Electric Forest 2013: Review
July 10th, 2013
It took two buses, five states and thirty-one hours to reach Electric Forest. I wouldn’t take back a second.
The MASS EDMC crew arrived late on Thursday night, missing almost all of the first day of musical offerings. Our bus groaned to a halt just outside of security and 55 New Englanders trudged off our coach bus to unpack our supplies. As our coach bus wasn’t joining us in our weekend of hoopla, we were left to schlepp our belongings through security and to our campsite using our own brute strength. Needless to say, the chaos of organizing 55 people into a somewhat orderly camp site took some time, but once we were set up, Camp Herkimer (as we fondly came to call it) was ready for action. MASS EDMC’s homies Voltran and Bamboora
had joined us for the ride – a dance addict’s wet dream. Not only would I see incredible music over the next three days inside the venue, but I would also be able to boogie my booty off to some quality music after hours. The two hopped on the decks and our Electric Forest musical revelry had begun.
The next three days were a blend of melodic expression, artistic harmony and spiritual reflection. I’ve been asked many times in the past week since returning what my favorite part was and I’m not sure I can pinpoint one exact instance. It might be exploring the Sherwood Forest by night for the first time on Friday night with an enthusiastic caped commander as the symbolic leader (if not primarily for his easily recognizable attire and height), sprinting across the mulch to whatever stimulating delight we saw next. It might be spending hours wrapped in a hammock one afternoon, hidden from sight but able to peer through the fabric, soaking in my environment like the invisible man (in this case, invisible woman). It might be squeezing my new-yet-old friends’ hands as we floated along to sounds and sights of Pretty Lights late on Sunday. It might be watching one fervent String Cheese Incident fan enjoy their Saturday night set from his hammock so emphatically that I was convinced he was a half second from slingshotting himself to the moon. Most likely, it is all of these moments – and more. In a way I’m not sure I’ll be able to ever truly explain, Electric Forest is more than music and more than moments. It is a state of being.
In terms of layout, at a very basic level there are two distinct sections of Electric Forest – the venue and the campground. Though other aspects exist – like the water park, Big Wildcat Lake and the Good Life Ranch (the VIP area) – those are the main locales. The division between the two seemed to be primarily for security reasons since having one main venue entrance allowed for an easy way to search attendees. The campsite was massive; I walked around for a decent chunk of time on Saturday afternoon and didn’t see it all. It was not only a campground, but also a place to buy food, goods sold by various vendors, a place to play frolf. Totems and flags towered above the different sites, making the entire area feel like a sea of different clans all gathering together for one shared experience.
Once you entered the venue, you were immediately at the Tripolee Stage, where giants like A-Trak, Eskmo, Keys n Krates, Craze, Michal Menert, N0isia, Krewella, Treasure Figures and Eliot Lipp played. The stage itself was big, and flanked by the festival’s ferris wheel and various vendor tents. Following the path and general flow of people led you through the trees to the Ranch Stage, one of my favorites from the weekend and where The String Cheese Incident, Pretty Lights, Lettuce, Dispatch and Empire of the Sun played. In front of the stage was a large dancing area with trees outlining the edge (the perfect place to set up a hammock of prime late-night viewing). Beyond the tree line were more vendors – including the amazing taco stand that blew my mind Saturday morning – porta-potties and a little bit more space to dance. After the Ranch Stage came the entrance to the Sherwood Forest, one of the aspects of the festival that is truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Not only were the Observatory Stage, Forest Stage and Silent Disco nestled among the trees, but the forest was also home to thousands of hammocks perfect for hiding or napping, the SolLun Speakeasy, where characters rabbled about electing Rick Forest, and countless artistic pieces designed to entertain and delight festival goers as they wandered through. At the end of the forest was the Sherwood Court, the largest of the three stages in terms of dancing space and where Above and Beyond, Big GrizMatik, Passion Pit, 3LAU, Knife Party, Emancipator and Beats Antique played.
The memories that I go back to first are all in the forest. The most unique aspect to the festival, Sherwood Forest is a sensory playground designed specifically to amuse, bewilder and entertain festival goers. In a previous interview with Mlive, art director Andy Carroll explains, “[we try to bring] a little more of an interactive element, just getting people involved – even if it’s getting people involved in the sense of, here, here’s a hammock, lie in it…It’s just a different way to experience a fun festival.” During the day, sunlight filtered down through the branches of soaring trees curiously hand-planted in rows down onto the merriment below. The forest granted much needed shelter from the heat of the day and ENO’s hammocks were the ideal place to catch up on sleep, provided you could find an empty one. Scattered among the trees were various art installations, each clearly designed to transform in darkness. A giant glowing brain – the Plug In Program‘s featured art installation ‘Cerebrum‘ – hung suspended from the trees and flashed with different patterns depending on your electronic bracelet. Continue wandering and you come across other wonderful treats like das’lala’s Electric Garden and the suspended Dream Garden.
What felt like an expansive playground by day, filled with toys and sounds that existed purely for my pleasure, was completely transformed after dark. In the darkness, the forest seems to stretch out forever; no longer only a haven for daytime gaiety, by night Sherwood Forest shifts into a psychedelic jungle complete with lights, lasers and spacial disfiguration. Color-changing up-lit trees serve to illuminate the main walkable areas, but the shifting rainbow illumination is often interrupted by periodic strobe lights and intermittent disco ball light reflections. By night, the forest is seemingly eternal, stretching as far as your mind allows. Sounds fuse together from all directions; music from spontaneous drum circles blends into spillover from the nearby Sherwood Court, Forest or Observatory stages, infused with the sound of crowd chatter and the occasional cry of ‘CAAAARL!’.
In essence, music festivals are a celebration of the enjoyment found in live music experience and performance, yet Electric Forest is more than just that. Not only is your youthful delight encouraged aurally, but your other senses are treated – through the sounds of the crowd overlapping and melting together as you wandered, the ever changing visuals and various glowing art pieces hidden in the forest best enjoyed after dark and the actually-edible vendor food. I knew I missed Electric Forest when I caught myself browsing other people’s photos for the third time in one day. Something about the living, breathing forest that makes my soul yearn to be back, frolicking among the trees, deep in the Sherwood Forest. In the words of art director Tia Christiansen, “there are some people who’ve been going to festivals for years and years and they’re ready to jump in – they’ll participate in anything. But some other people are new to this, and just interacting on the pathway might be a unique thing for them, so we want to have a range of experiences that will appeal to anyone, no matter where they are in their festival life.”
Only 351 days until next year.