“Do you know how to get to the EZoo shuttle?” a kid with a European accent asked me as I fumbled with my phone to find out where the buses to Electric Zoo were picking up. We were at 126th St in upper Manhattan. Added to the already diverse neighborhood of Harlem today were throngs of ravers dressed in all colors of the neon rainbow. Seeing so many electronic music fans scrambling to get to Randall’s Island in New York City made me treasure the fact that Electric Zoo was taking place again after two festivalgoers tragically died from drug overdoses at last year’s festival, leading the city to cancel its third day. This is a city that has kept a tight grip on nightlife and electronic music since the days of Mayor Giuliani. Ask anyone that lived here in the 90’s and they will tell you that some of the best dance clubs this city ever knew (Tunnel, Twilo, Limelight) are dead and gone, shuttered by the city’s denial of their permits and even attempts to pin drug dealing on the clubs’ owners. Fast forward to 2014, when Electric Zoo was only granted a permit to operate by the city following months of negotiations in which festival promoters Made Event were forced to agree to a laundry list of security measures.
As soon as I hopped off the shuttle bus and stepped foot on Randall’s Island, I could see the increased security measures firsthand. Before I even reached the gates, I walked past a throng of uniformed police officers, drug-sniffing dogs and even a mobile NYPD command tower. Once through the gates, I noticed an impressive concentration of “Zoo Keepers” (apparently med students serving as first responders if someone were to fall ill), medical personnel wearing large headphones and backpacks, and even some uniformed police officers roaming from stage to stage. Once I had taken it all in and gathered my friends, we made our way to Main Stage West to see David Guetta, who had just arrived from Ibiza. As soon as he dropped a mashup of his classic “Love Don’t Let Me Go” and MAKJ and Bassjackers’ banger “Derp,” I forgot about the whole process of getting to the festival and through security and remembered why I was there: for the music. Guetta kept the energy high, launching straight into his Showtek collaboration “Bad,” all the while accompanied by stunning comic-book visuals in vibrant red and black.
Day 2 was carried by the likes of electro duo powerhouse W&W, who started on Main Stage West by asking festivalgoers if they were ready to jump, dropped their epic track “Bigfoot” and unleashed flame jets that kept the crowd warm under a cloudy sky. Laidback Luke surprised on Main Stage East by playing a lengthy intro of deep and “future” house before playing a spate of more up-tempo jungle-themed tracks (Kryder’s “Welcome to the Jungle”), supported by some impressive 3D animal visuals that would give Big Buck Hunter HD a run for its money. Knife Party stayed true to their name, inciting a mosh-pit like mentality with hard electro and to a backdrop of extremely detailed visuals coated in dripping blood and red chemicals mixed to produce adverse reactions. As my energy waned, I stumbled into the Hilltop Arena to catch the latter half of Madeon’s set. Although I was not a Madeon fan before, I was very impressed by his melodic, yet high-energy style, embodied by his remixes of Martin Solveig’s “The Night Out” and deadmau5’s “Raise Your Weapon.” To my surprise, he also seamlessly weaved trap, dubstep and deep house tracks into his set.
I was pleased to wake up for Day 3 of Electric Zoo with all signs pointing to the festival continuing without a hitch. Alvin Risk was on Main Stage West producing trippy dubstep sounds when the rain started to trickle down. Shortly thereafter, festival staff got on the mic and announced that the music was being suspended and that festivalgoers should take shelter from the rain. My friends and I hid under the Hilltop Arena tent as we watched the rain come down considerably harder. As lightning bolts clearly struck the edges of the festival site and the wind thrashed surrounding trees, festival security started to urge everyone under the tent to leave the festival grounds completely. By 4:00 PM, we had received notifications via the EZoo mobile app letting us know that the festival would be cancelled for the remainder of the day. My friends and I vacated the tent, trudging through the system of puddles the island was reduced to, and made our way to the bridge to walk back to Manhattan. The rain cleared within the hour (Made Event has since announced that they will be refunding Sunday-only tickets, as well as the Sunday portions of all multi-day tickets).
Although many festivalgoers complained that the festival’s security measures were too strict and that they should have re-opened as soon as the storm cleared, I’m going to take a stand and say I support Made Event’s measures to ensure a safe and orderly Electric Zoo this year. As I stated above, New York City granted Electric Zoo its 2014 permit only after they agreed to enact stricter security measures. Since the days of Giuliani’s campaign against city nightclubs, the city has not hesitated to deny permits to venues or organizations that it felt were threats to public safety or were not cooperative. The city also ordered evacuation of Randall’s Island in the face of the severe storm that hit, in which lightning struck and injured two people on Orchard Beach in the Bronx, north of the island. Last year, another festival, Governor’s Ball, took place on the island after heavy rains occurred, and the crowds of attendees left the fields heavily damaged, requiring several months to repair. Electric Zoo did what it had to do to make it as a festival in New York City. As a fan of electronic music, if I had to make the choice between having an electronic music festival with amazing artists on grassy fields in New York City with tight security on the one hand, or not having the festival at all on the other, I would choose the music. I would choose Electric Zoo. And I sincerely hope it will return to NYC in 2015.