[FESTIVAL RECAP] The Perfect End To A Chicago Summer: North Coast 2016
Over the course of this past year, I’ve come to realization that I can’t compare any two festivals. There are urban festivals, camping festivals, transformational festivals, and others that don’t fall into either of these categorizations. Look at it this way: would you ever compare Coachella to Burning Man?
So, as I enter each festival, open-minded and more experienced than I was at my last festival, I remember this: what kind of festival am I at? What kind of culture will I expect to encounter?
This past weekend, I walked into North Coast Music Festival with a mindset specific to the environment I would come in contact with. North Coast is held in Union Park, a park located just west of downtown Chicago. After my last local festival, Lollapalooza, North Coast honestly felt like a breath of fresh air. The festival is substantially smaller in size, resulting in a more pleasant crowd and overall environment. The musical acts performed on one of five stages. Three of the stages were bigger, more traditional stages, the fourth stage was a Heineken sponsored dome, which I heard was pretty cool (I’m underage and unfortunately couldn’t enter), and the last two stages were located at the silent disco. I feel like silent discos never really stand out. I typically go to them when I need a space filler — when there’s no one I’m particularly interested in seeing on one of the bigger stages. However, I have to say I was impressed with React’s silent disco. With North Coast being held in a major city, they took what was natural and relevant to Chicago, and applied that to the festival. Upon entering the silent disco, you would receive headphones and enter an area composed of various murals with artists spray painting before your eyes, while simultaneously listening to one of the two DJs scheduled. Surrounded by music and trippy street art, I was immersed into this grungey, urban environment, and I really liked it.
North Coast wasn’t flawless, though. When it comes to creating a festival, you have to take into account the logistics — safety regulations and technicalities. And unfortunately, these are the departments in which North Coast must improve upon. First and foremost, when you think about the ultimate festival experience, the music, art, and all the glamour probably come to mind, but even more significant when contributing to the overall experience is the access to water. Under the influence or not, everyone must stay hydrated. Water is a necessity, and when attendees are dancing in the sun all day, water needs to be easily accessible and readily available. On the first day of North Coast I struggled to even locate one water station because there were no signs labeled “Water Station”. I stumbled upon one of the two water stations because there was a large group of people huddling around what looked like a watering hole. It was the most discreet station I had ever seen, and I only came across the second station on the third day of the festival.
Aside from safety concerns, North Coast lacked in the technical department. With thousands of people attending a festival and crowds stretching far back, sound is one of the major elements in contributing to the ideal festival experience. I remember standing in the crowd at Bassnectar, closer to the stage than I was away from it, thinking the sound could be a lot louder. When you see an artist live, amongst a crowd of thousands of people, you want the full experience — surround sound, lights, and BASS. The set left me dissatisfied, and I’m sad to say that I didn’t get that all encompassing experience I longed for, not even with Bassnectar.
Speaking of Bassnectar, while sound did not meet my expectations, the musical acts and performances were some of the best. Kicking off the weekend with our friends, Hermitude, I was absolutely blown away by their live performance. I’ve seen them several times within the past few months, and every time they incorporate new elements. From the crowd, I could perfectly see them playing their instruments, cuing in sounds, and scratching. As they pressed down on each individual key, I would hear the sound created from that key. I felt so immersed into the experience. They were live musicians, and they so evidently displayed their talent before my eyes. It was musical, grimey, and pretty all at the same time. It was perfect.
Keys N Krates
I roamed around quite a bit at this festival, staying for the entire set if I truly admired the artist, or catching several songs if I just wanted a little taste of an artist. After Hermitude, I was really waiting for the end of the night, when my favorite artists, ODESZA, would dominate the main stage with their euphoric sounds…and of course, they did just that. There’s a lot of talk about how ODESZA hasn’t differentiated their set in a while, which is true. But they perform everything live, incorporating drum lines and symphonies, so you can’t really expect the sets to change that much. However, I do understand the frustration of some people, and seeing these similar sets simply make me all that more eager for the release of their new album.
On day two of North Coast, I was most excited to see Big Wild, my favorite artist on ODESZA’s Foreign Family Collective. I ran into some complications before arriving to the festival, and thought I was going to miss his set. And when I finally entered the festival grounds, I went to the wrong stage (of course). So, I quickly ran over to the right stage, and walked into the crowd at 3:45 — his scheduled time. I thought everything was falling apart, when in reality it perfectly came together. I was there at the start of the set, and it was only uphill from there. I could see Big Wild over and over. His music is so diverse, yet he carries a distinct style in all of his tracks. It’s both pretty and badass. Tropical and bubbly. Even better are his live performances. Surrounded by a semi-circle of instruments and equipment, he’s essentially a one-man band, seamlessly playing each element live.
After Big Wild, I ventured to Brillz for a little, listened to some grimey, mediocre trap, and then headed to The Floozies to get groovy. Their set was funky in all the right ways. They kind of remind me of an electronic jam band — I love it. After The Floozies, I caught a little Keys N Krates, then headed over to main stage to unite with the bassheads. When it comes to live sets, Bassnectar is probably the most unpredictable artist. He has so much content that it’s almost impossible to predict his sets. This was my eighth time seeing him, and it was entirely different than the seven other times I’ve seen him. At the least, I can usually classify the kind of experience I feel he provided me with — for instance, at Freaky Deaky his set was grimey, while at Electric Forest it was chill, and more relaxed. North Coast, though, was something else. It was diverse in so many ways, and Bassnectar truly made a statement with his set — criticizing America’s media and politics, showing flashing images of CNN, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and war trucks. Music, as an art form, allows for expression, and to see artists using this art as a means of communication to address serious issues is something I really admire.
On day three of North Coast, I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing any specific artists, so I ventured in and out sets throughout the day. Matt and Kim were probably my favorite. With alternative music, electronic elements, and lots of crowd interaction, it was an all-around fun experience. After Matt and Kim, I saw some Action Bronson, Umphrey’s McGee, and Zedd. Day three was a good end to the festival. I listened to a variety of genres, and chilled in the back of most sets. After a weekend of dancing in the sun, it was exactly how I wanted to end North Coast.
The weekend was nothing short of lots of emotions, dancing, and good music. Thank you, North Coast!