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Review Sat Aug 30 2014
It all started before I even walked into Union Park.
I had just gotten off the bus and was waiting to cross the intersection of Ashland and Lake Street when a woman near me asked for a cigarette. I reached in my jeans and offered her a smoke to which she accepted and thanked me for it. The light was about to turn green and we started to go our separate ways. That should have been the end of it, but suddenly a bro decided to scream, in complete sincerity, his wisdom at me. "What the fuck is wrong with you, bro?! You give a girl something, she should twerk on your dick for that!" I calmly called him a sexist asshole. He screamed at me that "he's not sexist and in fact sexism doesn't exist, but I'm a faggot." I rolled my eyes and move away. Then he awkwardly tried to fight me. The battle cry of "come at me, bro!" is the last thing I hear as the light turned green, oncoming traffic stopped and we finally got to cross the street.
I hadn't even walked into the park yet.
Granted, the sexist and homophobic rantings of a loser across the street from the festival isn't North Coast's fault, but what has become known as EDM has a problem with intolerance. Last year at the festival, we reported that we saw a white male teenager wearing a complete Native American headdress yelling "Geronimo!" to the rhythm of bass drops. Once again, the bad behavior of idiots is not North Coast's fault. React are the producers of North Coast and are the largest producers of EDM shows in Chicago. Perhaps they could use their influence so that certain people are reminded that electronica is supposed to be a safe haven, and this type of behavior is unacceptable.
Once I made it inside, things were much better as Washed Out were performing onstage. Augmented by a backing band, his sound seemed more fleshed out. Songs like "Don't Give Up" and "Weightless" from his latest album Paracosm sounded mellow and large, perfect for a hazy Friday afternoon in the park.
After Washed Out, I walked around the grounds for awhile. One thing I noticed was that every stage is named after an Chicagoland area code and this was leading to some slight confusion. "Are we going to the 312 stage?" asked someone. A friend responded, "No. We're going to the 773 stage." Another friend chimed in, "Wait. I thought we're supposed to be at the 630," as the group walked out of hearing distance. There was no time to be amused about this for much longer as Lettuce was about to go on stage.
I was not a fan of Lettuce. For those who don't know, Lettuce is a funk band that has been around since the 90s. Clearly, these are talented musicians who have cultivated a large and passionate following. Watching them perform, I found myself impressed by their genuine love of the genre and skill in which they play it with. They do what they do very well. Unfortunately, I just wasn't into it.
Action Bronson was up next, he entered the stage while his DJ played Prince's "Little Red Corvette," to the confusion of some who were stoned out of their minds, and the delight of me. "What a beautiful evening," Bronson said as he appeared on stage. "The motherfucking wind is hitting me perfect." He launched into a deeply lyrical and highly energetic series of raps about eating good food and living the good life. He eventually tired of this and left the stage. He then ran to the other main stage where Bassnectar was currently setting up and rapped from there for awhile, encouraging everyone to come over and that "The partys over here now." Eventually he tired of this as well and ran back to his stage, seemingly in slow motion with a gang of fans surrounding him, as his DJ played Van Halen's "Runnin With the Devil." It was glorious. He ended his set with his current single, the heavily 70s psych rock inspired "Easy Rider." The song and his set ended with Bronson chanting "ride the Harley into the sunset," as the sound of a Les Paul guitar solo filled the air and the actual sun dipped below the horizon. I quickly realized that he ended his set about 20 minutes early for no apparent reason. That wasn't cool at all but everything else about his set was spot on.
Bassnectar appeared next in front of some weird tumblr-esque glitch art and billows of smoke. What struck me immediately was the volume and how soft it was. The bass was still heavy, but it seemed somewhat muted. The first half of his set seemed to be much more chill than I was prepared for and I found myself really digging it. Samples of Bruno Mars's "Locked Out of Heaven" and Sean Paul's "Gimmie the Light" found themselves mutated from from catchy pop songs into something alarming and atmospheric. I enjoyed it. He then pivoted into more of the aggressive bass heavy sound he's known for. I was slightly disappointed as I enjoyed the new direction he was going in and hoped he would have explored it a bit longer.
I decided to check out ProbCause for a little bit. Adored by Chicagoist and critical darling of Fake Shore Drive and Closed Sessions, ProbCause is a local rapper whose been around for awhile now. Despite not being the most attended stage, it certainly was one of the most genuinely fun. Armed with a drummer and a violinist, Prob charismatically and deftly rapped, converting skeptics into believers. It was a good time and I recommend checking out his latest mixtape, Waves.
Finally, there was Alesso. Alesso is an arena ready Swedish house DJ, at times he reminded me very much of Calvin Harris and Zedd. This was further made clear with the fire that erupted from the stage during the bass drops as lasers flew overhead. It was quite an impressive production. For what it's worth, I liked what I heard. It's maximalist escapism, and when done right it can be pretty cool. A drunk bro who was clearly feeling it spilled his beer all over me, awkwardly looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and yelled out "Yolo!" It was then I decided I had enough escapism for one night and headed home.
All photographs by Steve Stearns.