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Thursday, July 3, 2014
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, July 3, 2014
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

7

'I Sing the Forest Electric': EF14's Two Distinct Subcultures

Annual music
festival in Rothbury
MI is decadent, but
not depraved
By GIANCARLO BUONOMO
ManagingArts Editor
"Unlike most of the others, we
didn't give a hoot in hell what
was happening on the track. We
had come there to watch the real
beasts perform."
- Hunter S. Thompson, "The
Kentucky Derby is Decadent and
Depraved."
Please forgive this predict-
able Hunter S. Thompson refer-
ence for a "Look Ma, I covered
a music festival!" article. I only
include it to admit at the start
that I was wrong. I figured I
would go to Electric Forest as
a reporter. While my co-editor
Adam covered the music, I would
observe the festivalgoers, "the
real beasts," and report on their
depraved excesses. There would
be me, with my media bracelet
and plaid shirt, furiously jot-
ting down notes, and then there

would be everyone else - the
legions of electro-junkies in
funny hats who eat tabs of acid
like Listerine Strips. I imagined
calling this article "Electric For-
est is Decadent and Depraved."
Most of my preconceptions
were based on rumors about
Electric Forest; that it was much
more than a music festival, that
it had the best people-watching
ever, that it was trippier than
an MGMT video. These rumors
were believable, considering that
Electric Forest takes place in
rural :Rothbury, Michigan, spe-
cializes in the relatively niche
genres of jam bands and elec-
tronic music and that the "forest"
is an actual forest, so decked out
with lights, lasers and shrines
that it recalls something from
Alice in Wonderland.
In truth, none of the rumors
turned out to be false. But now
that I've returned from Roth-
bury, and gone over the pages of
notes and hours of recordings I
accumulated during my time at
the festival, I cannot write this
report with my original focus.
Not because I feel the need to
write about the music, even
though it was amazing. Rather,

because I discovered that Elec-
tric Forest is less about the peo-
ple who choose to come than it
is about what this peculiar event
allows those people, including
me, to become.
Electric Forest is not so much
a music festival as it is a four
day act of collective weirdness,
heavily facilitated by the festi-
val organizers and sustained by
a pervasive spirit of community
and non-judgement. I began to
get an idea of this right when we
arrived at the camp grounds. The
actual festival area, the stages
and vendors, is located on the
Double JJ Resort, a sort of Wild-
West re-enactment spot heav-
ily repurposed for one weekend
every year. The attendees camp
out in a complex of fields adja-
cent to the resort. These fields
form a small city during the
weekend, complete with named
streets and neighborhoods. From
my berth at the corner of "Air-
strip" and "Maple", I gazed out
upon the expanse. Thousands of
parked cars in neat rows, most
with colorful tents next to them,
filled the once-empty space like
a psychedelic Hooverville. These
people were clearly pros - many
tents were adorned with ban-
ners and flagpoles featuring the
logos of the classics: The Grate-
ful Dead, Bob Marley, Sublime,
all fragrant with years of accu-
mulated incense and ganja.
But it was inside the actu-
al festival, a good ten minute
walk from our campsite, that I
finally encountered the masses
of people. I'd never seen such a
dazzling array of outfits. Some
attendees were dressed in stan-
dard music-festival attire: girls
in Daisy Dukes and flower head-
bands, guys in tank tops and
flat-brims. But they were the
minority. Some men wore top
hats and tight suits like the Mad
Hatter, and some girls wore only
bikini bottoms with fanny-pack
codpieces and painted marijuana
leaves covering the tips of their
otherwise bare breasts. Others
wore Teletubbie or bear outfits,
or giant Pikachu heads. One man
I passed on Saturday wore only a
Speedo and a small silver crown

fixed to his head at a rakish angle,
while sucking on a large lollipop.
Another was so adorned with rib-
bons, beads and feathers that he
resembled an Aztec god.
But the decadence doesn't stop
there. Many festivalgoers carry
totems, which are long poles with
anything on top. And I mean any-
thing. Blow-up sex dolls. Bill Mur-
ray's face. Simpsons characters. I
saw one depicting a cartoon King
of Kings, with a Mr. Skin-esque
grin, and the words "PRAISE
CHEEZUS" in big block let-
ters, likely in honor of the String
Cheese Incident's combined 12
hours of stagetime.
And of course, drugs. They're
an essential part of the festival,
so ubiquitous and accepted that
one pizza vendor put up a sign
that read "DON'T FORM LINES.
LINES ARE FOR YOUR NOSE,
NOT SPICY PIE." I'm watching
Ms. Lauryn Hill and a guy to my
left lights up a joint the size of a
Sharpie. I'm raving along at Zedd,
and a guy to my right vacuums a
good quarter-teaspoon of coke
into his left nostril.
This overwhelming amount
of, well, everything made me
wonder "Is this where all the
weirdos gather? Or is this where
people gather to be weird?" I've
concluded that it's the latter. Of
course, I don't think that Elec-
tric Forest is where Mormon
missionaries and Goldman Sachs
executives congregate to let
loose, but I did get the impres-
sion that Electric Forest provides
a safe environment for ordinary
people to abandon mainstream
mores for a weekend. A guy in a
hammock put it best in a remark
to another guy in the hammock
strung below his: "I'm going
hard tomorrow, because I have
to go back to reality after that."
Electric Forest is not only a
retreat from "normalcy," but also
an oasis of kindness and together-
ness. Festivalgoers go out of their
way to accommodate each other.
One girl entered a Port-A-Potty
after a long wait in line, only to
burst out and run after the previ-
ous occupant who had dropped a
$5 bill. During a packed perfor-
mance by Steve Angello, another

girl got tired and decided to sit
down right in the middle of the
crowd. Everyone, even those
wildly dancing while rolling,
made sure to give her space.
At an event like this, people
make themselves vulnerable by
dressing in shocking and reveal-
ing ways, taking mind-bending
substances, and then walking
around an environment that is
confusing even if sober. To have a
good time requires a level of trust
on everyone's part, that their
fellow attendees will not take
advantage of them, and will even
help them out if need be.
I experienced this trust first-
hand. On Saturday, I was sitting
in the crowd at the Sherwood
stage, vibing to Schoolboy Q and
takingnotes. I struck up a conver-
sation with a couple sitting near
me, Nick and Kat from Louisville.
We chatted about Electric Forest
and why people would come here.
"We're all here for the same
thing: music and good people,"
Nick said.
As a red-shirted security
guard walked around inquiring
whether the numerous people
smoking joints had medical per-
mits, I remarked to Nick that I
didn't usually strike up conver-
sations at concerts.
"But at a place like this you
should never feel like you can't
talk to anybody," he replied. "
You can go up to anybody and be
like 'Hey, what's up?"'
At that moment, I saw a friend
about 15 feet away, one who
I hadn't talked to in awhile. I
immediately leapt up and moved
towards her, forgetting that my
phone, backpack and notebook
were still on the ground next
to Nick and Kat. I looked back
anxiously, and they motioned
towards my things and gave me
a thumbs up, indicating that they
would watch over them. Leaving
your stuff with strangers prob-
ably isn't something to make a
habit of. But as Doctor Thomp-
son said, "When the going gets
weird, the weird turn pro." The
going at Electric Forest is defi-
nitely weird - I viewed them
watching my stuff as a matter of
professional courtesy.

EDM-loving, Molly-
popping kids overlap
with older, jam-
band hippies
By ADAM THEISEN
SeniorArts Editor
Friday night at Electric Forest,
Ms.Lauryn Hill,The String Cheese
Incident and Zedd performed con-
secutively on the same stage. For
an idea of how strangely those art-
ists fit together, imagine watching
a triple feature at a movie theater
of "Do the Right Thing," "For-
rest Gump" and "Spring Break-
ers." It was the same on Saturday
night, with hippie jam-band String
Cheese beingsandwiched between
the reggae of Stephen Marley and
EDM star Steve Angello.
The cultures of most music fes-
tivals can easily be described with
one or two adjectives = urban Lol-
lapalooza, rural Bonnaroo, glitzy
Coachella - but what was most
interesting about Electric Forest
was that two entirely different
subcultures coexisted, without
ever really having to cross paths
through the entire weekend.
There were the hippies who came
to smoke and drop acid (or what-
ever is was that was that people
were calling "acid") and see the
jam bands (traditionally the most
disrespected, most uncool kind of
band), and there were the EDM
kids, who mostly seemed college-
aged and came to take Molly and
party like the farmland of Roth-
bury, Michigan was one gigantic
frat house.
Our first real encounter with
anyone at the festival came as we
were still in our car, waiting to
get in. A woman probably in her
20s came up to the open window.
"Have you guys seen Cheese yet?"
she asked. "Nah, but we're excited
to." "Right on, so you haven't had,
like, an 'Incident' yet. I've seen
them six times already. They're my
favorite band in the world, and I'm
trying to see them again tonight."
She asked us for money to help her
buy a ticket, but when we told her
wedidn't have any cash, she stayed
extraordinarily positive. "That's
all right, 'cause I just need positive
vibes, and just knowing that you
guys are sending me goodenergy
and feelings is gonna help me out."
If you try to talk to any "serious"
music fan about the relevance of

The String Cheese .Incident, he or
she will likely laugh in your face
(before this weekend, I would've
done this, too, if I'm being honest).
Jam bands, as a whole and almost
without exception, are thought
of as goofy and toothless. Critics
think of jam bands and they hear
echoes of 10-minute wandering
guitar solos and picture an older,
granola munching fanbase. But
while "the establishment" may
immediately dismiss them, to
many people, The String Cheese
Incident is the biggest band in
their world. Our North Dakotan
neighbors at the camp site, for
instance, had traveled all the way
to Michigan to see "Cheese and
whoever else."
I was ready to see what all the
fuss is about. On Friday, after Ms.
Lauryn Hill showed up late (as
usual) but still put on a thrilling,
energetic performance, Cheese
went on stage.
Frankly, I was bored. Maybe I
had set my expectations too high,
maybe I should've listened to them
beforehand to know what I was
going to hear, but the band just
seemed average to me. I decided
that the specialness was in the
minds of the fans and not in the
music, so I left and wandered the
festival.
When I got back to the stage
where Cheese was still playing,
though, I was intrigued. The band
was in the middle of a fiddle solo,
which usually doesn't seize my
attention, but something about the
energy of the crowd excited me.
As they kept playing, I waited out
the parts where I had previously
gotten bored and listened as they
slowly but surely built up into tow-
ering, awesome crescendos. The
String Cheese Incident is just a
band that you need patience for, I
decided, and resolved to see them
again the next day.
The Saturday String Cheese
show was amazing as a pure spec-
tacle, as a concert and as a socio-
logical experience. Cognizant of
and prepared for the music's slow
build, my expectations were met
and then exceeded as the techni-
cally proficient group serenaded
the crowd with its music - part
country, part rock 'n' roll. More
impressive than the band, though,
were the fans. Not only was this
the first festival experience I had
ever had where everybody could
breath freely in his or her own per-
sonal space, the Cheeseheadswere
unself-conscious and non-judg-

BRIAN SPADY/Electric Forest 2014

The "video game themed jam" during The String Cheese Incident's show on Saturday night

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mental. Many were shirtless, many
were wearing tie-dye, and every-
one was doing his or her thing,
dancing in a loose, dorky, swaying
sort of way while smiling and just
being chill. When the band took a
break halfway through, we all sat
down in the big field, and I could
really tell how much of a com-
munity we were. All of us cross-
legged, talking and gazing at the
lit-up stage with anticipation for
the show to resume. It reminded
me of my hometown of Livonia,
where every year on the last Sun-
day in June (the same weekend as
this year's Electric Forest, in fact)
we finish off our annual fair ("The
Spree") by sitting on blankets in
the outfield of a baseball diamond
and watching fireworks.
To my delight, not five min-
utes after the band retook the
stage, fireworks started explod-
ing behind them, while an appar-
ently video-game-themed jam
resulted in a floating model UFO,
stuffed Pac-Man and Pac-Man
ghosts being held on fishing rods
above the crowd, giant inflatable
Mario coin cubes and (I kid you
not) a full-costumed reenactment
of the original "Donkey Kong"
video game on stage while the
band played. Ridiculous? Yes. But
the kind of sensory-overload what-
the-fuck kind of display that no
one will ever forget. The perfect
end to the incredible show came
when Ms. Lauryn Hill joined the
band for a round of universally
beloved covers that ranged from
Stevie Wonder and The Beatles to

Bob Marley, closing with "Could
You Be Loved?"
However, at least half of the fes-
tivalgoers did not attend Cheese's
shows, a fact that I noticed when
I stuck around at the same stage
to see Zedd on Friday and Steve
Angello on Saturday. The crowd
seemed entirely different: younger,
packed-in tighter, wearing base-
ball caps and tank tops. This was
the college crowd that had come
for pulse-pounding EDM, not old-
hippie rock.
Unlike, jam bands, EDM is
actually considered cool. Many
will tell you it's the cutting-edge
of modern music, and it's mostly
unconcerned by extra frills like
guitar riffs or piano solos (or even
vocals). EDM artists know that all
their fans want are catchy hooks to
dance to, and that's exactly what
they give them. Whereas the jam-
mers took acid and smoked pot to
loosen up, these fans took Molly
to totally intensify the experience.
They sweated, pogoed, threw glow
sticks and flipped out in excite-
ment for every new laser beam that
accompanied a drop.'
While Steve Angello was a little
too purely electronic for my per-
sonal taste, Zedd put on the kind of
all-out 110-percent show that pro-
spective festival-headliners dream
of. Mixing into his set repurposed
vocals from pop hits as well/as
his own smashes, Zedd punctu-
ated every bass drop with a flash of
lasers or jets of smoke firing from
the stage, to the glee of the crowd.
It was a 90-minute onslaught of

fun, danceable, energetic electro-
pop beats, and it was just what the
crowd wanted.
Electric Forest catered to
both subcultures by scheduling
its artists against each other. At
all times, one of the main stag-
es would have a more modern,
younger artist, while the other
main stage would feature an older
act (for example, ScHoolboy Q
and Damian Marley played at the
same time). Thanks to this setup,
the EDM-loving, Molly-taking
fratstars and the jam band hippie
stoners could ignore each other,
with each group enjoying its own
music with its own people. How-
ever, these two groups had one
big thing in common. When you
really got down to it, neither was
really there for the artists. EDM,
with the exception of Skrillex and
maybe a few others, has eschewed
the typical instantly-recogniz-
able rock-star status that usu-
ally comes with musical fame (it's
why Daft Punk insists on wearing
those helmets). Would you really
recognize Calvin Harris or Steve
Aoki if you saw them on the street?
No. As talented as they are, in the
end, they're just mediums to deliv-
er the hooks and effects that fans
want. On Saturday night, I noticed
that The String Cheese Incident
was the exact same way. The fans
didn't truly care who was up on
that stage. They were just there
for the music and for each other,
dancing and sweating and trip-
ping and rolling and smiling and
instinctively just having fun.

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