After a great night seeing Bill Basil kill it at YBar and meeting a guy who claimed to be an “African prince” and Derek Rose’s upstairs neighbor (yeah, right) at SoundBar Friday night, we woke up to the sight of a beautiful, sunny Chicago day. As someone who is more accustomed to seeing the massive Lollapalooza crowds when heading down Michigan Avenue for a festival, it almost felt subdued walking towards Soldier Field, but, as it turned out, “the calm before the storm” would be a more accurate description.
The venue was comprised of three evenly spaced tents wrapped around the southern edge of the stadium, and the main stage, which was basically just the entirety of the stands and field, on the inside. Best of all, the two stages we planned to spend most of the day at were close to each other, and they were both situated near entrances to the main stage, so we spent a lot of time listening to music and very little time getting from stage to stage. Finally, they had plenty of bathrooms and concession stands located near each of the stages. It’s such a simple part of making people’s experience as good as possible, but a surprising number of festivals don’t quite get it right. One thing that I surprisingly didn’t see the whole weekend was a single soda, just Red Bull, Beer, and Water.
After checking out the lay of the land, we briefly stopped by to see Nobody Beats the Drum. I had never seen them before so I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Most of what I heard was a funky and highly danceable take on electro, and the medium-sized crowd was definitely feeling it. But, like us, most people were headed to see 3lau at the next stage over. The tent was packed, the crowd was ready to blast off, and 3lau was ready to hit the ignition. He dropped Skrillex & The Doors – Breakn’ a Sweat straight into Bingo Players – Cry (Just a Little), and the crowd went nuts. He followed up a little later with Ferry Corsten – Punk (Original Mix), which wouldn’t be the first time we heard it this weekend, into Nicky Romero – Generation 303 and Cosmo Klein – By Tonight (Nilson & The 8th Note Remix) before dropping in some Red Hot Chili Peppers and closing it all out with – M-3ox & Heidrun – Beating of My Heart. A hit filled set that found a way to avoid sounding unoriginal.
We checked out Bart B More before Designer Drugs, who dropped a heavy electro set including both Monolith and Ivory by Congorock, whose tracks got a lot of play this weekend, as well as Knife Party – Rage Valley before making a beeline for the king of the keytar, Joachim Garraud. The alien invasion had already begun when we showed up to the sounds of Who is Ready to Jump, and then Joachim raised his keytar high, placed his fingers on the keys, and began playing Alesso – Calling. Plain and simple, the moment when everyone recognized the music is one of the best reactions I have ever seen at a festival. He kept the energy high with Internet Friends, complete with custom “Joachim Garraud is calling” iPhone visuals, Greyhound and One More Time Coming Home Quasar bootleg. He even sprinkled in some oldies-but-goodies in the form of Sandstorm and Prodigy – Smack My Bitch Up, which he transitioned into Steve Aoki & The Bloody Beetroots- Warp to end his set. I always expect a unique experience when I see Joachim Garraud, and this definitely lived up to that expectation.
It says a lot about the talent featured on the support stages that we didn’t head into the main stage until A-Trak, but we were really glad we did. He always brings the full range of his musical influences to the party so it wasn’t a huge surprise to hear him jump around from a progression of Big Bad Wolf(Original Mix) into the Dada Life remix to 1,2,3,4 to Kanye- Ni**as in Paris into Gucci Mane and a dubstep remix of Afrojack- Pacha on Acid. The omnipresent-as-of-late Bingo Players got some love in the form of L’Amour with a Cry (Just a Little) accapella, which the crowd ate up, before A-Trak dropped his own remixes of How Deep is Your Love and New Lands by Justice. The last track of a set is always an opportunity to make a statement, chill people out and bring them back down to Earth after a wild ride or cement the overall tone of your set, and A-Trak decided he wanted to make sure we knew he can go as hard as anyone by dropping one of the songs of the festival, Congorock – Ivory.
The last two full sets we saw on Saturday, Gabriel & Dresden and Markus Schulz, took a distinctive turn in the progressive/trance direction compared to everything else we saw. To be honest, by this point I was more focused on just having fun and dancing than I was remembering everything they played. Gabriel & Dresden dropped bombs like Mat Zo ft. Linnea Schossow – The Sky and Quintino – Epic along with a remix of Mr. Brightside, but the best was when they chilled everyone out with the epic Eagles by Sander van Doorn & Adrian Lux. It was a great set on its own, but it was even better as a setup for Markus Schulz, who proceeded to rock the crowd with hard-hitting trance and progressive. His set included Omnia & Ira – The Fusion, a Gotye- Somebody That I Used To Know remix and Ferry Corsten – Feel It, and the crowd was on board every step of the way jumping, dancing and basking in the flashing lights and visual effects. One of the quotes I heard from the crowd was “Wow, I never knew trance could have so much energy.” It only takes one great set to break a stereotype or convince someone to check out a new genre, and I think Markus executed that to the fullest. Hands down, my favorite set of the entire day.
Although some of you might be disappointed, I don’t really have much to say about Skrillex because, to be honest, I didn’t see more than 20 minutes of his set. What I heard was a pretty standard Skrillex set so you can probably guess a lot of what he played. While I certainly won’t trash him, he isn’t my favorite artist, and it just seemed right to end of the high note of Markus Schulz. It was also pouring rain, and we had a Ferry Corsten afterparty at Vision to get ready for. The way that Ferry destroyed Vision was unbelievable. We had a perfect vantage point 2 stories above the decks to watch and dance, and we left at 5 AM with Ferry still going strong.
After having an epic night of raving, we got a later start than planned on Sunday. Fortunately we were able to find a nearby restaurant that offered bottomless mimosas, which is pretty much the best way to start a day. After dabbling at the restaurant for a while, we rallied the troops and made it to Soldier Field shortly after the Australian duo Nervo took the stage. We got there a little late into their set, but the first full track we heard dropped was absolutely perfect to start our Sunday festival experience with: Florence & The Machine- Spectrum (Calvin Harris Remix), an absolute banger. By this time in their set, the crowd was going completely nuts and they decided to debut a new track they said was with Nicky Romero. The high point in their set was when they played the Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano remix of Tiesto’s Lethal Industry, such a great remix of a classic track. To end their banger-filled set they played their newest track, You’re Gonna Love Again. Every time I see them, Nervo surprises me at how good they really are, and this was no different.
Immediately following Nervo, R3hab took the stage to bring some chainsaw madness to the festival. To open his set, R3hab started off with his track with Swanky Tunes- Sending My Love. Unfortunately the rest of our group wanted to leave to go see Felix Cartal. The girls in our group love his radio show, Weekend Workout, but the only tracks that I recognized were tracks off his newest album, Different Faces.
After Felix Cartal, we rushed across the festival because Arty was about to step on the decks. This was one of the top sets of our weekend, and someone our group was most excited to see. Having a VIP wristband, it allowed me to get into the front row without being smashed by everyone behind me. Arty played some really cool tracks that I wasn’t expecting like a bootleg of Axwell – Heart is King with R.E.M.- Losing My Religion vocals, which led into Ferry Corsten- Punk (Arty Rock-n-rolla remix). As expected, Arty dropped his remix of Dirty South- Walking Alone and his brand new track Open Space.[youtube id="vXJTIlJdwpU" width="620" height="360"]
After his set, he told me that he played a brand new track halfway through that he had finished 5 minutes before going on stage. While a lot of his set featured his own tracks, he played Porter Robinson- Language, into Tiesto & Showtek- Hell Yeah, leaving the crowd wanting more.
Hardwell was supposed to go on right after Arty, but it was pretty clear that he wasn’t even at the festival yet. We later found out that his flight was late, which delayed his entire set. We ended up missing what remained of his set in order to interview Arty, which you can read Here.
By the time caught up with our friends, they were waiting for Afrojack to take the stage. Afrojack played a set full of his own original productions, a lot of which were unreleased. He synced visuals to Can’t Stop Me, and multiple times throughout his set on the hallowed Soldier Field, home to the Monsters Of The Midway, the voice of Sensation’s MC Gee addressed the crowd and told them to get crazy. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure everything that MC Gee said was pre-recorded. This was slightly disappointing, but then I realized I will be seeing him live at Sensation Brooklyn and got over it quick. To end his set, Afrojack played his new track, which has been referred to as Rock The House, into his biggest hit, Take Over Control with Eva Simmons. Afrojack was as good as I have ever seen him, and it was the perfect way to get everyone hyped and ready to head to the after parties. The after party we decided to hit up was Laidback Luke & Diplo, which was as crazy as expected, but that story is for another day.
Spring Awakening: Overall Impression
In general, I found it to be a very successful first year for this festival. The location worked well, traffic flow between stages was efficient and there were a lot of well placed bathrooms and concession stands. The lineup wasn’t quite as packed with all-stars as something like Ultra or EDC, but I don’t think those are fair comparisons due to their size and history(and cost). Plus, it didn’t seem to matter because I heard a ton of great music, and had just as hard a time deciding which acts to see as I always do. Being on Soldier Field wasn’t exactly a lame experience either.
The crowd mix was very diverse and covered a large age range, including at least one baby, but everyone had a very friendly attitude and just wanted to have fun. The best part was that you had plenty of room to dance and enjoy the setting without feeling smashed or being a mile from the stage. We can’t wait to see what React Presents will do with Soldier Field next year.
Will I be back next year: absolutely!
Covered by: Mike Marksz & Jeff Miller