Festivals

Electric Zoo’s Efforts To Transform For 2015 Paid Off



October 3rd, 2015

by

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Electric Zoo is like the Spiderman movies of music festivals. Just as New York’s favorite web-slinger has grown from the pages of our childhood comic books to the forefront of today’s pop culture, Electric Zoo has transformed from a small East Coast gathering to one of the world’s most recognized music festivals. Every Labor Day Weekend since 2009, EZoo has transformed Manhattan’s Randall’s Island into “New York’s Premier Electronic Music Festival” – a weekend that amasses over 100,000 fans and army of musical artists from all over the world for a party that rages from sunrise to midnight. For many music fans, EZoo has been a right of passage; as the festival has continued to grow we have been witness to both the positive and negative cultural impacts. There’s no denying if you’re from the East Coast and you haven’t made the pilgrimage over the RFK Bridge personally, chances are you know at least one person who has (and spent the subsequent weeks recanting how amazing the experience it was).
electric zoo transformed 2015 main stage daytime
Similar to how Marvel has flipped face and remade many of their original superhero films, the curators of Electric Zoo seem to have taken a page out the studio’s playbook and rebranded the festival Electric Zoo Transformed following a similar static history. The back to back cancellations of EZoo’s day three in 2013 and 2014 were more of a tragedy than Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman 2 and 3 and left festival fans unsure if they would attend again. New festival owners, SFX, opted to rebrand to “EZOO Transformed”: a revamping that promised a metamorphosis that would bring the Electric Zoo experience to the next level.
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As I stepped off the platform at the Harlem 125th station, I can’t say that I didn’t feel a similar uncertainty. I last attended Zoo in 2013, during the festival’s largest (and arguably most tragic) year and after a déjà-vu cancellation in 2014, I was relieved I previously passed on tickets. However as Labor Day weekend grew nearer, a combination of clocking way too many hours at work and not wanting to be packed into the Deadmau5 show at Shrine in CT led me back to the eastward journey along NYC’s 3rd Avenue to Electric Zoo. While the troves of neon clothing, kandi, and graphic prints immediately brought me back to years before, something was different – as if everyone was ready to return but with a certain cautionary uncertainty of not knowing what to expect.
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It was clear right off the bat that Electric Zoo meant business this year. That meant big corporate sponsors, extensive police presence, and heightened security. Lines were long, searches were thorough, and while the staff was polite and helpful to best answer questions, this was not a festival to attend unaware of the festival’s new policies. If you had read the rules and were ready to go, the entry ran pretty seamless (other than line delays). If not, you were in for some early morning headaches; there was absolutely no free passes or looking the other way on even the smallest discrepancies whereas in years past entry tended to be more sympathetic. NYPD had a commanding presence around the entrance to support security and on some days had K-9 officers that were dispersed through to crowd. However once your microchip scanned and you were in, these small hiccups disappeared as the view of Electric Zoo’s five massive stages came into frame.
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From a financial standpoint, EZoo’s “EZ Bucks” system was the major complaint of festival veterans. This year, Electric Zoo went totally cashless by installing a microchip in your entry wristband that also served as an electronic bank account for festival purchases. While every $10 was the equivalent of $9 EZ Bucks, festival goers were subject to a number of fee and minimum deposit requirements; if funds were low or you just wanted to make a few small purchases, the cashless aspect of the festival was a burden. However, not having to worry about counting cash, the quick transactions, and the delicious selection of diverse foods made it very difficult for even the most stubborn boycotter to resist visiting the MasterCard tents and topping off your wristband to grab some Pommes Frites and a Coconut Shell smoothie.
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Small financial and entry squabbles aside, it’s safe to say Electric Zoo is learning from its mistakes. Is it what EZoo used to be? Absolutely not, but it is not such a terrible thing. The face of the festival has changed as superpowers ID&T and SFX have taken over the reigns, making the festival undoubtedly have more of a corporate, structured feel. At the same time, Electric Zoo seemed to run more efficiently than it has in previous years. Inside, concession lines moved with little delay, there were numerous cool down/hydration stations, litter pick up prevented trash pileups, and roving peer help patrols handed out free water. The crowd itself was nothing but good vibes – people were mindful of space and there was plenty of room to move around whether you wanted to spread out on a blanket and chill or jump into the numerous shuffle circles forming at each stage. The groups of 15 frat guys with matching “Where’s Molly?” were nearly non existent and instead replaced by smiling groups of friends reuniting for artists like Above & Beyond, Zeds Dead, Oliver Heldens, and Adventure Club. Overall, there was a vibe that it was time to grow up – while we all have our outrageous memories from past festivals, there seemed to be an understanding in the crowd how quickly things could turn bad if we didn’t respect the rules of the jungle.
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For Electric Zoo, the strongest selling point has always been the pure concentration of musical talent. Yes, other festivals have strengths like more theatrical stages or a camping option, but Electric Zoo consistently books the world’s most talented groups of artists across a forefront of genres in electronic dance music. Day one highlights included early afternoon performances by Snails and OWSLA’s Mija, carried over by future house sets by Wave Racer and Destructo. The newly installed “Phoenix” main stage was put on blast by acts Don Diablo, 3LAU, Pierce Fulton, Zeds Dead, and also hosted mind blowing reunion of electronic music pioneers The Chemical Brothers. Galantis, Gramatik, and Madeon brought big noise to the octopus-like Riverside and Mastercard Hilltop stages while techno junkies Adam Beyer and The Martinez Brothers closed out the legendary Sunday School Awakenings tent.
electric zoo transformed 2015 main stage fireworks crowd perspective
electric zoo transformed 2015 main stage fireworks
Day two was all about trance, trap, and big room. Acts like Solarstone, Kölsch, and Ferry Corsten drew huge early crowds that grooved to smooth beats all day. The Anjunadeep Army was present and rolling deep for main stage closing act Above & Beyond with a plethora of signs, flags, hats, and totems which clearly outmatched any other group of artist supporters. The performance was one of the keynotes of the weekend that included an amazing visual production, an unbelievable song selection, and a public shaming of Internet billionaire Dan Blizerian who tried to buy his way into “pushing the button” (A&B broadcast that they do not take requests and instead let fans ignite the festivities). Other notable performances included TJR’s mid afternoon Melbourne Bounce powered set, Excision’s wall shaking takeover of the Hilltop Arena, and the back-to-back Get Real lineup of Claude VonStroke and Green Velvet.
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Sunday finally broke the Zoo’s plagued two-year cancellation curse, and the animals were ready to celebrate. The main stage was thumping all day to superstars Peking Duk, EDX, Oliver Heldens, DVBBS, and massive closer Alesso. Hilltop served as headquarters to a number of live performance acts that included Five Knives, GRiZ, Com Truise, and the psycho bass sounds of The Glitch Mob. Thomas Jack curated a future house stage that hosted Robin Shulz, Sam Feldt, and SNBRN while legends Hot Since 82 and Pete Tong completely commanded the closing ceremonies of Sunday School Grove.
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Much as the name implies, Electric Zoo Transformed is more than meets the eye. There are certainly plenty of differences between the transformed experience versus years past, but the soul of Electric Zoo – the musical experience – has yet to be a disappointment. As festival culture bleeds into the mainstream, EZoo has formerly been a scapegoat for both negative festival press and amongst fans that were clearly too quick to condemn. I’m a bit hesitant about the rebranding of both music festivals and my superheros, but just like Andrew Garfield as the new Spiderman, Electric Zoo Transformed was a major step in the right direction with plenty of room for growth. No festival is perfect, but the Electric Zoo team is obviously on top of making sure that the celebration continues for years to come, while bringing some of the best electronic talent to the greatest city in the world.

 

 

Photos c/o Electric Zoo’s Facebook page.



A hybrid child of the 203 & 860, Seth would save up any allowance money he had and raid the dance section of his local CD store for anything with a 4X4 beat. By high school, he organized his area’s first electronic event. While this proved to be a disaster, he wrote a killer college acceptance letter about it - thus a music journalist was born. Today he continues to document from behind the keyboard. When he’s not searching for the perfect emoji or making festival posters/totems, he enjoys long walks into parallel universes, pulling off shameless dance moves, and leading the fight against kids from CT who feel wearing cowboy hats is okay.