For the past three years, I have regarded Electric Zoo with equal parts curiosity and weary trepidation. After spending full summers at music festivals and concerts, the mere thought of pushing my body and mind through three days of non-stop E.D.M. mayhem always seems hopelessly irresponsible. And every year, as Labor Day weekend passes, F.O.M.O. hits me with a nasty vengeance. From the flood of poor quality videos, neverending status updates and oh so adorable “my first rave” albums that follow, it seems as if the entirety of Facebook is in on the fun. After what has felt like an entire college career spent watching from the sidelines, the agony finally became too much to bear. This year — senior year — I too unleashed the raver within.
For those of you who have been living under a proverbial rock as of late, electronic dance music (E.D.M.) is experiencing a surge in popularity of shocking proportions. A far cry from its humble roots in basement parties and the underground rave scene, today E.D.M.’s all-pervasive influence is evident on our radios, our TV screens and just about everywhere in between. Music festivals like New York City’s Electric Zoo provide one of the most visible examples of E.D.M.’s modern renaissance — the days of intimate and secret raves have been replaced by massive 100,000 person events headlined by the very best the E.D.M. world has to offer. For its fourth annual affair, Electric Zoo pulled out all of the stops, filling its bill with the crème de la crème of techno, dubstep, trance and house. Although hugely successful industry stalwarts such as Tiesto, Guetta, and Above & Beyond may have drawn the biggest crowds of the weekend, the festival’s diverse and ambitious lineup ensured that great performances could be found at every hour of the day. From when gates opened at 11 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 31, until they closed at 11 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 2, Randall’s Island was transformed into a mass of undulating, neon bodies. Responsibility be damned, I was happy to be one of them.
With over 100 D.J.s performing on four stages over the weekend, it’s essential to remember that pacing oneself is key. Go too hard the first day and come Sunday you’ll look like an extra from The Walking Dead, and nobody wants that. Entering the festival grounds on Friday with a moderate sense of restraint, I arrived on the later side of things but was able to catch the tail end of Mat Zo’s performance at the Hilltop Arena stage. Known for his genre-blurring productions, the 21-year-old wunderkind unleashed a euphoric “One More Time” remix on his more than eager audience, the first of many Daft Punk covers to be heard over the weekend. A quick stop at the Sunday School Grove tent for Swiss-Chilean D.J. Luciano provided a brief but sweet taste of Ibiza. Known to elevate his concert experiences from the hedonistic to the truly beautiful, Luciano expertly blended techno, house and Latin influences with the sexy extravagance all his own. Capping things off at the main stage for the night, Pretty Lights bathed Randall’s Island in the feel-good glow one has come to expect from the Colorado titan. From “Hot like Sauce” to “I Know the Truth,” the hits were all there, providing the perfect close to a stellar first day.
With the sun blazing high in the sky, Saturday would show no mercy to the mobs of festival-goers ready to dance for hours on end. With Saturday-only tickets causing attendance numbers to swell, the Electric Zoo grounds seemed packed to the brim — a veritable sea of rhinestones, dayglow and every costume imaginable. Starting things off with recent Dim Mak Records signee Angger Dimas at the Hillside Tent, I was impressed by the Indonesian D.J.’s aggressive energy — the man was clearly enjoying himself. Known to be a prolific remixer, Dimas tackled tracks such as “N***** in Paris,” “Crush on You” and “Pon De Floor” during his hour long set.
Over at the main stage, two prominent Electro House duos proved that Europeans really do it better. Hailing from Holland and Sweden, respectively, Bingo Players and Dada Life put on two of my favorite sets that weekend, with the latter solidifying its reputation as one of the wildest live shows around. After experiencing what the term “bananachampagned” means in all its glory during Dada Life, the Sunday School Grove tent and its more minimalist approach provided a welcome respite. German D.J. and producer Chris Liebing took things to another level, utterly expanding my conceptions about techno and turning me into a believer. Unleashing a stunning set ambitious in scope and sound, Liebing invigorated soaring dance tracks with a dark, industrial energy. To close things out for the night, trance icons Above & Beyond gave an emotionally charged performance on the main stage, their second of the weekend.
Like any final day of a festival, Sunday proved to be an uphill challenge — a constant battle waged between exhaustion and my determination to enjoy arguably the strongest lineup of the weekend. The crowd was another issue — the Skrillex-Tiesto double whammy ensured that there were thousands of fist-pumping guidos and wasted teenagers to avoid at every turn. Steering clear of the aforementioned groups, I headed over to the Sunday School Grove to catch Slovenian D.J. Umek. A major player in the global techno scene since the early 90s, Umek had everybody grooving, but none more than himself. After a mediocre performance from Porter Robinson left much to be desired, I hoped that Flux Pavilion & Doctor P would not disappoint. And they most certainly did not, inciting the audience to rage with every inch of their beings. Throwing down one massive drop after another, Flux and Doctor P seemed to be perfectly in sync as they alternated tracks from their respective discographies.
Over at the Hillside Arena Stage, the promise of Zeds Dead followed by Diplo won out over my feet’s feeble pleas for rest. Dropping the best “Mercy” remix of the festival, Zed’s Dead put on the type of insane show that fans have come to expect from this formidable duo. No festival seems complete without a performance by Diplo, something that I am sure he would like us all to believe. As one of the industry’s most hardworking producers, Diplo’s set was a testament to his long list of accomplishments, playing his productions for Azealia Banks and Usher as well tracks from the artists off his label, Mad Decent.
Electric Zoo may have tested my endurance and tried my limits, but it also gave me the purest gift of all. During those three crazy days of non-stop revelry, not a single trace of F.O.M.O. entered my mind, not even for a second. What else does anyone really need?