This past Labor Day weekend brought magnificent weather to the New York City area, as Hurricane Earl bypassed the area completely, allowing the second edition of the Electric Zoo festival to thrive. For a total of 24 hours split between Saturday and Sunday, Randall’s Island was New York City’s hottest club, and potentially a newfound earthquake hotspot. Booming beats resonating from four precisely placed stages likely sent the rest of the island humming.
Festival goers dressed in green latex suits, deer costumes, and tiger body paint, among other bizarre outfits littered the grounds, provided a unique flavor of diversity. While the average stereotype of dance music and the New York area would assume that it would be thousands of juicehead guidos with blowouts, it was hardly the case, in fact quite the opposite. The mix of concert goers among the 25,000 plus each day was welcoming to all sorts of characters geared with pacifiers and surgical masks.
Starting off on Saturday, LA Riots brought early excitement, mixing Estelle’s “Freak” with distorted beats while catching onto the infectious “Pon de Floor” by Major Lazer in what proved to be a house filled weekend. Forty minutes felt like five minutes during LA Riots set as climaxes and crescendos came at perfectly timed moments. After a glorious start, I quickly made the rash and hasty decision of watching Boris (not to be confused with Japanese noise-rockers Boris) at the Main Stage, whose set was slightly disappointing and underwhelming. Coupled with the fact that he had absolutely no support with lighting due to an early set time, but Boris also did not bring an early ‘wow’ factor to the stage that made so many other acts enticing, such as Afrojack who played the Hilltop Arena. Afrojack slyly strutted up to the stage, turned towards the back, pulled his hood down, took off his hoodie and turned towards the crowd. The crowd erupted as hits like Benny Benassi’s “Satistfaction” and Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamic” were focal points of the charismatic Afrojack’s set, along with originals such as the melodious keyboard jam “Bangduck.”
Following Afrojack, the Main Stage went off with ATB followed by Dirty South. ATB’s most notable moment was playing what seemed to be an unaltered version of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of” where the crowd responded well, in what was almost like a sociology experiment in my eyes, having such a heavy song played for electronic/dance fans without the normal, aggressive mosh pit forming. Speaking of aggression, Electric Zoo was seemingly removed from any sort of violence or confrontations from what I saw, which does not happen often at festivals. It is that kind of peace of mind that allows fans to harmoniously coexist as one, and judging by the massive crowds at about the time Dirty South took stage, it benefited the energy of set.
Dirty South could have all the help in the world, but Major Lazer (DJ/Producer Diplo) has two showstoppers in Skerrit Bwoy and a woman dancer. Skerrit Bwoy was decked out in an admiral’s outfit using props such as ladders to enhance the set. With comic-like animation rockets blasting off on the LED backdrop and the words ‘guns don’t kill people, lasers do,’ I decided to get a more cosmic experience with Flying Lotus. FlyLo has a smile that could have lit up the night, but apparently not liven up the crowd. His set was not exactly the most accessible to passer-bys, but as he played, momentum turned as he churned out hits from his 2010 gem Cosmogramma. Such tracks included the bass heavy “Dance of the Pseudo Nymph” and single “Do the Astral Plane,” but not before he remixed Portishead’s “Machine Gun,” along with Radiohead’s “Idioteque,” which were brilliantly executed. But as I mentioned, new onlookers had little concept of what to do since FlyLo is so abstract with his heavy dosed electronic hip-hop music. Following Flying Lotus, there was without a doubt the toughest decision to make. Squashed amongst one another, fans had to pick Benny Benassi, Axwell, Richie Hawtin, or Pretty Lights before The Chemical Brothers stole the last hour of Saturday. And while I did not catch Axwell’s performance, there is little doubt that Axwell was the highlight of the festival. Nearly every set had at least one of his remixes (The Temper Trap – Sweet Disposition [Axwell & Dirty South Remix] and Swedish House Mafia – One), playing along with his own set that looked incredible. Look for Axwell to be one of the top DJs when the new list comes out in October, but first, check out the guys climbing the tent poles during this video of Axwell performing “One,” and if you are only going to watch a portion of it, 2:50-end.
Still, Pretty Lights put on a show of their own and lived up to their name. Newly added drummer Adam Deitch added a special flavor to the set, as Pretty Lights and Savoy (played on Sunday) were really the only two bands that required a break between sets, as the rest were seamless transitions with alternating sides where the DJ would perform from allowing for maximum music and little downtime. After Pretty Lights lit up the Red Bull Music Academy Riverside Stage tent (especially when “High School Art Class” ignited the tent), the jaw dropping visuals of The Chemical Brothers overtook the Electric Zoo festival. The transitions and backdrop from “Setting Sun” to “Saturate” to “Believe” left me in awe as assorted colored balls that were bouncing exploded like paint. From the Main Stage, the sound was perfect, sublime, and inspiring. Each visual told the story or simply countered whatever music was accompanying the sound from when they played their latest single, “Swoon” to past favorites like “Galvanize.” The Chemical Brothers proved to be a worthy headliner and truly in a class of their own.
Check out 4:45-5:30, specifically during this video of “Setting Sun”/“Saturate”/“Believe”