Festival Report: Lollapalooza 2017
As the first music festival I’d ever been to, Lollapalooza blew all my expectations out of the park; all that food, music, people and excitement, nestled smack dab in the middle of Chicago. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to experience more; I couldn’t mosh to the eclectic EDM at Perry’s while simultaneously absorbing the fresh new wave tracks at BMI. I didn’t have the funds or the time to try every single food that Chow Town offered. I couldn’t make it through a day without at least one frantic pee break.
The variety of performances and genres I was exposed to made me dizzy; if there’s one thing that I hated about Lolla, it’s that I simply didn’t have the energy to bounce through all four days as energized as I wanted to be. Grant Park itself was larger than I expected, and merely walking from one end of the park to the other was enough to tire me out. It wasn’t until the end of the second day that I could navigate confidently, without fear of being swept up by the flurry of people.
As I slowly climbed over the hill that dipped down to reveal the Lake Shore stage for the first time, my legs were weak with excitement. Hippo Campus’s chilled down yet still undeniably energetic rock welcomed me warmly. Even though I hadn’t listened to much of their discography beforehand, the strum of guitars and smooth, chiming vocals sounded exactly like a cooler, less angry version of the alternative rock I listened to in high school. As the sun wove back and forth under the angry grey clouds, I sat back and tried to enjoy what I could before the rain unloaded on my friends and me.
I arrived at the BMI stage just in time for the latter half of Gibbz’s “Bright Lights,” a song that’s just as mesmerizingly radiant as the name hints. “White out / Fixing all the slow pokes / Keeping them all ali-i-ive,’” Gibbz sang, his voice rising with the short, snappy bite of the lyrics.
Gibbz’s self proclaimed “electro pop” thrums and buzzes with a force that is entirely absent from more acoustic genres. A cocktail of solid, weighty bass, sharp buzzing chords and gliding electronic tones result in a smooth yet refreshing performance. The combination of Gibbz’s easygoing personality and the relatively older audience made me feel like I was at a low key outdoor concert rather than at a music festival.
From the get go, I liked the BMI stage more than any of the other stages I’d sampled. The smaller venue meant performances felt more exclusive. Rather than having one artist scream at hundreds, if not thousands of festivalgoers, there was only room for so many people, and the best part of a smaller crowd is that nearly everyone has a clear view of the performer.
Gibbz played a few more of his trademark tracks, including the smooth and suggestive “Stay for a While.” His set ended far too soon.
After scarfing down some of the best chicken tenders I’ve ever had (courtesy of Harold’s Chicken) and taking an impromptu nap under the trees by the food stands, I headed to the Bud Light stage for some good old fashioned waiting.
I don’t like hip hop. If Lorde weren’t playing after Wiz Khalifa, I wouldn’t have even gone to his set; for much of the festival, my tactic was to avoid the huge, super popular artists simply because it was such a pain to get anywhere near the stage. But for Lorde? I’d suffer through the mosh pit. Heck, I’d suffer through the mosh pit to end all mosh pits.
Wiz sauntered out to the maniacal screams of hundreds of fans, lit up by the diffused glow of the afternoon sun as it shone through the cloudy haze that hovered over the crowd. The bright, rambunctious energy was difficult to ignore, even for me. As “Bake Sale” boomed over heads and into hearts, Wiz bounced on his heels, adjusted his oval sunglasses and smirked.
Halfway into his set, Wiz brought out Ty Dolla Sign for “Paranoid,” an entrance that was punctuated by a person next to me turning around and exclaiming “Ty Dolla Sign? That man sure can sing!”
The end of Wiz’s set was accompanied by frantic Lorde fans pushing towards the stage and the first faint raindrops of doom. As the wait ticked away, the rain fell harder and harder, until all hope of staying dry was lost. Some people huddled together underneath a rain poncho. Others faced the water head on, unblinking even as it turned the ground underfoot to sticky mud. It was for Lorde! ‘Twas all for Lorde!
We waited almost an entire hour longer than planned, and it was one of the most excruciating hours of my life. Anticipation grew as the sun finally set, the sky darkening overhead.
A splash of red. A blur in the shadows. When the lights finally shone, we screamed. Lorde’s movements were assuredly confident, her eyes shiny and she was every bit the icon her music made her out to be. She launched straight into “Green Light,” her voice tense with emotion as violins rang clear in the background. Just as she made it to where the build begins, right before the chorus, the lights dimmed again and she stopped.
Over? Already? No way.
Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?
And we were back at it — people were ecstatic that our Lorde and Savior was playing her old songs. While Lorde swayed, danced, and performed her heart out right in front of us, a dancer in a glass box moved behind her, illuminated by blue light. Although the stage provided some shelter from the rain, the water bounced off the smooth surfaces of the equipment and the stage floor itself. With every pass Lorde made across the stage, the mist soaked her until she began to resemble the soggy fans clamoring beneath her. She’s human, after all.
When Lorde finally paused to greet everyone, it was with the same quirky flair she’s famous for: “It’s weird. We’ve been getting this fucking crazy weather wherever we go — wind, thunder, lightning, rain. And I like to think, Lollapalooza, it’s because you and I, tonight, we’re gonna conjure the spirits.”
We shivered and crowed. The entire performance was otherworldly, as if Lorde had teleported the crowd to another dimension meant just for us. But as she went to perform a song that had never been performed live, the worst possible thing happened; the festival got shut down. While I understood the reasoning behind the decision, a small part of me couldn’t help but stew at how unfair it felt.
The crowd waited around for a few more minutes until it became obvious there was no way Lorde was coming back out. As I trudged toward the exit, muddy rainwater soaking my socks, I’m just grateful to have seen Lorde at all.
Day two is for exploring. Now that I’ve had my first taste of Lolla’s various offerings, my friends persuade me to widen my horizons further. As I’m dragged to the Perry’s stage, which is in the middle of San Holo’s set, I’m apprehensive but also excited.
Hardcore EDM fans are likely intimately familiar with the specific styles and nuances that differentiate EDM artists, but to me, all of them sounded pretty much the same; the flashing, blinding lights, the spine shaking, quivering chords and bubbles of bright, exploding sound. When I screamed, I couldn’t hear my own voice, but that’s the appeal, isn’t it?
Perry’s is not for the faint of heart. But if you can look past the miasma of sound and stimulation, the energy is absolutely unparalleled.
After a few hours of EDM, I’m wilting again. Another trip to the food stands for a tasty box of Mad Social’s poutine leaves me refreshed and energized for Missio’s performance. The duo, which consists of vocalist Matthew Brue and instrumentalist David Butler, are known for their fresh take on punchy, intense electronica. At the BMI stage, tracks from their debut album Loner fill the air with a dark, tumultuous ambience.
In a later interview, Missio and I talked about their songwriting process and their hopes for the future.
“I was in love with Tool and heavy bands [when I was younger], and I think the way we just mangle it all — almost as if if an electronic band was grunge — I think that’s why it comes out sounding like that," Butler said. "It’s been interesting because we never really thought of ourselves as a rock band, but we connected with a lot of rock crowds because there’s a lot of aggression and attitude in what we’re talking about, but there’s also aggressiveness in the way the sound is produced, which comes from our roots."
Missio’s discography encompasses a huge variety of soundscapes, such as the difference in tone and emotion between the vengeful, intense “Everybody Gets High” and the cooler, more even tempered “Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea.” Part of that variety is due to the unique inspirations that Brue and Butler gravitate towards.
“I think from a melody standpoint, I get a lot of inspiration from different modern folk singers," Bruce said. "For some reason, those melodies have been ingrained into me since an early age, so bringing them into an aggressive pop context is just different from what I think people are used to normally hearing."
The variety in tracks is also due to the duo’s relaxed songwriting process. Rather than trying to reach a goal track number, they let songs develop organically.
“We don’t go into a writing process or a writing day or go ‘I think we need to write a song like this.’ It depends on how we’re feeling and lyrically what we want to talk about, whether we’re in a mellow mood or not," Bruce said. "It’s just, let’s write as many songs as possible—let’s write a song today cause we’re songwriters and we have to do that, and whatever comes out comes out."
For now, Missio is focused on staying true to the mission that the group was founded on: creative progression and a commitment to genuine music.
“To have fans that resonate with us emotionally, that will grow with us emotionally and listen to what we have to say is the dream for every musician," Butler said. "To just be heard, you know. That’s the journey."
Day three started off quite a bit later than I had planned. While my friends had wanted to see Aminé, we ended up stuck in the bag line for two hours, completely missing his 1:50 performance. A tip for new festivalgoers — when possible, leave your bag behind, or make sure to get inside before the early afternoon rush.
We made it to the Pepsi stage just as The Japanese House started their set. Solo artist Amber Bain’s melodious, uniquely relaxing, delicately produced tracks are especially otherworldly under the shade of the trees that circled the stage. For a while, it felt like I was submerged underwater, listening to the harmonies of “Clean” from beneath a layer of shimmering, undulating waves.
As the heat grew suffocatingly sticky, I went to go see Glass Animals at the Grant Park stage. A full hour in advance and the area was already packed with sweating bodies, some of which were probably waiting for Chance’s performance at the same place later that night.
Like many other artists, Glass Animals doesn’t fit perfectly into any one musical genre, but they’re one of few bands that have a truly distinctive, psychedelic sound. Hearing the bittersweet sadness and interspersed beats of “The Other Side of Paradise” performed live was absolutely enthralling in and of itself, but combined with lead vocalist Dave Bayley’s zany dance moves, the experience was downright extraordinary.
Glass Animals performed songs off of both Zaba and How to Be a Human Being while a humongous golden pineapple rotated slowly behind them. They ended their show with “Pork Soda,” a peppy, fittingly pineapple related track.
Rather than stay for the hordes waiting to see Chance, I decided to turn in early for the night.
Day four started out both bright and sad. With a late start to the day and a mid afternoon bus to catch, I only really had time to see one artist, so I went to the Grant Park stage for the final time.
The thing about Maggie Rogers is her joy. It’s evident in everything she does.
When she ran out onto the stage, a glittery red blur, she was smiling so hard that the entire crowd could feel that joy. After waving a few times with both hands, she settled into the smooth, mellow tones of “Color Song,” the first track off of her EP. The understated poetry of the lyrics combined with the dragonflies that hovered right above our heads was idyllic.
Rogers has some of the best qualities that a performer can have. She’s both humble and proud, acutely aware both of the places she’s been and of the ways she’s grown: “This is my first summer playing festivals, and it’s been amazing. I’ve gotten to travel all over the world, and it feels so good to finally be at home,” Rogers said during a pause between songs.
As a new performer, Rogers is a breath of cheerful fresh air among fellow rising stars. She played every single track off of her EP and a few oldies from her days as a student at NYU, and even joked that “The problem with only having one EP out is that you don’t actually have enough songs to fill an hour long set,” while smiling luminously. Her bubbly personality didn’t waver once during her show.
More than anything, Lolla took the predictability out of regular musical performances. The variety of artists meant you could walk in with a plan but walk out having seen a completely different set of artists. Perhaps even more importantly, every single person I met in Grant Park was absolutely thrilled to be there, from the musicians themselves to the people helping out at the Camelbak Hydration Stations. When I left, scanning my wristband for the last time, it was with the certainty that I would return to Grant Park’s green pastures once more. With so many lifelong memories made in so little time, how could I resist?