Electric Forest pt. deux: Looking back at the good, the bad & the ugly

Written by Christine Hudson / Photos by Aaron Lingenfelter

July 27, 2012

 

To describe the weekend in five words, Electric Forest 2012 was dusty, enchanted, euphoric, peaceful and so undeniably electric. No word could better describe the atmosphere and the appearance of the Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, Michigan last weekend better than electric. With it’s lit up trees, laser beams, painted festival-goers and relentless line-up, Electric Forest was a world all of it’s own. For four days, nothing else existed outside of the forest, its dwellers, music, lights, dust and heat –and it was quite perfect, all things considered.

Top Five Acts ➄f The Weekend

 

① The Infamous Stringdusters

 

A five-piece Bluegrass ensemble formed in 2007, The Infamous Stringdusters have accomplished quite a lot in just five short years. With five studio releases, many of which have been in the Top 5 on the U.S. Bluegrass charts, it’s no wonder their live show is absolutely spell-binding – maybe even better than their studio work. The Stringdusters played two sets at Electric Forest, Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

Many afternoon shows at the Ranch Arena all weekend long found the crowd split between those who cared enough to stand out in the sun and watch the show close to the stage, and those who sat towards the back and watch from beneath the shade of the trees. These guys were way too great to watch from sitting under a tree. With a fair amount of improv worked into their set, the crowd of people standing in the hot sun steadily grew.

On its whole, the set was impossible to walk away from, a rare occurrence in the ‘I have to keep moving to next show’ festival mentality. Best of all was that genuineness the The Stringdusters possess that, as it did on this hot day, ensures their sheer enjoyment in creating music.

The crowd danced and cheered for every jam session and above and beyond all of the others, it was this set that sticks in my mind as being the most blissful and relaxing of the entire weekend.

 

 ② Papadosio

 

A group of guys who aren’t exactly a fan of genre specifications, Papadosio is a five-piece electronic infused rock band from Athens, Ohio. Their set from 4:00-5:00 on Sunday afternoon at Sherwood Court was blazing hot, but couldn’t be missed. Crowd-wise, Papadosio’s may have been one of my favorites of the entire weekend. From the girl holding up a sign with the words, I’m so glad to be here with all of you beautiful people, sprawled in handwritten cursive, to the friendly neighborhood Franzia representative who graciously shared his bag of wine with anyone willing to slap it, the heat didn’t stop anyone from dancing and sharing in a lovely experience. The group played a few new songs from their upcoming album, as well as a beautiful and mesmerizing take on personal favorite, “All I Knew,” was chilling, even under the oppressive heat from the sun above Rothbury, MI.

 

③ Prymativ

 

A tiny little 30-minute set played at the Forest Stage Saturday afternoon by the winners of a Mixcloud competition, Prymativ probably played the most intimate set of the entire weekend. The crowd was small, probably less than 100 fully dedicated listeners, with a group of maybe only 50 dedicated dancers, but it was every kind of perfect. Forest Stage feels tangibly organic and magical and definitely gives off the best vibes of any stage at the whole festival. Even when their equipment malfunctioned and stopped mid-track, the encouragement of the audience kept the set from slowing one bit. Normally a stopped track can totally kill the vibe, but these guys bounced back and played strong until the end. On the last few tracks, they released a steady stream of colored confetti strips, which looked surprisingly beautiful falling through the trees and settling on the dusty forest floor. When their set ended, the crowd applauded for what felt like a full two minutes. If the set times weren’t so concrete, they surely would’ve played more. Prymativ seemed to be the two most genuinely thankful artists I saw all weekend, and I won’t soon forget the way they bowed repeatedly to us, said thank you and with huge smiles across their faces, gave each other high-fives for a job well done. 

 

④ Bassnectar

 

On the opposite scale of a tiny, intimate forest show, Bassnectar played the second to last show of the entire festival to a seeming almost endless sea of adoring fans at Ranch Arena on Sunday night. The show was massive, with what was almost certainly every festival-goer in attendance (sans those whose weekend worth of partying had finally placed them firmly in their tent. The crowd, for it being so large, was incredibly friendly and thus, the set was magical. Maybe it was just end of the festival good vibes, but everyone was willing to get down and dance with the equally dirty, stinky Electric Forester on either side.

The sound at Ranch Arena that night was perfect, though it’d been shaky earlier in the week. As for Bassnectar, he did a great job of keeping everyone energized, in spite of how late in the festival and late in the night his set had been scheduled. Upon closing, the crowd was hesitant to disperse.

 

 ⑤ 12th Planet

 

Though his un-announced switch with Dada Life left the crowds a bit confused at first, things came together once the music got going at Tripolee Stage on Saturday night. The energy and vibes at this show were spot-on. The track “Burst ft. GMCFOSHO,” made for a particular moment that managed to stand out above the rest. Though perhaps a bit trite, the track possesses a few instances when the beat drops out and a voice says “Swag,” While the cliché may not be worth a second listen on disc, when those points came during the live show, the audience in its entirety, plus or minus no one, yelled the “chorus” at the top of their lungs and subsequently danced with the fervor of a thousand jackhammers. It all made for a series of unforgettable moments of full-force, energetic mobile.ae.org crowd participation and general festival camaraderie that cannot be replicated. The energy at that show alone, if harnessed and re-directed, probably could’ve powered the forest lights for a full night. Just saying.

 

Pleasäntly Surprised

 

☀ Alvin Risk

 

A tiny little producer with sweet glasses and a tuft of dark hair, Alvin Risk has teamed with big names in EDM such as Skrillex, Kaskade and Steve Aoki.

His set at Electric Forest was hard-hitting with an evocative sound the rippled well beyond the confines of Tripolee stage on Friday evening, literally reeling people in just when they thought they were about to leave the grounds. With a crowd that meant business, and though the set fell in the early 8:00-9:00 time slot, those gathered danced like the world would end otherwise.

While it is a fact that the EDM train can get quite boring to ride with its predictable builds and drops, Risk delivered them in such monumental fashion that the aforementioned train became nothing less than an aggressive and endless rollercoaster ride.

 

☀ Ghostland Observatory

 

Ghostland Observatory’s Thursday night set at Ranch Arena was definitely a mixture of good and bad. The bad? The sound for the first third of their set was horrendous. Sure, it was the first night of the festival, but even with such consideration taken, it was still the unforgivably bad — sounding as though the majority of the speakers were not operational. The good? The light show was distracting enough that nearly everyone was looking upwards in a transfixed gaze anyways. Plus, when the sound fully kicked in, Electric Forest”s staff was easily forgiven as the duo throttled forward, offering up a love sound that is exponentially than what has been captured (so far) on studio recordings.

 

☀ Wolfgang Gartner

 

Maybe it was just first night festival jitters, but Wolfgang Gartner’s electro-house set at Ranch Arena on Thursday night was like watching a really awesome preview before a really awesome movie. With zero weariness and all rage present, the crowd was just plain bonkers: bouncing to and fro, waving their arms, jumping, screaming, dancing with strangers – the whole nine. As an added bonus, the set put any lingering fears of continued sound issues to rest… it was perfect the whole time.

 

☀ Break Science ft. Chali 2na

 

Somewhat of a bizarre and unexpected trio, Break Science is comprised of two Brooklyn dudes paired with rapper Chali 2na, previously of Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli. This Friday evening set at Sherwood Court was hot and sweaty, but it was such a good time that no one seemed to care. Chali was on and off-stage a bit, with plenty of hype-man energy thrown into the mix. The sound was diverse, with upbeat dance rhythm next to R&B-ish samples, all topped off with Chali’s rapping. Though it was hot, the crowd never dwindled.

 

A Little Bit Let Dʘwn

â•‘â–’ Big Gigantic

 

Though it really is through no fault of Big Gigantic, it’s a bit hard to enjoy a show when just about every single person at the festival is in attendance. Sure, it seemed like a beautiful idea to have the final show of the festival at Sherwood Court, giving everyone one last chance to walk through the heart of Electric Forest and dance together one more time to the smooth sounds of a Dominic Lalli”s saxophone paired with heavy beats and solid drumming of Jeremy Salken. The only problem? Everyone (who had all previously been at Bassnectar) had to walk through the forest at once, creating gridlock and near standstill foot traffic. The air was so dusty, many people put cloth over their noses and mouths just to keep breathing.

The payoff for the crowded, dust-filled trek? A Sherwood Court crowd packed so full that people ended up having to watch from the dusty forest itself.

With huge hopes for an incredible Big Gigantic performance and one last dance at the Court with all members of the smelly forest dweller brethren, the show did not quite live up.

It was too packed to even stand in the grass and too dusty to see everything, in addition to the fact that many were simply burnt out from the entire weekend, especially just coming off Bassnectar. Not the greatest end to a mostly great festival.

 

â•‘â–’ Steve Aoki

 

If Steve Aoki had to give everyone in the audience a penny for every time he dropped the f-bomb in his 2:15 a.m. closing set at Tripolee Stage on Friday night, there’s a good chance he would’ve had to dip into his retirement fund, sell all of his possessions and still hand out some IOU’s. While keeping the crowd hype is part of the artist’s job to make the live show fun, stuffing variations of the f-bomb in between almost every word is utterly unnecessary. He seemed tired, his voice seemed a little raspy and overall, he came across as being a bit careless.  nce.

 

â•‘â–’ The String Cheese Incident

 

Let”s face it, former Madison House darlings, The String Cheese Incident, birthed the Electric Forest. Or maybe the Electric Forest was birthed for them. Slice it however you will but the ultimate result will always be the same: SCI is kind of a big deal at the Double J. In 2009, the second and final year of Rothbury, SCI made their triumphant return after a hiatus. Since then, it has become a spot where full-fledged “incidents” will occur. But with so many electronic/DJ artists on the 2012 bill, the event”s figurative founding fathers almost seemed out of place and the band”s performance came across as uninspired. 

Perhaps it was due to the fact that I was late to the SCI shenanigans. Maybe it was the fact that prior to catching their shows, I had made a foray into the world of Alvin Risk and Balkan Beat Box before getting cheesy on Friday and Saturday, respectively. I am more than willing to own my part in the summation that String Cheese”s sets simply left something to be desired, and on the whole were quite forgettable. 

This said, there was no doubt that the many whose primary reason for coming to the Forest were happy to have two nights with their beloved band who, sans the sleepy performances, still demonstrated why they have had the level of success that they have: pristine musicianship.

 

Editor”s Note: In the spirit of letting every man and woman form his/her own opinion, we invite you to head over to the Live Music Archive to download or stream SCI”s performances at Electric Forest. Naturally if you would prefer to listen  to the soundboard recordings, please do.


Night One, Audience- CLICK HERE  ✰  Night Two, Audience- CLICK HERE

Night One, Soundboard- CLICK HERE ✰  Night Two, Soundboard- CLICK HERE

Night Three, Soundboard- CLICK HERE

 

Profoundly Letd☹wn

 

⃠ Reggie Watts

 

There are no words to describe what Reggie Watts was doing, tried to do or failed to do on stage. Ironic, self-aware, boundary pushing hip-hop is great, but only if it’s taken seriously. Reggie Watts was anything but serious. He performed (or whatever his bout on stage is classified as) at Ranch Arena in the Thursday evening heat in all black — long sleeves and long pants. He cursed and mumbled and stumbled over his words and said something about Ron Paul and recited a spur of the moment poem that started off being about politics and ended with mentions of small mythical animals and then turned into utter gibberish. He also spoke in a variety of fake accents, which didn’t seem to serve any purpose to his performance. He seemed to switch personalities every few seconds and the entire ordeal just made me feel sad and tired. No one in the audience seemed to enjoy it, but a few people did cheer when he said something about Ron Paul being president. Sorry, Reggie, but this was so, so horrible I’d like to forget it ever even happened.

 

⃠ Santigold

 

All throughout the weekend, the staff did a great job of making sure every show started and ended on time, right down to the minute. That’s huge for festivals when time is of the essence and people are trying to cram in as much music as possible. Santigold’s show started about 40 minutes late. At first, I thought maybe it was another sound problem, since Ranch Arena had struggled earlier in the weekend. But, word got around that she was so late coming on because of costumes. Costumes. Really? The audience is baking in the hot sun, standing up for 40 minutes, looking at an empty stage, missing out on other shows, because the artists is in the back fussing over costumes? Something about that really rubbed me the wrong way. I watched the set, sitting way back in the shade, and she sounded great once it finally started, but it just seemed disrespectful. She made no apologies for wasting people’s time, and couldn’t play overtime because other bands needed the stage space. Though she sounded great, I wouldn’t see her again.

 

Closing Remarks…

 

All in all, Electric Forest is a top-notch, but exhausting festival experience — wonderful music, a reliable schedule, good vibes, friendly neighbors, eclectic vendors reasonable staff and fairly reasonable security. With shows going well through the night, it’s easy to feel that you’re missing out. This festival is one that’s worth attending, every year. Just make your schedule, bring a camelback, bring a cloth to keep the dust out of your nose and be friendly to everyone. Oh, and if possible, commission a scientist to create a few clones so you can be in more than one place at one time. That’s the real trick.

 

Click the thumbnail(s) to view the massive photo gallery that

Aaron Lingenfelter brought back from

Electric Forest…

For more from writer, Christine Hudson, follow @christinehuds on Twitter.