The second half of my Electric Forest experience melded into one, long and beautiful journey. Looking back, my intentions were a kind of road map of music, my personal schedule of must-see’s and curiosities. It makes sense, because music is the single greatest driving factor in my life, and the strongest pull to festivals.
But I never built in any time to see the Forest, to interact with the people and the art and I never scheduled “hang out at the Observatory observing for four hours,” but that’s just what I did when I finally released control over my schedule and went wherever I was taken. It’s like turning from an upstream-swimming salmon into the water itself.
Friday night bled well into Saturday morning, with a few of our crew up well past sunrise. It was beautiful and worth every second, but it also meant I slept a lot later than I’d intended. I slept in, and then I slacked, and slowly got ready for the day. I missed the group with the best name, Sean Kuti and Egypt 80, but made it to one of SNBRN’s three Forest Stage sets. If not for the hammock zone rules, this would have been a painfully difficult stage to get close to, but as it was, I walked right up close, and I was glad I did. Not for the charismatic or flashing dancing by SNBRN, but for the costumed characters in theater balconies flanking each side of the Forest stage, watching over the crowd and politely dancing. Occasionally one person would disappear, then pop up in the opposite balcony, commiserate with their compatriots, then disappear and reappear again back with their partner.
A short time later, we were baking in the afternoon sun watching Slow Magic’s series of technical difficulties that, judging by his body language, were annoying him quite a bit. One of his drums came off the rack, half of his audio cut out several times, he needed cables replaced, his mask seemed to be giving him problems. I would have thrown a fit, and I think most people would have, but he just dealt with and kept going. He was a pro and didn’t let it phase him. It was an unassuming and encouraging performance.
We trudged through the festival grounds, past all the vendors (except Dance Safe), through the back of Ranch Arena and past some of the best smelling tacos in the history of tacos, down the left path through the Forest, then more vendors, then one of the largest crowds I’ve seen at a show at Electric Forest. There were enough people outside the Jubilee tent for Lindsey Stirling to fill another one or two Jubilee tents. We made an effort to press through the crowd, but the crowd would not be pressed so easily. We would have had to mount a siege, or gather a band of dwarves, or gather the triforce to penetrate those throngs. We briefly settled for a portion of her Zelda medley before heading back into the Forest.
We posted up at the Observatory on the second-level platform opposite the stage and just witnessed the people and the players interact. I watched the bunny lady stop festival goers for various offenses, write their names down in her little black book, and sentence them to either a scolding or a wash of glitter. And then a hug.
We also saw a glamorous lady-cop with blue and green hair, and a purple, gold, and silver sequined miniskirt maintain disorder on and around the dance floor. An older gentleman (I used that term loosely) appeared on stage in white pants and no shirt, and looked to be dancing very seriously with himself. Serious, but also very abstract. He even caught the lady-cop’s eye. She marched up to him and attempted to engage him, but he wouldn’t leave whatever drug-soaked world he was in to meet her at her level. Lady-cop continued her attempt to communicate with him, waving her disco-ball-topped mace at him for emphasis. It wasn’t until she held it there, a foot or so from his face, that he reacted. It looked as if he was leaning over to say something, but he instead pressed his left eye up to the disco ball head of her mace. He rotated his head so we could look at all the little reflections of the Observatory and forest around him. For a brief moment, she dropped character and became a regular person, a bystander in awe of what the Forest has to offer. With a big grin, she leaned in close and spoke to him in a normal, out of character voice, he said something back and then walked off a little like Captain Jack Sparrow.
As he ambled off, she noticed we were watching, and judging by our giggling, had been watching the entire encounter. She marched up in front of us and called out, “If you’re wondering where all the drugs went, *he* took all of them!” She gestured in his direction with her disco mace when she said “he.”
She wandered off to one of the paths and joined a game of limbo being put on by a couple members of her troupe on walking stilts. Just then, another character entered, jumping up onto the stage from the ground and landing with both feet flat and a thump. His arms were out in what I thought was an attempt to maintain balance, but on second glance, he was a rock star taking the stage and he was getting the crowd hyped up. There were maybe thirty people on the stage at the time, none of them facing him. He was having a good time all by himself. He wore a PBR hat and had a full beer he’d managed to not spill in his awkward leap to the stage. As he made his way across the stage, he’d point and nod and say hi to people who, for the most part, weren’t there. He found his way to the stairs up to the second level, which seemed to offer their own kind of unique challenges to climb, but amazingly he made it up and without spilling a drop. His crowning achievement, though, had to be his interaction with the police.
I’m going to take a moment to acknowledge how awesome the police were this year at Electric Forest. In the past, they’ve been very stodgy and standoffish, and kept interactions with Foresters to a professional minimum. This year, it felt like they were in it, almost like cheerleaders. They really wanted us to have fun. Walking out of the festival gates into camping on Saturday night, one officer was yelling, “Don’t stop now! Where’s the party? Go find the party! Keep going! Keep the party going! Don’t stop!” High fives were given and received, often at the request of the police. They were kind and fun and played along with the best.
PBR stumbled up to a pair of cops, and started giving advice to one who was taking a picture of the Observatory with his phone. The second cop stepped aside, laughing, to allow PBR to help frame the shot, and point out all the important things to capture in the shot.
Along came a Phantogram
I’ve blown opportunities to see Phantogram live in the past, and the show I did try to see them at, they never showed up to (Coachella 2014), so it felt like we were even. Kinda like those old friends that you see, and you’re like, “Hey, man! It was so good talking to you, we should set something up and catch up! Yeah, totally, I’ll call you!” But you never call them, and they never call you.
As soon as Sarah Barthel took the stage, I’d immediately regretted never calling. She came out in a fury of hair, appendages, and shrieking. The song was very much what you’d call an “attention getter,” though it prompted some of my party to leave because she was a little too intense. They settled down after a rowdy song or two and made their way through their catalog of dreamy electropop gingerly, though at one point they did have to start a song over.
“Whoa, wait, what the hell was that? Are you guys on drugs?” She asked to her drummer and guitar player, then added, “It’s okay. I am, too.” To the delight of the crowd. She later explained that the “other half” of Phantogram, Josh Carter, was away dealing with family matters, and wished him the best. For only having half the group, they still sounded pretty damn good.
Barthel also explained that she usually wore heels on stage, but that walking through the Forest earlier, seeing all the girls with their “tits out,” and all the free love, that she decided to say fuck heels and go barefoot. The crowd went wild, naturally.
My crew and I had very differing reviews of Matoma. I appreciate his music, and the angle he takes in turning old gangsta classics into music your parents might almost like. Tropification.
My girlfriend insists that most producers do this, and that Matoma didn’t do it any more than anybody else. But it seemed to me like he’d drop into a song at least once, and usually on the brink of a drop or payoff, and tell the crowd one or more of the following in a pronounced Norwegian accent:
“Hello! My name is Matomaaaa!”
“Hello, I love you!”
“Let me see your hands! I want to see your beautiful hands uuuuuuup!”
“It’s so great to be here! I am Matomaaaa!”
Sure, other people do this. I’m not going to deny that, but he used a sound technique called “ducking,” which mashes all of the sound together, drops the mid-range frequencies that vocals use, then lowers the overall volume to make sonic room for another sound. It’s used a lot in commercials on the radio and tv. Everything gets a little muted while the person talks, then bounces back when they’re done. British radio LOVES ducking.
Most producers drop the overall level slightly and ramble over it. Matoma made sure that the music was well out of the way while he spoke, and I think that’s what made it so annoying. Especially towards the end, when he’d get on the mic up to six times in a song to yell at the crowd. I just wanted to choke him so he’d shut up or so the show would be over.
The rest of my crew didn’t mind, and all positively reviewed the show. So I could just be a grump, or I could have been impatient in waiting for Green Velvet and Claude VonStroke.
They were worth the wait, and the trials and tribulations of Matoma’s constant yammering. Green Velvet was the ultimate in cool, with his trademark sunglasses and green mohawk bouncing ever so slightly to the beat. He went on a trip of word association on his way into Flash, using his typical pair of headphones as a mic. The beats were all right, the synths were pressing forward, and Green Velvet was on point. I was in house heaven.
Considering they played consecutive sets, I’d hoped we would be treated to even a brief Get Real show, but that was not to be. Claude VonStroke showed up a song or two early, made some minor adjustments to his gear and watched the show. They traded hugs, then places, and Green Velvet hung around for a bit before disappearing from view.
Claude’s set was nothing short of brilliance. He maintained a higher tempo, plowing through his back catalog, adding in new tracks like, “Make a Cake” and “Barrump” here and there. He dropped a Green Velvet song, and if I’m not mistaken, also dipped into Cajmere song as well. I was so thankful to end my Saturday night with that kind of spectacle.