A Walk Into the Woods: A Recap of This Year’s Electric Forest

Madison House Presents’ and Insomniac’s Electric Forest is widely considered to be one of the stand-out electronic music festivals held in the United States, synonymous to the likes of EDC Vegas and Ultra. However, to compare Electric Forest to a “normal” EDM festival would be like comparing apples to oranges. The focus at bigger festivals is usually on the musical acts and performances themselves, whereas at Electric Forest, the music is used more as a supplement to the overall festival experience. The four-day event is held in the small village of Rothbury, Michigan, and takes elements from electronic music, jam bands, pieces of psychedelic art and interactive plugins, and fuses them all together deep in the woods. The result? A magical wonderland that stimulates all of your senses to create an experience that’s truly like no other. Although the festival is now over, many of us are still dreaming about those enchanting four days. So, let us take a trip down the rabbit hole once again to recap some of the highlights of the past weekend.

If there was one word that could be used to describe Electric Forest, it would have to be community. When first walking through the campgrounds of the venue, one of the things that was immediately noticed was the immersive interaction among the attendees. With the tents conglomerated together in their respective zones, the campsites almost seemed to represent their own little villages. While PLUR is a common concept that is shared among individuals at most festivals, it is an almost mandatory practice at the Forest. With camping, showing respect to your neighbors is a must to ensure a pleasant four days. This rule did not really need to be enforced however, as everyone came prepared to spread positive vibes.

This idea of “good vibes” was pertinent throughout the whole weekend. When walking into the actual festival grounds on the first day (and every day after), people walking in line could be seen high-fiving each other all the way into the entrance. Even inside, festival-goers were constantly spreading love by complimenting each other, giving away hugs, and trading kandi amongst other things. Another thing noticeable trait among the Foresters was the humor that was shared amongst everyone. When walking throughout the venue, one could hear outcries of “CARL!?? WHERE’S CARL?!?” from festivalgoers alike. The manhunt for the mythical Carl continued throughout the weekend, and as Foresters yelled and screamed, you couldn’t help but smile at the antics. This type of unity that was present throughout the festival. Experiencing this unity was what made me truly understand what it meant to be a part of the “Forest family”.

While the community aspect was one of the most prevalent aspects of the whole festival, the music was definitely just as important. Day 1 wasted no time and got straight into the swing of things. EDM heads flocked to the Ranch Arena to see acts like Cash Cash, while those who wanted to jam out to live instruments went to the Sherwood Court to catch Nahko and Medicine for the People. Foresters who wanted their dose of deep and tech house didn’t have to travel far; the Tripolee stage featured some of the genres’ hottest names like J. Phlip, Justin Martin, and Dusky. As the night went on the Ranch Arena started to become crowded as acts like Paper Diamond and The Glitch Mob took over. The real treat however, was at the end of the night when headliner Zeds Dead took the decks to close out the first day. The duo’s set was filled to the brim with their signature bass heavy dubstep and electro tracks that got Foresters to going crazy. At the end of their set they even treated the Forest to a brand new song as an encore.

Another unique aspect of Electric Forest is that although the final sets may finish at a certain time, the festival does not; even though Zeds Dead closed out the Ranch Arena, Foresters still walked and wandered around the festival grounds, mainly the Sherwood Forest. The Sherwood Forest, is packed with hammocks throughout the day but really comes to life at night. Once the sun goes down, the vibrant lights go on and the luminous artwork shines throughout the woods. It is common for people to just walk and explore the Sherwood Forest, as there is always something to do. One of the more peculiar locations was the Silent Disco, where attendees would where headphones that were streaming live music from the DJ up front. Psychedelic Friendship Bingo was also a hit at The Observatory, where Foresters could play some BINGO for actual prizes throughout the night, every night. Even if the music was gone, the party sure as hell didn’t end.

Day 2 got off to a very interesting start. One of the things that Electric Forest offers to its attendees is group yoga in the morning. To pass up on the free session would be to pass up on part of the full Forest experience, so naturally the opportunity had to be taken. The sessions were led by professional yoga instructor Hannah Muse who helped fellow yogis and Foresters alike prepare themselves mentally and physically for the coming day. Day 2 was no joke. Bass heavy acts like Pegboard Nerds, Bro Safari, 12th Planet, Dirtyphonics, Andy C, and Excision held down the fort at Tripolee. The Ranch Arena was also a huge favorite for the day as it started with Anders Osborne, followed by famed lyricist and rapper Ms. Lauryn Hill. This however, was only a warm-up for one of the biggest and most anticipated acts of the night: The String Cheese Incident. Once the adored jam band took the stage, Foresters flocked to the Ranch Arena like moths to a light. The band jammed out for nearly three hours and fans  just could not get enough. With a fan base as large as theirs, trying to follow them up would be a dauntingly difficult thing to do. If there was one act that could follow up the SCI, Russian-German producer and headliner Zedd. While the makeup of the crowd shifted from jam band lovers to ravers, there was no doubt that the Ranch Arena was the place to be. Zedd’s set was full of classics that the crowd went absolutely crazy for. Even though hits like “Clarity” may be a little overplayed to some, the Foresters clearly didn’t mind and it seemed like they waited forever to hear that song and for the beginning. Drop after drop, laser after laser, firework after firework, the audience soaked it all in through the end of day two.

The third day of the Forest was another day full of diverse music and acts. Those who went in earlier in the day had to the opportunity to see the Hoop Troupe Showcase at the Observatory. As the talented group of individuals twirled and danced, they showed once again why Electric Forest is about more than just the music. That being said, the music on day 3 just as killer as the two days prior. Tripolee was represented by a large number of house and deep house acts like Anna Lunoe, MK, Destructo, Soul Clap, and Art Department. The Sherwood Court had an interesting array of live acts that included rapper Schoolboy Q, Emancipator Ensemble, Flying Lotus, Booka Shade, and STS9. The Ranch Arena started with a little reggae with Stephen “Ragga” Marley and the Ghetto Youths Crew taking the stage. After this performance, the Ranch Arena was once again home to the String Cheese Incident who performed for their second of three performances. This show was unique however, as for most of the second half of their set, they performed with Ms. Lauryn Hill as “The Ms. Lauryn Hill Incident”. After the three hour collaboration set, the man on stage next was easily one of the most anticipated acts of the festival: Steve Angello. Angello came ready to deliver with a hard hitting bass driven set full of drum beats and snares that make up the Size Records sound. He wasted no time getting the party started and opened up with “Gods”, then continued with classics like “Knas.” He of course dipped into a couple of old Swedish House Mafia classics for the Foresters to sing along to before playing his own hits from today like “Payback.” The set was closed with “Wild Youth” to which the whole crowd was singing along to in unison while the lyrics appeared on the screen. With the conclusion of Steve Angello, the music for day 3 was just about a wrap.

The first three days seemed to have flown by once the fourth and final day arrived. The organizers never let things get dull and once again kept the lineup diverse for the last day of the festival. One of the most talked about sets from the last day came from Kygo who played in the tucked away intimate Forest Stage. Kygo has skyrocketed his way into the limelight and isn’t far from being a household name (for EDM families at least); the young Norwegian had the audience lost in the music, vibing out to his tropical house sound.

The real treat of the day though came after Kygo’s set at the not so tucked away Ranch Arena, where Brooklyn duo Matt & Kim took the stage. Bringing a set full of both live music, as well as a few heavy hitting EDM songs, Matt & Kim delivered one of the most energetic sets of the entire festival. Once the two started playing their hit track “Daylight” Foresters could not resist the music and completely lost it as they danced and sang along. Following Matt & Kim at the Ranch Arena was another performance from the String Cheese Incident, who closed out the stage. Those who were looking for electronic music to close out the last day made the trek to Tripolee where EDM was represented heavily all weekend. One of the best sets came from Australian duo What So Not, made up of Flume and Emoh Instead. The duo’s set  was comprised by a mixture of funky trap, dub, and even the floating beats of Flume. When their set ended, more and more people started to move toward Tripolee for another very anticipated artist: Seven Lions.

Sevon Lions’ set covered genres from his melodic dubstep, to his emotional progressive house and the crowd loved it. The set was magical to say the least as “Strangers” was played while the sun slowly set over the Double JJ Ranch. Cashmere Cat came next, followed by GTA, and finally DJ Moby to close out the entire festival. The only way to describe Moby’s set would be vivacious. Once Moby started, he never stopped, continuing to feed the crowd tracks that were powerful and energetic. Moby made it clear that if he was going to close out the festival, he was going to do it the right way and gave the crowd everything he had. Unfortunately, his set was stopped slightly early due to an impending storm that was overhead. Organizers had to cut the party short and kindly ask Foresters to leave the venue a little earlier than expected.

Overall, the Electric Forest experience was one that was like no other. To describe what occurs at the Forest is one thing but to experience it is another. I can try to tell you about the experience to help you understand the kind of unity you feel and the kind of family that exists, but the only way to truly understand is to go through it yourself. While other music festivals may pride themselves on the “experience,” Electric Forest actually delivers on an experience that is truly unique and memorable. By combining the elements of music, art, performance, community, and nature together, Electric Forest truly does a phenomenal job at being a festival that celebrates all forms of art.

Photo Credz: Nak Attack Photography