David Guetta at Electric Zoo, Photo by aLive Coverage
UPDATE 9/7: Electric Zoo will offer refunds for Sunday ticket holders. Please visit their official website for additional details.
Electronic Dance Music fans from near and far flooded Randall’s Island last weekend to soak up top-notch music spanning subgenres from deep house to trance and dubstep. Increased security measures may have led to sparser crowds than previous years, but proved effective with no serious medical issues arising over the course of the weekend. The more contained festival layout caused some sound bleed issues for stages on the east side of the island, but people danced all the same and it didn’t seem to affect the party too drastically. Main Stage East, Vinyl Only and Sunday School Grove’s sound systems were effective while parts of Hilltop Arena and Beatport Riverside suffered due to location. The sound from Main Stage West was noticeably more quiet compared to last year, but not so much that your ears were safe (Mine are still ringing. Worth it.)
Festivities were unfortunately cut short on Sunday due to a storm that hit around 4 PM, causing many of the animals to take their anger out on Twitter and Facebook. This opened the doors for multiple official after parties to congregate, most notably the stacked lineup at Slake NYC which came entirely as a result of the cancelled sets. Artists like LOUDPVCK, Chase & Status, Mat Zo, Netsky and Milo & Otis came through for fans at the midtown club whose previous plans were to remain closed on Sunday night.
Even so, the first two days were full of good vibes, colorful costumes, thousands of very visible butts and enough booming bass to make your grandmother run for her antique bomb shelter. Here’s what went down at this year’s festival.
Friday, August 29th
Kinks of the new security measures and cashless bracelet system were felt on Friday as large lines of frustrated attendees were forced to wait for entry and abandon belongings like cameras, candy, back-packs and opaque water bottles at the gates. The EZ Bucks system went down for approximately an hour during the afternoon leaving thirsty and hungry attendees to fend for themselves until they could pay for provisions via wristband again. Thankfully, water refill stations with free cups and electrolyte packets were plentiful, so there were no critical situations. Essentially bros just had to wait a little longer for their Coors Banquets (WTF is it called Banquet?)
Hook N Sling at Electric Zoo, Photo by Marc Van Der Aa
After scrambling between security and wristband validation lines for nearly an hour to get into the festival, we caught the tail end of Australian DJ Hook N Sling at Main Stage East, who brought his upbeat brand of house to those who arrived early on Friday afternoon. His set featured a number of new tracks, including a collaboration with Ned Shepard and Sultan, a single that’s set to drop later this fall.
Brillz brought their typical high energy trap set to Hilltop Arena, but their sound quality suffered from bleed coming from Otto Knows’ set, which was playing simultaneously at Main Stage East. There was still plenty of time to get down to hits like Turn Down For What and Ratchet Bitch before wandering around the festival grounds.
Our favorite set of the day came from Wolfgang Gartner who played a satisfying and seamless set of original songs featuring favorites like The Way it Was and Animal Rights, as well as a number of hot remixes including a new one with Twin Shadow. His layered synth and bass combo was a welcome break from the house and trance sets that already seemed repetitive by Friday evening. He closed out his set with a high-powered rendition of IllAmerica which got the crowd grooving for the night ahead.
Next up at Main Stage East was Canadian dubstep duo Zeds Dead. Tracks from their new album influenced a more mellow sound at the top of their set. That was unfortunately cut short for us when a mosh pit broke out in the crowd and one of our girls got knocked in the face. Really? Is this where dub is heading? Sigh.
A younger audience went bananas for Dada Life, who kicked off their set with hits like This Machine Kills Ravers, Born to Rage and a remix of Eric Pryde’s Call On Me. The excessive crowd ultimately deterred us from trying to get super involved in this show, and we retreated to the grass which would ultimately become our viewing area for any of the shows after about 4 PM at Main Stage West. It just got too crowded over there, and the sound system didn’t quite hold its own against others in the area.
French DJ Gesaffelstein played an impressive set at the Beatport Riverside Stage, proving that vocal overlays aren’t always necessary. His driving house had people dancing hypnotically as it we officially moved into the last sets of Day 1.
Destroid at Electric Zoo, Photo by aLive Coverage
Destroid brought a rare live set to the Hilltop Arena, complete with robotic costumes, and a full rock band. Canadian dubstepper, Excision’s, side project tore into the night with bass for days. The back of the tent formed a dance circle for only the most intense of brosteppers. The builds and drops in this show were unmatched by anything else I saw this weekend. And it was live. A+++.
The night ended with us sitting on the grass before we decided to David Guetta-out of there. His set was what you would expect, a lot of remixes of songs we had already heard several times that day from other house and trance artists, remixes of Calvin Harris’ Summer and others along the same lines. Of course that didn’t stop the animals from dancing to these songs for the umpteenth time as a lazer show for the ages transcended over the 10s of thousands who had gathered to watch the French producer play through a treasure trove of hits.
Saturday, August 30th
Saturday’s entry was promising, with lines significantly shorter and wristbands that worked flawlessly throughout the day. We got close for Moti at Main Stage West who did a great job of getting the crowd up and jumping by 2 PM. The overcast skies made for energized crowds and high spirits.
After meeting up with a friend, we hit the Sunday School Grove, which had been too crowed to enjoy on Friday. Moon Boots played a well-rounded set with plenty of disco throwbacks as well as new remixes from hot groups like CHVRCHES. We casually danced on the side, taking an opportunity to enjoy the stage before it would ultimately get too packed past comfortable. At one point, a girl walked up to us and told us not to steal her blanket, and then squealed in glee when she discovered that she had acid in her pocket. Dreams came true for her that day.
Pegboard Nerds brought the afternoon dub to Hilltop Arena for a strobe and 8-bit light show that was both fun and unique. We managed to get close to the front for that show before making moves over Oliver Heldens at Mainstage East. He blended house for a smooth show that made for a nice backdrop for dancing and catching up with friends.
Griz at Electric Zoo, Photo by aLive Coverage
Griz’s 6 PM set was the true standout of Saturday afternoon. The saxophone playing, bass dropping Detroit native blasted through a unique funk-driven set with hits from the golden era of soul like Twist N Shout and Give Up the Funk. Of all the sets this weekend, this is the one where your dad would have finally approved of your lifestyle.
Benny Benassi played an awesome, albeit predictable ,set at Mainstage West, ending with Skrillex’s remix of his hit Cinema. Unfortunately, I had to leave for an interview as Zedd was coming on, but I heard him pummeling through his 2013 repertoire of singles like Spectrum, Clarity and his Breakin’ A Sweat remix as I walked toward the media center for an interview. After experiencing his set at 2014’s Bonnaroo, I’m sure this show was a total crowd pleaser. Plus Zedd is adorable, end of story.
Zedd at Electric Zoo, Photo by Doug Van Sant
Upon returning from my interview, it was Knife Party time. The Australian dance duo brought some serious electro-house and dubstep to Main Stage east. They opened with Power Glove and as the vocals, “Now We Are Playing With Power!” rang over the rowdy crowd, people lost it. This was one of the most energetic crowds I was part of all weekend, and their light show was off the charts. They killed with songs like House is Everything, Sleaze and Internet Friends, before ultimately closing their show off with the pyrotechnic filled finale, Bonfire. I went home and watched their live show from 2013’s Ultra, and I have to say it was bogus as fuck. One of the dudes just leaves the stage for a good 7 minutes. Maybe he had to take a shower? That said, I thought that their level of audience interaction at Electric Zoo was on point. Their set suffered from stops and starts that may have killed momentum if the crowd hadn’t been so insanely TURNT and PLURNT already.
Sunday August, 31st
The Chainsmokers at Electric Zoo, Photo by Danilo Lewis
Sunday was entirely too short lived. We kicked off the day with LA native, Henry Fong, followed shortly after by Alvin Risk. Alvin Risk kicked his set off boldly with his 2014 collaboration with Skrillex, Try it Out. We brostepped it out for a hot minute before making our way to the east side of the festival.
EDM heart-throb Danny Avila played a predictable set of songs I’d already heard 9 million times over the course of the weekend, but he’s cute so I’ll give him a pass. We positioned ourselves for a nice spot for The Chainsmokers, but unfortunately their set was cut short by an afternoon thunderstorm. Thankfully, we’d already had the opportunity to dance it out to Daft Punk and take some much-needed #Selfie‘s.
The next hour or so was spent getting thrashed in the face with rain under the bridge. If nothing else, it was funny watching mostly naked girls and shirtless bros running for shelter. As the storm died down, we made the trek back over the bridge to Queens, to be greeted by a rainbow. There was still hope for the night yet.
Milo & Otis at Electric Zoo, Photo by Marc Van Der Aa
We caught wind of a NEW official after party taking off at midtown’s Slake later in the evening. Thankfully for me the lineup included the majority of what I wanted to see on Sunday afternoon (minus Jack U. Sad.) We headed that way and were not disappointed by the two-level establishment which brought sets from Cameron Kush, Milo & Otis, What So Not, Netsky, LOUDPVCK, Chase & Status, Mat Zo, Heroes & Villains and Alex English. The Chainsmokers also made a surprise pit stop to finish out their abbreviated set from earlier in the day. TALK ABOUT AN AFTER PARTY, AMIRIGHT? Huge kudos to Slake and all of the artists who came through for the fans!
The venue got hella hot (I’m talking temperature) which merited many breaks between sets. There was no escaping the wall of body temp on the top floor during Milo & Otis’ set, but what can you expect with them bringing that level of NRG? Around 2 AM however, the venue began to clear out and dancing room was attainable once more. Big ups to Chase & Status for appeasing us with their unique brand of drum & bass and moombahton. The night was turning out to be everything that I wanted, and with cheap drinks to boot. I snagged a $5 PBR during Mat Zo’s set and parked it on the couch for a few.
We waited it out to see if any of the rumors of a Jack U appearance were true, but by 5 AMish, there was no sign of Skrillex and the dance floor had nearly cleared. It was time to search for a cab. As we left Slake with smiles on our faces, we were tired but not defeated. The only casualty of Sunday night was my left boot heel which gave up after hour 7 of dancing.
Overall, I think Electric Zoo made a triumphant return even with the weather issues on Sunday. While I’m sure the new layout was an effort to keep the festival grounds more “contained”, I think it’s worth exploring the option of putting the second mainstage over the hill again to improve sound issues. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Electric Zoo returns to Randall’s Island next year. Based on audience behavior, I think people are finally starting to learn how to dance safely.