Features

Spring Awakening 2012: Saturday

garraud

Welcome to day one of Heave’s coverage of the first annual Spring Awakening Music Festival from Chicago, IL. For the weekend, your intrepid, brave, bass-defying reporters will be:

JFD – John Franklin Dandridge
MA – Michael Alexander

Enoptix and the Robot Dentists (Da Main Stage, 1:00)

To open a festival, especially a brand new festiva,l is a huge challenge. The crowd isn’t nearly crowded yet. Those who are there have yet to warm up. And for a electronic music DJ set, so much for the light show element of your act. Chicago act Enoptix and the Robot Dentists won a slot for Spring Awakening with a set at The Mid. They opened on the main stage to a healthy crowd, surrounded by the empty stadium, and they set the scene with hypnotic and grimy tracks, full of whistling fuzz. The bass was as loud as the sun beating down on the early afternoon. Yes, people were dancing, especially when Trick Digital coursed through the speakers. Later, a downtempo expansion made throats and jaws vibrate. JFD

Mario Florek (Da Drive Stage, 2:00)

When Mario Florek began his set, it was still quite early and the bolli bears had yet to fly off the shelves. One could smell the sobriety in the air. Florek created a mood with his tropical beats over exotic singing, and the crowd swayed in good manner, until sirens shrieked and things quickly got spacey and bassy. Much credit to the daytime performers who managed to move daytime bodies. “This Is My Church” revved the crowd up even more still. After that, it was easy to go into the build up/climax portion of his set. As always, what makes those not so cliché is the act of keeping them fresh, which is hard to do. Yet, Florek pulled it off by making his a bit more, um, sugary. JFD

LoBounce (Da Main Stage, 3:00)

The now-familiar “Until They Kick Us Out!” chant preceded the LoBounce set. An echoey buildup vacuumed everyone in. Frenetic brea beats thumped a perfect balance of bass and rhythm. It seems at this point in the festival that all of the acts were trying to out-bass each other. And it was great for the crowd. It was during LoBounce that the floor panels on the stadium floor got hotter, and the crunchiness of the bass became almost anthemic. At one point, if you closed your eyes, it sounded like giant frogs were having their songs amplified. This meshed well with the light show, despite the sun, and LoBounce had a very deliberate and genuine aesthetic to their build up/climax routine. After a brief equipment glitch, they played a new Glitch Mob remix track, which made up for the pause. JFD

Krewella (Da Equinox Stage, 3:00)

Chicago trio Krewella was absolutely fantastic! I recall a friend of mine insisting that this group was a must-see act at Spring Awakening. According to him, this was not only because they are from Chicago, but “they are insane live!” So with high expectations, I was excited to see if they could live up to such a billing. They really got the crowd moving when they did a mashup based around Calvin Harris and Ne-Yo’s “Let’s Go.” A mix of dubstep and electro-house, they have incredible energy and held back nothing to make their set enjoyable. Being located underneath a tent, I was surprised when they even used a smoke machine to add effect to their performance, and it worked in well, adding to the electric atmosphere. And when they did a mashup to “Somebody I Used to Know” and spiced it up with some dubstep flavoring, it was pandemonium and my favorite part of their performance. They also performed tracks like “Killin It” and “Play Hard,” from their new EP slated to drop Monday, titled Play Hard. MA

Nobody Beats the Drum (Da Equinox Stage, 4:00)

The performance tents were filled from the start of the festival, and remained so for Amsterdam’s Nobody Beats the Drum. They went right into rapid, dancey, almost old-school house tracks. The shriek-y effects were an automatic crowd pleaser. They hid hip-hop break beats in a slime of bass grooves, which swished inside each other. This was a subdued bass. What this act lacked in hard-hitting beats, though, they made up for in their slippery grooves. And their shallow transitions were a sign of there being more layers than one could hear with a common ear. The shadowy sounding “I’ve Got Some Blood On My Hands” was brilliant. So far, this was one of the festival’s most colorful sets, very full of character. JFD

3LAU (Da Drive Stage, 4:00)

Out of Las Vegas, Justin Blau or 3LAU was one of my biggest surprises Saturday. A man in a wheelchair was literally lifted into the air mid-set, as the progressive artist invoked electricity throughout the tent. I thought I hated the song “Call Me Maybe,” but it wasn’t as bad when 3LAU remixed it as he bounced in unison with the crowd, who absolutely loved him. The bass that he used with his sets was literally vibrating my shorts, and when he did a mashup to one of my favorites, in “Cry (Just a Little)” by the Bingo Players, I had to join in the dance party happening in the crowd. I had my backpack and camera, but I just couldn’t help it; he delivered an incredible performance. One thing that I kept seeing on all the sets that I felt was a bit invasive, though, was when artists coming on after those onstage were allowed to setup while the current artist was performing. It was a bit of a distraction, but 3LAU did well keeping focused and delivering a performance I can store in the memory bank. And the wheelchair guy. MA

Nathan Scott (Da Main Stage, 5:00)

To begin your set with a remix of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” is not a bad way to get the crowd hyped, although by the time Nathan Scott did it, it had been done twice already at the festival. Still, it’s not a bad opener, but Scott’s transition into techno-heavy tracks kept up the momentum, and what is usually cliché had a freshness to it, perhaps because Scott’s set didn’t stay in one place for too long. When he slid clouds of ambient-traced bass over the crowd, they erupted over the vocals, “In my head, this is where we all came from.” It was then when everyone knew where they were at. The sun was soon to set, and the beats began to get dirty. JFD

Designer Drugs (Da Equinox Stage, 5:00)

Running back to Da Equinox Stage in some blistering summer heat, I was able to secure a spot on the left side of the stage to get a close-up view of Designer Drugs. With a combination of house, electro and even hip-hop, Designer Drugs made guys around me flip over garbage cans and use them as stepstools just so they could get a glimpse of the group. They released a few new songs, but I wasn’t able to catch the names of them; all I heard them say was “new remix” and then they would do their thing, so I apologize. I did, however, catch the mashup they did to Kaskade’s “Eyes,” and it was fucking fantastic! On the hip-hop-fused mixes, they used vocals from Pimp C’s “Pourin Up” and meshed that with some dubstep, leading to some huge drops. I heard one of the gentlemen standing next to me say “This music seems to make everyone dance the same way,” and as my body started to wobble back and forth I agreed. MA

Midnight Conspiracy (Da Main Stage, 6:00)

Why couldn’t they get a midnight slot? Who knows? As it was, Chicago favorite Midnight Conspiracy added a taste to the festival that it hadn’t really found yet. Hammering bass lines dominated the sweet/sour grooves, which never lost momentum. In a wave of abrupt stop/false start squelches, “Gangsta? Fuck Off” got the crowd into a frenzy. And while Midnight Conspiracy is known for the typical slow-build routine, theirs are just so fresh and spot on that one can’t help but dance. The classic tracks were just what the audience needed. The push/pull effect of the rhythm had so much stamina that the crowd visibly got bigger throughout the set. If that wasn’t enough, there was a call for a mosh pit for the song, “Eye.” JFD

Joachim Garraud (Da Drive Stage, 6:00)

The leader of the space invader movement graced the Windy City, and I can say hands down that he was the most active artist of the day when it came to crowd participation. You could see how he fed off it, and the crowd went bonkers when he threw alien masks and temporary tattoos into the crowd. As the green lights took over the stage behind him, the French DJ went as far as whipping out a keytar! Rocking an alien mask and that keytar, he was able to do a mashup of Skylar Grey’s “Coming Home.” He even took time during his set to take pictures of the crowd that was rocking out to his music. To me, it showed me that Garraud had a very deep appreciation for the ones who supported him. I have a very profound appreciation for artists like that, and his dance music stylings made his space invasion a success. MA

A-Trak (Da Main Stage, 7:00)

I successfully snagged a spot by a tent that was near the 50 yard line inside Soldier Field stadium, where A-Trak was readying his set. And then, it happened. Opening up with some live turntable scratches, A-Trak had me in awe the entire set. He performed “Stingray” and banger “Big Bad Wolf,” before moving into the hip-hop spectrum for mashups of “Niggas in Paris,” “Snapbacks and Tattoos,” Same Damn TIme” and Cedric Gervais’ famous “Molly” track. The diversity he showed while switching from one style to another was awesome. He was also a crowd pleaser, as he came from behind his turntables about three times to engage the crowd. As he closed out, I put my backpack and camera down by my feet, raised my hands in the air and bowed down to his set. On Saturday night, I worshipped A-Trak. MA

Kill The Noise (Da Equinox Stage, 7:00)

Between intermittent fuzzy beats and almost tribal buildups, Kill The Noise was the funkiest act thus far. Their brand of classic techno rhythms were brilliantly timed with choruses and tepid bass. It seemed to be a hydraulic amplified sound that they produced, and it was hard not to dance to it. And then there was a jingle-jangle in the background that got louder until bursting, spinning the music into a new direction. Bouncy most of the time, the vibe anticipated the rest of the night. Sunglasses were being taken off during “Cripper,” a Flostradamus remix. Other than that, the downtempo ending might have been more of less. JFD

Ferry Corsten (Da Main Stage, 8:00)

Perhaps it was because of the timing of his set, coupled with the anticipation of Skrillex evidently building through the monstrous crowd, but Ferry Corsten’s set seemed a bit forced. It lacked momentum and never really took off in a pleasing direction. His track selections felt arbitrary, never really making a distinction from the motley mix of electronic music throughout the day. He had his moments of head-nodding beats and  flushes of bass that drew attention, only nothing ever stuck. At times, it seemed to lag. So much goes into crowd communication, with the act and with each other. It just wasn’t really there for Corsten. JFD

Benny Benassi (Da Main Stage, 9:00)

I purposely left this slot open on my schedule because I wanted to convince myself to check out Benny Benassi. I had a feeling he would take it back to some of his classics, and that’s exactly what he did. Then “Move Your Body” came on, and I lost it! I didn’t know my body could move that fast. I didn’t have any reservations about it, as everybody else was doing it too. And of course, he played his remix of Calvin Harris’ “Feel So Close,” which also went over really well with the crowd. “Cinema” was also played, along with the Skrillex remix version. No surprise: everyone knew the lyrics, so he cut the vocals and had the crowd all sing the hook in unison. Then, it all just stopped. He ended his performance 30 minutes early so that the stage could be prepped for Skrillex. Benassi was just done. No forewarning, no anything. Benny Benassi still remains a question mark to me. MA

Porn and Chicken (Da Colonnades, 9:00)

Anyone familiar with the notorious Porn and Chicken events at Evil Olive either loves them or hates them, and even those who hate them have a degree of appreciation for them. At any rate, both sides of that love/hate equation would show up to Porn and Chicken’s set. It was interesting to see how they would perform in the context of a festival, without the porn or the chicken. Furthermore, Porn and Chicken was placed on the stage furthest from the heart of the festival. And…they did what they do. Poppy tracks and hip-hop standards crunched between bass and superb DJing skills. There was a sort of hollowness that came with the foreign setting, but they still pulled it off. JFD

Skrillex (Da Main Stage, 10:00)

Performing in what looked like the lovechild of the Death Star and the Batmobile, Skrillex captained a DJ set that looked like it had just landed from outer space. I tried over and over to snap at least one shot of it, but everybody just absolutely went apeshit. I really did feel like I could gauge the level of crazy that was going to ensue when Skrillex took that stage. It’s something you can’t take notes on, see pictures to describe, or see a YouTube clip to mimic. You have to be there. There is nothing that comes close to being in that type of environment. The guy is a hands-down, bonafide megastar. You know all of his hits, so I won’t waste time listing all of them (though they all showed up), but there was one song that stood out above all of them. When Skrillex played the remixed version of Avicii’s “Levels,” my goodness! One of the top five concert memories I will have forever. It was hall-of-fame level. I wish I could have taken a mental photograph to place on a mantle somewhere. Skrillex is the king of dubstep, and Saturday night was his living testimony. MA

(For more photos, head over to Michael’s Flickr page.)