Electric Forest Festival Continues To Bridge The Gap Between Bass, Jam, Art, & The Freedom Of Expression
Photos by Chris McKay
//Bridging The Gap//
In 2008 the very first Rothbury Music Festival took place July 3 through July 6 at the Double JJ Resort in Rothbury, Michigan. The festival was subsequently hailed as a success, with attendance over 30 thousand.
Rothbury’s inaugural lineup consisted of mountain jam and rock acts like Greensky Bluegrass, Zappa Plays Zappa, Modest Mouse, STS9, Trey Anastasio of Phish, Michael Franti , and many more over a four-day span.
Contrary to popular belief that the festival has been overridden by electronic music in its more recent years, Rothbury’s first bill was also brimming with electronic acts. EDM mainstays like Bassnectar, Flosstradamus, and Diplo graced the grounds from the beginning.
Whether one was a bass head, rode out the grooves of drawn out guitar, or came for the company of family and friends old or made anew, Rothbury was a special place. Its white pines provided the perfect safe haven for one to displace the brooding details of the world around them.
Music festivals are all special for that very reason, but Rothbury was in particular.
The festival continued for three years with immense success. Until unfortunately in 2010, legal issues arose regarding the land’s use. With the integrity of the festival in mind, Rothbury announced it would be taking a hiatus and planned to return the following year. Although it never did.
Instead, a new festival would grace the grounds, that festival was Electric Forest.
Created in conjunction with Madison House Presents and Insomniac the festival’s organizers worked from the very beginning to foster connections and create an experience beyond one’s musical interests.
While the forest’s first official lineup consisted of an eclectic array of acts like The String Cheese Incident, Tiesto, Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Kaskade, and Shpongle, just to name a few, an intersection of newfound artistic expression was born at Electric Forest.
Attendees were taken on adventures that awakened the spirit. The forest’s beauty itself facilitated interactions between the festival participant and artists, nurturing connections to one another and in turn the world around them.
Since its inception, Electric Forest has brought together hundreds of thousands bridging the gap between bass and jam, art and the freedom of expression, whilst reminding its attendees that the world is a little bit of a better place when we look beyond our differences.
Photos by Grace Fleisher
2017: Electric Forest Does Right By Two Weekends
This year marked the first year Electric Forest spanned over two weekends.
A choice the AEG musical brainchild Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival made five years ago.
While many festivals have long followed this practice, Paul Tollett, president of Coachella’s Goldenvoice production company, put the reason behind so quite simply in a 2011 Billboard interview, “We had too many people who wanted to go [in 2011],” he said. “We feel that [in 2012] there will be even more that want to go, so we’re trying to create more room for them. The options would be to sell more tickets on one weekend or have two weekends, and [the latter] is the option we went with.”
(DUH)…While one may argue the reason behind a decision like this is money, the truth is: supply did not meet demand.
If a consumer is not satisfied with their product they will either
1) not buy it or
2) not speak highly of it. Or in this case, fail to return to the festival the following year.
Maintaining an intimate festival experience is really quite easy by this measure: create two weekends, eliminate overcrowding, increase intimacy, and as a result maximize happiness.
So Electric Forest followed suit.
While it’s currently unknown as to whether or not the festival is likely to continue this tradition who wouldn’t like a continued intimate festival experience?
Mother Nature Always Has Her Way
99.99 percent of the negativity that one will hear in regards to the festival this year has been regarding the weather.
Rain. Puddles. Mud-baths. You name it. Fortunately, Electric Forest handled the unavoidable circumstances in the most eloquent fashion.
Because When It Rains… The Music Must Go On
An estimated 75,000 thousand people waited for the gates to open weekend one’s Friday, June 23rd. The excitement was palpable… at least until the pouring rain came and the gates ceased to open on time.
The elements are of course out of any festival’s control. Just look at Glastonbury, like every single year….for example.
But what’s incredibly impressive about Electric Forest is that they managed to maintain the facilities for a second weekend despite flooding on multiple occasions, mud pits, etc.
The festival did everything in its power to maintain its facilities, and for that, its attendees should be thankful.
Electric Forest Displays A Keen Knack For Detail
Not only did Electric Forest maintain its facilities for two weekends welcoming in thousands, the festival did so with care and the same attention to detail it has become so widely known for.
Practically each and every square foot of dirt at Electric Forest was carefully curated. Between the technological production of the stages themselves or the teeny tiny fairy houses in the forest’s trees, Electric Forest had something for everyone. No tree branch overlooked and no bathtub left unadorned without the appropriate overhanging light fixture to match. (Seriously)
Here’s how each of the stages at Electric Forest demonstrated considerably thoughtful curation and the selected artistry worked to break down the walls that are our modern “genres.”
Only From The Heart Can You Touch The Sky:
Electric Forest’s Hangar Stage Is A Fan Favorite
Making its debut at Forest in 2015, the Hangar stage has easily become a fan favorite. The 1940s-esque aircraft hangar complete with massage lounge, barber shop, tattoo parlor, poetry brothel, secret speakeasy, and more brings together pin-up girls and a bevy of professional dancers that can be seen throughout the vaulted stage’s area getting down to electro-swing and jazz with a steampunk flair.
Chandeliers adorned the ceiling lighting up the floor where this year’s attendees shimmied and shook it to a diverse slew of shows including New Orleans’ Preservation Jazz Hall Band, Thriftworks, Off Bloom, Tropidelic, Vourteque, The Gentlemen Callers of LA, Sepiatonic, Honey Larochelle, Beans on Toast, and more.
Oh, and a cabaret show took place between every set.
The Hangar was happening.
It was the perfect petri-dish presentation of mixed musical styles and artistic expression to match.
Raising The Bar
Photo by Grace Fleisher
Elephants, costumes, hot air balloons, hula hoops, art, sculptures and The Forest itself. Each year Electric Forest Festival gets bigger and better.
2015 also marked the first year of the Jubilee stage at Electric Forest. The Dr. Seuss style stage, housed under a six tower pink and blue tent, is a 1930’s art deco themed space. From the marquee light bulbs in the retro outdoor sign to the PVC balloons augmented with gold ribbon fringe, this stage was 30s all the way.
The Jubilee stage was created to look as wide as possible, housing many fans amidst showery afternoons and overwhelming sun. Staying with the Deco theme, OM SuperColumns and Diamond Chandeliers result in an aesthetic that was very Gatsby-esque.
It Takes A Village To Make Electric Forest Happen
Luckily amongst that mighty village is ATOMIC design, specifically Tom McPhillips who began painting backdrops and scenery for theater, opera, and television productions in the 197os. McPhillips worked with legends like Culture Club, Paul McCartney, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest prior to coming aid in the creation of Electric Forest.
Not only does Electric Forest bring together some of the best aesthetic artistry and theatrical production available, its musical curation has only gotten better over the years.
Vince Staples, fresh off his new album Big Fish Theory which conveniently dropped amidst weekend one, brought his rave-rap to the masses both weekends of the festival giving fans more than a taste of why he’s changing the genre for the better.
OPIUO opened minds (as if they weren’t already) during their final set Saturday evening with a sexy electro set playing songs with Russ Liquid along the way.
Whether one was a fan of the artist under the tent or became one after a set, Jubilee housed an invigorating selection of artistry.
A Forest Surprise: Mechan 9, The Forest’s Giant Robot Friend
Each year the forest curates surprises for its attendees whilst they make their journey through the pines by day and dance by night. This year an iron giant adorned the forest floor. His name was Mechan 9. Dedicated to C-3PO, Data and “all the other robots who have helped show us that you don’t have to be human to have humanity,” festival goers likely stumbled upon this giant robot known as Mechan 9 who was previously seen at Burning Man, as the iron giant was partially buried in the forest floor.
Serving as an interactive art installation, Mechan had people climbing upon his arms and legs translating the secret messages that lay among him. His code once cracked, revealed a combination to open safes loaded with prizes, one of the many Forest surprises.
Buried among the pines a marbled faux finished stage also awaited to be danced at. Designed by the team at ATOMIC’s Scenic Paint Department the company showcased impressive finishing skills and an impeccable fine arts background. By day the forest stage was merely a carefully crafted piece of art, but by dusk it was transformed into a giant projector, one managed into the wee hours of the night.
Acts across a bevy of genres hit the forest stage during weekend two of the festival. Some of our personal favorites were the festival’s opener Dixon’s Violin, Ott, Shiba San, A-Trak, and London’s Tom Misch.
These artists, gathered together in the same sentence above could not be more different stylistically, but in the Forest, everything works and anything goes.
Two Paths Diverged In The Forest And I… Went To The Observatory Stage
As one prepares to enter the Forest, two paths diverge, and one leads right to The Observatory. Audience members have the choice to be true observers from this point, finding a spot on the elevated deck, or to grab a drink at the bar and observe from this distance. Those who chose to observe saw many a talent over the two weekends.
Closing out the first evening of the stage’s second weekend was an enticing performance from the French house artist FKJ, short for French Kiwi Juice, on the saxophone and ivory keys.
An accomplished artist and flag bearer of the Parisian electronic scene, FKJ, is based in Paris as an artist on the Roche Musique team.
Originally training as a sound engineer for cinema, FKJ has come a long way from his magnificent first EP, ‘The Twins’, and had the Forest absolutely grooving out to his tunes.
If one took the alternate path they may have ended up at the Trading Post. The post, not really a store, and much more than just a trading post was another hidden intricacy of the festival. Its trading market was a front to the Grand Artique, an exposed wooden stage which housed names over the course of weekend two like the reggae vocalist, beatboxer, and alt-rock musician Matisyahu, or Middle-Eastern fusion group Consider the Source, and even sets from electronic acts like Golf Clap and A-Trak.
Photo by Grace Fleisher
Passersby at the Trading Post or the Grand Artique may have found themselves involved in a number of activities like hanging out on the roof of the post or getting a hot cocoa in the market, mixed with a power drill and all…a real aesthetic commitment.
Showcasing A Vast Array Of Artistry At The Sherwood Court
Right off the bat, Sherwood Court brought forth an outstanding intersection of artistry, unlike any other festival. The lineup for the very first day went from the hyphy hip-hop artist Waka Flocka Flame to alternative folk-rockers The Revivalists who presented an energetic live show and presence equally steeped in instrumental virtuosity and charismatic vocal magnetism alike. Sherwood Court doesn’t stop at bringing two musical polar opposites to the masses, no, the stage finished off Saturday evening of the second weekend with a set from EDM’s favorite kitty Cashmere Cat and then EOTO.
You better believe Cashmere Cat thrilled the audience during his set teasing in and out of a full play on of Miguel’s “Do You Like Drugs” for what felt like an eternity, as well as serving up a number of tracks off Ye’s new record.
Saturday night Sherwood Court brought forth an even heavier selection as the heavy hitting loops, drums, samples and synths of Black Tiger Sex Machine took the audience to church. The group’s intense barrage of sounds and beats were delivered unto the crowd all whilst the group wore their trademark Tiger Helmets. Following up BTSM were acts on the opposite end of the genre spectrum: Lettuce, who brought some serious funk, and Lotus, who closed out the evening.
Lido drew a large crowd on that evening, despite a slight rain delay. The young up and comer displayed his musical affluence to the audience with his drum set center stage. The Floozies, of course, flourished amidst a thickening fog.
Rangling Music’s Best At The Ranch Arena
Serving as a home to multiple nights of The String Cheese Incident, Electric Forest is largely regarded as their festival, the Ranch Stage brought together some of modern music’s most talented acts.
Between a collaborative set of Big Gigantic and the Cheese, Electric Forest would not be the same without the Ranch Arena.
Bringing together music’s mainstays is no easy feat but the Ranch does so every single year, each year upping its collection of the best of the best. This year’s forefront brought together Flume, Bassnectar, DJ Snake, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and more for weekend two.
Each artist delivered on their front blowing attendees out of the water each and every time.
Tripolee…Fun In The Mud
According to the National Weather Service, more than four inches of rain accumulated in the Rothbury area in the wee hours before the festival’s first weekend with another one the following day.
Tripolee, the stage closest to the festival’s entrance was, as a result, the most highly trafficked area of the entire venue…meaning it was henceforth transformed into a mud pit. But have no fear, the party went on.
Sometimes all you can do is dance!
With the stage’s long list of weekend two acts like Alison Wonderland, Illenium, Dillon Francis, REZZ and finally Dirtybird Records’ Claude VonStroke there was no way the stage could not have been a nonstop party.
Friday night, Alison Wonderland and then Dillon Francis played at the Tripolee stage, while Flume’s set took place back at Ranch Arena. Attendees made the b2b trek to see their acts of choice dancing in the mud along the way…
Electric Forest Is Among The Most Meaningful Gatherings Of Our Time
When all is said and done, Electric Forest may very well be the perfect societal microcosm.
Photos by Grace Fleisher
The festival, while like many others, brings people together of diverse backgrounds, musical tastes, interests, and careers from different ends of the Earth, places them among the pines for four days and in turn fosters meaningful lifelong connections, unlike any other festival to date.
Electric Forest truly bridges the gap beyond even just bass and jam, it does so between the young and the old, the curator and attendee, and in turn, sets itself far apart from the musically mundane.