I spent the better part of Friday morning in my camp chair doubled over, gently holding my head in my hands, feebly wishing for my friends to go mute while the demon hangover slowly subsided.

Tents are, for the greater part, entirely overrated at festivals. Sure, they offer some privacy, but the real enemy of sleep is the sun and tents do very little in the way of actual protection from the sun. After a long night of raging, it’s nice to finally lay down, cozy up under the covers and pass out. However, come morning, the rays of the rising sun grow stronger and stronger, until your comfy tent shifts into an agonizing hotbox overn of death. You wake up under those (previously) cozy blankets drained of any bodily moisture, struggling to breath and are forced out of bed well before you achieve any meaningful rest. This affliction affects everybody equally, and the first few hours of every festival morning seem to be dedicated to suffering en masse.

Although, all that suffering is not without some measure of payoff. I can’t explain this with anything but the word ‘magic,’ because that seems like the only logical explanation. My girlfriend hobbled into the festival Thursday morning, wearing a knee brace and grimacing in pain with every step. We figured it was going to be a long, long festival and would limit her movement between stages, particularly between the Tripolee stage at the entrance and Sherwood Court at the opposite end of the festival grounds. But when she emerged that Friday morning from the hotbox oven, she could put equal weight on each leg, squat and even dance without so much as a wince. What else can explain this, but magic? Where better for magic than Electric Forest?

Eventually, I made my way into the festival grounds to catch Zoogma for the fourth time at Sherwood Court. Unsurprisingly, I found myself off the path in the Forest, weaving between the trees and 1500 ENO-supplied hammocks strung between the trees, and I heard beautiful music coming from deep inside the trees. As I got closer, the sound came into focus and I recognized the song as Chrome Sparks. I’d forgotten to add them to my line-up on Electric Forest’s app, and wound up drawn to their live music just the same as I had been to the recorded version on Spotify.

I’d imagined Jeremy Malvin, the producer behind Chrome Sparks to be more serious and stoic in his live sets, but that assumption couldn’t have been more off.  He smiled throughout the entire set, checking in with his two companions, even giggling at certain transitions and breaks. The music was more upbeat live, and served as a perfect audio backdrop for the audience watching from hammocks. The Forest Stage is not large by any means or measure, but I was still able to move around fairly easily to get a closer look. As he progressed through his short set, it looked like many more people found him the same way I did, emerging from the trees with curious expressions, delighted at finally finding the source of the magnetic music.

I left before the end of the set, because I didn’t want to miss Zoogma’s Sherwood Court set beyond the bounds of the Forest. Zoogma is a four-piece livetronica outfit, with a lot of energy and musical influences all over the map. There’s electronic, rock, hip-hop and jam band mixed in, moving fluidly through genres, combining and sifting out through their sets. They hammered through a cover of Led Zeppelin, then a scant song later, a mash-up of The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and Notorious BIG in “Hotel Crunkafornia.” It’s great to see their audience grow with each Electric Forest performance.

We stuck around for the first part of Papadosio’s set, another livetronica/jam band that I just can’t wrap my head around. It’s the kind of music that got me to reject STS9 on the first couple listens, as well as a lot of other quality bands that eventually won me over. We split a couple songs in and headed back to Tripolee to see Andy C’s protege Wilkinson hammering out heavy drum & bass for a light, but enthusiastic crowd.  I have a feeling a lot of fans of dubstep and wobbly electronic music will be shifting their attention over the next year or so to Drum & Bass, and people like Andy C and Wilkinson will garner the attention they’ve worked their asses of to achieve. Until then, they’ll have to work with the more minimal festival crowds.

After a quick nibble at camp, we walked back in through to Sherwood Court for the highly anticipated return of STS9 with their new bassist, Alana Rocklin, who replaced the quickly-departed founding member David “Murph” Murphy this past spring. A lot of STS9’s fans lament about the shift in Tribe’s sound away from a traditional jam band to a more electronic-focused synth-laden sound that peaked on their 2011 EP “When the Dust Settles.” Much of the credit for that direction is attributed to Murph, a view that’s supported by Murph’s solo work outside of the group in DJ sets and other side projects heavily soaked in synthesized sounds. Personally, the change in sound over time felt more like evolution, always incorporating something new into each release.

Still, I looked forward to their (measley) hour and a half set with optimism, happy they were still together, and that I got the chance to see them two nights in a row at the Forest, where I’d last seen them crush it over their previous two night stint, experiencing hours of bliss watching and listening to them play. Unfortunately, my optimism did not exactly pay off in the end. They played some new material, as they had at MMMF and Wakarusa, but they seemed to lack two key components that I’d previously see them master in a live show: cohesiveness and energy.

Yes, they’re all accomplished, professional musicians that can probably play anything at any skill level. But it seemed like they weren’t really into it as they made their way through older material. Their rendition of “When the Dust Settles” felt flat, rhythms seemed slightly off and it had the feel of a band dialing in a performance. It pains me to write this, but it’s true. There was a ton of enthusiasm to start the show, and people weren’t dancing or moving as much as I’ve seen at other shows. They were talking when they should have been speechless. They’ve always had a kind of pep in their live shows, feeding off the crowd and pushing that energy right back out through the music.  We stayed through the rest of the show, in hopes that we’d see them snap out of their funk and finish out the last couple songs strong.  Again, we were disappointed and walked back to the Forest as the lights came up. We hoped they’d figure it out on Saturday.

I’d like to issue a formal apology for the gross misrepresentation of Zedd’s live performances that I’ve been spewing for the last five months, ever since he was announced on the initial line-up. Based on what I saw at Summer Set Music Festival last year, I advised people to make him a low priority, to skip him if need be, because I figured he’d put on the same kind of disjointed, uninteresting set. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I couldn’t be more happy about being proven wrong. He moved deftly through a variety of remixes, some familiar and some new, and added in a lot of unexpected songs and transitions. It wasn’t just seven different versions of “Clarity.” He’s clearly ready for something new and set out to prove it at high volume Electric Forest.

Visually, Zedd’s show ran the gamut with LED screens, lasers, towers of flames, confetti, streamers and showers of sparks at the end. It was appropriately loud in every possible way, the perfect exclamation point ending for a Friday night at Electric Forest.

 

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