Review: Electric Forest 2012
- Written by Jessica Sommers
- July 16, 2012
We were somewhere near the coast of Lake Michigan when I woke up, drool on my shoulder. The sun was still contemplating rising. “Where… are we?” I asked the driver. Sitting in a McDonald’s parking lot, waiting ten minutes for them to open, I sat there trying to collect my thoughts. Then it dawned on me, I forgot to pack underwear.
Heading to Electric Forest in Rothbury, Michigan at two in the morning doesn’t bode well for someone who spent the day prior drinking at a baseball game and settling into bed just before midnight. Did I mention I, no, someone… hadn’t packed yet? But the chaotic energy that comes with hazily stuffing bikinis and blue-jean shorts furiously into a bag only seems right traveling to a music festival. Even without undies, four days and three nights of glass-rattling music, nearly primitive camping, tons of dust, and plenty of sun, seemed like the most semi-legal fun a 20-something can have.
While waiting for McDonald’s to open, I checked my bag. Thankfully, I had remembered underwear. But I did forget cups. Cups! How could I forget cups? How was I supposed to enjoy my Franzia?
After setting up camp next to some friendly folks from Alabama and making a pit stop to the general store inside the festival for ice and cups, it was obvious that this year, the 2nd annual Electric Forest, would be different from the first. For one, it was much hotter, like that rush of heat you get when you open an oven, except all of the time. The heat and lack of anything wet falling from the sky led to tons of dust, which only helped to make all these tan, dirty hippies look even more brown and beautiful. Another difference was this festival was much bigger than last year. At 20,000 attendees, the event was sold out. Even at 8 a.m. people were rolling into their campsites harder than a 16-year-old at a Bassnectar show. The wristbands these days are not only pretty, secure clothe bands, but are now complete with a microchip, kind of like the cat you adopted back in December. This is because kids are sneaky, and do reckless things like share wristbands. Now, with said microchip, one must scan in and out of the festival. Think of it like a zoo, except with more glow-sticks and even stranger smells.
Entering the Sherwood Forest is where you saw most of the obvious changes. The amount of art exhibits throughout the forest doubled from 2011, including inflatable spirals one could get lost in, patches of fluorescent mushrooms, improvisational, homemade drum circles, an abundance of fabrics begging to be touched, plenty of unique spots to sit and ponder. Groups of elaborately dressed-up men and women of all varieties donned stilts to wander around the grounds of the festival. Fairies and other trippy characters fluttered though the forest, exploring the wonders around every corner, inspecting the texture of the trees, giving passerbys the ole’ googly eye, simply wandering around theatrically, dancing. My friend and I looked at each other, curious, amused, and slightly afraid.
“They’re freaking me out, man!”
The best installation of this live entertainment was the “Sollun”, an interactive western-style saloon complete with cowboys roping cowgirls, barmaids hanging out behind the unequipped bar, and women laying around on couches and ceiling beams just being subtle and scantily-clad. The main attraction to the Sollun was the solar-panel DJ booth called The Solar Saucer, with DJs coming in and out throughout the day and night spinning original beats and playing plenty of mash-ups. While in the Sollun for a brief moment Saturday night, I overheard a lanky, wide-eyed boy innocently inquire to a lady in western garb and big blonde hair, “Is this a stage… or a saloon?”
Naturally, and in her southern accent, without missing a beat, “Honey, what do you think?”
Although one could spend all day and night exploring the forest or just laying in the infamous Eno hammocks strewn throughout, it’s impossible to forget about the music, presumably the reason everyone is here. It was clear why the majority of the crowd was here – bone-rattling, heart-racing techno music with the dirtiest bass drops around. Though still wholeheartedly a stereotypical “festival” scene heavy on the body hair, hemp and hula-hoops, this year saw many more muscular bros and peppy girls clad in neon wayfarers, crop-tops and fanny packs that are ironic no more. There’s no doubt that EDM is all the rage these days, and Electric Forest made that apparent by blasting it right in the dome.
Though jam bands like The String Cheese Incident and STS9 played multiple sets throughout the festival, EDM was definitely the default. Impossible to catch every set, there were a few that definitely stood out amongst the rest. DJ Paper Diamond threw down an energy-filled set Friday night at the Sherwood Court, one of the biggest stages at the festival and the only one that requires you (oh no!) to walk through the forest. Paper Diamond perfectly blended together heavy beats with awesome melodies, and mixed in popular tunes to create a dance-heavy vibe the crowd loved. With the forest and all its glorious lasers and dried ice and flashing lights in the background, the Sherwood Court provided spectacular views for the attendees. One can only imagine the view from the stage.
Saturday night saw quite the line-up of bass-filled bouncing beats, with personal favorite 12th Planet playing a killer, though hour late, set. Never having a second to catch your breath from all the bass drops, 12th Planet performed plenty of classics, while also offering up new material that the crowd took like candy. Playing on the Tripolee Stage right by the entrance meant that every attendee walking into the festival was greeted warmly with blinding lights and heavy bass, but that wasn’t the only perk. The Ferris wheel was right on the edge of the crowd, and the kids who bought the ticket and took the ride showed their enthusiasm by lighting off fireworks (now legal in Michigan!) and shining lasers into the crowds and stage. How fireworks got past the security guards is beyond The Black Sheep, but no one seemed to complain about it.
Major Lazer closed the festival Saturday night, also on Tripolee, with genius producer Diplo making a special appearance. Diplo only added to the already upbeat atmosphere, and when he dropped his latest sensation, “Express Yourself,” you better believe girls and guys were droppin’ their booty like it was nobody’s business. Major Lazer commanded the crowd with force and energy, even telling everyone at one point to take their shirts off which, despite the chilly weather at 3 in the morning, the kids cheerfully obliged. After the shows ended, a handful of campers played their own shows in front of their tents throughout the campsites, and with even more fireworks blasting like a war-zone all night and early into the morning. Electric Forest truly is a 24-hour party.
Wanting to leave the festival Sunday night on a good note – no one wants to be the last person at the party with one last soggy joint and a broken flip-flop. With the Ferris wheel rockin’ and Big Gigantic keeping the crowd alive and well, I walked out of the festival dusty, exhausted and a smile I couldn’t wipe off my face.
Laying in my tent one last time, overhearing the music still raging outside, it was hard to believe it was all over. It seemed like just yesterday we were amidst a 6-hour drive, nursing a hangover in the passenger seat with coffee and greasy breakfast food. Monday morning came too early, and packing up and shipping out always brings upon a hard-to-shake blues until you get your next fix of living outdoors for a few days, around music that you love and people that accept whatever kind of weirdo that you are. But the season isn’t over, and there will always be Electric Forest 2013. And next year, I won’t forget the cups.