Electric Zoo celebrated its 10-year anniversary over Labor Day Weekend with some of the biggest names in electronic music. The three-day electronic music festival was headlined by the likes of Alesso, Martin Garrix, Kaskade, Marshmello and Virtual Self. The finale to the New York City summer festival season, 100,000 ravers descended on Randall’s Island for three days of dance music of all types across four different stages.
It has been a long and winding road to get to this point for Electric Zoo. Like the genre, it grew from a mid-sized two-day festival in 2009 to a massive two main stage festival during the EDM boom years, only for it to be brought down to earth by tragedy, weather and bankruptcy by its parent owner SFX. Electric Zoo rebranded, focusing on its Zoo quality and New York City, in the hopes of winning the city back and pushing the festival forward into the future. They weathered the storm of other festivals entering the market in EDC New York and Mysteryland, as well as smaller more boutique festivals. It succeeded, creating large animal main stages with a snake and then an elephant, morphing more of the grounds and art into zoo animals. Graffiti from New York artists was put on large wooded slabs and it felt more authentic to the festival.
The curious thing about Electric Zoo 10 was that a lot of what had made the rebrand in the past three years was gone. The obvious tributes to New York City were largely gone. The zoo-like nature of Electric Zoo was pretty much gone. There were a few animal statues around the festival and performers dressed in surreal animal costumes that almost seemed better suited for EDC, but the large animal stages were gone, even if they had been repeated two years in a row. They were replaced by smaller, less interesting stages across the board.
The Sunday School Tent was smaller and had a few LEDs and lights, but did not have the interesting decorations that made it one of the better stages in years past. The Hilltop stage had a decent sized LED panel behind the DJ with two small ones on either side, but otherwise it was a rather unspectacular white tent. The Riverside Stage was once a large octopus and was replaced with a small LED screen and a large white half moon covering the stage (seen below). It was the most disappointing stage. The main stage was no longer an animal, but three large hi-def LED screens and a collection of lights, lasers at night, and other effects like occasional pyro and a few pops of fireworks. Most of what had made the festival unique with their production was gone this year.
There was always a strong underground component to Electric Zoo, dating back to its beginning and even through the boom years. The Sunday School tent was a place that served techno and house fans each day, even in the EDM boom years with two main stages. Just about every major underground act has played here, in addition to New York staple DJs. This year things were a little different from the normal heavy dose of techno. Anna Lunoe and AC Slater curated the stage on Friday, then Livestyle (which owns Electric Zoo) president Destructo curated the stage on Saturday. Artists like UNIIQU3, Chris Lorenzo and Redlight performed on Friday before Anna Lunoe finished things off as one of the clear highlights of the festival. Sunday brought some soul-cleansing techno from HYTE as the day slowly built to a three hour back-to-back set from Chris Liebing and Dubfire. Their set managed to build to an eventual peak, but was still accessible to anyone who walked in at any point.
Elsewhere on the grounds, dubstep continued to be the sound of the festival. Friday felt like one giant body-rattling surge of bass as dubstep reverberated around the grounds no matter where you were walking.
The Deadbeats stage was one of the more interesting takeovers the whole weekend. It had artists like Eprom, whose own set mixed between hip-hop, trance and bass music, Mija, who was another highlight, going for a more subdued techno and house set, Troyboi and GG Magree.
The main stage wasn’t just overproduced noise. Magic was created and touching moments were felt there as well. There were quite a few tributes to Avicii, none better than by Alesso, paying tribute to a “Swedish King,” putting a picture of the late DJ on the screens. Kaskade was the only DJ on the bill who performed at the first Electric Zoo in 2009. He reflected on that fact and wanted to right a wrong from that day, playing his iconic track “I Remember,” which he neglected to play back in 2009.
REZZ brought the largest crowd of her own fans as she played her mix of dubby techno to the gleeful masses in front of her. Her psychedelic visuals matched her sound as the Cult of Rezz bobbed along with her on stage. Illenium had just about as large a crowd of devoted fans for him on Sunday, with more baseball jerseys than it seemed like a Mets or Yankees game (because nobody actually goes to them, despite what the actual sales say), two drummers and a load of heavy and melodic dubstep. San Holo stood out as someone to play a guitar throughout his set, while Virtual Self played his mix of hardcore and trance, keeping things heavy on Friday after the endless amounts of dubstep.
There was an odd amount of RIP Avicii shirts and several individuals who had signs about eating ass. Overall, the signage and shirts felt tamer than 2014, though always expect the unexpected at a large rave. Sometimes if you weren’t close to a stage when songs were of conflicting styles or in softer sections, the noise bleed would get pretty bad, but overall, Electric Zoo managed to put on another big dance festival without too many glaring issues.
Celebrating 10 years, Electric Zoo focused on the music, but seemed to scale back its production. It spent big on six main stage headliners and had big name quality across the board that delivered. Beyond some rain on Friday, the weather was perfect. We will see how they go forward for their next 10 years as the dominant dance music festival force in the tri-state area.