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Gemini Club (Red Bull Grove Stage, 1:00-2:00)
Gemini Club, a danceable, electro-tinged indie-dance threesome based here in Chicago, put on a very good early-day set to get Saturday right. Despite the crowds being sparse all around early in the day, they managed to pull in a sizable chunk of the early rises, who would proceed to get down on Gemini’s airy guitars and thumping bass grooves. Their stage setup is designed to allow for on-the-fly spontaneity, and accordingly a lot of the set’s most exciting moments came when the music would cut loose and simply go, such as on their infectious recent single “Ghost.” A perfect start to a very long Saturday.
Felix Cartal (Red Bull Grove Stage, 2:00-3:00)
Proving that a light show can’t be held down by, you know, the sun, Dim Mak-signed producer Felix Cartal took the grove stage to exponentially ramp up the level of bass-heavy dance music happening at that moment. Dabbling in electro and glitch, with a massive amount of slow-burn buildup, Cartal’s stuff is best if you’re the sort of EDM fan who loves the tease more than the drop. If you’re in the latter camp, though, there’s not a lot of payoff to be had for all the crescendo. To his credit, though, Cartal kept things live and kept the crowd moving even as the rain, which would cut through the middle of the day, arrived.
RJD2 w/Break Science (Named After Groupon Stage, 3:30-4:30)
Considering that long-running tech DJ RJD2 is now known best for “A Beautiful Mine,” the theme song from Mad Men, it’s amazing to see the man in a live setting and realize just how much great music he’s put out. After kicking things off solo, RJD2 bought out Adam Deitch from Break Science on the drums to give an entirely harder dimension to the set. If there was any disappointment, and there were few, it was the lack of notable material from The Third Hand despite the accessibility of a live band. Toying about with ’70s funk and ska grooves, nonstop breakbeats and sounds both dreamy and digital, RJD2’s set was one of the weekend’s most exciting so far, and a true affirmation that after nearly a decade, little has changed for one of the most consistently interesting DJs going. Plus, the man was the first I’ve noticed this weekend to spin actual records, so ample credit is immediately due there.
Big Gigantic (Red Bull Grove Stage, 4:30-5:30)
Now here’s something I’ve never seen before. Big Gigantic, a two-man dance-jam act, incorporates a jazzy saxophone into their electronic set, which moves between breakbeats, wobble bass and a host of other media. Judging by the huge Grove stage crowd for their set, perhaps I’m late to the party. Jeremy Salken’s drum attack is frantic live, and it keeps a prevailing through-line of wildly high energy going. Because their style is so specific, the set was a bit one-note, but as such notes go, it’s a damned interesting, entertaining one.
BBU (Magic Hat Local Stage, 5:45-6:45)
Despite starting nearly 20 minutes late due to what appeared to be technical issues, and even though said issues continued throughout the set, local hip-hop trio BBU came out ready to go for a small but enthusiastic crowd. Kicking off with “BBWho?,” BBU went off with their known blend of socially aware, politically aggressive lyrics and spitfire flow over four-on-the-floor juke beats. Near the set’s end, an indignant sound tech nearly threatened to shut the operation down when they insisted on finishing out their set, but luckily cooler heads prevailed. Otherwise, we’d have been denied the treat of “Chi Don’t Dance,” their trademark song, and its wildly memorable hook. Say it with me: “Chi don’t dance no more, all we do is juke, all we do is juke…”
Common (Named After Groupon Stage, 7:30-8:30)
It’s strange to consider the fact that Common is now a veteran MC, or even that it’s six years since he reinvented himself with Be. If you grew up in Chicago, or near it, his is a name that’s always been closely associated with hip-hop, as though ingrained into the collective consciousness. His Saturday set captured the broader range of his career, calling back to “I Used To Love H.E.R” from 1994’s Resurrection, and forward to the aforementioned Be with an exciting but still loose and relaxed version of “Go.” The popular wisdom is that Common’s best years as an MC are now behind him, but if nothing else, in a live setting Common makes the mid-’90s come right to him, without having to look back.
Fatboy Slim (Red Bull Grove Stage, 8:45-10:00)
For a certain generation, Fatboy Slim was the moment when you discovered dance music. During the brief period late in the last millennium when mainstream America discovered that repetitive vocal samples and thudding beats were also music, and that they liked it, Norman Cook was at the very front of that wave. In that way, it’s hard not to label Fatboy Slim a nostalgia act, considering that his claims to fame have been a kind of dance music that’s been “progressed beyond” and a series of beloved music videos, also a medium on the wane. It’s thrilling, then, to witness a set like his North Coast headlining gig, which stood as an assertion that the old pioneer is still one of the best.
Drawing from a broad range, this was a pure set of older-style dance music, delivered by a man who in his nearly 50 years knows exactly how to pace out, bring up and cool down a crowd without so much as breaking a sweat. A prolonged, surreal rendition of “Star 69,” complete with a computer-animated head uttering its vulgar lyrical sample, elicited one of the stronger reactions. For a more current sample, Slim toyed about with Cee-Lo Green’s ubiquitous “Fuck You” briefly, after drawing it out of “Stop (In The Name Of Love).” Most notably, for an audience clearly waiting for Slim’s big three hits, the way in which they were finally delivered at the set’s end was a curveball. “Praise You” appeared only in vocal form, while “The Rockafeller Skank” formed the beat and the “Weapon of Choice” video played over the screens. This was a pure dance set, and a tough one to top by any act that has the unenviable task of following it.
-The water station problem, on further review, is still bad. There is one fill station, in the corner opposite the two main stages, with roughly 8-10 spigots. There are around 55,000 people in attendance. I’m just saying.
-Can somebody explain to me the whole EDM festival tradition of putting things on poles and waving them around? The best one so far, for the record, is an orca wearing a WWE title belt.
-If there’s been as much gate crashing as last year, I haven’t really noticed, save for one girl who made a valiant try to outrun a surprisingly spry old security guard. He won.
-I only got to catch around 20 minutes of The Right Now before having various interview obligations, but I was saddened to see how few people made it out early enough to catch one of the most entertaining local bands currently making the rounds. Chicago, I am disappoint. They’ll be at the Lakeview East festival next weekend (details here). Redeem yourselves.