One of the trends that has become increasingly apparent, along with the overall rise of EDM, is the homogenization of the festival experience. Although every festival organizer is brainstorming ways to set their event apart, the average massive has become the product of a tried-and-true formula. They are an absolute blast, but there just isn’t that much separating these festivals other than a few acts here and there, which is why Wavefront stood out as such a special event. It chose a beach instead of the usual forest/field/arena, overlooked the current progressive/electro house chart-toppers in favor of legends and dance music subgenres farther from the mainstream. It was clear they had a goal of representing true house, techno and electronica, and it just seemed to fit a city that contributed so much to its evolution.
One of the most notable features of the event was the fact that the crowd just seemed to “get it”. They understood what the event was about, and they acted accordingly. It would be a little bit of an overstatement to say that they truly brought Ibiza to Chicago, but the overall vibe was certainly more mature, representing “beachfront dance party” more than the usual “raging” you get at other festivals. Just don’t tell that to the crowds going crazy at John Dahlback, Eric Prydz and Bad Boy Bill.
Friday night was a great way to ease into the weekend of dance music and check out the layout of the venue. The two main stages were angled out towards the lake, and they were located at the northern and southern edge of the beach with a row of VIP cabanas near each. A few beer tents were sprinkled around the beach as well, but most of the concessions were located closer to the entrance to the festival, which did prove to be an annoyance at times. Most importantly, Friday provided the opportunity to pick up wristbands before the massive lines that appeared on Saturday.
The festival reached full swing on Saturday as the Chicago sun came out to play. The crowd was in high spirits, tank tops were the fashion of the day and the drink ticket system was even more obnoxious to deal with than Friday night. The key with drink tickets is that they have to be clearly communicated so that no one has to wait in one line just to be sent to the back of a different one. Unfortunately, Wavefront didn’t quite get that right. Along with the relatively small number of non-VIP beer tents, it was a recipe for long lines. Still, Chicagoans proved their impressive patience in pursuit of Green Lines and 312′s (great local micro brews for those who don’t know).
The pre-headliner musical highlights for Saturday included Serge Devant and Matthew Dear. Nic Fanciulli played a great set that included his recent release Movin On, and he also showed some love to one of my favorites, Joris Voorn. He kept the crowd dancing, grooving and just having an overall good time as the sun slowly set on Montrose beach. Hands down, the highlight of Saturday was the techno sounds of German-born DJ/producer, Boys Noize. He mixed up his usual genre with harder techno, classics like Prodigy – Smack My Bitch Up (Fat of the Land is one of the first CDs I ever bought), and then launched into his track Yeah right as the fireworks started flying. I don’t think anyone was expecting them so it was a really surprising touch, and it provided that tiny bit of extra gravitas that pushed his set to new heights. As the crowd filed out after the first day, the mood was entirely positive, and everyone was looking forward to Sunday. Although there were a lot of good after party options, we chose to head to Enclave for Erick Morillo.
Sunday was delayed by severe storm warnings that swept in quickly but never seemed to fully come to bear. Then, as quickly as they appeared, the clouds parted and the sun was shining bright by the time the gates opened at 2:30. Although I understand the complications that shuffling the schedule would introduce, it was a little bit of a disappointment that they simply skipped the acts during the rain delay because I was hoping to see Pat Mahoney and Audrey Napoleon. Danny Daze and Betatraxx got the day started on the right foot leading the way for Benoit & Sergio’s second set of the weekend before John Dahlback hit the decks to set the stage for the man everyone was looking forward to: Eric Prydz. John played a great high-energy mix that included several of his hits, including Last Ride Home and his remix of Sneaky Sound System- Big.
Finally, the moment I had been looking forward to all weekend arrived. A man I have wanted to see live since I started listening to dance music appeared wearing a backwards hat and Pryda t-shirt. The energy in the crowd was palpable, as if only the first few notes from the massive speakers could cut the tension. The set danced between Eric’s thumping basslines and uplifting sing-along vocals, and the crowd never stopped moving for a second. Boys Noize on Saturday was amazing, but, without a doubt, Eric Prydz put on the best show I had seen all year. At least until I saw him later that night at Studio Paris. Despite the fact that I have massive respect for A-Trak and Armand Van Helden, Sasha was how I chose to cap off my weekend. The deeper sounds of Sasha were a great counterpoint to Eric Prydz, and, when the boom and glow of the fireworks joined with the flashing lights and bass on stage, it felt as if all was right with the world.
It wasn’t exactly part of the festival itself, but the Eric Prydz after party at Studio Paris simply must be mentioned. I always enjoy getting to see an artist in a more intimate setting, and Studio Paris is about as intimate as it gets. Seeing Eric Prydz in that way was a really special experience. He covered all the bases from songs off his new album, to Cirez D and a couple of well-known IDs. The venue was beautiful, and it was really cool to gaze up at the sky as the chorus of Allein echoed through the club. Even after the lights came on, Eric played one more song, and still no one seemed to want to let it come to an end. It’s the highlight of my year. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for future events at Studio Paris.
Wavefront was the best festival I have attended this year. Yes, it failed on a couple small points like easily available, cheap water, quick service at beer tents, and multiple entrances for fast entry. However, the diverse, unique lineup, perfect venue and great crowd more than made up for any missteps. Over the course of the weekend I saw new DJs I had never seen before and loved (Benoit & Sergio, Danny Daze, Nic Fanciulli, Matthew Dear), DJs I knew would bring it(John Dahlback, Boys Noize) and DJs I have been waiting years to see (Sasha, Eric Prydz). I really look forward to seeing what they do next time now that they have one year under their belts. Also, I would highly recommend VIP tickets. The full weekend pass was cheaper than most GA passes at other events, and it was worth it just to skip the beer lines and drink tickets. If they expand the VIP areas near the stages and add bathrooms next year, then it will be even better.