Guest review by Shaela Johnston.
Over Labor Day weekend I had the unique opportunity to attend the 12th anniversary North Coast Music Festival at Seek Geek Stadium. This one being my first festival since Warped Tour in 2007, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect, but I knew there would be a LOT to enjoy with over 100 artists across four different stages in three days. I couldn’t have dreamt of better weather this weekend; it never felt hotter than 80-85 degrees with a near-constant cooling breeze, ensuring that we could all focus on having a good time instead of finding the nearest shaded spot (or maybe that’s just me, I wilt in the sun!).
I was concerned about having a hydrated festival adventure, because ravers are notoriously in need of serious water replenishment after even one set, not to mention 10 hours of non-stop EDM. Thankfully, NCMF thought ahead by including water stations at a couple points in the festival grounds where people could fill up their water bottles or drink straight from the fountain—all of which were filtered!
I knew there would be interactive art installations throughout the festival grounds, but the detail that went into the rainbow tassel walk and the gentle-giant tree man truly blew me away. These, amongst other art installations, served as the perfect Instagram photo backdrop and place for festivalgoers to take a beat from jamming out at the rail.
North Coast Music Festival has changed a lot over the years and has consistently become more EDM-focused—this year was no different and boasted headliners like Illenium, Porter Robinson and Armin Van Buuren, and even Diplo.
Music was the focus of the festival, but the outfits worn by festival attendees and costume performers were a huge part of the super-fun weekend. Not only was there a giant robot on stilts and a hybrid alien/cat girl but also tons of traditional rave attire including a ton of “candy” (rave jewelry made from plastic beads).
The production put on by the folks dressing up was met tenfold by each one of the four stages’ productions. The Vega, Canopy and Stadium stages all had massive LED walls displaying each artist’s unique visual selection to correlate with their set, not to mention fog-machines and lasers. If the combination of lasers and bass music that your body cannot help but move to don’t get you in the mood to do some stomping, then the pyrotechnics will. Fireworks and pyrotechnics across the Seat Geek Stadium, Vega stage, and Fire Pit were not only astonishing, but a welcome blast of warmth near the end of Sunday when things really started to cool down outside.
Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the entire festival was the Chill Dome. The Chill Dome covers a full field of air-conditioned laser-filled space paired with a different DJ every hour. There were pillows strewn about, offering some much-needed comfortable downtime between everyone’s favorite DJ’s sets under the sun.
The Canopy stage offered some respite from the sun as well, its vine-adorned shade-structure stretched over a grass-green dance field. The most chill house music I’ve ever heard kept a steady flow of people coming to wiggle and vibe out. With the DJ stylings of Eli & Fur, Yotto, Kaytranada, TSHA, and Diplo, it’s no wonder that the Canopy was almost always full.
One of the most memorable performances, and one that is now close to my heart was Channel Tres, aka. Sheldon Young from Compton, Calif. Channel’s EDM beats, and rapping lured me from the path I was on in search of the best nachos a festival could offer. I was not disappointed to walk into an exquisite, choreographed dance performance by Channel Tres and his back-up dancers. His outfit alone would have solidified this as my favorite performance of the festival.
Another favorite was TSHA. Teisha Matthews graced the Canopy Stage on Sunday, bringing us a distinct and exciting sound out of London, UK. TSHA’s set was a breath of fresh air and with such a fresh face to match. Her smile and boogie on stage were contagious!
Slander’s set at the stadium was the most fire-filled and electric set of the weekend. The American DJ duo (Scott Land and Derek Anderson) hail from sunny LA, California. Their signature trap-trance style that pioneered the genre gave us absolutely no breaks, only dancing.
Baynk had such a chill presence on stage; I almost forgot that I was at an EDM festival, because as I walked to the stage (a couple minutes after his set started), I saw the soft New Zealand vision wielding a saxophone. Baynk looks like the kind of person who would ask about your day and genuinely be interested in the answer, and his catchy, vibey music conveyed that to me before I even saw his face.
Porter Robinson’s set on Sunday night was uplifting and inspirational. I loved the on-stage piano he played live; his set also included live vocals that he pitched up to create a unique experience, especially when they didn’t turn it off at the beginning of his audience-banter. I’m sure not many people noticed, but I did, and it was great. Behind him on the LED wall, there were phrases like “I can make something good, “ “I cherished the flowers,” and “I’m still here.” These visuals gave me a peek of what he’s overcome, which I think everyone can relate to.
The festival hosted DJs from all over the world, but I believe that Hugo Pierre Leclercq, better known as Madeon, may have been the only French artist and producer to join us in Chicago. Madeon’s set began with minimalistic visuals that drew in the audience as he appeared on stage as a silhouette against the LED wall behind him flashing patterns, colors, and animation that synched up perfectly with the feeling of his songs. About seven minutes into the set, Madeon dramatically left his silhouetted podium to stand and greet the audience with a raised hand met with the crescendo of electronic music and a spotlight. The marching figures that overtook the LED wall later brought a sense of militaristic doom.
Trevor Christensen is a music producer from Colorado who goes by the professional artist’s name Said The Sky. Said The Sky’s performance on Saturday at the stadium was the kind of set that makes you feel happy to be alive. The dreamy visuals paired with inspirational swells of music made his audience emotional and ready to dance it out.
Jai Wolf, a Bangladeshi-American producer living in New York, gave an outstanding set to his many fans at the stadium on Sunday evening. His production was on the simpler side, but it paired perfectly with his signature melodic style (reminiscent of Chvrches). His indie-dance anthems hit even harder than they do when you’re driving just a little too fast in your car blasting Indian Summer (not speaking from experience or anything).
The Vega stage hosted a great number of dubstep artists including Jeff Montalvo, known to most as Seven Lions. His blend of genres includes electro house, glitch hop, drum and bass, and dubstep, which when seen live is intense, some may even say life-altering. The visual aspect of his performance was mysterious and confident.
Must Die!, aka Lee Austin Bates, is a dubstep artist who is best known for his track “VIP’s,” a collab with the iconic Skrillex. His was one of the most memorable performances overall, mostly because he started the set by yelling “Who’s ready to S**K some D**K?!”. It was at this point that a security officer looked over at me and said “Man… It’s only 4pm. How much weirder is today going to get?”.
“Svdden Death Presents: Voyd” was the title of the Vega stage’s final performance on Sunday night. I prepared as I always do, by walking up to the security gate a couple minutes before the set starts to hang out with my favorite security people. Unfortunately, I was escorted out of the photo pit by one of the DJ’s security because Svdden Death’s alias, Voyd, doesn’t allow press to cover the set. I opted to watch from the audience and was not disappointed (although my camera was). Voyd is a truly terrifying alien-like creature with antlers who gave the most malevolent set of the weekend, by far. There was fire, lasers, stomping, and necks were most certainly broken (headbanging jargon, I’m an EDM kid now).
This review of the latest North Coast Music Festival was written by Shaela Johnston. You can see more of her work here.