I have a long, rich history with Electric Zoo, dating back to its second year in existence. I have attended every year since. Not because I think Zoo is the best festival – I think objectively it can be agreed that it is not – but because it is, for lack of a better reason, convenient. For many like myself, with friends scattered throughout the east coast or even the entire country, it provides a slice of some of the best names in dance music in the greatest and most accessible city in the world (OK, technically it’s not exactly in Manhattan but you know what I mean).
Last year left a terrible mark on the festival as it reached seemingly international fame for the deaths that led to the shutting down of the festival on the last (and best) day. This year, Zoo’s plan was undoubtedly redemption. But the question increasingly became, redemption on behalf of who? Your investors and the media? Or the fans? I think you can see where this is going.
Electric Zoo’s initial announcement to host another event at the same venue and weekend as last year came with both surprise and excitement. After all, they had something to prove but, more importantly, I think we needed closure. The pain of the blue balls may had worn off but the memories were still there.
I decided to go back to Zoo this year mainly because I wanted to see how things would’ve changed since last year. Let me recap some of my key points:
Anyone who was surprised at the breadth of security was clearly delusional, as it was clear this would be the most security ever expected at the formerly lax festival. This includes checking everyone’s shoes and a wall of dogs to pass in order to gain entry. Honestly, this didn’t really bother me except for the fact that, by the third day, accounted for extremely long lines (which for many meant missing any music that day).
I had a few hypotheses about why Made Event decided to go “cashless” this year, an increasing trend in major music festivals, but I ultimately decided that it was intended to dupe people into spending more money. There was an unnecessary conversion rate between US dollars and EZ Bucks, which only meant that when a beer or food item was labeled as 9 bucks, in reality it was $10. I’m all for putting a further buffer between the real world and the festival world but this was ridiculous.
For the first time in my many years going there, they completely rearranged the layout and condensed the stages in the already limited space. This meant even more sound bleed between stages than usual and no escape from the music at any corner of the fest, which just wears on your mental state as the day goes on. Sunday School Grove was my only escape, and at least it was a good escape.
Completely disorganized and poorly planned, there were only two public areas in the whole venue. This meant a hike to get to the bathrooms and long lines and chaos once you made it there. As long as you pushed around the lemmings, though, it was easy to grab one quickly.
Interestingly, they were harder to find than last year. Once you located them, they were, as to be expected, efficient and staffed by friendly volunteers but I couldn’t help thinking there just weren’t enough.
Honestly, despite the amazing lineup, I didn’t find myself loving a lot of the music. Even A-Trak’s, who is typically always a standout for me, was churning out mainstage garbage, at least for as long as I could care to listen. On day 1, I’d say my highlight was Tensnake, although even his set was not what I expected. Day 2, Moon Boots, Oliver Heldens, Danny Tenaglia and Sasha were my personal highlights; I even enjoyed some of Laidback Luke and Madeon. On day 3, the only person I got to see before the festival evacuated was The Magician and, while he played a very typical set, I loved every minute. That said, I will say the vinyl only stage was always bumping and I found myself enjoying a lot of fun times there.
Zoo may have hit the mark in some ways this year and missed it in others but, for reasons I may not be fully able to put on paper, I don’t think I will ever be going back and I know I’m not alone. People left on Sunday wet, frustrated and disappointed – many for the second year in a row – and it’s just too much to bear year after year. I can only hope that Electric Zoo can figure out a way to keep others interested if they want to stay relevant, and hopefully it’s not by adding a third main stage.