Nestled within the pristine surroundings of Rothbury, MI’s Double JJ Resort, newcomers to the area could not have expected the transformation that would take place over the extended Fourth of July Holiday. True, the resort held the previous Rothbury festivals, but with bill toppers Bassnectar, Skrillex, Edward Sharpe, and Pretty Lights, Electric Forest Festival brought a considerably different audience than the jam-band heavy editions of Rothbury. However, as in year’s past, the cornerstone of the festival is the highly decorated Sherwood Forest. Holding a small stage, Sherwood Forest was also packed with hammocks available to the masses, an amazing luxury given the unrelenting afternoon heat, breath-taking art installations, a reincarnation garden, a gong message circle, and ample trails to find (or lose) a new best friend. And the forest only became more electric as the sun went down, and the festival’s DJs took over nearly every stage.
Similar to the West Coast festival Lighting in a Bottle, the event held much more than just music. Attendees that were able to wake early enough were treated with yoga classes, hoop and poi spinning seminars, and even a morning of story telling. The resort also featured a swing set, a small pond that served as both a way to cool down during the day’s heat and as a shower alternative, and a nearby waterpark that revelers could take advantage of for only a small fee – and, if they were lucky enough, land some face time with many of the festival’s artists.
While curated for a fairly distinct audience, the String Cheese Incident-heavy lineup contained artists from across the electronic music spectrum – just how many similarities do Keller Williams and TiÃ«sto really share except working audiences into a sweaty dance party? But with stages stretching for what seemed like miles, the relentless walking through Sherwood Forest took a strain on attendees who made it for all four days. However, with the majority of festival favorites performing Saturday or Sunday, and the availability of a weekend-only pass, several thousand attendees chose to forego Thursday and Friday, a bright idea given the inclement weather that shortened several Thursday night performances and created several mud pits throughout the venue.
A failure to mention another side of the festival, a very distinct drug culture, would be a disservice to the experience. While Michigan State Police were abundant, announcements for molly, magic mushrooms, acid, nugs, and nearly every other psychedelic were never more than a few yards away. While not one to endorse experimentation to the masses, do acts like String Cheese Incident, Shpongle, Bassnectar, and/or Lance Herbstrong produce beats for the sober masses? I think not.
The following is just one writer’s journey through the Electric Forest. An event that will hopefully live on much longer than the Rothbury predecessor. Just one note to festival organizers, how about more after-parties in the camping area for 2012? Even at five a.m., the vast majority of camp was still wide awake.
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, June 30th
LYNX – Sherwood Court – 6:15 p.m.
LYNX jump started the festival with an energetic blend of pop, electro, and beat-boxing. With festival attendance still low, the crowd turned out strong to witness one of Thursday’s more memorable sets. Even though LYNX recently put out an LP (On the Horizon), the young producer performed several fresh tracks, a couple centering around guitar-driven folk music – to quote the performer herself: “I’m a folkie who has joined the dark side.” Demonstrating a unique mixture of Adele-esque R&B vocals and live-world beats, the crowd warmly welcomed LYNX to the “dark side” of electronic music.
Kyle Hollingsworth Band – Sherwood Court – 7:45 p.m.
As the current keyboardist for festival headliner String Cheese Incident, Kyle Hollingsworth filled the void of a Cheese-free Thursday. The hour long-set was most memorable for its guest appearances, with Jason Hann of SCI sitting in on congas for a song and LYNX joining the band for an extended jam – providing her services as a beatboxer and powerful female vocalist.
Keys N Krates – Wagon Wheel – 9:45 p.m.
With the first of several thunderstorms rolling through Rothbury, several fans sought protection from the pounding rain underneath the awnings of Wagon’s Wheel permanent wooden structure. This helped generate a modest audience for the three member Keys N Krates, who already possess a sound and style that could have filled a much larger stage or venue. Keyboardist Matisse kept hyping the crowd as the band worked through inventive remixes of tracks ranging from Jay-Z and Snoop to Prodigy. Utilizing a live drummer and the talented DJ Jr-Flo, the Toronto outfit worked unlikely time signatures that kept the audience (literally) on their toes the entire set, and had one attendee exclaiming: “You can smell the bass!”
Emancipator – Wagon Wheel – 11:30 p.m.
Very few artists have a more appropriate sound for an electric forest. Aided by midi-violinist and several nature samples, most notably bird chirps, Emancipator created beautiful, mind expanding electronica. The crowd may have been reduced due to a conflicting Kaskade performance, but the duo’s intelligent dance music truly brought the audience together with a signature blend of hip-hop beats and organic, world music production.
Lotus – Sherwood Court – 12:30 a.m.
For Electric Forest’s jam-band faithful, Lotus‘ late night performance may have been the most sought after post-midnight set of the entire weekend. But then again, Lotus are not your typical jamband, at least not in the same vein of String Cheese Incident. Lotus trade the banjo, fiddle, and extended solos, for electronic-led group improvisations. The four-piece’s set exemplified the sounds of the weekend, with an aesthetic ranging from roots rock to contemporary electronica.
Friday, July 1st
Van Ghost – Forest Stage – 4:30 p.m.
The Forest Stage may have been small, but over the weekend it showcased amazing young talent to a dense, energetic crowd. Van Ghost broke in the area Friday afternoon with their charming Southern rock sound, led by the powerful vocals of Jennifer Hartwsick and song writing of Michael Harrison Berg. With most of the Forest Stage talent centered around aural and technical exploration, Van Ghost served up some good-old American rock music perfectly suitable for the Fourth of July weekend.
The New Deal – Sherwood Court – 6:15 p.m.
Friday’s appearance was one of the final shows for Toronto’s New Deal. Even with the number of shows dwindling, the entire three-piece could not show up, with bassist Robert Mercurio of Galactic filling in for the early evening set. According to long-time fans, tensions in the group run high, so line-up modification may have added to an incredibly fun performance, not a single face could be spotted without a massive summertime grin. The outfit’s analog keyboard runs, electro-focus, and group improvisation set led to a hippy-friendly dance party.
Chiddy Bang – Tripolee – 6:30 p.m.
For festival attendees not inclined on three straight days of SCI performances, the end of Chiddy Bang‘s Friday performance was the sole alternative, and the duo’s electronic Hip-Hop could not have been more removed from the headliner’s progressive bluegrass tunes. Comprised of drummer/producer Noah “Xaphoon Jones” Beresin and emcee “Chiddy” Anamege, the group closed out their set with an impressive freestyle. Beresin fielded topics from the audience, that just happened to be centered strongly around sex and drug usage (i.e. weed, ecstasy, horse tranquilizer) while Chiddy prepped the flow offstage. Chiddy hit every topic with ease, and proved why he is one of the best freestyle emcees currently around.
Galactic – Sherwood Court – 11:45 p.m.
Very few bands are more musically gifted than Galactic. Part jam band, part dance outfit, and part New Orleans funk ensemble, the expanded live seven-piece kept fans suspended on a cloud of musical bliss during their extended jams late Friday night. These jams rested on an amazing bottom end of progressive drumming by Stanton Moore and bass licks courtesy of Robert Mercurio, but Galactic’s gem is their dual horn players. The saxophone and trombone players are epic, and when either took the front of stage the group were at their most powerful, providing a Big Easy energy that few in the Midwest ever get to experience. Honestly, just try to stay planted during a Galactic performance – it’s just not possible to keep those hips from swaying.
TiÃ«sto – Ranch Arena – 12:15 a.m.
What’s the best way to follow two sets of SCI, well apparently with the biggest name in dance music, TiÃ«sto. Set against simple visuals, at least for a TiÃ«sto performance, the world renowned Dutch DJ kept the performance on the harder-side, skipping ambiance, trance, and Euro-house, for more upbeat hard house and big beat. The change in style may have been partly affected by other notable DJs at the event , most notably Bassnectar and Skrillex, who have developed massive crowds with their bass heavy remixes. Unlike U.S. based DJs, TiÃ«sto exemplifies a DJ set, flowing in and out of genres and tempos.
Dieselboy – Tripolee – 1:00 a.m.
Due to a scheduling conflict for Bonobo, it must be hard to be in both Europe and Michigan on the same day, drum and bass champion Dieselboy moved from his 2:15 a.m. indoor Wagon Wheel performance for a more appropriate 1:00 a.m. Tripolee slot. While intimate, Wagon Wheel’s stage was so cramped Dieselboy’s bass may have overpowered the setting. Utilizing a double-decker CDJ setup, Dieselboy delivered a grimy, pulsating hour-long DnB performance. Many in the crowd arrived to witness the organic sound of Bonobo, but the audience only continued to grow as people got word of Dieselboy’s epic set. The set featured an extended DnB remix of the Tetris theme-song and Nero’s “Promises”, but also included typical production elements of dub-step, which for long-time Dieselboy fans (including this writer) mildly devalued the otherwise ferocious live set.
Lance Herbstrong – Wagon Wheel – 2:30 a.m.
To adjust for the transplanted Dieselboy, Austin’s live-remix outfit Lance Herbstrong arrived on stage around 2:30 a.m. for a two-hour set. While the outfit is still relatively unknown, the four-piece, sometimes five, combine remixes of radio favorites, custom beats, and live drumming and guitar, to fill dance floors with folks ranging from candy kids to new school dead heads. Lead by producers Kamal Soliman and Bill Sarver, the performance also featured ex-Porno for Pyro’s guitarist Peter DiStefano and live-only drummer Ricky Gonzlez, and kicked off with a mash-up of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” with The Beatles’ “Come Together”. The set included LH’s take on MIA’s “Paper Planes”, Cypress Hill tracks, and “Orgasm”, originally done by DiStefano’s Porno for Pyros. Unlike the mash-up work that Girl Talk has made so popular, Lance Herbstrong put a fresh spin on their hand-selected tracks.