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.
Saturday, July 2nd
Keller Williams – Ranch Arena – 3:15 p.m.
Having never seen Keller Williams live, the entire set caught this writer off guard. Arriving expecting a progressive bluegrass set, I was met with a mid-afternoon sun soaked dance party. When performing solo, Williams would loop vocals, beat-boxing, and guitar riffs over a pop-sensible synth beat for a dynamic one-man jamband experience. When Williams did provide vocals, the lyrics were often quite comical adding to crowd pleasing early weekend set.
Welder – Forest Stage – 5:00 p.m.
Following a performance by Jamie Janover on the hammer dulcimer, San Francisco’s Brendan Angelides stepped towards his live DJ setup to perform under the moniker Welder. Angelides, who more notably performs as Eskmo, donned an industrial welder’s mask for the set, but Welder’s soundscapes could not be further removed from the “industrial” imagery. Welder’s downtempo beats balance between synthetic sound design and organic ambient elements wonderfully suited for listeners swinging the day away in the forest’s hammocks.
Rubblebucket – Sherwood Court – 4:45 p.m.
Rubblebucket are another Brooklyn indie outfit making noise across the States, but the eight-member live outfit created a dance-pop experience Saturday afternoon that holds up against any of Brooklyn’s current crop of up-and-coming indie talent. Through the final moments of the set, the sound was energetic and uplifting. Comprised of an eclectic set of multi-talented youngsters, the live experience was a mixture of pop, dance, jazz, and afrobeat. To finish off the set, the entire group of wood/brasswinds jumped into the crowd for the finale’s final moments.
REO Speedwagon – Ranch Arena – 5:30 p.m.
For the inaugural Electric Forest, Insomniac Presents established the first Saturday Afternoon Special and tapped REO Speedwagon for 2011. In observance of the Fourth of July holiday, lead singer Kevin Cronin took the opportunity to speak against the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, relating the turmoil to the Vietnam War during the onset of the band’s career. As expected, the set was an afternoon of hits including classic-radio staples, “Keep on Loving You” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling”. Cronin kept light during the performance, joking with the audience that most of them would not have been born without some REO Speedwagon track playing the the room. Even after a 40 year career, the band remained tight and energetic for the entirety of the 90-minute performance, with Bryan Hitt absolutely owning a massive drum kit.
Lettuce – Sherwood Court – 6:30 p.m.
Now almost two decades into their existence as a collective, Lettuce is at the forefront of the funk-jazz hybrid. The seven-piece first took to the stage without guitarist Eric Krasno, but soon the entire outfit was creating a well-crafted sonic funk onslaught. Drummer Adam Deitch, who also appeared at the festival as Break Science, supplied an ample percussive beat alongside bassist Erick Coomes, while saxophonists Sam Kininger and Ryan Zoidis joined in with intricate jazz-infused melodies. And it would be a failure to mention the ability of keyboardist Neal Evans who was a standout during a festival full of talented keyboardists.
Paper Diamond – Tripolee – 10:30 p.m.
Paper Diamond is just one moniker for Colorado’s Alex Botwin, who also performs as Alex B., as one-third the Pnuma Trio, and helms the Elm and Oak label. The late-night performance drew many from the extended SCI performance and featured the driving bass and spacey synths that propel the tracks off his recent Pretty Light Music release Levitate.
Eskmo – Trioplee – 11:45 p.m.
Brendan Angelides’ earlier Welder prompted this writer to double dip with an exploration into the beats of Eskmo. The production was quite similar between the two, each based on organic ambience, but the Eskmo set was more dark, with ties to a more melancholy core. Welder drifted through beat changes, while the early section of Eskmo’s set shuffled through beats with slightly more angst. The two monikers seem to represent the light and day present within all individuals, and each deserve have earned follow up listens from this writer.
Bassnectar – Ranch Arena – 12:15 a.m.
Very few artists electronic or otherwise have the current appeal of bass head-leader Lorin Ashton. Ashton, who has revolutionized bass music under the Bassnectar moniker, drew the largest audience of the weekend with 30,000+, easily topping any SCI crowds. Standing within the first few rows of a Bassnectar performance was like facing down the early stages of a massive thunderstorm – the ground rumbled with bass, the air filled with bright lights of electricity, and instead of rain, fans were drenched with an onslaught of BPMs.
On some level, Bassnectar has solidified bass music as the Millennial generation’s heavy-metal, with the predominantly drunk, drug-fueled audience ready to rage at each and every bass drop. When not battling against the raw energy of Bassnectar’s beats, fans are rallying against fists and feet coming from every direction. All of this a bit odd, coming from a DJ that is so fond of his pink elephant.
Shpongle Presents The Shpongletron Experience – Sherwood Court – 1:30 a.m.
Custom made, breath-taking visuals are becoming increasingly common since Daft Punk introduced their Pyramid, but no DJ has linked together the audio and visuals experience as closely as the team behind the Shpongletron Experience. True, Simon Posford and his psybient tracks are the star of the show, but the experience would be nothing without the visuals by Zebbler. As usual, the Shpongletron Experience launched with “Divine Moments of Truth”, and for those willing to dive head first into the actual “trip”, the next 90 minutes was possibly a life-altering experience. The entire set was a sensory overload, with 3D visuals, lazers, and hoopers perfectly synched with Posford’s psybient works including the “Dorset Perception” and newest single “God Particle”. The Shpongletron Experience is similar to the 1960s: “If you can remember it, you probably weren’t there”.
Sunday, July 3rd
Zach Deputy – Sherwood Court – 2:15 p.m.
Thanks to a tip from a friend, I made sure to experience Georgia’s Zach Deputy‘s early Sunday afternoon set. Like Keller Williams, Deputy has the ability to turn a guitar, an amazing voice, beat boxing and some technology, into an awesome one-man dance experience. Deputy kick started the set with a solo rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do” and continued with an hour of beach-ready rock. Deputy’s sound shares similarities with acts ranging from Jack Johnson to Blues Traveler, but his ability to produce the extended tracks differentiates Deputy from other artists. While Deputy primarily performed newer tracks, withholding fan-favorites “Tubesteak” and “Chicken Pot Pie”, the small crowd still kept dancing through the entirety of the show.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Ranch Arena – 4:30 p.m.
After seeing Edward Sharpe on multiple occasions, it’s no longer obvious whether frontman Alex Ebert is genuinely rude to fans, or if his abrasive nature is just a guise for Edward Sharpe. Ebert was extremely talkative during the set, at one time pleading for the audience to start a fundraiser for the band in hopes of purchasing a $90,000 Trident 80 series console for recording purposes. Between rants, fans were treated with a new simple, acoustic track that began with the lyrics “car crash in the night”, if any dedicated fans may know the title please feel free to share. Then only after a lengthy inquisition about what individual members in the audience do, the band finally broke into their hit “Home”. And as one would expect, Ebert did spend ample time in the audience.
Beats Antique – Sherwood Court – 5:45 p.m.
The threesome of David Satori, Zoe Jakes, and Tommy Cappel may have been the most talented band to begin prior to sundown during Electric Forest. The group of percussionists blend tribal percussion, rock drum fills, belly dance music, and down tempo hip-hop elements, for their signature Beats Antique sound. When not performing on marching bass drum, Jakes hypnotized the audience with her superb belly-dancing skills. Like Jakes herself, Beats Antique create beautiful arrangements with just a taste of indecency.
Cherub – Forest Stage – 6:30 p.m.
Comprised of Jordan Kelley and Jason Huber, Cherub are a band that you should get to know – because soon everyone will know this band. Signed to Alex B.’s Elm and Oak, the duo create dance-pop that is absolutely addictive. When not performing their own songs Sunday, they had the ability to remix tracks live, including an amazing interpretation Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamic”.
String Cheese Incident – Ranch Arena – 7:00 p.m.
For fans more familiar with dirty beats and electro artists than jambands, String Cheese Incident‘s sets often were the designated time to take a much needed breather prior to Electric Forest’s late night sets. And with six sets throughout the weekend, missing a few didn’t seem too bad. On the other hand, each set displayed a unique side of the Colorado outfit, who each have the ability to play a wide variety of genres.
Rooted in bluegrass, the six-piece created a final set Sunday night including interstellar/psychedelic rifts, irish-folk, spanish-infusion, and even some carney music. Only the SCI diehards may have enjoyed every moment of the six sets, but each performance had something for everyone in attendance to enjoy…and isn’t that what makes music festivals so special?
Conspirator – Tripolee – 10:15 p.m.
No band seemed to have more fun on stage over the weekend than the live-tronica superband, Conspirator. Led by the Disco Biscuits’ Aron Magner (keys) and Marc Brownstein (bass) and completed by guitarist Chris Machetti and drummer Darren Shearer, the group were all smiles as they jammed through an arsenal of electro, DnB, and dub. Surrounded by an extravagant set-up, Magner seemed to be the quarterback of the collective, throwing up hand signals relating to changes in rhythms, time, and key signatures.
Pretty Lights – Ranch Arena – 11:00 p.m.
The Pretty Lights concept, led by Colorado’s Derek Vincent Smith, reached a new plateau during Electric Forest. Gone is live drummer Adam Deitch, replaced by massive visuals, and a city of lights surrounding Smith. Sunday night’s set included a block of summertime remixes including (the very fitting) Sublime’s “Summertime”, a revisit to classic psychedelics with Pink Floyd’s “Time” (see video above), and Kanye West’s flashy “All of the Lights”. Towards the end, Smith put together a new Radiohead vs. Nirvana vs. NIN remix, though the set was completed by fan-favorites like “High School Art Class” and “Hot Like Sauce”. Exceptional light show aside, some more live instrumentation would be a nice re-inclusion to the augmented Pretty Lights’ experience.
EOTO – Tripolee – 12:00 a.m.
For their closing set, EOTO (Jason Hann and Michael Travis of String Cheese Incident) diverged from their traditional world/dub heavy improv only sets. Instead, the duo remixed “Rock Down to Electric Avenue [Electric Forest]” and went hip-hop heavy to close out the Electric Forest festival.