When Amsterdam Dance Event was looking to expand its presence worldwide a couple years back, the sunny climes of Aruba must have seemed an immediate and ideal choice. The island already holds a strong Dutch contingent, while the Caribbean and South America have been jumping on that festival game hard over the past few years. With hometown boy and Dirty Dutch provocateur Chuckie spearheading the efforts and the Tourism Board of Aruba colluding, Electric Festival was born – and that's how I found myself cavorting amongst flamingoes in the name of music journalism.
Running from Wednesday to Sunday in pools, on beaches, on festival grounds, and even on a catamaran around the gobsmackingly picturesque Island of Aruba, Electric Festival's programming runs from the deep to the fistpumpingly upfront. The daily pool parties were overrun by a very present and bootylicious contingent of Venezuelans and Colombians, who kept the party going from Loco Dice on Wednesday all through to the opening of the festival proper on Friday and beyond.
The exotic location attracted representatives from all of Holland's most relevant festival organizations for the ADE conference. ID&T, Q-Dance, and Cream all converged for one panel. However, nobody was able to explain how people are able to find hardstyle palatable.
The beachside location and production value of the main stage at Electric Festival were top notch - Huge iguanas flanked a native headdress donning sunglasses that lit up and emitted a sky of lasers. It's funny that some festivals go out of their way to ban Indian headdresses entirely amongst the audience, but Electric Festival deigned to stick a massive one on stage. Maybe the PC brigade on the islands are as chilled out by the Carribean vibes as we were.
The first headliner up was Carnage. Although he made his name by pushing "festival trvp," these days he's ditched the "trvp" aspect and his sets are now just "festival." In a lot of ways, his performance just seemed like a second-rate iPod Shuffle rendition of the Chuckie set that followed. I don't think he could mix his way out of a bowl of cake batter.
I have never been to a festival where the staff were having so much fun. The Starbucks booth was half-abandoned as the gaggle of workers wiggled to the music around the perimeter. "Who is gonna serve the coffee?" I asked one of them. "Nobody here wants coffee," she laughed to me before returning to pantomiming one of those foamy glowsticks as a phallus while she danced. Stay classy, lady.
Afterwards, Chuckie triumphantly worked the crowd into a frenzy and I came to a realization. At a certain point, your options are to be a hipster curmudgeon sadboy or just go with the flow when in Rome. That's how I ended up unapologetically dutty wining to Steve Aoki's "Boneless." Chuckie's the worldwide ambassador of the festival, and his performance was a celebration. But when it came time for the "Wonderwall" and "We Will Rock You" mash-up, I figured it was time to wander over to the Nikki Beach after-hours spot. That's where shit got real.
The contrast between vibes at the main stage and the adjacent after-parties was like night and day. The main stage was pretty much all big room all the time, whereas the after-parties, all hosted by curated crews, were all night groove-fests of house and techno. It was like all the basic people had gone home and only deep heads were left to dance their way into the daylight. Strangers and Friends are a Miami based party squad and, on Friday night, the likes of ALX, Patrick M, and Boris had that island in the palm of their hands all night/morning long. The posse is known for bringing a mountain of inflatables with them wherever they go, and the crowd was littered with turgid beach balls, elephants, palm trees, and a few massive dinosaurs bouncing amidst them.
It was there that I noticed the stark juxtaposition of dance styles between the Dutch and South Americans in the crowd. The Dutch are all jagged angles and elbows, whereas the South Americans slink about with their hips. I had heard a few North Americans comment that the Venezuelans they had interacted with were kinda standoffish. It was later explained to me, by a very friendly Venezuelan, that the major contingent of his countrymen at the festival had come from Caracas - A city that Gallup referred to as the most insecure nation in the World in terms of crime in 2013. They've been habituated towards keeping their guards up. Look at that. We learned something while raving!
It's not a real festival without some Carnage-inspired rave drama. Allegedly, the Great Chipotle Bandit stomped his way into the DJ booth during Boris and Chuckie's impromptu b2b performance at the after-party and stuck his USB into the decks in an attempt to hijack the set. There was a bit of a posse scuffle and eventually, rebuffed, Carnage trundled off from whence he came. Charming!
The best part about snorkeling is pretending that you're Darth Vader of the Sea. The best part about ADE Aruba is that you can emerge from the water, step past a few casually chillin' flamingoes, and 50 feet later you're in a cabana at an ADE conference session, enjoying a talk about the future of Caribbean dance music. It's unreal. There is no better place to get information on the electronic music industry than under a palm-thatched roof, pina colada in hand, and still dripping with Caribbean ocean water.
Onto night two of the festival proper: Did you know that Lil Jon DJ's? I don't think he said "Okayuhh" once, although he did yell "Yayuhh" many times. That's about all I have to say about that. A one-man Knife Party followed, and although the seizure music specialists employed a wider array of sonics than most on that stage, it was a tamer set than I'm used to from them in terms of variation. No matter - By this point, I knew the drill and was already on the after-party tip, where Venezuelan squad No Eat No Sleep followed up their earlier poolside performance and made it two nights in a row of absolutely essential 4x4 beats. The after-parties all went later than advertised, and the sun was up by the time the last reveler was corralled off the beach.
The closing ceremony at Nikki Beach saved the heaviest hitters for last. Both Chus and Ceballos and Stacey Pullen delivered masterful sets. Boats from the area pulled up and anchored where the sand dropped into the water and, as the lasers zapped far past the tide, I realized the great potential of this festival. What makes it such a winner is that the whole island seems to be rooting for it, and they've been clever in programming that appeals to both extremes of the deep/upfront spectrum. The number of venues keeps things fresh, the environs are second to none, and with ADE backing, Electric Festival is only going to get bigger and better by the year.
And hey, I know you're wondering: With all those sunkissed Venezuelan babes cavorting about, did your writer find love in Aruba? The answer is yes, but, unfortunately, she didn't look so foxy when I woke up in the morning:
Inflatable dinosaur pilfered from the Strangers and Friends afterparty.
All good photos by Connie Chan. All crappy photos by Jemayel Khawaja.
Jemayel Khawaja is Associate Editor of THUMP in Los Angeles - @JemayelK