For three days straight on the weekend of June 8, the city of Chicago was filled with deep beats, pop-inspired melodies, and bass that reverberated through the streets. This is Spring Awakening, Chicago’s premiere electronic music festival. Located in Addams/Medill Park, the festival attracted concert goers far beyond the city limits to include residents from across the country.
As a second year returnee, I was impressed with the improvements the festival made after receiving heavy criticism for lack of water access. Last year I waited an hour and a half in line for water before giving up and purchasing bottled water. This year, however, water lines moved so efficiently there was barely a line at all. For 2018, Spring Awakening had 10 water stations with six spouts each in addition to staff overlooking the line. This meant water flowed freely and the line moved quickly; a win-win.
Just like last year, the security lines moved quickly, ensuring precious time spent listening to sets was not lost. Keeping up with the theme of efficiency, there was almost no wait time between sets. The longest wait was the 20 minutes between Porter Robinson and Deadmau5 due to stage setup. As for food the festival hired food trucks and vendors that are local favorites. From Pink Taco to Cheesies, there was a wide variety for all taste preferences.
In terms of lineup, Spring Awakening did not disappoint. From artists such as Zeds Dead to Tchami to Tiësto, there was a wide array of genres. Divided into four stages, two tents and two main, the festival made maximal use of its space.
Friday, June 8
While I was most excited to see Allison Wonderland, my idol and aesthetic icon, her set did not meet expectations. I could hear the majority of her transitions, and her set seemed to lack cohesion, jumping from hip-pop to future bass to dubstep and back. Maybe I am being harsh as one of her biggest fans, but it felt like she was confused in her vision. However, afterwards Tchami picked up the pace with his deep house beats that had the whole crowd shuffling.
I left the very end of his set to catch Steve Aoki, who put on a rather basic show. I was surprised to see that at points he had other people DJing for him, just so he could talk to the crowd. As someone who came to see music this was frustrating. After every song he seemed to stop what he was doing to speak into the microphone. Yet, Zeds Dead closed the day with one of the most beautiful sets I've seen to date. In typical fashion, Zeds Dead accompanied breathtaking visuals with emotion music that struck a cord all while maintaining the heavy beats the duo is known for. Their flip of Dido’s “Thank You” left me speechless and wanting more.
Saturday, June 9
I ventured away from the main stages to catch Grandtheft at DJ Mag’s branded stage. I was pleasantly surprised to see how dense the crowd was for his set, but when I heard how seamless his transitions were it all made sense. Grandtheft had the crowd wrapped around his finger as he effortlessly transitioned from glitch-y beats to hip-pop classics, a task that is not always easy. The only complaint I had was when he played “Lose Yourself” almost all the way through. Afterwards I took a break to walk the festival grounds, noting the Ferris wheel and other carnival rides.
Flux Pavillion’s set also blew me away with its intricacies. It was like Play-Doh for the ears. I made the mistake of leaving to catch the last of DJ Carnage. Who, just like Steve Aoki, made the set more about him than the music, constantly stopping to speak to the crowd. If there is one thing I learned from this weekend about DJing is that nothing can kill a vibe quite like stopping the groove to yell at the crowd to pose for a photo. To close out the night, Big Gigantic delivered the groove, the bass, and the good vibes everyone was expecting in their set.
Sunday, June 10
The weather was rather dismal, leaving the festival grounds muddy and difficult to trod through. However, despite the gray skies, the crowd was still enthusiastic. Seven Lions played a melodic and pop-inspired set that at times seemed a tad cliché. The visuals featured fantasy-inspired short clips of princesses and wolves running through the snow. It was almost too Chronicles of Narnia inspired for me. I opted out of Slushii and Zedd’s set to take a quick break for food and to prepare myself for Porter.
While originally booked as Virtual Self, Porter Robinson decided to play a DJ set after announcing that Spring Awakening could not accommodate the appropriate stage set up. Even though I was excited to see Virtual Self, Porter unsurprisingly orchestrated a surreal show. At times it seems Porter Robinson understands the human experience better than myself, speaking to me with music that does not even have words. From the Shadient remix of “Fellow Feeling” to the whimsical sounds of “Shelter”, his set took me on a journey of destruction and pain to the magnificent sound of hope. I left the set wondering how he manages to capture the crowd every time.
It is hard to think that anyone could follow up on Porter’s performance, but Deadmau5 did. Bringing out his famous cube set up, Deadmau5 played a toned down techno performance with striking visuals. Even the mist and fog creeping in added to the experience. It was as if he had planned to play on a rainy day all along.
While it’s not a unique festival in terms of set up or experience, Spring Awakening is a must if you are located near or in Chicago. Plus, it is refreshing to know they listen to customer feedback, working to improve the following year.