By: Jacki Moon Horne
Envision a parallel universe full of body shaking bass, dirty beats, and vibrantly colored hammocks dispersed amongst a thick bed of trees. This spot is a safe place of expression where anyone can do anything from dancing like a maniac, to meditating in a human-sized nest.
You have just imagined the TheUntz.com’s Satellite Stage at Wakarusa, where the hottest names in underground electronic music are showcased every night of the festival. In many ways, this stage is actually what inspired my journey with The Untz, as I found myself discovering a new world of music from the notorious Satellite Stage nest at Wakarusa 2011 before I’d even thought about music writing.
What is it that truly sets The Untz stage apart from most other stages in a sea of festivals this season? The answer is more than just the creative décor of LED jellyfish strewn from tall trees and the bright-asymmetrical parachute shade structures above the crowd; its also more than just the high-quality of sound and more than the fact that the stage is located atop a hill that creates a natural amphitheater. The answer is in the carefully curated acts that play on the Satellite Stage every year. Each artist possesses a unique energy and substance, which draws in a distinctive crowd to match. From expressive and inspiring to goofy and light-hearted, each act has unique roots and a unique audience to match the vibe.
I caught several of my long-time favorite EDM acts, and also discovered some new beats at the 10th anniversary of Wakarusa. Every act was impressive in its own way, but some truly struck me for their distinctiveness.
Penguin Prison – Best Live Vocals & Impersonations
I had honestly not even heard the name “Penguin Prison” before discovering this act in between The Funk Hunters and Phutureprimitive’s set on Saturday evening. I was immediately blown away when Christopher Glover took the stage and opened with Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” complete with his own live vocals that sounded exactly like Prince. I have never seen an artist sing as purely while DJing as smoothly during his entire Wakarusa set. Penguin Prison ended as epically as he began with track “Don’t Fuck With My Money” by hopping off stage and singing directly to the crowd that circled him. Catch him in the Electric Glen at Electric Forest on The Disco Revival panel this coming Thursday!
Manic Focus with Sunsquabi – Best Surprise Collaboration
There were plenty of surprise appearances and unplanned cameos at Wakarusa this year, but the best one was Manic Focus and Sunsquabi on Thursday afternoon. Sheer delight took over the crowd when Manic Focus, a.k.a. John McCarten surprised a packed crowd and welcomed SunSquabi guitarist, Kevin Donohue and bass player, Andrew Clymer, to the stage. The trio jammed the fuck out to a full crowd, which extended from the stage at the bottom of the hill to the gates at the top, arguably harder than anyone at the Satellite Stage all weekend. I cannot wait to see more collaboration between this rock-star trio in the future.
The Funk Hunters – Best On-Stage Dance Party
The Funk Hunters were another act I discovered for the first time at Wakarusa this year, and instantly fell in love with. The duo of Nick Middleton and Duncan Smith produce some seriously organic funk music, but their onstage presence is what truly struck me. The duo incorporated Cole Grizzly on the trumpet and MC Dash on the mic to create a more theatrical live band experience, that was full of energetic fun. The four guys really got the crowd pumped up and moving and they danced around the entire stage.
Ott – Most Beautifully Twisted Performance
There was literally a line to get into the Satellite Stage to see Ott on Friday night of Wakarusa, because of the man’s legitimate talent. What I found most notable about Ott is the way his sound is dark, yet completely beautiful at the same time. Ott’s live performance spoke for itself, as his dark psychedelic opera sound is completely unparalleled to anyone else in the industry. Additionally, the sonic soundscape producer’s passion was immediately apparent from the front row; the man sprouted an ear-to-ear grin as he danced along with the crowd. Although it was a late night after a long day of Wakarusa-style partying, Ott kept the crowd’s energy at an all time high.
Random Rab – Most Soul Soothing Sunrise
Random Rab’s pure energy flowed into his music than into the ears of the crowd to create a beautiful, symbiotic experience during his Thursday night set into Friday morning. The man’s ability to make dark, mysterious and morbid concepts into something beautiful is truly empowering. A magnificent analogy for the central massage of his music is the way his Wakarusa sunrise set transitioned from the darkness of night into the bright future of a new festival day adventure. I think I can voice the general crowd’s consensus in saying I left this set on Friday morning feeling both refreshed and alive.
Phutureprimitive – Most Expressive Dance Party
Fearless expression is something to be desired, and Phutureprimitive’s set on Saturday evening truly exemplified this kind of performance. Rain and ritual dancer Caeli La brought an all-encompassing fearless expression of art, dance and sound that left the Wakarusa crowd completely immersed in exotic bass and inspired to dance like no one was watching. Rain (Phutureprimitive) also dropped a new track that left the crowd craving more from anticipated Part 2 of Searching for Beauty in the Darkest Places. What I appreciated most about the Phutureprimitive experience at Wakarusa this year is how it was both high-energy yet downtempo, bold yet humble all at the same time; an artistic balance between yin and yang was finally discovered through the bass, ritual dance, and deeper messages.
Wick-it The Instigator – Best Genre-Bending Transitions
The rapid growth of EDM has left a lot of people confused as to what the word “DJ” truly entails, but Wick-it The Instigator’s genre-bending, time-warping performances at Wakarusa made sure the crowd got a lesson. I had only listened to a few of Wick-it’s sets before Waka and was already impressed, but the man’s double sets left me a true believer. The best part of the Wick-it experience is how he can take a classic song like Johnny Cash’s “Walk The Line”, give it an EDM facelift, and then transition it into a song from a completely different era as he did at Wakarusa. He even incorporated a live electric guitar in his set.
The Floozies – Funkiest Fun
The Floozies, comprised of brothers Mark Hill and Matt Hill truly know how to get the funk down and pack out a stage. The duo actually had two performances, but their Sunday performance at the Satellite Stage was truly one for the books, because it was the absolute best way to close out an epic four days of Wakarusa. Just about everyone who still had the slightest trace of rage left in them after a long week gathered at the Satellite Stage to get the funk down one last time together; it was beautiful.
ill-esha – Most Unique Performance
ill-esha’s Wakarusa performance was unique for a plethora of reasons. Her sets always incorporate the distinctiveness of her own georgous live vocals and quirky key-tar, but she brought the special surprise of rising hip-hop artist ProbCause to the Satellite Stage with her on Thursday. ProbCause’s smooth hip-hop flows created an even more unique and textured performance; that beautifully blended with ill-esha’s all original music. This stellar surprise collaboration foreshadowed many more exciting cameos to come throughout the weekend.
Filibusta – TheUntz Challenge Winner
I couldn’t make a list of Satellite Stage favorites without listing The Untz Challenge winner Troy Probst, a.k.a. Filibusta. This trap music producer worked extremely hard to get where he is today, and his incredible live Wakarusa set was an accurate reflection of that undying dedication. I can’t wait to see and hear more from the blooming producer in the future.
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