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« 4 Questions with Midnight Conspiracy Spring Awakening Music Festival, Day Two: Whisper to a Wobble »

Review Sun Jun 17 2012

Spring Awakening Music Festival, Day One: Binkies, Bass and Not a Whole Lot of Benny


(Photo by Steve Stearns)

Bass, I've concluded, is essentially like the wind. Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there. Now, I'm not talking about that box in the dude sitting next to you in traffic's car that makes his trunk rumble. Nor about that thing that Flea plays. I'm talking about the kind of bass that was heard, felt and, yes, dropped an innumerable amount of times during day one of Spring Awakening Music Festival yesterday.

Despite the fact that this young festival is just in its first year of existence, I believe it's safe to say this festival is a keeper. I doubt the twenty-some-odd thousand people that crammed into Soldier Field last night for headliner Skrillex would care to argue that point. Like most festivals, music is at the center of Spring Awakening, but the experience is just as important. That's why I made some notes yesterday along with my artist reviews that I hope will provide a better feel for the festival. Enjoy.


(Photo by Steve Stearns)

2:49pm - Yep, Soldier Field is a lot bigger than I remember.

Krewella - Decided to kick off my day with one of the local acts. The only thing I knew about Krewella going into their set, aside from the fact that they call Chicago home, was that their DJ team is made up of two gals and a guy. The stuff they were spinning was much heavier than I expected. In a music genre that--like many others--is dominated by dudes, it was fun to see Krewella's female members up there onstage holding their own.

3:20pm - Favorite quote from Krewella's set: "Sorry for the technical difficulties. We spilled whiskey on our computer the other night."

3:31pm - Well, at least getting from the outdoor stadiums to the main stage inside Soldier Field is convenient....not.

3:37pm - First pacifier siting.

3:58pm - Do you think Brian Urlacher has ever dropped the bass before?

Zebo - Again with the Chicago acts. I believe that once all is said and done, one of the best things about Spring Awakenings will be that it notched Chicago's electronic dance music scene right at the top of the national list--both by bringing in some of the hottest national acts and showcasing our city's own talent.


Zebo (Photo by Steve Stearns)

Zebo put on one of my favorite sets of the day. Call me old fashioned but didn't deejaying used to be able creating a cool mix of songs that people could get down to? Spinning the notoriously popular "Sandstorm," segueing into some Red Hot Chili Peppers, throwing Slim Shady's "Superman" into the mix and even laying down a remixed version of the original Legend of Zelda theme song made for some much appreciated variety. By the time Zebo wrapped up on the main stage at 5pm, it was clear the crowd was ready to party.

4:36pm - It's not every day that you see a girl wearing a Japanese flag.....and nothing else.

4:51pm - Tutus should never be considered a one-size-fits-all garment.


Midnight Conspiracy (Photo by Steve Stearns)

Midnight Conspiracy - You guessed it: local talent. My first real disappointment of the day came within the first few minutes of MidCo's set when I realized their semi-new "Eye Live" light show that I've been hearing about wouldn't be joining them on stage. Instead the duo (who were joined onstage by numerous members of their posse) stuck with the house lights--however I'm willing to bet this was the festival's decision and not their own. Energy seemed a little lackluster towards the beginning--a head bob here, a fist pump there. But things really picked up about mid-set, culminating with the release of about 50 red balloons (no, not 99) bearing the group's logo into the crowd.

5:42pm - Watching Soldier Field security blast these bassheads with a fire hose might be more entertaining than cable television.


(Photo by Steve Stearns)

6:26pm - Lady, it's bad enough that you're pushing 50 and wearing at least three different patterns of animal print. Please tuck those puppies back in.

A-Trak - After concluding their own heavy-hitting set of dubstep beats, Midnight Conspiracy turns the decks over to Canada's own A-Trak. After an afternoon of bleeps and bloops and womps and wobbles, it was fun to kick off the evening with a little diversity.


A-Trak (Photo by Steve Stearns)

A-Trak could be considered an "old school" DJ. His mixes are noticeably more melodic than many of his bass and rhythm-favoring contemporaries. He even scratches--a talent that is lost on so many of these EDM newcomers. A-Trak wasn't afraid to remind the main stage crowd of his Chicago ties by dropping some cuts of Kanye West and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne into the mix. Ye' used to dial up A-Trak to come on tour with him in the mid-aughties and even asked him to help produce some of his earlier album tracks.

7:47pm - It's starting to really cool down. Now I see how those furry boots can come in handy.

8:06pm - Best part of a music festival at Soldier Field: REAL BATHROOMS!!!!

8:39pm - Can't decide what the best part of Dillion Francis' set was: watching even the dudliest of dudes break into song when Calvin Harris' "Feel So Close" came over through the speakers or the piece of pizza I ate during it.

Porn 'n Chicken - Perhaps the biggest letdown of the day came from Chicago's own party-turned-musical-troupe--but through no fault of their own. I assume the Spring Awakening producers thought giving the party crew choice set time at 9pm would work in Porn 'n Chicken's favor, however that set was on the smallest of the four stages, one reserved for up and coming local DJs. So, when you're trying to fit two DJs, an MC, four dancers and resident performance artist Ammunition--who is best know for igniting a shower of sparks by holding a grinder up to her metal belt-like contraption--onto a stage that probably has less square-footage than your kitchen...things are gonna get crowded. Not to mentioned Ammunition was immediately pulled aside by festival security as soon as she started her act and told to put an end to the fiery stuff.

If you've never been to Porn 'n Chicken on a Monday night Wicker Park's Evil Olive, here's the gist of it: house DJs bumping dubstep, scantily clad dancers on top of the bars, pans of fried chicken being passed around and--you guessed it--porn being played on all of the bar's screens. It's probably the best party you'll ever attend on a Monday night. But without the namesake porn being played in the background and chicken being chowed down on. Without a two-story bar to play around in, PNC's set was a little flat.

9:12pm - Thirty-seventh pacifier siting.


Benny Benassi (Photo by Steve Stearns)


Skrillex (Photo by Steve Stearns)

Skrillex - After Benny Benassi's set was cut short by about a half hour and the main stage appeared to temporarily lose power, Skrillex's signature "Mothership" DJ stand--shaped like a spaceship you might see in a Star Trek remake--turned up on stage 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Skrillex took the stage at about 9:45pm, 15 minutes before his 10pm set time and spun until 11:25pm after announcing his set was being cut short due to lightning reports. So let's see....he was supposed to play for 90 minutes, but his set was cut short after 95? How long was this kid planning on playing?


Skrillex (Photo by Steve Stearns)

Oh well, I didn't mind a bit. Skrillex is almost always pegged as the poster child by dubstep haters but I'm not afraid to admit how happy I am to see him succeed. I saw Skrillex before he was Skrillex. I promise I'm not being pretentious, it's just the truth. Skrillex--aka Sonny Moore--was the lead singer in Florida-based rock/emo/screamo band From First to Last before he developed nodes on his vocal chords and was given the boot. Then for awhile he tried performing half-electric, half-acapella tracks under his surname and got booed off stage a lot. Bottom Lounge, 2009, anyone? Then he blew up and now runs the world, one bass drop at a time. And to that I say: good for him.


The Mothership (Photo by Katie Karpowicz)

Hate on him all you want, but you'd be hard pressed to call Skrillex lazy. I was especially excited to see Skrillex this summer after his standout set at Lollapalooza last year. Since then both his popularity and his song catalog have nearly doubled, so a Saturday night set at Soldier Field was sure to highlight everything that the EDM community loves about him. Aside from a few choice selections such as Fat Man Scoop's "Put Your Hands Up," Skrill stuck mostly to his own cuts--buzzing through older tracks like "Weekends!" through numerous songs off his most recent Bangarang EP, even debuting some new material for us.


Skrillex (Photo by Katie Karpowicz)

If you were at the Field last night and were not impressed by the non-stop beat bumping; barrage of strobes, lasers and pyrotechnics; and irresistible urge to dance, you, my friend, need to loosen up and have some more fun.

Skrillex's decision to end his set now with one of his own original tracks, but his hugely popular remix of previous performer Benny Benassi's "Cinema" reminded attendees how truly communal this genre of music is that we're seeing. It's about respecting other artists and, in turn, them respecting you enough to allow you to put your own spin on things--literally.


Skrillex (Photo by Katie Karpowicz)

Day one of Spring Awakening ended in a blaze of fire, a shower of rain (which, almost comically, begin the moment Skrillex led into his track "Right On Time." Right on time, indeed, rain.) and the rumble of a stadium filled with bass. Day two, time to step up to the plate.

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