Electric Forest 2012: This Must Be The Place: Redefining Perceptions of Festival Art

Date: Jul 23, 2012 (Monday)

By: Max Pottebaum, Nathan Fowler & Adam Epstein: IMagine REALity
Photography by: Shaun Hollingsworth (SIC) Images

Electric Forest Photo Slideshow: http://www.theuntz.com/Electric-Forest-Festival-2012-Photo-Slideshow-Rothbury-MI
The resurrection of Sherwood Forest has been met by resounding applause. On Independence Day weekend Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, Michigan played host to the second annual Electric Forest Music Festival. Following last years unprecedented success, Electric Forest (EF) round two was deemed by many to be the strongest festival of the season.  One vital component of EF that sets it apart from other fests is its unrivaled ability to implement various kinds of art into the festival environment. By directing themselves to a mostly-younger crowd and encouraging bright minds to participate as part of the festival rather than be spectators has bode well for EF. Serving as more than a mere gimmick or aesthetic pleasure these interactive art displays improve the festival atmosphere exponentially. Every trip through the Electric Forest beholds an all-new experience for everyone, invoking a spirit unseen at other mainstream festivals.

By acknowledging each individuals own capacity for art production as well as boasting a diverse, well-designed lineup with high-profile acts like EOTO, Big Gigantic, Bassnectar, Conspirator, Thievery Corporation, Datsik, STS9, and Beats Antique is what makes EF quite visionary in their own respect. It’s a mixture that has allowed EF to flourish at a time when many other its’ peers have seen their attendance peak or decline due to an over-abundance of micro-festivals in their area who cater to specific genres and fans of similar sounding artists. Despite the drawbacks, EF continues to thrive as a result of an unlikely combination of companies between the jam-band based Madison House Productions and the solely electronic music based Insomniac Events. With a strong core of reoccurring headliners in addition to a plethora of up and coming groups such as Zoogma, The Nadis Warriors, GRiZ, Papadosio and NiT GriT, all of whom would easily be headliners at many mid-sized festivals, Electric Forest will quickly become the must-attend festival of everyone’s summer.

The Opening night’s main acts set the tone at Sherwood Court stage. Conspirator kicked it off the night with a heavy livetronica set. The side project of The Disco Biscuits' bassist Marc Brownstein and keyboardist Aron Magner pulled out a new track called “Heartbeat.” With a bouncy disco feel, it had the crowd moving.  Immediately following, String Cheese Incident fans would recognize its drummers’ project EOTO, who absolutely crushed it. They raised the production bar with the lotus flower light rig, blowing the crowd away.  Their improvised drum and bass penetrated all witnesses. It was arguably the loudest and most populated set of the weekend. For a little more flavor the duo released a giant octopus into the audience. A spectacle nobody saw coming and will never forget.

Beats Antique brought out everyone’s inner weird with a truly multicultural experience in music.  Lead instrumentalist, David Satori, pulled out all the stops, displaying his master musicianship with a wide repertoire of instruments. At one point he slapped his six strings with a drumstick then switched with the percussionist, Tommy Cappel, to complete the track. Performer Zoe Jakes matched her movements to the sound while donning a variety of exotic outfits that mapped the ethnic vibe of the songs.

“WTF is Zoogma?” was a common question Saturday when Zoogma, a livetronica band out of Oxford, MS brought the funk during their set’s heat wave. What’s truly interesting about this act is how all of the musicians are balanced. Each of them has an instrument of choice, along with a controller, and computer. This allows Zoogma full sound range and complexity during any given set.  Launching into some new tracks from their recent release entitled Wet Hot American Mixtape seemed fitting during a blistering hot Electric Forest day set. Their hit single “M10” had the hip-hop lovers in frenzy and their “Starry Eyed” remix got everyone grooving.
 Papadosio played a similar timed set as Zoogma on the following day. In the scorching heat of Sherwood court, only dedicated ragers came to boogie. Papadosio takes a more spacy approach to their sound. With vocals that carry the way and the message throughout. They finished strong with tracks from their album Observations, adding an extended version of “Night Colors” and “All I Knew.”  Look out for them as they are gearing up for their own festival in Ohio called Rootwire where they will play three huge sets.

Prophet Massive played a surprise set outside the festival in the camping area at a renegade stage. IMagine REALity’s crew had the opportunity to be camping right next to same camping stage. After the first night you knew something epic was going to go down. Surely early Saturday morning after Dumptruck Butterlips played their nightly set, Jason Hann got off his golf cart wearing a cape.  As the music started and bass kicked in, early morning ragers flocked from all around to unmistakable sounds of EOTO. Many climbed on top of RV’s parked next to the stage for a unique view. Surely a memorable set for all of those who were lucky to stumble upon it. Click here to watch a clip from this surprise set!

One other real surprise was GRiZ’s Saturday night set at the Wagon Wheel Stage. It was surely a diamond in the rough.  Not only was it an intimate set as only a 100 or so were allowed in the venue, guest appearances from Dominic Lali (Big Gigantic) and Gramatik gave the set an added boost of energy. As the beats played, there was some improv as Dom & GRiZ jammed together on their saxophones, a truly rare occurrence in any EDM set.

Bassnectar followed The String Cheese Incident’s final set Sunday night at The Ranch Arena Stage. It goes without saying that it was by far the most attended of any show.  Once again Bassnectar proved his excellent skill of controlling crowds through waves, whether it’s getting thousands of glow sticks to be tossed at once or slowing them down to a standstill with a 2012 version of “Laughter Crescendo” or one of his new tracks from Vava Voom called “Butterfly.”

Following Bassnectar’s epic performance, Big Gigantic closed out the entire festival over at Sherwood court. At this point the crowd was mentally and physically drained, but the lights, saxophone, and drums kept the energy flowing. GRiZ made a guest appearance, adding his flavor to the Big Gigantic sound as Dom had done for him earlier in the festival.

For two epic nights, longtime livetronica masterminds STS9 unveiled a new production that proved why they are on top of their game. The pyramid of visuals and subliminal messages being sporadically dispersed to the crowd elevated the collective conscious. The first night’s set list was geared to the latest EP as they played their hit track “Scheme” early in the set and ended with the extended version of “Scheme Reprise.” The second night leaned more towards older tracks that got the old school fans pumped. Two words come to mind from seeing their set, “Mayan Holidaze.” 

EF has definitely retained and reinvented the sense of unity as Rothbury, insisting that mainstream festivals can be so much more for people than just a party. Rather an artistic playground for socially-restricted young adults to communicate their innovative ideas and art-works through any means fathomable.  Electric Forest beseeches their crowd to join a life-sized collage through personal expression with exquisite arrangements, displays and live performance ranging from flow art to tantric dances. The shock and awe from these types of stimuli inhibit a euphoric and contagious feeling within to be expressive as well, caring not for what the viewers may think. For those young ragers out there looking for an experience stretching beyond the norm and willing to join the madness of it all, Electric Forest is right for you.