North Coast Music Festival 2014 Recap
North Coast Music Festival at Union Park in Chicago had its 5th anniversary this year August 29-31st. Since its start, the festival has brought an extremely diverse lineup. This year, the headliners ranged from Snoop Dogg to Bassnectar to Slightly Stoopid. Having almost attended the first year and seeing The Chemical Brothers, I was excited to see the festival in its entirety. There was a ton of music to see, and we made a point to see as much as possible, even if it meant a couple songs here and there. The idea was to cover the whole festival, and we set out to do just that.
Traffic coming into the city was something to be expected. Chicago is an extremely large city, but it’s hard to fully comprehend that until you start driving through it. The different cultures that make up the different parks and neighborhoods are clear and distinct, but blend to make a culture all in itself. Once we parked for the fest, we were ready to take it all in.
At every corner surrounding the festival, there were groups of people selling water and gathering/selling extra tickets, and slinging various other items. It was remarkable how smooth their hustle was, everyone had something to offer. We would walk a couple feet where children were selling water bottles on the corner, then get a poorly wrapped CD stuffed in our faces looking for “donations.” Of course, after the festival was over, those water bottles were pretty convenient, though.
Near the Ashland Ave entrance, there sat a man and his drums. The entire weekend, sun up to sun down, this man played his drums. He had a sign in front of him that stated “Drums is Love” with an open case for tips. I’m not sure how this man did it, but he never quit. On Friday, his case was stacked with bills, he had to have made a couple hundred the whole weekend. But by Sunday, I don’t think anyone cared anymore. I applaud his stamina, but at least pick a different street corner.
The stages at the festival were abundant. In only one park, they managed to fit 5 stages, each with their own light show. Named after an area code of Chicago (312, 630, 773, 847, and 708), they were a bit difficult to remember, “did we just leave the 312 or 773 stage?” We ended up referring to the stages as the first artist we saw there (ex. What So Not was the first person we saw at the 630 stage, so it became the What So Not stage). Looking at the schedule for the festival, the two main stages (312 and 773) had huge chunks of time between each set. At first, this didn’t make sense. But we quickly saw that they were so packed together, the sound would have conflicted, so they alternated sets flawlessly. The time in between each set allowed ample time for set up and break down of any artist. Perpendicular to each other, the far back of each stage blended together, so once one set ended, the other could immediately begin.
North Coast organizers did an amazing job utilizing the park as the festival grounds. Each area of the park was either utilized or protected. A portable floor was put on top of the baseball diamond, and the beer vendors were put on top of it. Little reminders of regular life popped through, showcasing how much it takes to put on a festival of this magnitude. The basketball court turned into the dance floor for the 847 stage, the horseshoe pit ended up being a seating area adjacent to the stage as well, it was pretty creative. There was also live art at the festival, with painters creating large murals each day.
A common gripe about the festival, and North Coast in previous years as well, was how packed it was. A crowd is going to be normal at a festival, as well as lines, but when one can’t escape the shoulder to shoulder for some fresh air, the claustrophobia sets in. The entire festival is fenced in on all sides, so there’s truly no escape. Even though each stage was relatively close to the next, it became difficult to navigate through the massive and disordered crowd to catch the next artist. In addition to this, the stage security only allowed photographers to enter on one side of the stage (as usual). So, when we picked the wrong side of the stage, it was a daunting task to make it to the other side for the coverage based on sheer people traffic. In spite of all this, it was only a minor annoyance among the otherwise great experience of the whole weekend.
On Friday, we caught What So Not, Washed Out, Keys N Krates, Action Bronson, and Bassnectar. What So Not had the crowd in an upbeat frenzy. Each person bounced with the bass, and we all went wild when he broke out “High You Are.” Washed Out was an accidental stumble-upon while we explored the grounds. “Feel It Around,” the theme song to the TV show Portlandia, caught my ears and the entire show was a welcome chill out from the high energy What So Not brought to the day. Keys N Krates turned it back up with their incredible and unique live show, ending with their new single “Are We Faded.”
Action Bronson was a spectacle, his huge stage presence extended farther than his pant size. Rapping with an extremely rough and angry demeanor, it was truly an act worth seeing. However, things got a little weird about an hour into his set. He jumped off stage and rapped through the entire crowd down the middle. The poor camera guy for the jumbo screen lost him very quickly, leaving the big screen with an awkward shot of the crowd, with no Action Bronson to be seen. His rapping itself became haphazard and difficult to follow. Soon after, at the back of the crowd, Bronson appears, hopping onto the adjacent 312 stage where Bassnectar was set to play in 30 minutes. He got behind Bassnectar’s decks and came back on the mic, stating “the shows going to be here now!” Half of the crowd went wild, while the other half sat confused. Then, either the stage management had had enough of his antics or the mic got out of range, because Action Bronson’s mic cut out, while he continued to rap. He caught onto this after an uncomfortable amount of time, and hopped off the rush back to the 773 stage and attempt to gather his set back.
After Action Bronson was done, we turned to the right and were in a perfect position for Bassnectar, who immediately took over. At the gate, we counted 12 stacks of 3 speakers lining the entire front of the stage. I immediately wished I brought earplugs. I had seen Bassnectar before, but never this close. The sound quality was immaculate, and the bass was heavy. I now fully understand why he’s called Bass-Nectar. For his hour and a half set, my entire being vibrated. It felt like nectar, it felt like therapy. Security personnel were popping LED balloons on the speakers because the air movement was so intense, nothing stood still in front of the speakers. If you breathed through your nose, your nostrils would vibrate. His bass was a drug, and we were all on the same page. Following the set, you were alive yet exhausted, and your body felt lighter somehow.
Saturday brought us to Talib Kwali, Future Rock, Little Dragon, STS9, Kid Cudi, and Nicky Romero. Talib Kwali had an oddly early set, but plenty of people made a point to catch the hip hop superstar. During his set Kwali spoke of the violence in Chicago, that its people are being made example of and that the city needs to take its pride in itself back to end the suffering. It was preachy, but relevant in a city with such a high crime rate. Future Rock changed the scene a bit, as they immediately followed Kwali with their funk rock jams, and we got a good dance in during their set. Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon has a voice that carried through the entire festival. Her unique vocals that are so distinct did not get lost in a live setting but actually stood out extremely well.
STS9 are legends in their own regard. Every set they play is flawless, North Coast was no different. Since their recent bass player switch, the group hasn’t skipped a beat. Their live sets are a little less off the wall when it comes to stage presence, but this allowed for more to go into their jams. Each song seemed like the peak of the set, each member of the group gave their entire heart into every note. The more the group tours, the better they get. True veterans, they never get old.
Kid Cudi gave the festival a scare when he collapsed during his closing set at the 312 stage. The rapper managed to finish out his set with flying colors as he ended with “Pursuit of Happiness,” both the original and high energy remix, the perfect conclusion. Nicky Romero at the 630 stage brought a gigantic crowd. His well-known big room style was one in few at the festival, but one many came to see that night. The light show at the 630 stage was the best of the festival, with the most lasers of any stage. Paired with the amount of trees surrounding the stage, it was a spectacle to see everything so lit up.
Sunday, we got to meet up with the drummer of Slightly Stoopid, Ryan Moran, to get a quick chat about what they were up to. It was nice to see what an artist thought of the festival, his interview will be posted soon. After the interview, we caught Wick-It The Instigator, Riff Raff, GRiZ, Slightly Stoopid, Wolfgang Gartner, Zed’s Dead, Dada Life, and Snoop Dogg. The day had us running from one stage to the next to catch a little bit of everything. Wick-It lived up to his name, instigating the entire basketball court to jump around the entire set. His flawless mixes and mash-ups with some of our favorite tunes was a great break from the ordinary. Riff Raff was another that was far from ordinary, but on an entirely different level. Entering the stage about 15 minutes late with shoulder length hot pink hair, colored contacts, and a brush to keep his hair silky, everyone was laughing and cheering. The set was ridiculous in the best way possible. GRiZ followed with an intense energy and recognizable love for what he does, switching from mixing to rocking the saxophone, he brings a unique live show. Slightly Stoopid gave a nice break to the electronic scene, with their perfect blend of punk and reggae. They played old favorites as well as new ones, passing around multiple joints throughout the set and encouraging the crowd to do the same, which they gladly obeyed.
Wolfgang Gartner brought us back to life, with Zed’s Dead bringing the crowd to a frenzy, and Dada Life bringing the blow up bananas and champagne bottles. Wolfgang at the 630 stage, had his amazing light show with him and the stage’s lasers to seal the deal. He plays what he wants and he does it well. Zed’s Dead was one of the best sets of the weekend. While many electronic artists were booked, few were in the same style of dub-step. These guys went hard, and they did it well. Dada Life brought Dada Land to North Coast. They threw out what seemed like 50 blow-up bottles of champagne and bananas. The set was non-stop high energy four-on-the-floor, and it’s exactly what the crowd asked for.
Snoop Dogg was one of those headliners that one couldn’t miss. Surprisingly however, he played very few of his own songs. Most of the set was Snoop covering other songs that he could rap to. Don’t get me wrong, all of Chicago got to sing along with “Gin and Juice” and no one was disappointed, but some die hard fans may have left wanting more.
For those with no after party to attend, each night ended way too soon. Between 10:30 and 11PM, the entire festival was kicked into the streets of Chicago. It was daunting to find yourself after such a great day, as well as to find a taxi to take you where you needed to go. We were forced to walk several blocks away from the park to find transportation outside of the packed buses and overfilled trains.
Overall, the entire festival was an amazing experience. The only thing that would make the festival better, is if it went all night or was a camp out. However, we know Chicago, react presents, and everyone involved in putting on the festival do their absolute best to bring amazing music to the city, and they’ve succeeded in that greatly.