(Cover photo credit: Max Herman, Time Out Chicago)
For all the chaos surrounding the first day of the 2013 North Coast Music Festival in Union Park, the crowd’s unbending resolve in keeping the party going was a definite constant. From nearby establishments (Bottom Lounge, the McDonald’s adjacent to the park) to every spare recessed doorway in the area, the throng of neon-and-glitter-clad festgoers kept the energy high and set the tone for another weekend of heat, dancing and illicit substance use. Heave features editor Dominick Suzanne-Mayer will be at North Coast all weekend long (and Tweeting at @HEAVEdom), but first, our coverage of Friday. As always, coverage comes in the form of Heave’s superlative awards.C
Most dedicated security officer: The stout gentleman wandering the masses during Illtek’s set
Friday jumped off at the tree-lined Last Stand stage, to the sounds of ILLtek, this year’s Toast of the Coast play-in contest winner. ILLtek’s material is big on four-on-the-floor juke beats, but juxtaposed with a bigger, pop-friendly EDM feel. At times the set also moved into the same territory as many of Friday’s DJ acts, which is to say that it acknowledged this year’s EDM flavor of the week: trap music. The moderate crowd filled in well as the set went on, though, especially given ILLtek’s high energy throughout. For all the fun that ILLtek created onstage, however, an intrepid security guard in the crowd was taking just as much of it away. Likely in response to the recent news of severe to fatal accidents suffered at a Zedd show, North Coast has cracked down as much as it can on drug use. Few things that happen this weekend will be as singularly hilarious as the look on the face of the teenager next to me who literally had a joint pulled out of his mouth and stepped on.
Best new food offering: The Cheesie’s Truck
If you don’t live in Chicago, you may not know about the miracle that is Cheesie’s Pub & Grub. Their gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches are a miracle of modern ingenuity, and their food truck is at North Coast all weekend, serving up some of the highlights of their full menu. One can only wish, though, that they’d brought along the slices of mac and cheese pizza.
Biggest rally: RL Grime
After the day-altering thunderstorm (more on that in a moment) reached its conclusion, the schedule was adjusted with minimal cuts and the festival began anew with two-faced producer RL Grime taking to the Last Stand stage. That’s not an insult, by the way; Grime doubles as Clockwork, a big-beat DJ. That’s not to say Grime is inaccessible in any way, though. In fact, his set was a major crowd pleaser from start to finish, even if it had its hiccups, such as simply playing Kendrick Lamar’s “Backstreet Freestyle” for a big pop without really doing much of anything to it. But at its best, his set was just as dirty as his assumed moniker would suggest, trafficking heavily in trap and current hip-hop production trends in general. For a finale he dropped his well-circulated remix of Chief Keef’s “Love Sosa” for the local shoutout, and here’s the thing about “Love Sosa”: white people really, really do. Kudos to Grime for delivering exactly what the people wanted at exactly the right time.
Notable miscalculation: The Tent Stage
Now that North Coast is pulling in bigger crops of top-level talent every year, and the Dos Equis stage has become a notable side stage, there was a definite need for a guaranteed space for local talent to ply their craft and pull in new listeners. In theory, The Tent is a great idea: a moderately sized tent stage that sits right by the festival entrance, bringing in guaranteed eyeballs as people make their way to wherever the most bass is coming from. Trouble is, once the main stage acts got started, you can barely hear anything at The Tent, and it also bleeds over into the main festival area if you’re too far back. It’s a great idea, but could probably use some tweaking next year.
Biggest letdown: Capital Cities
That’s not a knock against Capital Cities’ abbreviated set, but more one against North Coast’s handling of the emergency shutdown. After 15-20 minutes of twinkly full-band trance-pop, Capital Cities were cut off because of the storm, only to be allowed back onstage to get through their current hit “Safe and Sound.” The sound was then cut off for good two thirds of the way into that song, replaced by a weather bulletin. It’s hard to say how the full set would have gone, as it was an uneven affair throughout. Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian’s brainchild offers a strange mixture of the sort of adult contemporary pop that parents put on their “sex night” mixes, jazzy trumpets and winking yacht rock. That wink works best on “Farrah Fawcett Hair,” a spiritual counterpoint to Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” in which the two jokingly trade bars about things that they consider “good shit.” It’s hard to say how much of their sound is ironic posturing and how much is out of a genuine love of maligned genres, but it’s definitely interesting either way.
Most likely to achieve by underachieving: Mac Miller
Mac Miller may legitimately be one of the most hated-on rappers in America right now. What’s sad is that his hate, to a large extent, is based on his fanbase more than on his own material. Granted, his material sort of fosters the burgeoning high school burnout demographic that tends to be associated with him out of hand, with bars about how he “just wanna ride, ride through the city in a Cutlass/Find a big butt bitch, somewhere get my nuts kissed” (from “Donald Trump”) and the like. At the same time, the Pittsburgh MC has tapped into something in the zeitgeist, especially after his debut LP Blue Slide Park debuted atop sales charts as an independent release. Miller, more than anything, is the ultimate everyman. He’s really into movies, partying, soft substance abuse and a relentless optimism that’s as much infectious as it is perfectly emblematic of why he’s such a polarizing figure. There’s something almost childlike about Miller’s goofy boasts, and enjoyment of his North Coast set depends on whether you find that endearing or grating. But if you really think about it, all of hip hop is sort of trapped in a state of arrested development right now, whether it’s the molly or the bickering or the entire raison d’etre for OFWGKTA. Miller’s just the first one to make millions being really upfront about it.
Most deflating moment: Passion Pit
Friday’s biggest storm casualty was the planned hourlong full-band set by top-billed headliner Passion Pit. After coming out around ten minutes late, frontman Michael Angelakos announced that their gear had been destroyed by the storm, and that they were going to substitute a DJ set in order to keep things going. It was what it was, which is to say a synthesis of remixes of their own material with a lot of big-room EDM tossed in to appease the masses. The crowd started to dissipate as the set went on, though, for it wasn’t anything particularly of note unless you were really there to dance. By the time Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” came on, it was time to put day one in the books and get some rest.
Coming tomorrow: Nasir Jones returns to North Coast, Big Gigantic takes their place as one of the jam band scene’s A-list stars and I continue to fill my body with Cheesie’s until it can take no more.