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Favorite ThisWakarusa 2012: Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride

Published: June 26, 2012
Written By: IMagine REALity (Duncan Ross, Max Pottebaum & Adam Epstein)
Photos By: Duncan Ross

Your typical festival-goer wouldn’t believe that deep in the heart of the Ozarks lies the unlikeliest of spectacles. Each June, thousands of well-equipped fanatics pour in from every corner of the nation to Mulberry Mountain, Arkansas for Wakarusa Music Festival. These backwoods are illuminated annually with what is arguably one of the most diverse lineups of the summer by catering to all genres—quite generously, at that. Given this, Waka is certainly making a sizeable splash with the electronic circuit by booking an overwhelming amount of EDM powerhouses such as Pretty Lights, Paper Diamond, Mimosa, Michal Menert and The Floozies in addition to the groundbreaking electronic and jam fusion acts such as Papadosio, Break Science, Big Gigantic, and Quixotic. The festival features some of that good old-fashioned Midwestern originality with a kiss of southern twang, making for a truly unique experience that will stand out even to the most prolific of festi-heads.

The Untz and Grassroots California joined forces to sponsor this year’s Satellite Stage, which serves as the main hub of electronic offerings. This season’s development showed significant improvement in attendance, lineup, sound quality, and overall production value in comparison to past years; an excellent indicator that electronic-influenced styling is on the rise.

Imagine yourself walking down a path through the forest with only hanging lights and bass frequencies for guidance. Bypassing the meditation lounge, the trail then opens up to a plethora of grooving bodies either relaxing around the edges of the hill, enjoying the sound-waves or down by the stage getting down. The greatest attribute this stage has is that time is not a factor for them; sets go on as late as 8:00 a.m. Despite all this, what really solidifies the uniqueness of the stage is that it is entirely separate from the main festival and always goes until sunrise or beyond without missing a beat. With a lineup seemingly too good to be true, a surplus of EDM ragers and natural acoustics that are out of this world, it appears as though Wakarusa will want to make way for next year’s Satellite Stage crowd and their demand for heady bass.    

Trust when people say “it’s not truly a festival until Pretty Lights throws down.” An act featuring astounding live performance with a great deal more than appealing visuals, but rather an environment created by everyone’s accumulative energy.  It’s the crowd grooving euphorically that truly makes Pretty Light’s show. On the eve of the first night, he awoke the festival’s eager Thursday crowd, headlining the main stage as he did the week previous at Summer Camp music festival.  Playing party-starter definitely suits Derek Vincent Smith’s persona. He is an artist who brings an unparalleled presence which was undeniably felt by all participants at Wakarusa this year. The vibrations stretched to each and every corner of the park. He didn’t do it alone though. With a troop led by Smith, the Pretty Lights Music label represented big-time at Waka with acts such as Michal Menert, Paper Diamond, Gramatik, and Break Science.  They upheld their reputations as a premier EDM recording label. This means everybody had better mark their calendars for August 17th & 18th as the Pretty Lights Label will be performing in front of their home crowd at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado.

Certainly one of the finest performances at the Satellite Stage over the weekend was Menert’s Saturday morning sunrise set alongside drummer A.C. Lao. Coming fresh off his mega LP Even If It Isn’t Right which included 27 newly produced tracks, Menert brought nothing but raw & unbound stimulation to a restless crowd wanting something powerful to help bring up the sun. There was strong buzz as the waxing sun slowly broke above the tree-line; you could almost see everyone’s faces melting away to the steady vibrations of Menert’s prevailing vibes.  His expressions were quite telling as well.  He was having an absolute blast as his hair waved while his head bobbed all while taking down an entire bottle of Beluga vodka.  Feeding from the crowd’s energy, he pulled a twist in the act and began free-styling to Lao’s rhythmic accents. Nearing the end of his set, as the fog was settled in the Mulberry Mountains, the sun wasn’t the only thing beaming.  Menert addressed the crowd stating “This is one of my favorite sets ever.”  Look out for this character as he is quickly on the rise in the EDM scene.
Percussion and synthesizer duo, Break Science, was one of the most prestigious headliners at the Satellite Stage and it was a real treat for lovers of livetronica that Friday night.  Dominic Lali, the B.A. sax man from Big Gigantic hopped on stage with the duo mid-set and absolutely belted it. This is the man to jam with. Lalli’s list of collaborations keeps climbing at an impressive rate, always emphasizing quality over quantity.

Standing as positively one of the biggest acts at the festival, Big Gigantic, closed out the main stage Saturday night with their inconceivably chaotic light show which they busted out New Years Eve at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago and have used at big performances ever since. Following the show, there was no question which artist had the loudest or brightest set that weekend. Nobody heard much else out of each other as the heavy bass projected the feeling of levitation as your body shook with intensity from the frequencies. Joined by Wakarusa’s resident live artist and live art coordinator, Michael Garfield and his gang of live painters, Big G busted out some new exciting tracks that had their audience flabbergasted.
Electronic duo EOTO always bring their crowd pleasant surprises. The threat of torrential downpour and a rather haggard crowd did nothing to slow down EOTO on the final night of the festival. Not only did EOTO bring their recently unveiled Lotus Flower light rig, but Keller Williams, yes THAT Keller Williams (not the realtor), of all people collaborated with them on the set.  With such diverse backgrounds, together EOTO and Williams pioneered new musical dimensions for the crowd to soak in. Instances such as this serve as a gentle reminder to all music fans and artists that there is no limit to music’s constantly altering boundaries.

The Floozies were also a pleasant surprise at Wakarusa this year.  This brotherly tandem brought it the first day at the Satellite stage and also closed the festival in the Outpost tent following EOTO. Hailing from Lawrence, Kansas, the former locale of Wakarusa, they without a doubt have the home-town crowd.  The energy of their shows is something to behold. Not only do these guys provide beats that make you all wobbly but they have a tendency to mix in classic hits that the crowd can sing along with and get down to. The Floozies remixed tracks like “Shakedown Street,” “Blueberry Sizzurp,” “Drop it Like it’s Hot,” “Africa,” and even the uber-classic Space Jam track they call “Body Slam.” All which elicited quite a reaction from the crowd. 
Check out The Floozies' Wakarusa Recap Video featuring their Shakedown Street remix.

This year, The Untz held their Third Annual Untz Challenge for the opportunity for amateurs to perform at several widely respected festivals. The people’s champ, SPEKTR won the fan votes of the competition and proved they deserved the honor to Waka’s EDM devotees with an enthusiastic set which many mellow afternooners weren’t prepared for.  The critics’ choice winner, DYNOHUNTER, was hand-picked by The Untz. Their act is in all sense of the word, diverse. These guys are a trio consisting of drummer/producer Justin Ehmer, tenor saxophonist and producer Clark Smith and bass player Fred Reisen.  Performing on their instruments as a band they incorporate triggered samples and effects as they build their grooves, highlighted by Smith's floating soulful sax. The combination of the produced tracks and live performance is a formula that has bode for many artists in this genre and has a high potential for success in the near future.   
A production involving live performance art delves much further into the endless musical frontier and no group exemplifies this better than Quixotic. The word is no farce; it can be defined as “exceedingly idealistic and romantic.” This innovative ensemble brings the mastery of acrobatics, theatrics, dance and music to the once-a-night stage dubbed Interstellar Sanctum. Their ambient flow created a multifaceted sensory experience that separates their art from every other act’s. Quixotic’s performance is a fine supplement to the charisma of Wakarusa for they require no strong lights, solely the willing minds from the crowd willing to question the edge of music. The dreamy mind state Quixotic puts you in can only be defined by their unwavering ability to defy perceptions. By featuring awe-inspiring choreography, Quixotic’s psychedelic masterpiece had the festival riding the ride.

Envision yourself plunging from a couple-hundred feet atop a brilliantly lit Ferris wheel that’s lodged in the center of the venue. From here you can really see Waka for its true beauty. Nestled inside of a gaping valley of dense greenery, this festival provides an all encompassing experience true to the mantra of music, arts and camping man festivals claim to uphold. Prior to the festival, Wakarusa flaunted their lineup knowing it was almost unbeatable and easily the best bang for your buck when it comes to great electronic acts. However righteous the lineup may appear, the buyer will also receive so much more upon purchasing weekend passes. Here at Wakarusa, you’re no bi-partisan observer, you’re fully fledged part of the festival, that is no choice. No matter your style or steez, there’s a place at Waka for all walks of music, all you have to do is take the ride.

Tags: BreaksDowntempoDrum and BassDubstepElectroGlitchHip HopHouseLivetronica