As soon as you enter the grounds of Electric Forest outside the scenic village of Rothbury, Michigan--it's clear you aren't at your average summer festival soiree. Within minutes of immersing yourself in this fairytale like adult playground, you know that you have found yourself different. This mythical environment is what has brought returning fans and new ones back to the fest four years in a row, this year from June 26-29.
Electric Forest is a virtual 180 from other destination festivals like Coachella, EDC or New York City's Governors Ball--you won't find perfunctory demonstrations of scenes or trends and the tasks of looking cool or hot fall within the same importance of whether to get pizza or tacos at the end of of the night. While there's certainly a thick aroma of hedonistic lifestyle in the air you're more likely to see someone wearing absolutely nothing at all than a t-shirt that says "Where's Molly?"
An early Day One highlight came from Dirtybird bass bumper J.Phlip who played on the Tripolee Stage. As the Forest's main destination for some of the best and brightest in body-rocking electronic music, the stage offered everything from Kaytranada to Jimmy Edgar and some higher octane material from 12th Planet and Destructo.
A raver's first foray through the epicenter of the festival, the psychedelic dream world of Sherwood Forest is practically sacred. The music might be the draw for a first-timer, but the real magic of this festival is location, where performance stages are ensconced amongst a vast expanse of glittering lasers, swaying lanterns, glowing trees, and the trippiest knick-knacks this side of Burning Man. Outside the back of the forest lies the festival's far-off jam-band laboratory, Sherwood Court. The second biggest stage in the festival is home to legendary jams bands and experimental genre-less acts; it's the place where everyone is operating on the level of of a character from Avatar. The acts you see here are the ones whose main goal is to mind-fuck you.
After live electronic improv group EOTO wrapped their wild show, Umphrey's McGee descended on their first of two sets for the weekend, playing uplifting soaring jams for the festival's more Birkenstock-clad contingent.
Back in the woods on Forest Stage, a small and intimate venue deep in the brush, Crosstown Rebels spinner Francesca Lombardo played an effortless set of fluttering house tinglers and a soothing blend of grooving techno. Backlit by the moon-soaked treeline, she gently nodded her head while immersing the crowd in a emotive rabbit hole of emotion, slightly grinning with approval and even blowing some kisses to the front row of mesmerized dancers.
Canadian bass behemoths Zeds Dead acted as the Day One headliner at The Ranch Arena, which this year showcased many of the largest rage heros like Zedd and Steve Angello. Zeds arguably played one of the biggest sets of the weekend, dropping their lethal taste of low end bass explosions that slowly peeled back Foresters' faces from their heads.
On Day Two, Chrome Sparks countered the rising temps with a decidedly cool live set of experimental bass and melodies that entertainingly bounced of the trees and leaves around us. By 8pm, it was time for one of Electric Forest's main attractions and most anticipated traditions: the opening set by The String Cheese Incident. This Colorado-bred live group are the spiritual and musical godfathers of this Michigan dance party. Their live show has a place for just about everyone's tastes and personal niches, from jig-inducing bluegrass, to psychedelic face-melters and squelchy and strange bass drops. One of their sets even had a section in which they played dirty trap music. Yes—fiddles, guitars and 808s were all on the same stage.
By 10:30, another of the the weekend's most anticipated throwdowns was about to unfold at the Sherwood Court: the first of two sets from the masters of improvisational, brain-altering hydro-funk, STS9. One of the most unexpected experiences of the weekend came from techno legend Kevin Saunderson and his son, Dantiez, who put down a peaktime b2b set in the woods. Dantiez played booming tech-house and filthy bass drops while his pops looked on approvingly from the side, often trying to get his hands on the cross fader to cheeky denial from his son. Of course the big daddy Kevin himself did make his way to the decks to throw down some hypnotic loops with the most effortless swag. It was during this set that I learned the definition of getting the fuck down.
For those who needed a break from the jams, wandering through the forest provided one. From conversation pits, to impromptu drum circles, hug-offs (a competition in which people try to hug the shit out of each other), it's hidden gems like these that make the most magical moments of Electric Forest. It's in the details, the discoveries, the strange, and the utterly wonderful.
I started my Day Three with the soothing downtempo electronic producer, Emancipator. At this point, the crowd was thick with a swirling rotunda of mesmerized hippies, and the photo pit smelled strong of psychedelic odors and naked hula hoopers. Fittingly, it was again time for The String Cheese Incident to take the main stage again for a raucous visual display of massive lasers, humongous CO2 confetti blasts and the appearance of a giant remote controlled spaceship blimp.
Ms. Lauryn Hill's highly anticipated performance with String Cheese lived up to the hype. Cheese acted as Hill's backup band as they deployed soulful covers of everything from The Beatles's "Something" to Bob Marley tunes like "Jamming" and "Is This Love," eventually running through some of the best known work of The Fugees.
For a dance music aficionado like myself, a live performance by the German techno giants, Booka Shade, was something I had been salivating about for weeks. The set started with a momentarily hiccup as one of the guys mistakenly referred to the Forest as Montreal's Piknic Electronik (which he called Electrik Piknic). They quickly redeemed themselves with 90 minutes of nonstop, relentless deep techno. They had the massive crowd in the palm of their hands and continued epic tune after epic tune, with classics like "In White Rooms" and "Body Language."
After three days of wonder the festival finally found itself in its final day. Kygo threw down a vibey afternoon set in the forest to a packed stage followed by sunny singalongs from Brooklyn alt-tronic outfit St. Lucia. Eventually the sun descended below the treeline and at 12:30 most of the attendees made their way to see rave legend Moby perform his closing DJ set. This was my first time seeing the shiny-headed icon and he didn't disappoint with nearly two hours of grinding electro, tantalizing drops, eruptions of glow sticks into the crowd, and of course a few of his euphoric classics. When he jumped on the decks while the Klas remix of "Infinity" blasted through the system all felt right in the world.
Soon after Moby did his thing, the skies started turning dark and a booming voice came on the loudspeaker to alert patrons that a thunderstorm was incoming and the forest was now closed. It was like an act of the rave gods and just like that… it was all over.
For those who want to experience a unique sense of community while vibing to music in a cool setting, as well as have pepperonis thrown at you by the crazy staff at the pizza truck, do glow stick hopscotch in the woods, dance in a rage circle of dudes wearing giant squirrel, platypus and grizzly bear suits, learn that psychedelic bingo is a thing, watch a guy dance with a bag of pasta marinara and of course make friends with strangers, the Forest is waiting for you.
David has never quite seen someone dance like that dude in the platypus suit. @DLGarber