The Friday of Labor Day Weekend in New York City is the culmination of 12 weeks jam-packed with weekend getaways and activities. The city exits work and school early, and a special feeling of anticipation exists in the air for kids and adults alike. It's a day to go about with excited determination, where an unspoken understanding and appreciation exists for that feeling. There's the sunshine, and there's also finally a reason to stay in the city for the weekend: Electric Zoo.
It's easy to be reminded why Electric Zoo is such a great festival. The crowds that flock to Randall's Island are extra local, so the energy lacks tacky tourism and emits pure love for electronic music. The setup is easy: three tented stages, all in a row, leading easily to the main stage. Getting "lost" is tough, and maneuvering the grounds is easy, making it comfortable to navigate multiple stages many times throughout the day. MadeEvents stuck to their guns again with the setup, and was also able to offer an expanded "VIP" experience that didn't interfere with the intimate feeling that so easily draws crowds in the first place.
Gesaffelstein laid down some pounding techno Friday afternoon, setting the stage perfectly for what was to come..
It's apparent that the word has gotten out about Electric Zoo. In the early afternoon, the crowd on the streets of Murray Hill began to fill with those who looked like they could be attending a rave or a Halloween party. I made my way to Randall's island before the sidewalks became full of neon animals heading to the zoo, just in time to wander into Above & Beyond's Group Therapy stage. As I caught the end of Norin & Rad's set, the next act, Gabriel & Dresden, came up to join them on stage. Watching all four of these DJs enjoy themselves while mixing the music they love, I was reminded why festivals are so lovable: the fans get to witness the camaraderie between artists and their love for the music they play in the flesh.
After catching surprisingly electro-house heavy sets by Hardwell and Nicky Romero at the main stage, the Group Therapy stage set up for the most well-known trance performance of the day: Ferry Corsten. Fresh off a string of releases and a collaboration on "Loops & Tings" with Markus Schulz, Corsten took the stage of the newly redesigned Hilltop stage in front of a crowd beaming with anticipation and excitement. This mood was especially tangible when Ferry dropped the Danny Howard remix of his single with Chicane, "One Thousand Suns," that he's been really supportive of in recent sets. Gradually going down a darker road with the sound of his set, Corsten threw in some signature throwbacks like Arty's remix of "Punk," as well as his own brand new remix of Snow Patrol's "New York." And, he closed his show as any super trance set should close: with the classic "Brute" by Armin van Buuren.
Later on Mat Zo took over the decks at Group Therapy and quickly became a favorite of the day. Known for having quite the ethereal magic touch, fans went wild as he led his set with his hit with Arty, "Mozart". I was expecting a euphoric set similar to Above & Beyond, but was pleasantly surprised with his agility in playing both harder and uplifting trance and progressive hits. Enveloped in a pocket in a wall of intricate lights in the upgraded Hilltop stage, Zo put together a set that really showed his identity on stage.
Day 1 of Electric Zoo culminated in the best way possible, with David Guetta and Pretty Lights closing down the main stage. Over the past year, Guetta has really shown his true dedication to his house fans, and his performance Friday was a showed his knowledge of his audience. Instead of playing a set full of his pop hits, he premiered two new songs straight from Ibiza. And although poppy in sound, they were exclusive enough to keep the crowd excited about their US debut. Pretty Lights graced the crowd with his usual down to earth presence, giving his fans his typical electro-hip-hop-soul style. It was a perfect way to end the day.
Sunday School brought together some of the biggest names in techno, tech house and deep house over the course of the weekend, including highlight performaces from Sasha, Luciano, Chris Liebing, Maya Jane Coles, Umek, Paco Osuna, Boys Noize and Marco Carola to name just a few – the entire lineup from start to finish was incredible.
The final day of Electric Zoo was an exhibition of bass and dubstep. Throughout the entire day, the main stage was lit up with phenomenal sets from artists that ranged from Dash Berlin to Porter Robinson. Yet, the most impressive performance was from German newcomer Zedd. The experience of his performance in retrospect feels the most intimate, especially because of the fact that it wasn't recorded. Zedd played everything from the original mix of his hit "Spectrum," to the Armin van Buuren remix of the same track, to some unbelievably in depth mash-ups. Some were so complicated that they wrapped Afrojack's "No Beef" bassline with Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" vocals and Alesso's "Raise Your Head" – making for an unpredictable, riveting and exciting set. As the audience was going wild, you could overhear friends telling each other, "See, I told you he was unbelievable!"
There in the evening, Tiesto proved once again why he has earned the reputation as one of the best DJs in the world. His prowess on the decks is an unbelievable thing to witness if you've never seen it before: his song choices tell a story, his sets end with a memorable resolution. That being said, it did feel odd to not have a set like this close down the festival.
In a step in a direction that is indicative of the current state of dance music, Skrillex was chosen to close the festival. It was without a doubt the most intense way possible to end a weekend that had already excelled beyond expectations. Although not the standard closing set made for friends and strangers put their arms around one another and proudly say, "We made it," it was still a sight to see the Grammy-winning producer work his magic from a spaceship-like pod up on stage. Choosing his remix of Benny Benassi's "Cinema" to end a weekend of fun left us ready to countdown the days until next year.
Most people went home, or to check out Hardwell & Zedd or one of the many afterparties, but the Earmilk crew was invited to a secret Boys Noize show at the picturesque rooftop club Le Bain in Manhattan, where Strip Steve opened & Djedjotronic played back to back with the one and only Alex Ridha during the course of the night. Quite an epic ending to one of the best weekends of 2012. Thanks to Electric Zoo for making it happen, we look forward to next year!