[FESTIVAL RECAP] Riverwest Music Festival Brings The Soul Back To Chicago House Music
Chicago, the original birthplace of house music, has always been home to some of the best sounds in the genre. Over the course of the last two summer seasons it’s been blessed with the wonders of Wavefront Music Festival, a beachside party gathering some of the best globally recognized names in underground house music. As many local househeads have centered their Fourth of July weekend plans around the event, it’s no surprise that quite a few of them began to get nervous as Spring came and went with no announcement for a 2014 edition. This brings us to Riverwest Music Festival. Centered in close proximity to Estate Ultra Bar, one of Chicago’s premier summer rooftop destinations, the scaled-down inaugural fest managed to stand on its own merit, in spite of the inescapable Wavefront comparisons and few obvious organizational issues.
As anyone familiar with the good folks over at Spybar – who put together the event in as little as 30 days – would know, music was the most important aspect of the festival. Yes, there was a VIP section and bottle service was available (for the very few who cared), but if you came to act pretentious or for anything other than the music, then this festival was not for you. Judging by the looks of the crowd, the festival targeted the correct audience as it was nearly impossible to find anyone under the age of twenty one (or wearing a candy raver outfit) in attendance.
Friday’s schedule brought together the big sounds of superstars such as Germany’s Loco Dice, one half of Deep Dish Ali “Dubfire” Shirazinia, the more progressive house-oriented Adrian Lux and Henrix, rising star Ten Walls, and local favorites such as Inphinity & Kalendr and J Worra. Lithuanian producer Mario Basanov (aka Ten Walls) created some much needed excitement as he played a set sonically and stylistically in line with his three huge anthems, “Requiem”, “Gotham”, and “Walking With Elephants”. As evident by cheers coming from the crowd, the latter cut has emerged as one of the biggest club tracks of the 2014 season and hearing its triumphant tuba-driven melody was easily a standout moment of Friday’s line up. The smooth and well produced sounds made an excellent prerequisite the more complex and sophisticated sounds of Dubfire, who came on next. Playing a deep and intense set highlighted by his current smash collaboration with Miss Kitten, “Exit”, he worked the crowd into a healthy frenzy alternating between dark techno and deep house.
Former hip-hop DJ and rapper, Loco Dice, had everyone dancing with his upbeat and energetic set, maintaining his reputation as one of the most welcomed house acts in Chicago over the last few years. Accompanied by a vibrant light show, he easily brought majority of the crowd’s attendees to the Veuve Stage for the majority of the duration of his hour and a half set.
As many more people’s schedules were freed up from Fourth of July family celebrations, Day 2 of the festival brought together bigger crowds and bigger sounds. Once again, most of Saturday’s eclectic crowd gathered around the Veueve Stage that saw the likes of Lee Foss and Anabel Englund, Steve Lawler, and Deep Dish.
Hot Natured co-founder, Lee Foss, played an excellent compilation of current instrumental and vocal deep house tracks to include such hits as Route 94’s smash “My Love” and his current hit with Hot Natured, “Reverse Skydiving” (with the hypnotic vocals of Anabel Englund, of course). Making it a family affair, he brought his entire family on stage, including grandma and grandpa, who happily danced behind him as he had most of those gathered around stomping their feet.
By the end of the day, it all came down to two words: Deep Dish. Making a rare appearance, Sharam and Dubfire played a stylish and sexy set sonically similar to that of Dubfire the day before, but more in tune with what they do best: combining deep and dark beats with some very well executed melody. Although much of their close to two hour set was composed of new material such as their recent release “Quincy”, the elegant and mood enhancing musical journey enhanced by a rich and visually pleasing light show should have more than satisfied the capricious tastes of Chicago’s house music fans.
Sunday’s festivities began with the opening sets of local acts such as Steve Gerard and Bisharat. The latter, who played a well-executed set composed of techno, house and minimal, has been going from strength to strength lately not only judging by his weekly Sunday night residency at The Pool House at Primary night club, but also on the production front.
Although many have called Damian Lazarus’ and Jamie Jones’ Sunday evening sets at the Vueve stage “life changing,” we’ve devoted much of our Sunday time to the Belvedere Terrace Stage over at Estate Ultra Bar. It would be hard to say that the idea of having a festival stage at a rooftop bar wasn’t a big organization gaff, as many festival goers were simply unable to get upstairs due to the venues capacity; however, after experiencing the friendly and summery vibe of the venue, one could see why festival organizers thought it was a workable idea. The music and relaxed atmosphere could easily be compared to an event in Ibiza. Highlighted by the excellent sounds of Guy Gerber and Art Department, who played a three hour set extending way beyond the festival’s hours, this was one party that was a definite must!
In spite of some hard-to-miss organizational problems, Riverwest Music Festival’s virgin outing was hardly a disappointment. The downsized and block party feel of the event eliminated much of the mainstream crowds and allowed many attendees with more sophisticated tastes to experience global quality house music without obnoxious crowds or any cookie cutter EDM hysteria that plagues much of the current festival scene. By primarily shifting the focus to the music at the artists who create it the festival was a sobering reminder of what’s currently wrong with dance music in general: it’s all climax and no soul; something Riverwest cannot be accused of under any circumstances. It will be interesting to see what happens next year, but for now one thing is certain: as long as the music is the boss, the rest can be easily forgiven.