Photos by: Matthew Vicens
Story by: Alexandria Wojcik
This Labor Day weekend the annual coterie of kandi-clad kindred spirits raging against the dying summer light known as Electric Zoo finally transformed into the full three-day electronic dance music festival it has always meant to be. The line-up that may have been slightly smaller than those of previous years but was no less awesome, including Zeds Dead, The Chemical Brothers, Alison Wonderland, The Glitch Mob, GRiZ, Mija, Filibusta, EOTO, Gramatik, and way more amazing acts than anyone could possibly experience in its entirety without sprinting in-and-out of sets between the multiple stages. For most (if not all) of the tens of thousands of EZoo animals who descended upon Randall’s Island this past weekend to dance, Electric Zoo: Transformed was the perfect ending to what has been a pretty epic summer festival season.
In its seventh year the festival’s organizers Made Event were joined by ID&T (known for TomorrowWorld and Mysteryland USA) to deliver on the promises implicit in the newly-introduced Transformed thematic concept that permeated the party right down to the phoenix inspired Main Stage design. For those who attended Electric Zoo in 2013 or 2014, the symbolic importance of the festival’s phoenix-like transformation is obvious--for awhile there, Electric Zoo seemed cursed. In 2013 the festival canceled its third day due to two attendees’ drug-related deaths; in 2014 storms forced organizers to cancel most of its third day an hour or so after opening its gates. The thought of EZoo Day 3 had become even more depressing than the Bassnectar family photo from the Hudson Project. Last summer, in an effort to avoid further drug-related tragedies, festivalgoers not only endured longer lines, tighter security, and a visibly increased police presence, but they also were required to watch a brief film entitled “The Molly” before entering festival gates. This year they ditched the anti-drug PSA (but kept the security super-tight) in favor of a somewhat less direct approach to the topic of drug use: there were health department notices in size 12 font plastered on port-a-potties throughout that felt like passive-aggressive post-it notes. The Peer Ambassadors, much like the Zoo Keepers of the past, were helping the crowds “celebrate safely” were actually really helpful in facilitating a safe weekend totally free of mishaps--one such Peer Ambassador gave me a free reusable water bottle on Friday and another helped me find some much-needed sunscreen on Sunday.
This year was full of changes: there was an increased emphasis on the overall festival experience--which meant cooler stage lighting and design, body paint stations, and more topiary animals and other art installations than ever before. This year the festival also had an anthem, Above & Beyond’s “Fly to New York,” to which crowds sang along when the group dropped it during their headline set Saturday evening. The only change that may have marred the menageries was the increased presence of corporate partnerships that have little to do with electronic dance music or culture--no one is complaining about free Vitamin Water at a hot summer festival (or the TreeHouse stage featuring awesome local talent that they sponsored), and more areas in which to chill out of the sun are always welcome, but the free anti-perspirant deodorant companies were giving out that littered the grounds halfway into Friday wasn’t so PLUR.
Friday’s particularly rowdy line-up pretty much reversed the old curse and completed the festival’s transformation into something like an institution, an end-of-summer tradition to look forward to for years to come. The gates opened late, delaying the day’s festivities a bit, but somehow, it didn’t seem to phase anyone: the moment the gates opened it was as if a neon-colored tidal wave was flowing through the grounds, immediately packing the [Mastercard] Hilltop Arena tent in time to get down to some Filibusta. (We caught up with Filibusta to talk about his beginnings and his plans to keep the funk alive on Friday afternoon; check out the full interview in a couple days). After Filibusta kicked-off the funky bass party, that tent seemed to almost writhe as sweaty bassheads continued to pack it in for Haywyre, Snails, EOTO, Keys N Krates, Galantis, and Gramatik--yes, that was at just one of the festival’s five stages during just one of its three days. One could have lived in that tent all day, but with the future bass of the likes of Mija, Wave Racer, Alison Wonderland, and Cashmere Cat reverberating from the nearby Riverside stage, it was impossible to dance in one spot for long. Between Alison Wonderland climbing up and down the octopus-shaped stage to MC her own energetic set and Wave Racer dropping every mermaid’s favorite track “Under The Sea,” the Riverside vibes were palpable. Adding mainstage headliners Zeds Dead followed by The Chemical Brothers to that already epic day of dancing was almost sensory overload--almost.
It might sound cheesy, but it was through music that some of the most magical transformations of the weekend took place. There was the thrill of seeing Zeds Dead on such a large stage with such a large crowd when it feels like they were gracing the smaller side-stage and after party bills only yesterday. Then there was the different kind of thrill of finally seeing the legend known as The Chemical Brothers, who proved to be the unicorn of this festival season.
Other weekend highlights included: the feels brought on by both Nervo and Above & Beyond on the Main Stage on Saturday; the various live acts that took over the Hilltop Arena on Sunday; and the truly turnt performance from The Glitch Mob on Sunday. We were lucky enough to talk about the festival’s themes (among other things like their organic evolution into their current form and their process) with the trio before they turned the tent into a spaceship fueled by bass:
As you know this is the first year Electric Zoo has a theme--transformed. If you could make this fest transform into anything, not necessarily limited to reality, what would it be?
Mayer: If it didn’t have to be confined by physics, I think a time travel festival would be cool. You could go to a stage and zoom back to Woodstock and watch Bob Marley play, or...Marley didn’t play Woodstock, so Jimi Hendrix. But yeah, if you could actually travel time. Basically if the festival were a Tesseract like in Interstellar and you could visit different dimensions in space and time.
So at that imaginary Tesseract festival, what would be your dream line-up, like who would you share a stage with or go see?
Mayer: Okay so at the time travel fest, the super jam would be: Bob Marley, Mozart,
Ma: Whoever the first cave man was that banged with a stick
Boreta: George Harrison
Mayer: Yeah, George Harrison, and early Dre. Not like current Dre but zoom back to ‘92.
I’d go to that fest for sure. So it’s Day 3 of Electric Zoo so naturally there are lots of different kinds of (party) animals running around--lots of mermaids and unicorns. What are your favorite animals?
Ma: I’d have to go with the panda emoji.
Mayer: I’ve always had a thing for jellyfish.
(Be sure to check out the full interview in a couple days!)
The transformation didn’t happen simultaneously or even similarly for everyone, and that’s part of the magic of Electric Zoo. Meandering through the different stages was like dancing through totally different, yet parallel, electronic music universes--there was something there for everyone. Overall, between the lineup, the gorgeous weather, and the various positive ways in which the festival lived up to its “transformed” theme, it wasn’t difficult for Electric Zoo to transcend the misfortunes and mishaps of the past. As the fireworks glittered the New York City skyline during Alesso’s closing set Sunday evening the final transformation was complete: Electric Zoo is here to stay.
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