It took us a while to recover from the madness of two weekends ago, thanks to REACT Presents Spring Awakening Music Festival in Chicago. The entire weekend was an epic experience to say the least, and its success will likely lead to a repeat next year. The neon energy within and surrounding Chicago's iconic Soldier Field was an overwhelming testament to this generation's love of electronic dance music. Standing on the stadium floor, it was a surreal feeling to look around the venue and feel the bass within. Never would one expect to feel that amount of bass reverberating through the stadium home to the Chicago Bears. You'll notice the word 'epic' thrown around a lot in this recap, and it's solely because there is no other way to coin the energy, experience, and overall feeling of that weekend.
If you have ever been to a festival, people watching is almost as entertaining as the music itself. The diversity throughout the venue was unprecedented. Some of the costumes worn by festival goers were borderline terrifying yet intriguing (we saw a man in a horse mask, yes, a horse mask), while others were downright crazy (we saw a girl in an all silver body suit). Mind you, Saturday's temperature made for a sweat fest even if you were completely naked. We could not believe the fashion statements people were making in the over 90 degree heat, especially if they were dancing like the world was set to end end the following day. Thankfully, Soldier Field's staff drenched dancing crowds with hoses suited to calm a wildfire. Cooling down (on Saturday especially) was an absolute must to ensure that everyone remained hydrated and alive by the end of the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, it seemed as though beer was in more abundance than water (which we had a problem with). Shortly into Saturday and into Sunday, however, the availability of water became more noticeable throughout the grounds.
In regards to the venue itself, it was the perfect fit for the amount of attendees at the festival. With three stages on the outskirts of the stadium itself, alongside vendors, restrooms, and shady trees, there was certainly enough room to take a breather if you needed to. The main stage was located inside the stadium itself, with plenty of stadium seating available for those simply wanting to observe the crowd on the field and see the light show while sitting down. Each stage was located close enough together where the walk from stage to stage was easy, but they were far enough apart where the noise from each stage never collided with one another. It was the perfect venue for a music festival. Despite being the first music festival held at Soldier Field, it seemed as though they had been hosting festivals for years. With an abundance of festival staff, Soldier Field venue management, security, and volunteers everywhere, they were well equipped with a sizable amount of staff to allow for a flawless execution.
The music is what a festival is all about, though, right? Well, this festival's line-up was jam-packed with iconic electronic artists and producers. The downside of music festivals is having to choose between artists when they are playing at the same time, but the closeness of tents allowed us to check out as many as possible by splitting up our time. We'll review the sets we were lucky enough to catch alongside a brief summary of each artist/producer. Click on the name of the artist/group to check them out on Facebook and support the hell out of them all.
– SATURDAY –
3LAU: We had the opportunity to sit down with 3LAU for a delicious lunch before we arrived at the festival. The conversation was rich in context; however, we would be doing 3LAU a disservice by transcribing only a few bits and pieces of an interview so rich in context for a festival recap. That said, stay tuned for an EARMILK exclusive interview with 3LAU. Patience is a virtue (and this article in itself was a beast to write).
Seeing 3LAU live for the first time was quite an eye (or should we say ear)-opening experience. SAMF was the first festival of his career, and he was also under the weather the day of his performance. Both of these factors had absolutely no effect on how killer of a set he had. His energy level was consistently high throughout the duration of the set, and the energy coming from the crowd was exponential. He dropped a few of our all-time 3LAU favorites throughout the set, but he also threw in some newbie tracks as candy to our ears. We're excited to (hopefully) get our hands on some of those new tracks to share with EARMILK readers before they are released to the public. Fingers crossed. They're all killer.
3LAU is a producer/artist that we have been following since the beginning of his career. As most of you know, it's one thing to produce magic on EPs, albums, and studio-tracks. It's an entirely different feat to play a live set and exceed expectations. 3LAU did a great job, and we're thrilled to have the opportunity to follow him on his inevitable journey to success.
KREWELLA: Having heard their name talked about throughout the industry as of late, it was impossible to miss the set (or at least see what the hype is all about). There is no doubt the trio are all-around impressive, and the energy of their set was contagious from a football field away. Despite the humidity, hundreds upon hundreds of people packed themselves under and around their tent. Comprised of Jahan, Yasmine, & Kris 'Rainman' Trindl, the Krew blew us away live. They truly killed their set, bringing high energy in their performance but also their tracks played. Our personal favorite was their killer drop rendition of Oasis' "Wonderwall". It was a statement to their creativity, really. It was an unforeseen remix, and it definitely made the crowd crazy. After seeing their set live, we felt it absolutely necessary to interview them. We'll have an EARMILK exclusive interview for you with the Krew come July.
Oh, and also: You should probably check out Krewella's debut EP Play Hard released at the beginning of this past week.
DESIGNER DRUGS: Another phenomenal set consisted of Michael Vincent Patrick and Theodore Paul Nelson doing their thing behind the speakers. The duo did not fail to impress the number of people we were surrounded by. They were able to create movement where there was little room to move in the crowd. Debuting their album of original tracks Hardcore/Softcore a little over a year ago, they have truly come a long way in a short period of time. Designer Drugs has stamped their name on several successful remixes in the past year as well. Having only heard their work through headphones and computer speakers in the past, they proved to encompass the truest form of talent in their live set. Their transitions were executed almost flawlessly, and we were most impressed with Major Lazer's "Original Don" sneaking its way into their hour.
MIDNIGHT CONSPIRACY: These guys are stellar. Their notorious laser eye is something else as well. We were fortunate enough to catch Midnight Conspiracy's set and again, were blown away. It's no wonder they have come so far in such a short amount of time. They know the genre of dubstep like they personally created it. Not only have they landed top five several times on reputable music charts throughout the world, but they have also toured nonstop and have the art of live performance mastered as well. These guys played their set on the main stage during the day. Take our word for it, the main stage was one of the hottest locations on festival grounds. When we say hot, we mean both in music & temperature. Without the shade of trees or tents, it was almost paralyzing to withstand the heat and humidity of the sun that day. All that said, though, Midnight Conspiracy did not let that put a damper in their set. The crowd was astronomical for the weather, and everyone was moving. It was unbelievable and speaks to the amount of talent they have and exude.
MORGAN PAGE: We absolutely love Morgan Page. The crowd at SAMF did as well. He played in a tent where there were platforms surrounding the poles holding the tents in place. There were literally ten girls dancing on a tiny platform at once throughout his set. It was a sight to see, to say the least. In comparison to some of the other sets we caught on Saturday, Morgan Page's set was a bit more relaxed (yet still danceable and wild). Our previous statement may seem contradictory, but truly, it really showcased the different vibe created within the electronic genre subcategories. With more of a house-feel to his set than a majority of the bass-infused artists, it was an opportunity to take a breather and enjoy the beauty that the festival really brought forth. His music attracted all types of people, but ultimately looking around everyone seemed at ease and content with letting loose. We saw more smiles at the Morgan Page set than any other. It was amazing. The vocal hooks throughout his sound are mesmerizing, and he has truly conquered the challenge of keeping house music fresh, invigorating, and beautiful.
DILLON FRANCIS: Dillon Francis truly does not give a fuck. He's a class-act in personality and it shows when he performs. If it's any type of sign, take a look at his main website and note the cat background. Quirky? Yup. He is similar to the honey badger like that. We can say, however, he clearly puts a lot of concentration, hard work, and seriousness into his live sets and production. He's pretty much mastered the art of remixing, alongside transitions. The crowd in his tent went absolutely crazy when they heard the undeniable beginning of "IDGAFOS 2.0". We cannot even begin to tell you how cool it was to jump up and down consistently in a crowd of 500+. He knows how to throw down, and there is no doubt this dude will continue to show-off his skills in the next year. We expect big things from him in the future, and we'll obviously be sure to keep everyone posted as insider info leaks through on his whereabouts and goings-on.
BENNY BENASSI: We're just going to tell it like it is real quick. We were super confused whenBenny Benassi's (supposed to be) hour-long set came to an abrupt halt halfway in. We continued to check-in on social sites, news articles, and search engines to figure out what the hell happened. His set began at dusk on the main stage, and the crowd was raging (as expected). We all know who he is, we know what he's about, and truly, there is no need to describe his music or give a quick bio. The man is one of the Godfathers of EDM, and we were super bummed he cut-out short. Apparently, according to a news source, his set ended early to allow for an immaculate set-up forSkrillex's set. In our opinion, that's kind of a crock of shit. While yes, Skrillex had an elaborate set, we're fairly certain that people would have stayed out an extra half-hour later than anticipated at one of the most epic festivals in the city of Chicago that night. Benny's Twitter says he cut out early due to the storm that began raging during Skrillex's set. Rain, in our opinion, makes dancing in heat way better. Anyways, enough with the venting. Come back soon, Mr. Benassi. We enjoyed the shit out of your set while it lasted.
SKRILLEX: How much do we have to say about this one? It was fucking epic. The light show was incredible. The bass drops, incredible. The thunder-storm that began during his set, incredibly incredible. The rain had one of the craziest reactive reflections off his lasers we've ever seen in-person. Because Skrillex played the last set of the day on Saturday, he had almost everyone at the festival within the stadium. It was one of the coolest experiences ever. The floor thousands of feet away vibrated underneath us. Looking around at Soldier Field and the seating surrounding us, it was hard to believe that we were actually experiencing something as crazy as his set in that epic of a venue. In regards to his set, it was as expected. It was as if Skrillex threw musical notes on the ground and went ape shit all over them, in a good way. There's no other way to describe the set. It was an all-around phenomenal experience. We'd say something like, "we expect big things out of this dude in the future, and we'll keep you posted" right about now. We feel, though, that would be stupid. And… scene.
A video of his performance (thanks, Skrillex, for tweeting this video):
– SUNDAY –
NERVO: They came to Chicago from across the pond to perform at SAMF, and there was no way we could miss their set. They kicked off our Sunday in all the right ways, killing the set and making it easy to begin another full afternoon/evening with EDM. This beautiful duo (Mim & Liv) show off their talent with live sets, but ultimately the sisters began as hit songwriters. They are gearing up to become a force to be reckoned with on the club scene worldwide, however, and we cannot wait to hear what they plan to release this year.
R3HAB: We have covered his releases in the past, but this remix producer shows off his talent through his releases, and even more so live. If music were in physical form, it is as if R3hab takes a chainsaw to songs and destroys them. There is no other way to coin it. He's fabulous live and his tent was jam-packed with movers & shakers. He is phenomenal at taking music and turning it into his own piece of work. It truly takes quite an ear to do that and succeed with it. His beats are downright dirty, his drops are hard, and he has mastered the art of remixing. With singles and remixes played by such producers as David Guetta, Afrojack, and Swedish House Mafia, R3hab is someone we anticipate hearing a lot more from in the future. We also hope he comes back to Chicago soon!
CARL COX: This was by far one of the most fun sets to catch throughout the entire weekend.Carl Cox played on the main stage, and he blew us all away. We danced for an hour straight, hanging out in the back of the crowd so we had room to move. Toward the last half of his set, we made our way toward the front of the crowd to take on the performance from a different perspective. He is a phenomenal producer, artist, and performer. His English accent is adorable (yes, we said it. Adorable). And his energy level was beyond expectation for an early evening performance. He set the bar high for main stage performances to come. His set was lower key than his followers, but sometimes that works to your benefit as an artist.It gave us an opportunity to breathe and was not quite as bass-heavy as other performances. He's one of the original producers of house/techno music, and it was obvious in his performance that it came naturally. We sensed a kind of "I got this" attitude throughout the entire hour. There's a reason he has his own stage every year at the renowned Ultra Music Festival in Miami.
FLUX PAVILION: His set was right after Carl Cox left the stage, and Flux Pavilion threw down harder than anyone else. The sun was setting during his set and the neon was really popping throughout the entire stadium. We watched the first bass-drop from afar, and it was the coolest thing to see the entire crowd jump up and down in unison. He has mastered the art of dubstep, and has managed to not overdo it. His music is intriguingly beautiful and so are a lot of his fans. He was a fabulous set to catch as the sun went down, and it set the bar high for things to come on Sunday night. The lights were excellent, sounds heart-pounding, and overall energy of the crowd contagious. We caught half of his set, and moved on to see Diplo as they were playing at the same time.
DIPLO: This was such a fun set. He sampled everyone from Jay-Z & Kanye West to Major Lazer. He took the best samples of everything he played, deeming his ear for talent close to perfect. His transitions were seemingly flawless, and he had the crowd dancing harder than a majority of the crowds we saw throughout the entire weekend. His lights were fabulous, he brought a group of girls from the audience onto the stage mid-set (which was fabulous), and his energy was felt throughout hundreds of feet in radius around his tent.Hailing from Philadelphia, there is a profound emphasis on the hip-hop genre present throughout his mixes. Diplo has collaborated with many artists big and small, he's also started his own record label Mad Decent. We are excited to hear what he has added to one of the biggest album releases of the year coming up in the future from No Doubt. He is multi-faceted when it comes to talent, and we know Diplo will rock the music industry in unexpected ways throughout his career.
MOBY: We had no idea what to expect for Moby's set. Gaining attention throughout the nineties for his EDM work, he foresaw what was going to take off in the music industry before anyone else did. His set was another phenomenon. He is the king of transitions and making the crowd move. His set was beautiful in sound, the vocals he sampled worked well with everything he brought forth in the background. Overall, his set was fantastic and we were so happy to have the opportunity to see him mix live. While he has been in the EDM game longer than most, his set was fresh and the energy of the crowd was up to par. It's an amazing thing to not lose the fire that sparks you from the beginning (especially doing the same thing for countless numbers of years). Moby is living proof that if the passion is there, you can make fabulous music live for as long as it lives within you.
LAIDBACK LUKE: He threw down hard. We had the opportunity to watch his set from backstage, and it was an experience of a lifetime. Laidback Luke has been in the game for just a short time, yet he has grown exponentially in exposure, fan-base, and success in that time. His set was another success, and he was one of the last artists to throw down before the festival came to a close. He's collaborated with many artists like Wynter Gordon, Martin Solveig, Chuckie, Example, Norman Doray and Arno Cost, only proving the respect he's quickly earned within the music industry. 2012 has proven to be a huge year for his live performances, and we were fortunate enough to check him out throughout his journey this summer. Between his remixes, effortless transitions, and light shows during his performances, there is no doubt he will continue to entertain crowds for years to come.
AFROJACK: The last performance of the weekend was designated to one of the biggest names in the electronic industry, Afrojack. He was the last set of the night on the main stage, and ravers/partygoers from all around the Midwest looked to his set as the grand finale to a phenomenal weekend. His name came about in the business in 2007, and in five years, he had no idea he would be headlining a music festival in Chicago's Soldier Field Stadium. With his signature style in hand, the remixes this man produces are beyond epic in sound. His set was an absolute blast, and was the equivalent of a firework display's finale. The light show accompanying his set was complimentary to the crowd's energy, and the dance-abilty to his sound kept us there until the final note. Overall, a great performance aligned with a great experience of a weekend. It's clear to us why Afrojack is setting new standards in the EDM-industry.
If it isn't obvious enough, EARMILK had a blast at Spring Awakening Music Festival. As we stated in the beginning of this article, we think the success of this weekend will lead to another festival next year. We hope that we'll have the opportunity to cover the event again, providing EARMILK readers with a first-hand glimpse into a newbie-EDM festival we foresee becoming something Chicago talks about all year round. Many thanks to the talented Greg and Jeff Belasco for their mad photography skills throughout the weekend. We're excited to share a visual narrative of the weekend to EARMILK readers, and it would not have been possible without their contributions.