The sun was shining, and the city of Toronto was literally buzzing. It was finally time for Digital Dreams 2014, the third consecutive installment of Toronto's premier electronic music festival. DD caters to electronic music fans of all kind, stacked with talent in every popular genre, from big room house, to dubstep, to dark techno, deep house and beyond. By early Saturday afternoon the festival was already packed and the talent was flying in high form.
Sebastien Leger has proven himself to be one of the best in the business when it comes to bouncy, groovy tech-house, especially in his production. I was expecting purely Balearic grooves to take us into the evening, but it's almost as if Seb woke up and said "Fuck it. Fuck genres, and fuck what people are expecting... I'm bringing the party today." The beach came alive as he dropped a remix of "Around the World," his own remix of the epic odyssey that is "Lamur," and the party anthem from newly-revived Plastikman, "Spastik." He played well into Claude VonStroke's set time, as the Dirtybird boss had a flight delay, but nobody was complaining. Echo Beach can thank Leger for getting the party started in fine fashion, before handing off the decks to techno heavyweights Nicole Moudaber and Danny Tenaglia.
Nicole Moudaber didn't surprise us one bit-which is by all means a good thing. In fact, she actually told us exactly what she was going to do when we spoke to her before the festival. She followed through on her promise, and we're glad that we were there to catch it. Echo Beach was engulfed by a hard-hitting techno escapade, conducted by the girl with the best hair in the business.
Danny Tenaglia, New York's techno legend, took the stage from his good friend Nicole. He bought his usual tribal techno into the mix, and is always reliable for an upbeat set to keep people dancing. His classic "Be Yourself" ending was well-received, as always, before he stepped back for headliners Deep Dish. He stuck around Toronto to play a 14 hour set at Ryze Monday night, which really shouldn't be a surprise, because that's simply what Danny T does-marathons.
As Deep Dish stepped up to the plate, so did Justice on the main stage. The golden boys of electro house always impress, and this night was no different. Their live sets are an eclectic mixture of studio bootlegs and old-school throwbacks. "Stress" is one of my personal favourites, along with a Michael Jackson edit they consistently drop. The crowd erupted as their distinct symbol, a massive cross, illuminated the stage.
To dance music fans, the reunion of Deep Dish is like Michael Jordan coming out of retirement. Stalwarts and pioneers in the early techno scene, these guys paved the way for many of today's most prominent acts before disbanding to work solo. As they began to play the final Echo Beach set of Saturday night, it became clear that they by no means lost their touch-in fact, quite the opposite. Individually they had honed their crafts to perfection, and this reunion brought the best of both worlds from Dubfire and Sharam. The highlight of their set had to be one of the tracks of the summer, Maceo Plex's remix of "Crossfade," a deep house anthem that rides a fine line of evil, horror-movie house music. They absolutely killed it, and were the perfect talent to send everyone home in anticipation of Sunday's antics.
Sunday kicked off, as expected, a bit slower, as people were waking up undeniably feeling the party from the previous day. We arrived to a HARD-inspired Beach Party with Destructo at the helm. Although he definitely took to the mic more than the rest of his Echo Beach colleagues, he wasn't just a DJ that afternoon, acting as a Diplo-like party host more than anything else.
Eric Volta played his traditionally slow and sensual deep house at the No. 19 stage, before passing the decks to the always-entertaining Green Velvet. Volta filled the shoes of the absent DJ Sneak to full effect, with a great evening set that hinted towards the direction that No. 19 is heading with their music.
As GV took to the stage the heavens erupted, literally dumping rainwater on the entire festival. Victor Calderone had to seek coverage backstage at Echo Beach, while Green Velvet took it upon himself to turn up the No. 19 stage and keep the tunes going. He was laughing as the tech crew was helping him cover his equipment with plastic so it wouldn't be damaged by the rain. His weird, quirky live vocals add a unique element to his sets that can only be created by the man with the green mohawk.
As Green Velvet was beginning to finish up his set, we made our way over to the main stage for the legend that is Eric Prydz. Prydz, Pryda, or Cirez D-take your pic-rarely graces Canadians with live performances. He will typically play one or two festivals here every summer, and cities like Toronto or Montreal are simply lucky to even get one Pryda club set in a calendar year.
One of the best producers in the world, the only thing you can expect from an Eric Prydz set, are his original tracks. His arsenal of complete (and unreleased) productions is so deep that it would be hard-pressed to find someone that could match it in sheer volume. Sometimes, Prydz will play a very progressive, journeyman set, chalk-full of his incredibly unique Pryda/Eric Prydz labeled tracks, many of which are played out on main stages across the world. Other times, he'll decide to teach a lesson to the masses, and drop pure, unadulterated Cirez D techno right into the laps of rave kids that have absolutely no clue what is hitting them.
On this Sunday at dusk, it was the latter. He played a solid mix of Pryda IDs to contrast hard-hitting, Cirez D techno heaters. Without a doubt it was his darker alter-ego that stole the show at the main stage. Right in the middle of Dash Berlin and Tiesto, two DJs that live by electronic dance music and euphoric-trance, Eric set out on a path of destruction, ringing in the sunset with the heaviest bass kicks the main stage would experience all weekend. It was a fantastic display of versatility and DJ prowess that only someone like Pryda could pull off. Imagine the faces on ravers if Tiesto decided to play a full techno set on main stage...
Hats off to Eric Prydz for owning the main stage this weekend. He continued his evening with a legendary after party set at The Guvernment, a club that is truly built for his sound.
We caught the very end of Paco Osuna's Echo Beach set before the magician, Luciano, took over to close down the weekend. Meanwhile, Toronto's number one export, Art Department, were headlining their very own stage by the lake.
For Luciano, having missed the festival last year due to illness, the anticipation was through the roof as he took the decks. The Cadenza boss more than made up for his previous absence by playing the set of the weekend. Nobody-and I mean nobody-plays a dancier, groovier set than Luciano does. Short sample loops, fast-paced cutting, heavy bassline mixing and, of course, accentuated hand flicks are just a cheap way of describing the South American's talents behind the decks. It's obvious as to why he was booked to headline the festival, as he truly brought the heat to an already sweltering Echo Beach.
Aside from the talent, Digital Dreams really did everything right. The production was on point, at every stage. Dancers, streamers, confetti, pyro, you name it, and it was there. Deep Dish even had their custom, triangular production to accompany their reunion, while the stage team really let loose for Luciano. As far as two-day festivals go, it was smooth from start to finish. Congrats to the entire Digital Dreams team, and we can't wait to see what you guys have in store for us next year.
You can follow Zack on Twitter: @zackrota