With the often kaleidoscopic, carnival-esque atmosphere of the North Coast Music Festival’s third year serving as a reminder that this is less a traditional music festival than a 10-hours-per-day party, standard set-by-set coverage feels almost inappropriate. North Coast is already a full-fledged event, with a lot of DJs this year swinging for the big-beat fences to garner the biggest reactions while simultaneously showing off their technical skills when possible. And to label North Coast as strictly an EDM event (as many Chicagoans have tended to) does a disservice to the breadth of oddball acts they draw every single year. Rather than cover just the sets, then, I’ll be giving out superlatives all weekend long, to try and capture the wide swatch of goings-on that form the 3rd annual North Coast Music Festival.
Most improved: Dos Equis Stage. I was skeptical of the new setup for the Dos Equis side stage, which used to be in Union Park’s tennis courts but has been replaced this year (more on that shortly) and moved to where the exit used to be. At a glance, the Dos Equis stage looks as though it’s shoved into a corner, until you realize that a) the sound system is exponentially better than what that stage has seen the past two years and b) it’s able to grab people like never before. Case in point: During AbdeCaf’s thoroughly entertaining, day-opening set, the crowds were sparse, but AbdeCaf managed to bring people in simply by appealing to them as they entered. By the end, the crowd had noticeably packed in. Plus, it’s a stage right next to all the food, which is nothing short of a small miracle.
Most confounding: I’ll admit that I don’t get the whole “silent disco” thing to begin with, in which people attending a concert (ostensibly a social experience) put on headphones, through which DJs spin and people tune in, dancing with the music in their ears but in a room that itself has no noise. What’s interesting, then, is how massive the Groupon Silent Disco is at North Coast this year. From last year’s setup, which was a tent only slightly larger than your average merch booth, they’ve expanded it to taking up a sizable amount of the tennis courts. Granted, with talented like Dani Deahl and Gemini Club spinning there over the course of the weekend, it’s at least a legitimate effort. That said, it’s still weird as all hell.
Most throwback: Even a lot of people I know who still listen to EDM regularly were surprised to hear that Paul Oakenfold was playing this year’s festival. Despite the fact that the average listener hasn’t heard that name since “Starry-Eyed Surprise” had its moment of ubiquity, his Friday set was an entertaining mix of genres that almost felt charmingly outmoded in the face of a day largely characterized by ribcage-rattling electrohouse beats and wobble bass. Going back to the standard pounding melodies of late-90s/early aughts techno, with some sultry visuals to boot (the not-too-subtle display of a writhing blonde woman juxtaposed with sperm cells did not go unnoticed by much of the crowd around me), Oakenfold’s set didn’t quite hit the best-of-the-weekend revivalism that Fatboy Slim achieved on this weekend last year, but was still a fine time.
Dirtiest presence: I have to give an honorable mention to King Khan & The Shrines, whose garage-tinged soul is always disarming simply for the sultry dissonance of their horn melodies (always the perfect level of off-key) or the surprisingly trashy lyrics behind a song like “Took My Lady To Dinner,” in which Khan (decked out in a sparkling gold shirt for the occasion) belted out “She’s fat!/She’s ugly!/I really really love her!” Though a lot of their set felt repetitive after a few minutes, it was still a nice dose of dirty. That, however, was overwhelmed by Yelawolf, who looked every bit as scrappy and mangy as his meth-and-bitches hip-hop tends to suggest. While I’m not yet as convinced as most heads that Yelawolf is among the heirs apparent to Eminem’s working-man throne (his lyrical prowess isn’t even close to Marshall Mathers yet), he has the spitfire flow half of the equation down pat. On “I Wish,” he declares that “I wish a motherfucker would tell me I ain’t hip-hop,” and given the manic energy of his midday set, I don’t think anybody in the crowd saw fit to challenge him. Ripping through the occasional syncopated rhythm while mostly spending time on tracks off his major-label debut Radioactive (disappointing, given the superiority of his mixtape output), the down-South MC brought Union Park down to the trashiest, sexiest, most addled levels it had yet seen that day. It’d only get crazier from there.
Biggest presence: Knife Party, a dubstep duo born out of speed-beat masters Pendulum, closed out the North stage on Friday night, right after sundown, with a light show impressive enough to make everybody glad that the tandem didn’t end up with the midday Lollapalooza slot they were rumored to have earlier this summer. While most of their music followed the same general set pattern that Midnight Conspiracy used elsewhere in the day (huge attack, bigger drops, the occasional house or trance-influenced beat to keep things feeling fresh before more of those first two), they easily did it the best. By the time they reached their oft-sampled “Internet Friends (You Blocked Me on Facebook),” the crowd was in the palm of their hand. Plus, seriously, those strobes.
Best single song of the day: That’d be Axwell, one third of the soon-to-be-defunct Swedish House Mafia and purveyor of all subgenres of house. His remix of the resonant “In My Mind” was the perfect cap to day one, as the crowd sang along to the repeated hook of “The dreams we had, the love we shared, this is what we’re waiting for.” North Coast, in a lot of ways, has become Chicago’s nicest EDM festival. Rather than the outdoor-nightclub vibe of Wavefront, or the group of pill-popping Lollagoers who didn’t understand basic electronic show decorum, North Coast’s crowd is somewhere between trying to get laid and trying to love everything. If that holds up, the rest of this weekend is going to be a good time.
Most corndog: Footlong Corndog 3: Still Corndoggin’, courtesy of Lee’s Concessions.
Tomorrow: A primer on how to do Midwest hip-hop courtesy of Atmosphere, the inimitable dance party that is a Girl Talk show and Dan Deacon’s latest Chicago appearance.