This year’s Electric Forest is now gone and behind us, and now that the dust from the Double JJ Ranch has finally settled and washed away, we can at last take a moment to highlight some of the winners and losers from this year’s festival. While this would be my second year attending Insomniac and Madison House Presents’ electronica meets jam-band soiree, my fellow writer David Margulis would be entering this journey a Forest virgin. As such, the following highs and lows are a product of both of our experiences.
The String Cheese Incident
CHEEEEESSSSSEEEEE. Simply put, the best vibes, atmosphere, and energy from the festival could be found whenever the String Cheese Incident was playing. Everybody in the crowd was just having too much fun, and in all honesty, to try and put that experience into words simply doesn’t do it justice. While at the end of the day we are EDM fans at heart, it was impossible to leave those sets without understanding the joy that was ever present in their fan base. It also didn’t hurt that Skrillex came out and surprised the crowd by jamming out with SCI for a good 15 minutes.
Techno and Tech House
While the lineup for Electric Forest had a heavy focus on the jam bands and mainstream EDM acts, it certainly did not fear venturing into deeper and darker sounds of the underground side of electronic music. Techno and tech house both had a strong presence at the festival as Carl Cox and Friends took over the Tripolee stage on Thursday, while Claude VonStroke closed the same stage on Saturday night. Going into these sets I was curious as to how the underground would play out in the Electric Forest setting. Prior to this festival, the only Carl Cox experience I had was in the Ultra Mega structure, a large but rather intimate tent that Cox himself helped create. Electric Forest doesn’t have a mega structure, and to be particular, the Tripolee stage is set in a wide open field so my feelings before the sets were that of uncertainty – how wonderfully wrong I was though. While the atmosphere at Tripolee was not the same of that of an enclosed tent, it brought a unique and singular vibe all in its own. It goes without saying that dancing to the crisp sounds of Carl Cox and rump-shaking grooves of Claude VonStroke on an open ranch at 3am in the morning is an experience that is unparalleled and un-replicable.
DJ-Instrumental Crossover Sets
We are currently in a state where some DJ sets simply don’t cut it anymore. As a budding producer, you need to be able to stand out in your performances. This ideology was more prevalent than ever at this year’s Electric Forest with these crossover sets being showcased throughout. Artists like Odesza, Autograf, Lindsey Stirling, Goldroom, Goldfish and Slow Magic refreshingly showed that not all electronic music has to be played through the decks.
To put it simply, at Electric Forest Bassnectar to the electronic music fans is what The String Cheese Incident is to the jam band hippies. Having not played at the festival since 2012, Bassnectar’s set truly did feel, as many other blogs and people will say, like a homecoming. Lorin didn’t just play any old set; he truly responded to the crowd and played for them. Starting off slow, Nectar progressively built his set to engage the listener and lock them into the vibe. What he did was masterful, catering his set to the Forest, for the Forest, dropping deep and dark bass rather than the high-energy bangers everybody knew, and it was because of this that his set was truly something special.
One of the greatest parts of Electric Forest happens to be the people who make their way out there. When you cross the hippies that the jam bands bring and the PLUR folks that the electronic music scene can offer, the result is a crowd of immense mutual respect and love for each other. At many times in our everyday life it seems as though people relieve stress and let off steam through some form of aggression such as going to the gym. However, at the Forest it’s almost the complete opposite. People come here and relieve their stress by forcing positivity into each other. The end result is, well more positivity. Even when things seem grim, it’s impossible to go through a day at the Forest without eventually giving into all the goodness around you. How do I know? Well losing your bag with your only car keys in them might make your mood turn a little sour, but the positive energy in the Forest won’t let you go without turning that frown upside down.
Where the magic happens. If you haven’t been here yet, you’ll never know so just go.
As much as I loved this festival, the traffic getting into the campgrounds is an issue that needs to be seriously addressed. Being honest, it was atrocious and, for a major event company like Insomniac and Madison House Presents, pretty unacceptable. Many attendees like myself entering from the south entrance of the festival had to wait upwards of 4 hours+ to get into the campgrounds. While yes, in comparison to the entirety of the whole festival, the 4 hours may seem miniscule, to the people who had to wait even longer of upwards to 8 hours, it was an entire day that was paid for, nearly gone. To describe the issue from the south side entrance let’s take a look this diagram I took 30 minutes to draw up on paint:
As you can see, once past the security check points, each car was forced to funnel into two lanes that would lead into the campgrounds. If you were on the far ends of the checkpoints, moving into the grounds were easy. However, if you were in one of the middle checkpoints, moving in was difficult because everyone was forced to try and funnel into the two lanes themselves without anyone to direct the traffic. That’s a lie, there were people there to direct traffic however the problem came in that those people were all volunteers that were, at the end of the day, confused, discombobulated and unprepared for the situation. As one of my friends so eloquently put it “You can’t just have the kid who’s working part time at Zumiez start conducting traffic for 40,000 people.”
DanceSafe Shut Down
Read this article first for a little context. No matter what festival you’re at, ultimately some people are going to be taking drugs. And if we’re really being brutally honest here, Electric Forest is definitely no exception. Between the candy-flipping, hippie-flipping, Jedi-flipping and more, drugs are kind of a thing in the woods of Sherwood, whether you like it or not. Organizations like DanceSafe are ultimately there to help festival attendees with safety and harm reduction. While I can understand how giving out straws, condoms, test kits and more may seem to promote the use of drugs, it really is only facilitating the safer use of what is going to happen anyway. Although the festival has released an official statement as to why they shut DanceSafe down, their answer really does not add up and in all fairness, the people, along with DanceSafe, deserve more.
Trash and Litter
One of the overarching ethos of Electric Forest has always been to be green, to clean up after yourself and throw away your own garbage. It seems as though some people didn’t get that message though. With Electric Forest bringing in a horde of new people this year (45,000 in attendance compared to last year’s 35,000), it seems as though some of the new guys didn’t get the memo. The Double JJ Ranch isn’t some raceway or parking lot to just throw away your empty water bottles and trash in; it’s a working ecosystem with living creatures. To litter and not care about the venue is to disrespect the very place that just brought so much value into your life. Treat it with respect and pick up your trash.
Overall, this year’s Electric Forest was a huge success even with the minor hiccups along the way. Between the stellar lineup, new stages, plug-in programs, art instillations and more, Electric Forest continues to prove itself as one of the truly unique and singular festivals in the world. As a friend of mine once told me, first timers go for the music, but return for the Forest experience, and that statement couldn’t be truer. It’s Electric Forest’s ability to act as a music festival – transformational festival hybrid that makes it stand out from the rest, introducing newcomers to an unknown world where spirituality and music come together.