Electric Zoo 2012 Recap

Posted by on September 13, 2012

We showed you Electric Zoo in images and gave you the sounds of each day. We’ve even given you a video recap that will bring all of your favorite moments of the weekend to the forefront of your mind. Now, we will try to capture the spirit of this great festival through words. Because even as Labor Day fades into the distance, the memories of the weekend live on. The three days of Electric Zoo constituted a blurry, messy, and ultimately wonderful check mark on the great bucket list of life, and while it’s a tall order to try to sum up all three days in one post, we’re going to pick out a few moments that stood out for us during the weekend. To put it another way, we’re talking about the small anecdotes that you and your friends will be laughing about for the next six months — the moments that reflect the atmosphere of the festival as a whole.

Is there anything that feels better than walking into a festival on the first day? Your excitement has probably been building for months (Ugh, I know it’s only May, but I just can’t wait for Electric Zoo, y’know?). You undoubtedly didn’t get much sleep the night before. Each crop-topped, kandi-laden, neon-bedecked raver you spot on the streets ratchets up your anticipation level and makes the feeling of I need to get there right effing now even more visceral and urgent. So when you finally clear security and take your first step into the strange, otherworldly carnival that will be your home for the next three days, it’s kind of a rush. The moment you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived, the end is nowhere in sight, the bass is deep in your chest and all that’s left to do is decide where you want to go first.

If you’re one of the lucky kids who managed to skive off of work on Friday, you’ll probably remember finding yourself in the Riverside Fool’s Gold tent at around 5 pm, two warm foamy Coors Lights in hand, when the cheeky, gelled-down, taco loving, skinny tie-wearing internet troll better known as Dillon Francis assumed the position behind the booth. He would proceed to drop one of the fiercest sets of the weekend.

If you’re still like me, you’ll remember how he effortlessly blended 112 bpm crowd pleasers (like the obvious but still appreciated “I.D.G.A.F.O.S.”) with the crunchier, heavier side of life — to the delight of an audience that he had in the palm of his hand for the duration. Also amusing was the giant cardboard cutout of Dillon’s face, rendered in the style of Twoface or perhaps Gus Fring, that one very well-prepared festival goer had thought to bring. But perhaps the most quintessential Dillon moment occurred when he stepped out on the front of the stage midway through his set and got half of the tent to scream “FUCK” and the other half to scream “YOU” in time to the beat. It goes without saying that the crowd loved every second of it.

Another moment that will stay with us for a long time occurred when Maya Jane Coles tore the roof off of the Sunday School tent with a set that was more energetic and upbeat than we tend to hear in her deep discography. Near the back of the tent, there was a man in his 50s or 60s, plainly dressed, eyes closed, swaying to the beat, totally in a trance. He blended in as just another festival goer, albeit one on the older side of the spectrum. But he made his mark as one of Maya’s tracks was coming to a fever pitch and the clash of melodies and rhythms were reaching a crescendo — he started to yell “Louder,” “Louder!” at the top of his lungs, urging Maya Jane Coles to give him more, totally lost in the music and the moment. You’ve got to love seeing this kind of thing play out — music really knows no boundaries.

One of my favorite times at any festival is the moment when daytime starts fading slowly into dusk, and it becomes a little difficult to see for about 30 minutes as the light dissipates and things lose contrast. I usually spend this time on the grass with friends, catching some much needed chill time after the hot early hours of the day, and it’s this little twilight window between afternoon and darkness when a collective sense of this is about to get serious descends upon the entire festival. On Saturday, as we waited for Above & Beyond to take the mainstage, this feeling was more palpable than ever.

Where does one begin with one of Above & Beyond’s sets? While Tony and Jono started out on a slightly more upbeat and crowd-baiting note then I would have imagined, with tracks like Norin & Rad’s “5 Finger Death Punch,” the ubiquitous “Language,” and Mat Zo’s “The Sky,” they quickly navigated us onto an emotional roller coaster that would bring us up, slow us down, and show us how truly magnificent live electronic music can be. They moved us with their tailor-made club mixes (the soaring club mix of “Thing Called Love” got everyone singing), a second but no less beautiful instance of “Alchemy,” the still-exciting guest drop of “Sun & Moon,” which featured an agonizing pause before the big, recognizable chords after the chorus that drove everyone wild (sidenote: If we were ever chosen to push play, we’d need a serious winter jacket to contain our chills), and their heart wrenching eulogy to recently passed musicians and Neil Armstrong that segued into Depeche Mode’s “Own Personal Jesus.” Above & Beyond left no eye dry as they finished off their set with a shining piano version of “On A Good Day,” which made for one of those arm-in-arm sing-a-long moments the group is so known and loved for. Set to vivid, stirring imagery and their infamous live typing (which still doesn’t feel gimmicky or played out), their mainstage set constituted one of the absolute highlights of the weekend and left most of us standing in awestruck silence long after the final notes had faded.

We loved seeing many of the Electric Zoo security guards getting into the silliness of the weekend and generally having a blast. Whether they were overzealously blasting mist into an eager and vocal crowd (by the way: genius idea, Made Event), trading kandi with festival-goers, or simply grooving out to the music off to the side, the event staff demonstrated that regardless of your role, music unites everyone in attendance. To this end, a few moments stuck out to us in particular. The first occurred on Sunday afternoon in the Sunday School Grove tent, when a casual zoo animal was talking animatedly to a security guard. After about ten minutes the raver gave the security guard a piece of kandi. After seeing this, another security guard (who had been bobbing his head in time to Better Lost Than Stupid & Umek) came over out of curiosity, was shown the signature gestures for trading kandi, and proudly accepted another piece in what constituted a clear embrace of the culture. The next occurred during Skrillex’s closing set on Sunday night, when we witnessed a security guard standing near the VIP area going harder than probably half of the crowd. He was jumping and flailing his limbs in total abandon, outshining even the best of the dubsteppers in the audience. But perhaps the the lasting image will be walking out of Randall’s Island on Sunday, still in a post-Skrillex daze, and seeing every security guard rocking kandi on their wrists or wearing sunglasses. Big ups to Made Event and its event staff for keeping the vibes good while still ensuring a safe and fun environment for everyone.

The animals of Electric Zoo…where do we start? The Techno Penguin? We love you too. Everyone dressed up in outrageous costumes fitting the theme (or not), from guys in Mexican ponchos (aren’t those incredibly hot?) to the usual array of horse/unicorn heads, to kandi ravers in furry boots and tutus, to no less than four Waldos (we found Waldo!), to the guy walking around with a water mister on a pole (much appreciated, bro) and everyone in between. Bonus points to the people who hit up the airbrush station at the festival and emerged with fabulous tiger stripes or exotic tribal designs — that’s serious commitment. In all, it was wonderful to see how everyone jumped headfirst into the spirit and pageantry of the weekend and worked to create the unique atmosphere of the ‘Zoo.

Things we didn’t love seeing: Neon YOLO trucker hats. An abundance of tanks and sunglasses reading HAVE YOU SEEN MOLLY (really original, dude — wonder why security keeps looking at you funny?). Anyone with a whistle — because I was JUST thinking that what Porter’s set is missing is the harmonious complexity that comes from blowing repeatedly on a 50 cent plastic whistle. (Sidenote: cowbells are a completely different story. Cowbell guy, you were killing it. Kudos). If you attempt to use an air horn, megaphone, vuvuzela, or some other unnecessarily loud attention-seeking noisemaker: you can go kindly f*** yourself.

Biggest facepalm of the weekend: Walking out of Mord Fustang as Martin Solveig took the decks, preparing to head to 12th Planet next door. Hearing Martin open with the recognizable chords of “Destroy Them With Lazers.” Thinking: Huh, okay, guess we should hang around for part of this. Craving Knife Party’s trademark drop, and waiting anxiously as the track built…only to be summarily denied, as Martin had opted to segue the build into a completely generic four-on-the-floor break. Ugh. So unsatisfying.

Things we wished we had seen more of (next year?): Super soakers. Technically on the “banned items” list, but I saw a few that managed to get smuggled in and the lucky kids who managed to pull it off were having a blast. We also feel that Made Event could have done more with the “Zoo” theme — with more signage and more animals, preferably fuzzy ones on the lawn and on the hill. Not too much to overwhelm us, but seriously: add some fuzzy animals. And on that note, maybe build it more cool environmental effects? The trees by the entrance looked stunning at night, with cascading LED lights that resembled rain or shooting stars, but the venue was so spacious and loaded with cool natural features that there was definitely room for more creativity and immersion (see: Ultra; any Insomniac event ever, but not over the top). Finally, Armin van Buuren — enough said. Just break your contract with EDC already, please.

Things to fix: For the most part, Electric Zoo ran like clockwork. It is was remarkable to see how smoothly everything progressed, from the entrance security to the stage technicalities, and even the process of getting to and from Randall’s Island (though the crowds leaving at night were massive and I’m pretty sure most people wound up taking the footbridge after the first night). That does not mean everything was perfect though, and a few small things could changed for next year. The water bottle refill stations were a excellent addition to the festival, making it safer for everyone there while cutting down on wait times; last year, there were a number of very slow hoses you could use to refill bottles which led to enormous bottlenecks. The high-speed refillers were a definite improvement on this. But on Saturday and Sunday, the number of stations were not sufficient to handle the demand for water and became chaotic and made walking back and forth difficult. Add one more refill station next year and that will be rectified.

The next issue is one that is perhaps endemic to festivals (well, save for Ultra and I believe EDC Vegas, which both now have the presence of mind to install towers around the venue) — cell phone service. The island was overloaded with people trying to make calls and send texts to their friends, which crushed the networks and inhibited everyone’s ability to keep in touch during the weekend. Yes, it can be a welcome relief to find yourself cut off from the outside world, and to tune into what is going on around you and live in the moment, but for groups and last minute changes of plans, cell phone service is necessary as a safety tool.

In all, however, Randall’s Island served as an excellent venue for what has rapidly become one of the east coast’s biggest festivals. There was plenty of grassy, open space for chilling out with friends, and the easy-to-navigate layout made tent-hopping simple and convenient. Electric Zoo also ushered in a big first in festival production — the advent of 3-D visuals, which were employed to great effect by A-Trak, Steve Aoki and Diplo in the Riverside tent. We look forward to seeing more of this innovative technology in the coming weeks and months — though we can’t help feeling a little bereft now that summer festival season has officially come to a close. We would like to thank Made Event for putting all of this together and for Plexi PR for having this run so smoothly.


Middy: A-Trak, Porter Robinson, Above & Beyond (mainstage), Sasha, W&W

Spice: Above & Beyond (mainstage), Mord Fustang, Bingo Players, Excision, W&W