Festival Report: Electric Forest 2016

Monday, July 11, 2016 - 1:44pm


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Electric Forest


An interesting phenomenon occurs when the crowd is equally, if not more, captivating than the act itself. At Electric Forest I found my eyes, usually glued to the stage, wandering instead to those around me. Taking in the energy of my fellow Foresters, I noticed their various states of dress, expressions of emotion, interactions and motion. I began to move more myself — no one was standing still.

Electric Forest is abundant with art in various forms; whether it’s seen in the stage designs, the light installations in the forest or the attendees themselves. The main stages were ornate, glowing and flashing to the beat of the music. Parts of the forest not used for musical entertainment were home to glowing art pieces and lights, under which were an abundance of occupied hammocks. The Foresters themselves wore a motley-crew of tie-dye, anything loose and floral or modern rave garb. Dedicated audience members brought along totems, generally a flag or witty sign, to wave over the crowd as the DJs spun.

Though, I must confess, EDM is not my genre of choice. This may explain why I was so taken with the people around me rather than the artists on a distant stage. To untrained ears, the reverberating drops begin to sound indistinguishable from one to the next. I also found myself wondering where the female artists were, as the headliners of all four nights were exclusively male. The energy, ever-present in the crowd and on stage, was not enough to overcome my lack of passion. This is not a fault of Electric Forest or its artists, but merely a result of personal preference. I began to notice the repetitive nature of much of the festival — there were plenty of glowing hula-hoops, a lot of drugs and more white people with dreadlocks than I have ever seen in one weekend.

But there was an unspoken agreement that, for the Forest Family, there’s no place they would rather be. The unadulterated passion felt by the crowd made up for the absence of my preferred genre set, even if some of the others’ excitement was just the molly kicking in. Acts like Baauer, Keys N Krates, Flosstradamus and Bassnectar brought exactly what would be expected from a good EDM show — high energy, hype samples (almost exclusively from Black musicians) and blinding lights. The music was loud and the crowd was pulsing. At one point, the bass became so intense that I could feel my nose ring vibrating in my face, and I liked it. Constantly bustling, over-stimulating and the antithesis of dull; Electric Forest not for the weak of heart.

— Carly Snider


There’s a certain amount of anxiety that comes with waiting in line to get into a music festival. More anxiety comes with picking up a media pass because there’s a slight chance that your name may not be on the list as you expected. Then there’s the anxiety stirred by the festival’s particular emphasis on electronic dance music (EDM) — an emphasis that you don’t particularly share. And, of course, there’s the attendees’ emphases on drugs, bass drops and pseudo counter-culture.

Electric Forest was exactly what it promises — a space for EDM fans to find a good-vibes-only sanctuary in northern Michigan to writhe madly in a crowd and mosh weakly to bass drops from countless DJs until the early hours of the morning. Nonetheless, that promise delivers a crowd that’s as diverse as its lineup (read: almost all male, all white). And, even though Bro Safari only played a hour and fifteen minute set Saturday night, the entirety of the weekend felt like a bro safari from the moment the group in the next campsite over cheered “Go Delta Chai.” Chai. Like the latte. I can’t make this shit up.

Forest also delivers on dynamic installations through Sherwood Forest, including an eye-catching sculpture of a hand spinning a ball on its index finger made completely out of CDs and an immersive set of LED rain rods hanging from the air with a crowd relaxing beneath. And it would be insulting not to include the festival’s stages as part of the artful experience. Magnificently constructed, the lights and designs add a necessary layer to the music, offering visual stimulation to both complement and assuage the sonic overload that EDM can be at times. Specifically, The Observatory stage was the festival’s best, featuring a multi-level viewing platform surrounding the stage.

The String Cheese Incident played three sets, approaching almost 12 hours of stage time over the weekend. Excessive? Maybe. However, the band gave the festival a vibrant, funky soundtrack complete with actual instruments. Although the “D” in EDM stands for dance, the notably non-EDM band was the weekend’s most dance-worthy set. Aside from a handful of bands, rappers or indie artists, the remainder of the lineup was filled with DJs who spazzed their arms up and down in that DJ-way they do. Damn, glad to know you’re into it.

Ignoring the clear diversity problems within the EDM industry and rampant cultural appropriation among fans, Electric Forest is an eclectic group looking for a good time. Combined with beautiful weather, the organic stimulation from nature and the inorganic stimulation from the art (and a few drinks), the forest is definitely a place to explore, get lost, dance like nobody's watching, because look around, they're too busy doing the same.

Each consecutive day at Electric Forest I couldn’t help but think, “I don’t get it.” The only thing harder to nail down was the dynamics between a boy grinding with one girl, massaging another’s neck and doing coke with a third. It doesn’t add up, but maybe it’s not supposed to. As it’s impossible to separate a deck of wildcards but suit or put them in order by number, Electric Forest is impossible to understand given the sheer range of offerings. Taking it one bass drop at a time, you’ll discover a world of new within Sherwood Forest.

— Christian Kennedy