Anyone who has been to a three-day festival knows the feeling the day(s) after. Your legs stop working well, your feet cry out for some sort of massage and the rest of your body refuses to operate well. You need sleep and are ready to spend the entire day on the couch. That is the state of affairs after three days of Electric Zoo over the weekend.
The biggest takeaway from the weekend was how remarkably good the weather was. The festival usually has at least one day of storms, which in the past have caused cancellations. It can also be quite hot, pushing into the 90s with humidity. This year got into the mid 80s during the day on Saturday, but fear of extreme dehydration didn’t seem warranted this year. Water refill lines were quite long and it seemed like there could have been two more stations, but that has always been a problem with festivals. The weather got down into the low-70s at night with a slight breeze off of the water. With clouds occasionally passing overhead, it made for perfect sunsets with an orange glow bathing the grounds.
Musically, the festival was a tale of two opposites. On Friday and Sunday, two stages were devoted to dubstep and other heavy segments of electronic music. On Saturday it only had one. This is a reflection of the current music climate in the US where dubstep DJs are moving the most tickets and can blow up quickly on the back of a song or two.
Beyond the deafening wall of dubstep, there was the main stage, which was a very mixed bag. You would have someone like i_o play on Sunday followed up by mainstream progressive house from Cash Cash. Shaq (DJ Diesel) tried to pummel the crowd on Saturday before giving way to radio-friendly acts Zedd and Afrojack. Even Armin van Buuren adapted his set to the main stage with a lot of mainstream records.
Dog Blood brought a relentless, frenzied festival capping set with relentless mixing and a blend of house, electro-techno, hip-hop, trap and just about everything in between. Above & Beyond brought their big melodic records for another set to cry to.
Eric Prydz dominated the festival however. He headlined on Friday night, throwing out some of his biggest tunes like “Pjanoo,” “The Truth” (premiered at MSG five years ago), “One Day” and “Every Day” mixed in twice. He then had his own arena on Saturday at the Hilltop tent with Joris Voorn, Yotto, Cristoph, Ben Böhmer, Miss Jennifer and Green Velvet. His two-hour Pryda set overflowed the tent well onto the lawn as he pushed the stage’s sound and bass of the limit. Pryda played a set that went through the past, present and future seamlessly with about half the tracks being IDs. He was the star of the show and the entire festival. There were quite a few Excision shirts and strangely Illenium baseball jerseys (he wasn’t on the bill), but Pryda apparel ruled the grounds.
The All My Friends stage brought similar vibes on Friday and Saturday with a blend of West Coast g-house, soulful house records and festival tech house. Acts like Walker & Royce, Dom Dolla (“San Frandisco” was one of the songs of the weekend), Anti Up and Golf Clap were highlights of the first two days. Sunday had a distinctly British feel with Solardo and Eli Brown dropping their massive collab “XTC,” while Camelphat dominated the festival closing slot. It was a haven of house music in the midst of dubstep wubs echoing around the grounds.
The layout this year was a bit wonky with the AMF stage fitting sideways along the row of stages. This made it harder to access since it was only open on the side next to the large lawn. It was quite hot in there at times, not helped by a black tarp on top (presumably to make it more intimate). The sound bleed could be rough near the AMF stage, but that is a concern at just about every dance festival that isn’t the size of Rhode Island.
My one major criticism of the festival that I have levied at it for years is the production. The stages have been cool over the years like the New York themed Hilltop stage during the 6th Boro year or the elephant main stage. However, this year the All My Friends stage was the same as other AMF events going back to the AMFDTLA festival last year. This isn’t too surprising given that the festival used the Octopus stage on the Riverside stage for two years in a row.
But beyond the minutia of stage designs, it has never truly felt like a Zoo. The festival has struggled to embrace its competing ideas of being a cage for animals and the New York EDM festival. Maybe the attendees are supposed to be the animals? New York City is not a kind place to animals, unless you are a pigeon, rat, squirrel or the odd cow or goat. The year Harambe died (RIP), the festival had a few large animal statues, including a gorilla (the gorilla is still around). However, this year the large animals that dot the lawn at the top of the festival were largely gone. The stages didn’t reflect anything animal like.
The name Electric Zoo isn’t like going to change, but the festival could do more to embrace it -- have some fun with it. Pigeons may not roam the grounds (they are all in Port Authority), but there could be a place for them in the art or the stage designs.
107,000 people showed up to Electric Zoo, taking the bus, ferry, subway or their feet to get there. The festival brought the biggest names in dance music for a proper summer send off. Fans couldn’t have asked for better weather this year and the very rare opportunity to see Eric Prydz twice (three if you count the afterparty). Roll on to next Labor Day weekend.