It was the early hours of Monday morning, in a small chapel in the woods of rural Michigan. As I looked off the stage all I saw were bright lights obstructing my view of those in the audience. The relentless pounding of Detroit style techno filling my body and ears. I was moving to the rhythm and not caring about anything else in life. The smell of sweat mixed with the crisp air of the forest making for an intoxicating aroma you will not find anywhere else. While this is were the story of my weekend at Electric Forest ends, it is where a profound shift in thinking began. Let's start from the beginning though…
Electric Forest Weekend One – Thursday
I had just driven literally across the country. From south to north. Texas to Michigan. I picked up a childhood best friend in Oklahoma City and we made the bulk of the trip together. This alleviated a bit of the monotony. That being said anyone who has traveled like this before knows of the insanity that enters one's mind after 24+ hours on the road.
We arrived to the Forest which had been soaked thoroughly the night before and the forecast for the day to come was not much better. Luckily the spirit of the Forest was merciful and gave us a break in the storm which allowed us to set up camp. We were camping in the back of Briggs. Usually a spot any seasoned Forest goer tries to avoid, that being said the overgrown grass and isolation would ultimately become a blessing in disguise as the weekend played out as it absorbed water instead of creating mud.
After meeting our neighbors and getting camp set, we prepared for the day ahead of us. We were focused almost entirely on the Dirtybird showcase but also knew that the Above & Beyond set slated for that evening was not to be missed. Golf Clap got us started with a two hour set of their signature style of country club, back rub tech house. Golf Clap was also the location of something that helped make my Forest experience impossibly unique. I was able to meet several other writers for the site as well as a handful of other people who would all play a part in making Weekend One of Electric Forest the most memorable festival experience I have had to date. After introductions to both new faces and the festival itself it was time to explore.
If you are not familiar with the grounds of Electric Forest they are massive. To walk from one side of the venue to the other, it is well over a mile. Including small side stages and pop ups there are 11 different places to catch music at any given time. Most of which are populated within the woods of the Sherwood Forest. Sherwood Forest is a gorgeous wooded area during the day but at night it transforms into a circus of intrigue, excitement, mystery and self discovery.
We caught snippets of several sets that day but Walker & Royce stood out as the top act from the Dirtybird showcase. The Brooklyn duo threw down a masterclass in bizarre tech house that was infectiously perfect. Just as the duo was winding down, the wind kicked up and the rain returned with a vengeance. We quickly ran over to the largest stage of Electric Forest, the Ranch Arena for Above & Beyond. We were greeted with mother nature putting on a light show that felt a little close for comfort. We nervously awaited an announcement the set would be delayed due to lightning but it never came, and when the clock struck 11:20pm the guys took the stage.
Over the next 2 hours Above & Beyond more or less controlled the weather. As they took to the stage and lightening struck in background the nervous energy in the crowd was as electric as both the sky and the forest. As the set progressed we all started to notice the weather matching up bizarrely well with the music. As emotional ballads like ‘Sun and Moon' played out the rain would slowly ramp up. Starting to full on pour as the crowd shouted the lyrics into the chaotic skies. Then as the set intensified mother nature would lay off and the rain would break. Lightning struck as beats dropped and rain started and stopped like a sink faucet throughout the set. It was magical, if not a little creepy at points. It was at Above & Beyond where I first felt something change in my heart. A realization that would continue throughout the weekend, one that would ultimately smack me in the face in a small chapel on the final night.
Once the set concluded we all ran back to the campsite through mud in the pouring rain. Seeing the grounds already in rough shape from almost 3 straight days of rain, I feared for what was to come in terms of conditions over the weekend.
Electric Forest Weekend One – Friday
If you have ever camped at a festival before you know the feeling of being thrown awake by intense heat early in the morning. The rising sun turns tents into pressure cookers. So to my surprise I woke up at 8am not because of heat but because of thunder. It had apparently stormed all through the night. So when the festival pushed back the opening of the grounds from noon until 3pm it was more than understood to be the right decision. This in turn shuffled a few set times around but had no major impact on the day's events.
Entering the grounds early as media we saw a fair amount of chaos conditions wise. Mud pits had formed in various places and staff members were trying to quickly spread mulch and sand to make the areas safe for attendees. I had flashbacks to The Hudson Project in 2014, but what separates Electric Forest from other festivals – is that they know what they are doing. By the time the gates were opened the major dangerous areas were handled perfectly. Of course some mud pits around stages remained, but what would a festival be without a chance to dance in the mud? It was impressive to say the least. The clean up effort continued throughout the weekend, and each day more improvements to the grounds were noticed.
Music wise the day started with Chet Porter for us over at Sherwood Court. Sherwood is the second largest stage of the festival, and can be found on the other side of the forest from the Ranch Arena. It arguably had the best sound quality of all the stages at Forest this year. Chet Porter played an upbeat set full of positive energy and memorable hooks. After he concluded we conducted a few interviews and returned to the forest to explore.
The most magical thing about Electric Forest is how you can stumble across an unimaginable amount of surprises just walking around the woods. We found small house fronts set up on the bottom trees, seemingly home to fairies or small elves, and inside their doors laid positive messages. A giant robot was buried in the forest landscape as well. With messages written throughout talking about the downfall of his time traveling creator. If people deciphered the messages hidden throughout it eventually resulted in a code which unlocked a secret compartment. The inspired art installations like these are just half of what makes Forest a one of a kind experience, the other half are forging memories by discovering these surprises with your friends, old and new.
After our experiences roaming the forest it was time for Jai Wolf. The Foreign Family member played out an atmospheric, larger than life set. All in all it was akin to seeing Porter Robinson live. Jai has continually made a name for himself since the release of his smash hit, ‘Indian Summer' and his Forest 2017 performance only further proves that his future is as bright as they come. Jai Wolf ended and we raced across the grounds to catch Pendulum.
Pendulum's set was akin to snorting a line of smelling salts or getting woken up by a punch in the face. In the opening moments of the set Pendulum was already playing out happy hardcore – probably the one time the genre could be heard the entire weekend. The Island Part 1 and 2 were played out which crossed off an item from my bucket list. Pendulum who played on the Tripolee stage also provided some fantastic moments for fans to say ‘fu*k it' and jump into the mud pits which dotted the crowd.
After Pendulum we descended into the Forest for the Night Bass takeover and naturally things got weird. Chris Lake played out all of his hits including the inescapable ‘Operator'. One of our writers pointed out that Chris Lake points randomly into the crowd far to much during his set. Something I saw as trivial but man, once you notice it, it is really hard to justify the amount of pointing the man does. I digress though, his set was fun and perfect warm up for Jack Beats. While only half the duo was present in the forest Niall held it down perfectly. He unleashed a relentless stream of intensity. It was so much it left a kid position behind us completely broken, as he just scream ‘OH MY GOD' for a solid 2 minutes straight. After Jack Beats wrapped up the set we headed over to catch the tail end of Odesza.
Odesza had a monstrous crowd. It was a bit disappointing to hear that the sound coming from the Ranch Arena stage was a bit under powered. We stayed through the encore before heading over to the silent disco. It was at the silent disco which another one of those profound moments hit. Electric Forest is a festival which produces elevated emotions. It was dancing under the illuminated trees surrounded by friends old and new where it all started to make a bit more sense. The feeling I was starting to understand came up fast and hard. It was the kind of feeling that would take weeks, or even months to develop in reality, but in the forest only a few hours were needed.
Electric Forest Weekend One – Saturday
Saturday morning was more akin to your typical camping festival wake up. Intense heat jolting you awake followed by the sounds of gentle wookery starting as the day got under way. We headed into the grounds and saw something almost surreal. Almost no mud at all remained. The grounds crew fixed it almost entirely the previous night. We started the day roaming a bit catching pieces of both TAUK and Dirty Audio, but wandering through the forest I stumbled upon one of my favorite sets of the weekend. Wingtip was playing the Forest stage in the late afternoon. I was not familiar with him at all, but he played out an incredibly impressive set full of dynamic and unique of productions.
We circled back to the Silent Disco for what would end up being one of the most fun sets of my life. Motion Potion, a San Francisco based DJ was playing out a narrative set. The focus of the story was a journey through the history of psychedelic music. Starting with The Doors, and looping past The Rolling Stones, CCR, and Nirvana, dark and weird remixes, as well as originals took us through the years. Even modern day tracks from Moby and MGMT made the cut. It was entirely unexpected but one of the most fun points of the entire weekend. After Motion Potion we journeyed around stopping by AC Slater at Tripolee and decided to partake in some Electric Forest food.
Food Vendors are honestly one of my favorite things about any camping festival. The health impact of the greasy goodness is entirely offset by days of walking and dancing so why not go absolutely insane? Some of the highlights were the dumplings by Tripolee, the Rice Bowls by the Ranch Arena and of course the festival favorite – Spicy Pie pizza which could be found at multiple locations. The crepe truck also stood out as a favorite. That being said I feel a lot of girls stopped by there to just see the three comically buff guys cranking out crepe after crepe behind the screened window.
I have heard a lot about Rezz over the past few years but never got an opportunity to see what she was all about for myself. This lead to a general confusion as her tracks were good, but the cult like following she developed seemed a bit inexplicable. All of that changed when I finally laid eyes on her live set. Filled with Mau5trap classics, Rezz originals and even a few IDs, I was entirely blown away. I was shook by what the girl in the LED Glasses did to me. Half way through about half the crowd left her set to head over to Bassnectar. A scene that if viewed from above would appear to be a migration of wildebeests wearing Pashminas. It was their loss though as Rezz destroyed Tripolee with fantastic success.
I tried to fight my biases and go see Bassnectar, but upon making my way into the crowd I stood next to some man who was smoking meth. While I can't blame Lorin for that one, it kind of killed the vibes. I decided to take a break, and lucky I did as at 2am came what would be the best set of the weekend. Oliver Heldens played a 90 minute set into the early morning that will go down in my memory as one of the best sets I have ever seen. Heldens dropped throwbacks ranging from ‘Beat It' by Michael Jackson to ‘Put Your Hands Up (For Detroit)' by Fedde Le Grand. In between the classics Oliver curated a beautiful set full of high energy hits that left me buzzing in euphoria until sunrise.
While Oliver Heldens was simply sublime, as his set ended a bit of dread came over me. Forest seems so long when it begins. 4 entire days of music and up to 5 entire nights if you arrived early. Now with the conclusion of Saturday we were already at the final day. Still in my head I struggled to find the right words for what I was experiencing. I needed to figure out these thoughts. Little did I know, to find the light, I just needed to go to church.
Electric Forest Weekend One – Sunday
Sunday started with more of a whimper than a bang. It was colder than anticipated. So we bundled up and went about breaking down camp as we had decided to leave that night after the music stopped and sleep in the car rather than deal with the scramble of exiting the following morning. Breaking down camp is always a depressing experience. The fact I was doing so with my friend I get to see once a year at most only amplified those feelings. In the sadness though, gratitude shined through. Even if Forest was in it's closing act, the show was not over yet.
Sunday also saw my only major issue with the festival. A secret guest was billed on the Silent Disco line up and quickly rumors began. One rumor was Griz. He destroyed us via Twitter with a harsh denial. The next rumor was Dillon Francis or even his alter ego DJ Hanzel. The line leading up to the silent disco was packed an hour before opening. So much so they sent a crew member out to let the crowd know the special guest was not Bassnectar. This was a weird move as about nobody thought it was, so we all remained.
Upon entering the silent disco, a pinata adorned the stage. This was a good sign. They they let a crew of people dressed up like Pinatas through the back entrance into the crowd. Another good sign. Then a masked DJ came on stage and we all collectively lost it. But to our shock it was just a silent disco resident. It was clear that the silent disco caught wind of the rumors and in turn went out of their way to try to make them seem legitimate to bring a crowd. A really bold and shitty move to make, and ultimately wasted hundreds of people's time. We eventually left the silent disco in general frustration and headed over to Haywyre who helped us lick our wounds.
Haywyre played out a gorgeous set filled with his signature piano based melodies. Pitching and bending the chords as he played out riffs, the crowd collectively fell in love with the live performance aspect of Haywyre's set. Soon it started to rain again and we sought shelter in the forest. Our group got split up in the rain and we ended up exploring in pairs. Randomly in the woods we found a phone sitting on a tree, it was connected to another phone about 100 yards away. While the conversation on the other end of the line was nothing more than the incoherent ramblings of someone tripping, I did find a bit of a surprise on the phone. Wrapped up in tinfoil tied to a Kandi bracelet sitting on the phone were a few little paper squares. Having been in recovery a few years now I happily passed them off to someone else, but the experience of finding them was just another example of how you never know what you will find in the forest. After the skies cleared up a bit we went over to Dillon Francis.
Dillon's crowd was thin due to the scheduling conflict with Big Gigantic but it didn't stop him from putting on one hell of a show. His set was full of high energy, tons of throwbacks, insane visuals and of course lots of fire. Once Dillon came to a close my entire group was drawn to a little shack deep in the forest. It was set off the beaten path a bit and had rainbows adorning the sides. A small chapel stood eccentrically in the midst of wilderness. Upon entering it was nothing short of a party. The raised stage had random people dancing on it and soon I found myself upon it as well. The lights glared in my face, the techno beat ran through my body and my mind which worked so hard all weekend to make sense of what I was feeling became quiet.
In that moment all that mattered was dancing. And danced we did. Upon starting to move dozens of people came in and subsequently joined me on stage. We danced hard and long, as individuals, as couples and as one. It was absolute freedom, and that is when my realization hit like a ton of bricks and it all made sense. It was exciting and freeing to finally understand. Now I am sure you have been wondering what it was this entire time I was talking about. To be honest, it is not important because when I described the feelings I felt throughout the weekend, I am sure you related it to feelings in your head specific to your experience. That is one you should be focusing one. Electric Forest can change you forever if you let it. Sometimes you just have to let go, trust the process and dance. You never know what you might find out about yourself when you do. Happy Forest everyone. Be safe out there for Weekend 2.
Electric Forest Weekend One Live Sets
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