testament to how perfect everything was, from the music he played, ranging from classic trance and familiar staples to other unfamiliar tracks and complemented by visuals that included full-out fireworks. While I'm not quite engrained enough in the trance scene to be able to recall a lot of specifics, I couldn't have asked for a better end to the Zoo.
Armin van Buuren – Live at Electric Zoo (9/4/2011)
As for the setting, Randall's Island, I really liked it, especially for my first festival. It was small enough that it was very easy to travel between stages and see many acts, but four stages across three days, while manageable, is not something to scoff at. The only thing I took issue with was how difficult water was to obtain on these hot, hot days where a lot people were engaging in a lot of dehydrating activities: you could either pay $3 per fairly small container of water or wait for an obscene amount of time in line at one of the two water stations (I waited almost an hour at one point). The best solution to this, which I didn't realize until Sunday, was to collect 10 water containers to get one free one, an act that took about 10 minutes to gather and about 10 minutes waiting in line. But yeah, dudes, if you don't want people to die at your event, maybe you should hydrate them.
This week, I've felt more soreness in my body than ever before thanks to spending almost 36 hours dancing this weekend. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to the fun, from friends to publicity folks to the DJs!