In its fourth year, Electric Zoo 2012 brought big beats, big acts, and big numbers. Over 100,000 “animals”, as the attendees were being called this year, came to Randall’s Island in New York City during the three-day electronic dance music festival from Friday August 31 til Sunday September 2. Having been at the festival for the previous two years, we here at MMIBTY had a pretty good idea of what to expect and we were excited for one of the best lineups yet (in our opinion of course).
Because there are so many other publications out there writing reviews and talking about the Zoo, we figured we’d let you in on our perspective of the three days of madness with a segment we’re calling “Hits and Misses”. For any aspect of the festival, from the DJ sets to the food to the after parties, we’ll say how we felt. You can assume that if we didn’t mention a certain artist or aspect of the festival it wasn’t significant enough to mention or it was on par with expectations. By now these festivals are widely popular and a lot of people know about them so we don’t feel it’s necessary to really describe the scene and the happenings. Our photos can do a good job of that, but more importantly to really understand it is to experience it for yourself. Without further ado….
HIT: Tommy Trash’s Friday set at the Fool’s Gold Tent: This was a moment I had been waiting way too long for. Due to various reasons I had never seen the trash master live but I’m a HUGE fan of his productions, podcasts, and I’ve heard his live shows are unreal. Well let’s just say my expectations were met. The dude was dropping plenty of his originals, remixes, bootlegs, and other songs that fit perfectly into his funky yet extra heavy set. Tommy Trash’s song selection of Electro-House and big beats mixed flawlessly together to keeping the crowd roaring. I couldn’t say enough about this set and the clip below doesn’t quite do it justice.
Looking at the set times, I circled one major conflict which came on Friday between Tommy Trash and Mat Zo. As a result of Trash’s spectacular set, we were unable to bring ourselves to leave the Riverside Fool’s Gold tent. We did, however, finally head to the Group Therapy Hilltop tent at the very end of Zo’s set, which we ended up seeing about 10 minutes of. Most other times I would have chosen Mat Zo over a lot of artists because not only have I yet to really see a full set of his, but also because his live sets are so fucking good. He plays everything from Trance to Progressive to Electro-House and his unreleased mashups are worth hearing live because it’s the only place you can do so. Not only that but his original productions are top notch and you can bet your dollar he works them into his sets. Missing Mat Zo was quite the big miss.
HIT: Norin & Rad on Friday: The young California duo who are signed to Above & Beyond’s Anjunabeats Records have been making big splashes recently with their “Trouse” style of production (somewhere between Trance and House with uplifting breaks but dirty Electro drops). When they were announced for the phase 2 lineup I became excited for the opportunity to see them, but disappointed to see their set time conflicted with Moombahton masters Nadastrom. So although we had to split time between the two, what we DID see of Norin & Rad was nothing short of awesome. These guys are high-energy in both their on-stage presence and their song selection which straddled the line between familiar House anthems (Zedd’s “Spectrum” remixes) and more Trance/Progressive tunes a la their own masterpiece “Pistol Whip”. While I think these guys are relatively unknown, the support from Above & Beyond can only mean big things are coming their way soon – and I’ll make sure I go to see them the next time I can.
It pains me to say this, but I just couldn’t get into the Jack Beats’ set on Friday. And it’s not for lack of effort – we carved out time specifically to catch their set after I had posted their new EP which is awesome in the Jack Beats’ unique style. I thought for sure they’d play a big mix of tracks, but for the half hour we were in the Riverside Fool’s Gold tent it was a lot of tunes off the Careless EP, switching up tempos but keeping that sullen sort of feeling. There’s also only so much Jack Beats didgeridoo-esque wobble that I can take before I need a change…and that’s why we headed to the main stage for the second half of Laidback Luke’s set.
HIT: Michal Menert & Pretty Lights on the Main Stage closing out Friday night. I thought this was an excellent call by the folks organizing Electric Zoo. Not only was this a change from the typical House or Trance acts that usually close out the main stage but it was also a very different musical style compared to everyone else on the main stage all weekend. With Pretty Lights’ new stage setup, complete with a cityscape that rivals New York City’s (ok that may be a stretch, but you get the point), the crowd was sent into a frenzy of Trip-Hop and Glitch-Hop records that combined soulful samples and hip hop beats – 100% of the tracks were, as usual, Pretty Lights original productions. Pretty Lights is one of my favorite producers and even though his shows don’t vary much nor do his set lists, I still had a great time because no other DJ out there plays his tracks. And I think everyone in the crowd who was boppin’ around can agree. Adding Michal Menert as a half-hour opener was a nice touch, as I think this guy is extremely underrated. Derek Vincent (aka Pretty Lights) actually cut his set down by a half hour to allow for Menert to play, and as the first signing to Pretty Lights Records I think it was well-deserved. If you don’t have Menert’s most recent album, released for free on Pretty Lights Records, make sure you grab it.
This one is on us, but not getting to Randall’s Island until 3:30 on Saturday. That means we missed acts I really wanted to see including Angger Dimas, DallasK, Mustard Pimp, Autoerotique, Nervo, and Morgan Page. When you go to a music festival for three days sometimes you lose the motivation to get to each day as early as you might if it only lasted one day, but that’s a big mistake if you really want to see certain artists that may go on earlier than their headlining colleagues. There is no room for regrets on these pages, but it is a bummer that we weren’t able to catch some of the artists I’ve been longing to see (and some I wanted to see again). Check out Autoerotique’s unique and hard-hitting promo mix they made for Electric Zoo – I’m guessing their set was very similar.
Okay so we may not have gotten to the island until 3:30, missing some crucial acts, but you know what we did get to see? Bingo Players –> Claude Vonstroke –> Mord Fustang. It’s as good as it sounds. While I may not have been overwhelmingly impressed (more like mildly impressed) with the Bingo Players at the Ocean Club, they certainly stepped their game up for a main stage midday set at a major music festival. Songs in their set definitely overlapped from Ocean Club (“Mode”, “When I Dip”, Hardwell mashups, “Million Voices”, etc), but there were also some pleasant surprises such as an unreleased track that goes HARD as well as Firebeatz & Schella – “Dear New York” (unreleased) which goes just as hard. I didn’t like their bootleg of Daft Punk vs. Far East Movement – “One More Jello” and that’s when we went to go catch my favorite underground House DJ Claude Vonstroke. Mr. Stroke played exactly as expected, with funky bass-heavy beats that were sometimes no more than a kick drum and a wood block. The tracks selected by the Dirty Bird Records owner rattled the floor and brought out that heavy Booty Bass I adore and crave so much, but is rare to hear these days. With this kind of Tech-House, however, the songs can become redundant and our desire for something different came just in time to catch the second half of Mord Fustang’s set (which was one of the best of the day). I think Mord Fustang is extremely underrated as both a producer and DJ. I have all his songs and I thoroughly enjoy them. I have seen him live once and he brought an amazing set with him. Mord Fustang is an Ableton DJ, meaning he uses a computer and midi controllers to trigger different tracks, making it easy to transition and layer vocals/other tracks over each other. I don’t care what your method is, if it sounds good over the speakers I’m going to applaud you and that’s just what I did with Fustang. We came in the Hilltop Tent somewhere around the “Milky Way”–>”Magic Trooper–>”Super Meat Freeze” run and didn’t leave until it was all over. We heard bangers and funk intertwined as one with songs like Dillon Francis’ remix of Madeon’s “Finale” and Boys Noize’s new track “XTC” in addition to Gigi Barocco’s remix of “Rocksteady” by the Bloody Beetroots, which was a popular selection all weekend. All in all Mord’s set was one that absolutely kept me interested until he finished (listen for yourself).
MISS: Leaving Dada Life for Rusko. This is a personal opinion and some may not agree, but having seen Rusko more times than most other DJs and having only seen Dada Life once before, I should have stuck around for the full Dada set. They were absolutely killing it for the half hour or so that we saw them on the main stage and the crowd was going, well, bananas. We got up close to the stage and got to participate in the madness only to go into Rusko’s hot and sweaty tent to be treated to the same antics that he always brings. Listen, I’m not complaining – I love Rusko’s work as both a producer and a DJ, and he really did kill it at Zoo including some new material in his set, but I think if I could do it over again I would have raged out to the Dada all day.
HIT: Axwell (Main Stage) –> Wolfgang Gartner (Hilltop Tent) –> Above & Beyond (Main Stage – best set of the weekend). After being disappointed by Steve Angello at Ocean Club I had relatively low expectations for Axwell, only because of the Mafia’s dive into mainstream dance music. Axwell is, however, my favorite of the trio and I wanted to see what he would bring to the table. Well, I was impressed. Axwell played a bangin set that bounced between typical selections like “Greyhound”, “Leave the World Behind”, and “In the Air” and newer bangers such as John Dahlback’s “Zeus” and Afrojack’s “Can’t Stop Me” (Kryder & Tom Staar Remix). Even though Axwell was killing it, we had to make sure we caught one of our favorite producers/DJs in Wolfgang Gartner who was doing his usual flawless mixing of Electro-House from his personal portfolio of tunes as well as those from around the world. This was, surprisingly, my third time seeing Wolfgang this summer and as usual I was not disappointed. But then it was time to go see Trance legends Above & Beyond on the main stage, represented by Tony and Jono (Paavo was likely in the UK taking care of their podcast duties). I could not believe how good their set was. I had seen them in Boston at Royale, but I didn’t think their set was anything special. On the main stage, however, they found a perfect balance between uplifting Trance and heavy electro drops that accurately resembled their weekly Trance Around the World podcasts. Crowd singalongs happened during tracks like “Sun & Moon” and “A Thing Called Love”, while Above & Beyond typed words onto their video screen such as the recently deceased Whitney Houston and Neil Armstrong. I left Saturday with a sense of amazement and couldn’t believe that, so far, Above & Beyond was the best set of the weekend.
Although I’m relatively unfamiliar with him, I’m a bit upset we didn’t see more of Dash Berlin’s Sunday set. This Dutch Progressive/Trance DJ was voted #8 in the world last year and given that I’ve been enjoying the evolution of this genre over the past year I wanted to make sure I caught some of the key artists in the category at EZoo. We got to Berlin’s main stage set as he was wrapping up but we heard enough tracks that it left me wanting more. Next up was Porter Robinson who I had extremely high hopes for this year after being the hands-down best set at Zoo last year. The second half of his set was actually pretty good, but I was having a lot of trouble getting into it at the beginning. And trust me, I’m not saying he was bad, but taking my expectations into consideration I thought he could do better for at least the first part of his set.
HIT: Apparat DJ set. This one took place in the groovy “Tech-House tent” that was Sunday School Grove which is where guys like Claude Vonstroke and Sasha had their time behind the decks. I’ll admit I didn’t know anything about this German DJ, but his song selection was funky as hell and I was really digging it as a mid-day set. We had been informed by Electric Zoo press that his set was switched from full band to a DJ set, but I can’t say I knew what the difference was. Apparat was also responsible for sending me on a search for a song that I’m now in love with: Julio Bashmore – “Au Seve”.
MISS: Knife Party on the main stage. We didn’t think the sound was loud enough and Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen, formerly of Pendulum, didn’t seem that into it. They were playing all their hits, which is basically all of their songs, so I don’t feel like they brought anything new to the table. This is especially true when every other DJ out there is playing their songs – tracks and sets tend to become watered-down. Now I’m not saying I expected them to pull out anything insanely ridiculous because I haven’t heard them to be unique DJs, but for a main stage set at a major festival I was left wanting a bit more.
HIT: The after parties at Roseland Ballroom. We had the pleasure of attending two after parties at Roseland Ballrom: day 2 with Benny Benassi and Peace Treaty, and day 3 with Hardwell and Treasure Fingers (there were other DJs involved but we only made it for those four acts). Having never been to Roseland before I was pretty blown away by the sheer scale of the venue and the fact that a party this crazy was going on from about midnight until 4:30am. I’ve never been to a venue this loud before. Usually I complain about sound being too quiet, but this was too loud – so much so that I had to buy earplugs for our second night there. Benassi’s set was pretty standard but Peace Treaty really killed it. I can’t remember exactly what they played but I remember really digging it. The next night Hardwell crushed it so hard and the crowd was going nuts the entire time. He even stopped to sing happy birthday to Zedd who had played just before him (different video than below). After Hardwell came the funky disco stylings of Treasure Fingers who I had been yearning to see for so long. He did not disappoint. The people who left after Hardwell missed an incredibly funky and spectacular set by the very somber Treasure Fingers, who unfortunately doesn’t have much of a stage presence to go along with his track selection. I would, however, go see him again because of how unique, and, did I mention funky?, his set was.
MISS(ES): General fatigue on day 3, Electric Zoo ticket prices, Electric Zoo concession prices, realizing how young the crowd was (or how old I’ve become), and not booking Avicii or Deadmau5 (just kidding). This last one really just wraps everything up and mentions a few gripes I had. We were hit hard by fatigue on day 3. Our first year attending Electric Zoo was only two days long, making it a lot easier to handle. By the end of day 3 we left Tiesto’s normally stellar set to go see Boys Noize, which was good, but we didn’t feel we got the full Boys Noize experience. It was in the Sunday School tent which was packed and hot – we had to escape and take a load off. We then, for some reason, didn’t go into the Riverside tent to catch Diplo who is one of our favorite DJs. We sat outside and listened, but fatigue had worn us down. Finally, we just didn’t care much about seeing Skrillex. We were in the way back of the crowd and heard him mixing awesomely on CDJs, but we were sort of just standing there. Beyond that, we thought prices for EZoo this year were outrageous – close to $400 for a 3-day pass. Concession prices were ridiculous as always, often dropping $20 on two beers + tip. Lastly, either I’m old or the crowd was YOUNG. Maybe I’ve never noticed it like this, but it was insane how many youngins were around us. I think music should be experienced by all but I’d say I was in the minority as someone who was there as a working professional.
***THANK YOU*** to all the promoters, PR companies (Plexi PR!), staff, security, vendors, cab drivers, new friends, fellow writers/photographers we met and anyone else who made this past weekend so spectacular. We are truly excited for the 5th anniversary of the Zoo next year!