Just like that (snaps fingers), Electric Forest 2018 was over in a blink. One minute, my crew had just completed our camp set-up on Thursday and we were poring over the schedule planning out our first day and the next, I was in a car headed back home. How did it happen? Had I actually step foot in the Forest, or did we happen into a time portal that skipped across those four days?
I struggled to pull memories out of my brain. Everything was fuzzy and any memory I came across felt distant, like it happened to somebody else, or as if my brain just generated something to give me whatever I was searching for.
Then I remembered that one obnoxious surprise guest that nobody asked for and who loooong overstayed their welcome. I’m talking about the sun. So I guess I’d made it at least to the campground.
As bits and pieces of memories surfaced over the 11 hour drive, I found that I didn’t get everything I wanted out of the Forest, and nowhere near as much as I’d planned, but at a gas station stop, I did find that I came away with a tattoo of Frida Kahlo on my butt. So that’s something, right?
Change is inevitable. Change happens whether it is wanted or planned for, whether we want it or not. Electric Forest is so much about change, and one of the paramount lessons we can learn from change is letting go. From our hold on our emotions to our grief to micromanaging our daily lives to the limits we set on our vulnerability, the Forest urges us to relinquish control, to relax our grip, though that doesn’t mean you need to write it off entirely.
The luminarias are a great example of this, of letting go without forgetting. Rather than hold your grief in and suffering by yourself, the Forest encourages you to let that out by creating a tribute to somebody you’ve lost along the way. Walking along the walls of lighted bags at night is a powerful experience and once you create one, you join that community and allow those feelings room to exist and to process.
I liked the Observatory stage setup in its previous state with its bold colors, blocky wooden accent structures, and vaguely Japanese influence. It changed from 2017 to 2018 and I’m not going to lie, I don’t care for the new minimal, cotton candy paper cone version. But disliking it isn’t going to do anybody any good. In this case, resistance is the exercise in futility that the Borg claim it to be.
Rather than do away with the Observatory altogether, bits and pieces of it were relocated throughout the Forest. You can find some at the Ocular Organ and a couple more spread out along the Sherwood Court side of the Forest, providing seating and meeting places. Gone, but not forgotten. Like the luminarias, these are more set up as tributes and celebrations of the past integrated into the present, rather than as headstones discarded out of sight (I’m looking at you, Tripolee faces).
Sometimes I get so caught up in the set times and schedules and shenanigans that I lose sight of all of the rest of it. I treat Electric Forest like a music festival and expect it to act like one. Then, out of nowhere, I’m thwacked upside the head with a life lesson that sends me reeling, reminding me that there is indeed a soul accompanying that body.
I felt like I had a clear picture of what I wanted to get out of the festival at the outset.
- Be honest.
- Don’t worry about what other people think.
- Cannonball into new experiences.
- Be present.
- Don’t be afraid to venture out on your own for a solo adventure or two.
- Make eye contact and see if I can keep it.
- Also, be at the Forest Stage at 6 pm to catch Daktyl, then head to Ranch at 6:45 for Gryffin, and so on…
But in all of the planning, I forgot about one important aspect of festivalling:
FUCK YO SCHEDULE
It happens every year, despite my best efforts to outsmart it and plan more effectively. A schedule is something you can fall back on if you aren’t sure, but it isn’t the thing that is going to determine your route through a festival. That’s why my set of guidelines were so crucial and it is also the why of my Forest not going the way I wanted. Not to play the blame game, but I can chalk a bunch of this up to the appalling weather throughout the weekend.
In an episode of Star Wars: Clone Wars, a new baddie is created with the bad guy name to end all bad guy names: Savage Opress. If I were to sum up the weather at Electric Forest 2018 Weekend 2, it could be done just using his name.
Even under the cover of a canopy, the heat and humidity wrapped me up like a wet wool sweater in a microwave. We camped close to a water supply, so I’d scoot over occasionally to drench my head and I swear it would dry in the minute it took me to get back to camp.
That oppressive heat latched on from Thursday to Sunday afternoon, though its demise carried a new problem for campers: a tornado warning. The organizers kicked everybody out of the festival, urging them to seek cover wherever they could, in their cars if they have to. You know, that place they tell you to get out of if you’re in a tornado.
Ultimately, we sought refuge in our cars, as the prospect of getting pelted with poorly secured camping gear, garbage, and/or general festival detritus at high speeds while out in the open sounded less than fun. What a nightmare that would be, and thankfully it was one we did not see materialize.
After a brief, but heavy downpour, the rain dissipated and eventually stopped entirely. It was as if the clouds were building up and up to a gigantic sneeze, and right at the last second, it went away. As an added bonus to dodging a bullet, the heat broke and we were all treated to fantastic marathon three-hour long sunset, all of which made for quite a lovely evening.
However, the heat did lead to some pretty fantastic moments…
Lane 8 b2b Heat Lightning
“Voted Best Beard”
On its own as a carefully selected and mixed set of songs, Lane 8’s set was sublime, energizing, and driving in all the right measures. He led the crowd on a journey and it was elating, to say the least.
However, if you combine that gorgeous musical journey with the intense, rapid-fire lightning storm that took place above the trees facing away from the stage, you have something undeniably epic. And so we did! Gigantic gray and white cumulonimbus clouds crawled along the top of the tree line, with strikes hammering across its entire span for the final hour of Lane 8’s set.
At certain parts of the set, it seemed the majority of people faced away from the stage, taking in the natural visuals to accompany the music rather than the color shifting LED’s across the span of Tripolee.
I’d compare the transformation of the Ocular Organ from last year to this as akin to the development of Frasier Crane on Cheers to his solo work on Frasier. At first, he was a clever side bit who was lovable, but also replaceable. But when Frasier moved to Seattle and more attention got spent on his development, he transcended that bit character, becoming something much more involved with another dimension.
After relocating from the small hammocking hamlet at the rear of the Ranch Arena into the void left by the abrupt exit of Mechan-9 (to a permanent resting place in Las Vegas), the additional space enabled the Ocular Organ to grow (and grow, and grow…) into something much bigger than its old self.
It was as if it were injected with steroids and spend the entire off-season at the gym, beefing up. The Organ has always been impressive in its execution. Rather than programming it to light up one set of LED’s when a middle A is played, and another bank of lights when a second key is played, it reacts much more dynamically to the music that’s played. The intensity of the lighting reaction is proportional to the complexity of the piece being played as well as the duration it is played.
When it is just sitting idle, the lights are off. If a person sits down and plays chopsticks, then the resulting lightshow is pretty barebones, but six minutes into a more complicated build on a piece by Mozart, and you’ll see spots hitting a disco ball, lasers in the trees, colored spotlights shifting, and so on. I watched two people playing at the same time and the place lit up like the Griswold house in Christmas Vacation.
The Grand Artique
The Grand Artique hasn’t changed much structurally since its addition, but they’ve still managed to improve the experience year over year. It’s almost like a festival within a festival, not unlike Do Lab’s little pocket nested inside of Coachella’s grounds. But in this case, the crowds inside and out of the Grand Artique are much more compatible.
I have an on/off love affair with Zhu’s music. I loved where he started out, I even like some of the strained Michael Jackson/Quincy Jones guitar shredding, but definitely not all of it and not in significant doses. I didn’t get anything out of his set at LiB, but I did like his DJ set that he performed under the name Blacklizt, enough to come back for more following the Desert Hearts takeover in Grand Artique.
He got murky and moody, crafting a set of dark techno with thrumming, steady beats that never really let up. It felt like the Zhu that I always want to see when I show up to one of his concerts, but that hasn’t materialized, at least not since Mamby in 2015. If you see Blacklizt on an future lineups, make that set a priority.
A special shout-out to the people up on the second level of the Grand Artique unleashing a seemingly endless stream of alien balloons onto the crowd below. They were right above us, so we saw all of them come down in a steady, consistent stream for about an hour. The crowd seemed to love them as well and before long, just about every other person rocked at least one in their hands. A few people competed to see who could hold the most alien balloons at once, and a couple in front of us decided to adopt one and went so far as to bundle it up in blankets. When they were ready to leave, they excused themselves saying that had to put the little one to bed.
“Voted Most Likely to Win a Pulitzer”
Easily one of my treasured moments at the Forest was Simon Green, aka Bonobo’s DJ set at Grand Artique where he took everybody on an unexpected tour of early house, a sort of tour de force of 90’s dance music. If I designed an experience where I got to pick the setting and the performer and what they would play, it would look and sound eerily similar to Bonobo’s DJ set.
These late night sets at the Grand Artique are among my favorite of all Forest memories, watching different people unleash different aspects of their musical personas, sort of flexing their musical muscles, but playfully.
Bonobo’s DJ set was a journey through club nights of his younger years in Bristol and London, during the genesis and subsequent rise of electronic music and rave culture. Most was stripped-down, powerful house music and it was a glorious ride.
I really hope these guys have the means and the wherewithal to step away from the parties and the touring to spend some time away recuperating. Everything I see from them is either a constant balls to the wall party or them passed out on a plane on the way to their next gig after not sleeping for a bajillion hours.
That being said, the ladies and gentlemen of DH sure as shit know how to party, and to do so in an inclusive way while somehow managing to make six hours of music feel like about twenty minutes.
“Voted Best Bromance”
The moon played a special role at Electric Forest, as it’d just reached a full moon late Wednesday night. For the first three nights, the moon hung low in the sky, just over the festival grounds, seemingly always in sight. Clearly, FOMO extends to celestial bodies as well as Earthly ones.
One of the shows the moon stuck around for was the Claude Von Stroke x Green Velvet super-duo known as Get Real. Together, they played a set of bumpin, jiving, booty-poppin tunes that made it difficult to stay in one place for any amount of time, and nearly impossible to sit. And that means something because after a couple days at a festival, I sure do love me some sitting.
After a quick side quest to Ranch and back to check in on Rufus (Still not feeling it, not sure what happened to Tyrone’s voice, but I’m worried), we re-entered Tripolee to a goddamned majestic sight: The outward facing faces of the stage bathed in a kaleidoscope of colors, the moon hovering over top, and to the right of the stage, a hot air balloon frequently blooming bright with the fires of the burner. Even after seven years, the Forest still has the ability to take my breath away. The fact that it was soundtracked by Get Real just compounded my joy.
Voted favorite new part of the Forest by me, your friendly festival writer and general Forest fanboy.
Imagine a nightclub in Havana circa the 1950’s, dimly lit, banks of tables and chairs on stepped risers flanking a central dance floor. Above, two central poles pull the tent skyward, each flanked by a pair of larger than your standard disco balls, and LIGHTS. So many lights!
According to Novahan, the Forest’s creative director, Carousel Club went from concept to execution very quickly and work started quite late in the game. Apparently they weren’t sure if they could pull it together in time and even if they did, they weren’t sure if they could
Dancing, clowning, storytelling, story-yelling, a giant toothbrush, and somebody dressed like a big blueberry. It was theater steeped in acid, or at least that’s how it felt watching it. “This was probably created while somebody was on acid and also it makes me feel like I’m tripping.”
These are the little things that make a festival experience. The silly spaces you can stumble into and be entertained in a way that you never could dream of until you find yourself tipped over from a sitting position, holding your stomach because it hurts so much from laughing.
Also a special shoutout to Greenzworth for his amazing efforts in managing Bubble Gutter with a bum ankle, even going so far as performing in a dance off to close the second weekend. Hats off to you, mate!
Flower Heart Hands
I don’t know what else to call this, save for exceptional, gorgeous, a work of art, and a welcome addition to the woods. And like everything else in the Sherwood Forest, it took on a whole new identity when the sun went down.
Like many aspects of the Forest, I hope the heart hands return for 2019, though I recognize the need for change and evolution. A guy can hope, can’t he?
I work, live and play in Minneapolis.
I try to tell the story of the people that create music and experiences through pictures as well as through words.