A few years ago a friend of mine suggested that we check out a festival in Michigan called ‘Electric Forest’. My response was something along the lines of “That’s a sick lineup, but why would I want to go to Michigan?” Safe to say I was a tad more foolish and narrow-minded back then. It wasn’t long before I regretted my poor rationale, as the rumors of just how special “the Forest” was began reaching my ears. Since then, I made it my mission to make it to Rothbury.
The Journey There
Various things kept me from completing my mission over the years – funds, scheduling, jobs, etc. But this year would be different. As my girlfriend and I boarded the train to the airport, my dream of getting to the Forest became a reality. We touched down in Grand Rapids a few hours later, and right after we met one of our favorite people of the whole weekend. His name was Dale and he was offering those bound for the festival a ride on his party bus. We boarded the bus along with Nombe (one of the artists performing) and his band, whom we enjoyed chatting it up with before we fell asleep.
After dropping off Nombe at their hotel, Dale (being the friendly and awesome guy that he is) offered to swing us by Wal Mart to grab groceries and anything else we might need. Once we wrapped that up we were faced with our first dilemma of the weekend – how the hell were we going to carry all of our luggage AND a bunch of bags of groceries, beer, etc. to our campsite? Luckily, unlike us, Dale was no stranger to the area or to the festival. We made one more quick stop at an abandoned grocery store and snagged an old shopping cart from the back. That would probably end up being the best decision we made all weekend.
As we wrestled with our overflowing shopping cart through the sand, grass, and mud along the way to “tent only camping”, you can imagine the looks and comments we were getting. But we had arrived and it had only taken one trip. There were surprisingly a lot of campsites left for us to choose from. Which turned out to not be all that surprising when we realized almost every single one came with at least one nice pile of horse shit, being that we were at a ranch and all. We managed to find what must’ve been the only poo-free plot, cracked a beer, and began to situate ourselves. As we unpacked we were faced with our next dilemma – setting up a borrowed tent in the fading light and gradually intensifying rain. To make matters worse, we soon discovered the tent was missing pieces…not a great start.
But by the grace of the festival gods, we were saved by our RV-dwelling neighbors from Wisconsin, who loaned us a small two person tent for the night until we could go grab another one at Wal-Mart the next day. That was one of the first of many unbelievably friendly gestures that came from countless strangers over the weekend. Of all the things that stood out about the Forest, the warm, welcoming, genuine, and caring people there was the most impressive. It seemed like literally everyone wanted to be your friend.
After setting up the best we could and chugging a few cold ones with our new friends, most of us decided to brave the volatile weather and head for the gates. Sadly we’d already missed some of my faves – Golf Clap, Borahm Lee, Bob Moses, and Maya Jane Coles just to name a few. One piece of advice I’ll give to any Forest virgin is to arrive on Wednesday, or at least early Thursday. And as with any festival, just face the fact that you’re not gonna see everyone you want to.
Nonetheless we made a beeline for the main stage, where Above & Beyond had just gone on. I’m not a very big trance fan but heading there was the group consensus. I was pleasantly surprised with the set – I’ve seen A&B a couple of times and the little bit that I saw at Forest was by far my favorite. Maybe it was just because we were so excited to finally be there, but I found myself actually enjoying their melodic and ethereal hooks. But the highlight of A&B for me came when rain suddenly began dumping on us out of nowhere, perfectly timed with a big drop from the speakers. The crowd went wild, as if it had all been planned that way. Nobody seemed to care that we were all soaking wet.
After a few tracks, my girlfriend and I trudged back through the mud and puddles to Tripolee to catch the birdmaster himself, Claude VonStroke. He was cranking out the always pleasing bass-heavy, catchy house tunes to an impressively sized crowd. Claude’s a guy that I’ve seen play many times, but the “Birdhouse” stage set up and visuals that he was showcasing that night were by far the best I’ve seen from any of his label mates. Sometime after 1am, we hiked back across the venue again, on our way to catch one of my favorite rappers – Vince Staples.
We finally made it to the Jubilee tent and it was then when we realized just how massive the grounds were, as Jubilee and Tripolee are on opposite ends of the festival. But we were rewarded with a mostly dry tent over our heads and a “lit”, as they say, set from Mr. Staples. He played the classic bangers like ‘Bagbak’, ‘Blue Suede’, and ‘Norf Norf’, as well as some heady ones off of his brand new album that he had just released. After not being particularly impressed with his show in Denver a couple months back, he certainly redeemed himself for me with this rowdy set. Exhausted and hungry, we grabbed a couple of slices of pizza on our way out and ate them back at the tent before passing out.
After a long day of traveling and partying the night before, we were able to enjoy sleeping in pretty late despite the never ending thuds coming from various speakers in every direction. Another great thing about the weekend was that it never got all that hot, so we were able to sleep in. Once we finally resurrected, we caught a ride with the first car heading to Wal-Mart, who didn’t hesitate to invite us along. The friendliness of the Forest fam is real.
Friday’s musical festivities for us kicked off once again at Tripolee, for a back-to-back set with Liquid Stranger and Space Jesus. The latter was one of my favorite sets the weekend before at Sonic Bloom, and his tag team with LS this time around did not disappoint. Their weird and wobbly bass drew a huge crowd and had everyone head banging from start to finish.
After that we caught Jai Wolf‘s set at Sherwood Court. The vibe was a lot mellower after Space Jesus and Liquid Stranger but it was a welcome change of pace. The crowd was even bigger than the one we just left at Tripolee. Even Jai Wolf seemed taken aback. But his catchy and melodic hits had everyone vibing, especially all of the people dancing underneath the giant rainbow-colored parachute that was being waved up and down by fellow attendees. We made our way back to Tripolee to catch Pendulum as Jai Wolf wrapped up his set with ‘Indian Summer’.
I was definitely looking forward to the legendary Pendulum. I’ve never seen them or Knife Party, the contemporary dubstep duo comprised of two members of Pendulum. While I enjoyed the set, I was a little surprised to find that there was only one member spinning, even though I knew it was a DJ set and not the whole band. He also played a lot more drum and bass and a lot less dubstep than I was expecting, but nonetheless he was ripping it and had the crowd buzzing.
After going back to camp to grab another layer and a bite to eat, we caught a little bit of Zomboy at Tripolee. There was certainly no shortage of earth-shaking bass drops, but a little less time spent on the mic would’ve gone a long way. Up next was the set that more people scheduled on their personal Electric Forest app than any other – ODESZA. So as you’d expect, the crowd at Ranch Arena was ginormous. The Seattle duo gave everyone all the feels with their tasteful and silvery blend of melodic tunes that can’t be categorized.
We briefly popped into Sherwood Forest to catch a little bit of AC Slater‘s ghostly house beats, but then hurried back to Tripolee for the one and only Nero. There were many great sets over the course of the festival, but Nero took the cake for me.
The only thing that would have made the Nero set any better is if Alana (the group’s ultra-talented vocalist) had been there, but I suppose having a baby on the way is a legit reason to not tour. Nonetheless, Joe and Dan held it down on their own, giving the big late-night crowd a healthy dose of all of the classics, like ‘Promises‘ (both the original AND the Skrillex remix), ‘Innocence’, ‘Me & You’, ‘Act Like You Know’, ‘Won’t You’, and more. They must’ve played almost their entire discography, plus some other bangers like RL Grime & What So Not’s ‘Tell Me‘. They finally stopped playing sometime around 4am but by that point they had everyone so energized that most fans would not be going to sleep anytime soon.
Ahhh Saturday…known by many at Electric Forest as Bassnectarday. Saturdays at festivals are often considered to be the rowdiest of the weekend, so it’s no surprise that this is the day typically reserved for EF’s “resident DJ”. But of course, Lord Nectar was far from the only quality act taking place on this fine day. The Motet, The Floozies, Ganja White Night, Liquid Stranger, Illenium, OPIUO, REZZ, SNBRN, and Oliver Heldens were all of the other names I had on my personal schedule.
As we made our way to catch The Motet at the Ranch Arena, we couldn’t help but to do some window shopping along the way. EF has one of the more original lineups when it comes to vendors, who slang everything from Moon Mats (look them up, they will change your world), to super trippy glasses, to seriously heady garments. We browsed around for a while, put weird glasses on, and chopped it up with some of the vendors before finally catching the end of The Motet. It was great seeing the talented and funky Colorado band draw a big crowd outside of our state. After that we had planned to stick around and catch the equally funky duo, The Floozies. I saw them the previous weekend at Sonic Bloom for the first time and was really impressed with the energy they brought.
But alas, Electric Forest has so much more to offer than just the music. Sherwood Forest was calling us, and we couldn’t resist it’s hypnotic beckon. We had mostly only traversed through Sherwood the previous two days, and had been meaning to get back and spend some quality time in it. So there we found ourselves, like a couple of kids at Disney World, wondering aimlessly through the trees and marveling at all of the carefully curated weird, funny, and psychedelic things it had to offer. If you’ve never been, I seriously doubt Sherwood Forest is like anything you’ve ever seen before.
Between Saturday and Sunday we spent a handful of hours in there just walking around, making friends, getting banana hugs, and discovering new installations, sets, and features all the time. Our favorite had to be the “Church“, which Ron L. Hustler pastored every night from 11pm until 3am. It was really just one of those situations where you had to be there to get it, but one of the highlights of it was hearing the most embarrassing sexual encounters from volunteers in the audience, which were then acted out in interpretive dance by a talented cast of dolled up women and men dressed in drag. The attention to detail and amount of work that goes into making Sherwood Forest such a magical place is insanely professional.
By the time we dragged ourselves away from the woods, we had missed the ThisSongIsSick Secret Sets and AC Slater, but we had no regrets. We got back over to Tripolee sometime after Ganja White Night had gone on and thoroughly enjoyed the raucous and rowdy sounds coming from the speakers from one of bass music’s biggest rising stars. That set transitioned perfectly into the similar sounds of Liquid Stranger; a man with a dedicated cult following and another name who has really been blowing up as of late. We banged our heads for a little more and finally took a ride on the Ferris Wheel that had been calling our names all weekend. The view from the top was as spectacular as we had imagined, but the ride was far too short, especially considering there was virtually no line.
Once we got off the Ferris Wheel we once again made our way across the venue to catch another of Colorado’s own, this time by the name of Illenium. Illenium has blown up arguably more than any other DJ from Colorado over the last five years, and it was really dope to see such a massive crowd taking in his emotionally-driven and well-polished tunes. You can really hear the passion that goes into Illenium’s songwriting, and it wasn’t hard to tell that the crowd that had to be at least 10,000 strong were loving it.
As much as we love OPIUO and had every intention of catching at least a few minutes, REZZ had already gone on by the time we left Illenium and there was no chance we were missing any more than we already had. I caught REZZ last year at a sold out show with Malaa in Denver and she was immediately one of my favorites. I knew back then that she was well on her way to exploding and that’s exactly what continues to happen. If I had to name my second-favorite set of the weekend on a whim, REZZ would be it. When I saw her in Denver at Club Vinyl she threw down a perfect set for such a venue, so I was interested to see what she had in store for one of EF’s biggest stages.
Playing a club and playing a main stage require two different types of sets, no matter what style of music you play. The vibe from either one just doesn’t translate well to the other. REZZ’s set back in Denver last year was grimy and industrial, moving along at a break-neck pace. You could say that her set at Forest was also grimy and industrial, but the pace and vibe was just different. Instead of chugging along and waiting for no one, it was more calculated, with more thought and time put into each transition. Like when she broke it down to almost a halt before bringing in the creepy dialogue from her newest hit, ‘Relax‘. But it was nonetheless rowdy, sweaty, and impossible not to head bang to. Another highlight was certainly when she dropped Pretty Lights’ ‘I Know The Truth‘; an “old” PL banger that goes harder than perhaps any of his others, and was a nice tip of the hat to the many Coloradans in the crowd.
Leaving REZZ’s set early was probably the hardest thing we had to do all weekend, but unfortunately it overlapped with the beginning of Bassnectar. I’m not one to complain about scheduling conflicts; I think most of those who do are spoiled brats. But REZZ definitely did not deserve to have so many people leave her set early. By the same token, there was no way we were missing any of Bassnectar.
Going in, I had already seen ‘Nectar 15 times – not nearly as many as some of the most devoted bassheads, but still a respectable amount in my book. But I had never seen him at Electric Forest, and I’ve been privy to the fact that those sets are the stuff of legend. Needless to say, I was excited. We managed to find a spot that would’ve been in the very back of any other set at Ranch Arena, but for Bassnectar it was only about 3/4ths of the way back. Not surprisingly, it was the biggest crowd of the weekend. In a recent interview with him he stated it was about 25,000 strong – not bad for a festival of 40,000.
Unlike many ‘Nectar sets, he dove right in after only a brief intro. It couldn’t have been more than a minute and change until we were flung full throttle into ‘Teleport Massive’, an older fan favorite and a banger, and rarely used as an opening track these days. That would set the tone for what would be one of the more high-energy sets I’ve seen Lorin play. You rarely know what you’re gonna get from him but it’s gonna be a ride whatever it is. The vibe was definitely intense, but that’s not to say he didn’t break it down as he always does. Bassnectar is one of the rare bass DJs who seems to understand the concept that the bangers and big drops aren’t as satisfying if you don’t slow things down from time to time and give the crowd a chance to catch their breath. It’s the yin and yang. Anyone can play banger after banger, but it takes a special understanding and skill to take the audience on a journey.
One of those softer tunes that I hadn’t heard him play live in a long time was Owen Westlake’s remix of ‘Knock You Out’, by Tiësto. It’s not a Bassnectar song, but you wouldn’t know it by the sound of it. If you’re not familiar with this one, do yourself a favor and get familiar with it right now. Another highlight that I’d only ever seen from him one other time was when he broke it down and let the vocals from Bill Hicks in the Zeitgeist movie take over the speakers, synched with some pretty powerfully raw political images. It’s those sorts of moments that set Bassnectar apart from the rest.
I won’t ramble on too much more about ‘Nectar…I’m sure there are plenty of YouTube videos out there you can check out from the weekend, but suffice it to say it was an all-out performance, both musically and visually. Crazy, intense lights, lasers, and video projections, and even fireworks blasting off the stage roof, always just at the right time. I had finally seen Bassnectar play an Electric Forest set, and I was not disappointed.
After picking our jaws up off the ground, we wondered back to Sherwood Forest along with many thousands of glowing fans, to try to catch SNBRN doing his “sunset house” thing at the Forest Stage. Along the way we found a nice vacant hammock just close enough to still enjoy the beats, and cuddled up in it until they started clearing everyone out. Still energized from the last couple of hours, we bummed around various sound camps, some of which were actually very legit. Eventually our bodies decided they had had enough and we retired as another sun made it’s way back up.
Our Sunday music festivities kicked off at Sherwood Court for the talented live trio, Autograf. They are another one of those acts that can play some really beautiful slower tunes, but they are also tight when it comes to bringing the heat, especially as of late. The EF set definitely seemed more upbeat, which made since given the massive size of Sherwood Court. Adorned in some sort of weird, matching, spaceship pilot looking suits, they dropped some pretty dope new remixes of current popular rap and trap songs amongst others. They also slowed it down a time or two, playing classic melodic ones like ‘Don’t Worry‘. We jammed out for almost the whole set, and then made our way to Jubilee for Minnesota.
We arrived pretty late for Minnesota, which translated to us not even being able to get under the tent because of the size of the crowd. If we’d really made a push for it we could’ve snuck our way up, but we opted for another favorite at Tripolee: Wave Racer.
I love Wave Racer and his glitchy, splashy, almost “house like” spin on bass music, and his set at Forest didn’t let me down. That said, I was a little surprised that they chose to put him at Tripolee and Minnesota in the Jubilee tent at the same time. Minnesota’s crowd was undoubtedly bigger, to no surprise, and it seems like flipping them around would’ve made sense.
Up next at Tripolee was Haywyre, who I knew little about. His bouncy upbeat tunes were much jazzier than I expected and he made it a point to put his musical talents on display. The background an impressive video of a filtered close up of his fingers bouncing all over the keys. But alas, it was time to head to back Sherwood Court for the one and only UK duo, Snakehips.
The rain had begun to fall again, so we grabbed a delicious craft beer under the large beer hall at the back of Sherwood Court while we waited for Snakehips to take the stage. I think Dillon Francis must’ve ended right before, because a measly crowd all the way up front by the stage quickly turned into a massive one, filling up the entire field. Snakehips was one of my favorite sets of the weekend. They had everyone moving with their catchy blend of modern hip hop remixes and classic melodic Snakehips house tunes.
Up next, we finally caught the majority of a set at the Forest Stage, when we walked over to see French Kiwi Juice, or FKJ as he’s more commonly known. It was one of the most unique sets of the weekend. I’ve been listening to FKJ for a couple years, and the set wasn’t any different than I was expecting, but it was unlike any other I saw over the weekend. The Forest Stage is really something special, because almost the whole crowd is in the trees. Because of that and the limited size of the venue, the set was super intimate. I couldn’t imagine a better stage for his sexy style of jazzy loops and multi-instrumentalism. A really cool point was when he had the crowd hum a little tune into the microphone, recorded it and looped it, and then brought it into a track. Talk about getting your audience involved.
Our weekend was nearing the end, but we still had one more big set to catch: Big Gigantic. Yet another Colorado name, Big Gigantic has reached an unbelievable level of global popularity over the last ten years. The majority of the attendees descended upon Sherwood Court for their set, which was rowdy, tight, and accompanied by plenty of low-end frequencies. Dom and Jeremy have really developed an insane amount of chemistry on stage, and it shows in their swagger. They always give it their all and the Forest folk gave it right back to them, heads banging, hips swinging, and feet shuffling throughout the entire set. It was easily one of the most purely fun sets of the weekend.
We sent the weekend off on a perfect closing note with one final act, who also happens to call Colorado home, and that’s EOTO. This duo has been around the scene for a minute, and it shows in their raw talent on the drums, keys, and synths. No EOTO show is the same because all of their music is completely 100% live improvised dubstep. The EF set was certainly one of the weirder sets I’ve seen them throw down. The already large crowd really filled in once Big G let out, and people were getting down despite their bodies being exhausted from an exhilarating weekend.
As we moseyed on back through the Forest, we wondered into a two story shack (another new discovery), walked upstairs and witnessed a game of blackjack. Only it wasn’t your normal game of blackjack. The table and all the rules were the same, but instead of money, you could only bet things that you had on you. You can only imagine the random collection that Marv (the dealer) had accumulated. Marv (short for Marvelous) was the perfect man for the job, and we found ourselves stuck there for over an hour, betting cigarettes, an Old Bay Seasoning, beads, stickers, rubber glow in the dark letters, and engraved baby spoons.
By the time we finally left the game and Marv, Sherwood Forest was completely empty. Somehow we had become so lost in the blackjack game that we didn’t even notice security clearing everyone out of the Forest and we had it all to ourselves. We took advantage and wondered around for a bit. It was really surreal being in there with all of the lights and art still set up, but with no music or people filling it with sound. It was the perfect, peaceful ending to a crazy weekend that we’ll never forget. All that is what was so special about Electric Forest 2017. Happy Forest.