It’s difficult to sum up Electric Forest, an overwhelmingly wonderful experience, as the festival covers so much ground, both literally and figuratively. How do you paint a picture of such an unparalleled place, where everything you see makes you smile, and the euphoric energy is so thick you could cut through it with a knife?
Imagine all the most vibrant colors you can. Now throw them with abandon onto the trees, the screens, the stages and the people, and you’ll have scratched the surface of what Electric Forest looks like. The feeling it fosters, however, is much harder to describe. It’s like trying to define love to someone who has never felt it, because there’s no other word adequate to properly convey the event’s incalculably harmonious character.
Existing in a realm all its own, Insomniac Events and Madison House have created a truly remarkable and magical surreality with Electric Forest. It’s like a psychedelic storybook brought to life, equal parts Dali and Disney. It’s where Wonderland, Never-Never Land and Oz overlap. It pushes the boundaries of perception, proving that anything is possible with creativity and an open mind, and reminds us that we are free to reside on whichever side of the looking glass we desire.
The site itself, the Double JJ Ranch, is incredibly expansive. In addition to five stages it includes a slew of sideshow-like attractions, giving a massive range that encompasses jam bands, underground electronic artists, EDM names, indie acts, acoustic music and more. Despite drawing from so many different genres, the crowd come together to create one beautiful and cohesive community, people taking care of themselves and each other as all in attendance frolick through a four-day fairytale.
Not to be compared to many of its contemporaries, Electric Forest draws more closely in likeness to Burning Man (although attendees could certainly stand to leave less of a trace in their wake), or even a modern-day Woodstock. While it can be said that it’s not your run-of-the-mill music festival, it is still a music festival, and the organizers have booked an impressive and well-rounded line-up to lift our spirits and make us move. The first day alone boasts appearances by Jimmy Edgar, J. Phlip, Catz 'N Dogz, Francesca Lombardo, The Glitch Mob, Dusky, Zeds Dead, Poolside and Classixx, to name just a handful.
While many foresters’ Friday may have begun with yoga, a traipse through the trees or String Cheese Incidents’ performance of the evening, we wait until nightfall to tee off with Golf Clap. True to form, the Detroit duo tear through classics like The Detroit Grand Pubahs’ “Sandwiches” and Double 99’s “RIP Groove” for a garage-soaked good time. A dedicated throng with them through every trick and track, they close with Derrick May's seminal “Strings of Life,” perfectly setting the stage for the father-son duo of Kevin and Dantiez Saunderson, who take the tables next.
Straight up sending the kids to summer school, they make it abundantly clear we are in the hands of a master (and his protégé), and the love of a father sharing the stage with his son is palpable. Kevin “The Elevator” Saunderson even takes the opportunity to give the less knowledgeable faction of the crowd a lesson on the music’s origins, proudly informing them of techno's Detroit heritage.
From there we close out Friday at the Silent Disco, which is a feat just to find. When we finally stumble on the stage, Golf Clap is playing Chris Malinchak’s “Leaving Tomorrow,” which they mix into Todd Terje’s sizzling edit of Hot Chip’s “How Do You Do.” It's divine.
The Silent Disco amasses a respectable crowd, who seem to be enjoying themselves. However, there's an awkwardness associated with hearing house music, yet not being able to feel the bass pulsating beneath our feet. Given the stage’s location, nestled in nature, there's a definite yearning to tangibly feel the connection being made between the music, the earth and each other. That said, Golf Clap do a splendid job picking appropriate tunes for a headphone-house set, showing another side entirely from earlier in the night.
Saturday kicks off with a dark and dreamy set from the stoic and stone-faced Eric Volta. Despite his ever-demure demeanor, he takes us on an ethereal afternoon excursion. Next up is the Vancouver-born, New York-based duo of Bob Moses, who blow minds with their deeply moving music. Giving an impressive live performance, we would happily listen to them play for the rest of the day. The crowd cling desperately to every deliberate note, devouring each guitar riff and melancholy melody they make.
Later in the evening we get a taste of Flying Lotus. Performing from behind a sheer stage cover, his experimental “IDM” sounds and mind-bending 3D visuals make for an absolutely out-of-this-world combination. There is a shared feeling of “what the fuck” when FlyLo comes on, and he appears as if channeling sounds from space with an alien-esque adeptness. With his music getting in your face and under your skin, Flying Lotus is not for the faint of heart.
We sacrifice Soul Clap in order to catch the live stylings of Booka Shade. Although the German duo’s music is layered, unrelenting, and pretty much made for the rave, there is a lightness about them as they perform. They both bounce gingerly to the beat and beam uncontrollably through a 90-minute set that includes “Crossing Borders,” “Charlotte,” and “Body Language.” Saturday comes to a close with a veritable rain dance to Art Department, as midway through their set we welcome the first drops to fall all weekend. Lit by the stage’s white lasers, it drizzles down like flecks of glitter from the sky, rejuvenating us from days of non-stop dancing.
Sunday’s house stylings are provided by the four crusaders of French Express, Isaac Tichauer, Perseus, Jonas Rathsman and Moon Boots. Taking an hour turn each on the decks, they bring their sophisticated sounds to the Forest Stage, as day turns to night one final time. Their blissful block is best summed up by one particular tune Perseus plays, Lovebirds’ “I Want You in My Soul.” The music is classy, the crowd content.
Unfortunately, as there are so many acts, installations and corners of the festival to cover, no one person can possibly touch on it all. There are hug-offs, dance-offs, Geisha girls, gong circles, a giving tree, hammock city and tent town. More important, though, than anything we see, or even hear, during our unmatched four days in the forest, is the feeling we all share. One of the most unforgettable things we witness all weekend is the genuine enjoyment of each and every artist who performs. The incredible energy cultivated by the community is so abundant, it's impossible for those on stage not to feel it and feed off it, as well. Electric Forest enriches everyone with its culture of love, respect and expression, and it leaves us all absolutely enchanted.
Words: REISA SHANAMAN
Pics: DAVID SHANAMAN