By Katie Steen, Daily Arts Writer
Published July 4, 2012
I consider festivals like Electric Forest to be a learning experience more than anything else. I learned that the new, more lenient fireworks regulation in Michigan was a horrible, terrifying mistake. I learned how to eat with my hands while ignoring the fact that four days of dirt covered every groove of my fingers. I learned nicknames, price ranges, smuggling methods, selling tactics and the many creative ways of baking and eating drugs. And, of course, I learned of some artists I’d never heard of before. But while Electric Forest is undeniably a music festival, hosting huge artists like the String Cheese Incident and Bassnectar, music was clearly only one of many, mind-altering priorities.
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For those who aren’t familiar, Electric Forest is a four-day festival in Rothbury, Mich. co-produced by Madison House Presents and Insomniac Events. It’s almost a perfect hybrid of Bonnaroo and the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. Electric Forest combines flocks of jam band-following hippies and all the dusty, dirty, slave-to-the-elements aspects of camping with hard drugs and bass-heavy electronic dance music that keeps people moving until the morning hours.
Despite my beliefs that Electric Forest was a Michiganders thing, people really do come from all over. This mixture of origins allowed for a Kumbaya-ish atmosphere you don’t find at non-camping festivals like Lolla and DEMF. Forty minutes after setting up camp, I found myself freckled with green spray paint, holding up a large stick while my neighbors created our “community pole.”
My first day was mostly spent over-ambitiously exploring the grounds since music wouldn’t start until later. I weaved through our campsite, past middle-aged men advertising “Mollay Mollay Mollay” to no one in particular and the skinny dreadlocked squirt gun warriors who were taking no prisoners. I made my way to Sherwood Forest — an elaborately-decorated amalgamation of earthy shrines and hand-crafted artwork that glowed into laser-lit life at night.
While in the forest during daylight, I discovered the solar-powered DJ booth with a nearby take-something-leave-something shrine that represented the unselfish atmosphere of the festival (barring, of course, drug deals). There was the hammock world full of snuggling couples — but after discovering that they were all privately-owned hammocks, I sulked off for a pokey nap in the wood chips and dirt. There was a meditation circle of closed-eyed people discovering Zen while gongs hummed around them. There was the Human Avatar Project — I never actually found out what that was but it looked creative. A few sorry-looking disco balls hung lethargically during the day, coming to life when the sun (fire demon of skin-burning misery) went down.
Upon sunset, I visited Wolfgang Gartner (Joey Youngman) at the Ranch Arena, who instantly earned a thumbs-up with his remix of Miike Snow’s “Paddling Out.” I didn’t spend too long at Wolfgang Gartner, though, not wanting to miss EOTO — an electronic duo consisting of Michael Travis and Jason Hann. They played at Sherwood Court, the stage deepest into the festival that offered the most expansive space for dancing. EOTO similarly gained my attention with a recognizable remix — a much bubblier rendition of Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue.”
After EOTO, I stayed at Sherwood for Beats Antique, a trio that combines a wide range of sounds — the most obvious influences being Middle Eastern and electronic. The show began with its bedazzled belly dancer Zoe Jakes, her slowly waving arms greeting the audience like pulsing blobs suspended in a lava lamb. She was accompanied by a live violin and drums, kicking off a dramatic set that served as entertainment as much as music. Jakes’ morphing stomach was the focal point of the show, covered at one point by a giant marching drum.