Spring Awakening Music Festival 2016 Recap
Spring Awakening Music Festival was a bit of a mystery for most of the year. With two location changes and a lineup that came out a month before the festival was supposed to open its doors, we were worried that things wouldn’t turn out. But, React Presents wouldn’t allow one of their most attended festivals fall through the cracks! They came out with the most impressive lineup for an electronic festival that we’ve seen thus far in Chicago. Headliners included…pretty much everyone on the ticket, but Deadmau5, Zeds Dead, Kaskade, Above & Beyond, RL Grime, Claude Vonstroke, and Datisk stood out among the larger font on the festival poster. Held at Addams/Medill Park rather than Soldier Field, we were excited to see what was in store for the revamped festival.
React has mastered the art of turning an everyday Chicago park into a weekend experience. Spring Awakening has been known for its flawless production and stage setup. This year was no different. Both main stages held impressive LED walls with angular geographic screens outlining the stage. The use of lights, CO2 cannons, pyrotechnics, and streamers was something straight out of Mad Max. The more intense the set, the more the stage catered to the energy. The stages themselves were larger than life and could easily be seen from the opposite side of the festival.
The two curated stages at the festival were white tented stages adjacent to each other and on the other end of the park. Shrouded in shade, these stages became quite popular on Saturday, the hottest day of the festival when the temperature reached upwards of 95° (attendance at the main stages became limited to the few small spots of shade the trees in the park could provide, however sparse.) The shade also helped the light shows last all day, no matter how sunny the weekend might have been. These tents could showcase impressive production and virtual programming even as the festival opened at 1:30PM. The Silent Disco was in a similar spot as last year’s, right before you reach the main stage (DJ Stage). It was a great spot to stop for a minute and check out as you walked to the next destination. A silent disco always puts everyone in a good mood.
We have to admit, the names of the stages were a little unoriginal to say the least. The two main stages were called the Electronic Stage and the DJ Stage. This proved to be a little confusing as every artist on the lineup was either an electronic artist or a DJ, and the festival didn’t keep all DJs exclusively at the DJ stage. When asked where the DJ stage was located, a volunteer simply replied “Aren’t they all DJs?” which was received with a laugh before obtaining the festival map. On the final day of the festival, one of the curated stages was called the DJ Mag stage, which in combination with the DJ stage just threw everyone for a loop.
While the size of the Spring Awakening lineup this year was larger than life, the festival itself seemed scaled down quite a bit from previous years. However, this was actually an improvement from the layout at Soldier Field. It became much easier to navigate the festival and get from one stage to the next. Attendees found themselves bouncing from stage to stage in quick succession, because they could. This meant that one could catch a lot of the amazing artists on the lineup without having to worry about travel times between stages. At Soldier Field, there were several areas that caused bottlenecks and areas of overcrowding, and many couldn’t get onto the field of the stadium during the biggest sets and were forced to go into the stands. This year, the festival wasn’t oversold or too crowded, and dancing room was a breeze. Plus, with a Ferris wheel dead center of the festival, it was awesome to see a 360° view of the event. One downside; sound did tend to bleed from stage to stage in this small setup combined with such great sound. When Deadmau5 slowed things down for “Strobe,” it was impossible to tune out the hard-hitting beats coming from Datisk’s set…and it kind of killed the mood. The festival was sponsored by Smirnoff and Vita Coco, who provided refreshments as well as a water slide (which came in handy on Saturday!).
Each artist at Spring Awakening truly brought their A-game to the festival. They came to showcase their music, but as is the task with every DJ/producer, they came to make us dance. We can’t catch everything, but we can give you a little something about what we did catch. Here were our top sets at each stage.
The DJ Stage had the bangers. From Steve Aoki to Above & Beyond, this was the stage for anyone who likes to rage. Dillon Francis brought his usual band of ridiculousness and humor and had the crowd captivated. CID hardened up a bit and played a more bouncy set while staying on the softer side of the big room drops. Dada Life brought out what was the biggest inflatable banana most in the crowd had ever seen. Spanning almost half the front section of bodies, the goal was to get the banana from the front to the back…it only made it midway through before coming to a sad and abrupt end. Carnage was surprisingly entertaining, finishing his set with a photo in front of the crowd, middle fingers up. Above & Beyond tugged at everyone’s heartstrings and held firm to a softer ending to the festival. Of course, someone came up and pushed the button, but we think they might have pushed too many. The iconic chords for “Sun and Moon” started, then stopped for a good 10 seconds before the song had a chance to drop, only a small hiccup in their flawless performance.
The Electronic Stage was the one with variety. The colorful characters that came through this end of the festival helped make some memories. Deadmau5 does what deadmau5 wants, and so he did. With a new stage setup, Joel Zimmerman put everyone in a trance with a beat heavy set that carried an ebb and flow only he could pull off, ending the night with “Strobe.” Porn and Chicken brought their custom brand of crazy on the hottest day of the festival, dousing their audience in water and merchandise while waving their flags high. A-Trak displayed his scratching talents at his set, long enough to really wow everyone, but short enough to keep the party going. Gesaffelstein made a believer out of his audience (and this writer) at his DJ set. Stoic as he played, he stood out among the rest at the Electronic Stage. Zeds Dead continued to be the perfect group to close out any event. Saturday left people wanting more after they dropped new tracks. Rezz took the cake for Sunday. In her LED Speed Punk goggles and signature baseball cap, she’s one of the few female DJs out there that drops Noisia nonchalantly while also creating her own dark and dirty sound.
Body Language was the sexy stage on Friday; the French sensation Klingande closed out the night with a crowd that seemed a little lackluster for the rest of the stages.
Bass Kitchen likely caused a few problems on Friday for the rest of the festival. It seemed to be the loudest stage at the time, which was probably great for Datsik, who had a crowd too big for the stage as he closed out the night.
Trance Arena couldn’t help but be filled with love and good vibes Saturday. From Cosmic Gate‘s sunset set to ATB dropping “9AM Till I Come,” this branded stage had people flocking from all angles to catch some feels. This stage was proof that the boom of electronic music is simply because of what it has always stood for; the idea that anyone – no matter who you are – can enter into this realm of dance and become fully immersed in a language we can all understand.
The Birdhouse brought back flashbacks from Movement in Detroit, and Claude Vonstroke let everyone know what it means to be a Dirtybird.
DJ Mag held strong as one of the most popular stages on Sunday. Ghastly played a more bouncy set than usual, most likely as he geared the crowd up for Ephwurd, who then defined “future house” for everyone – and it was good. Soon after, Morgan Page proved to the world that he can master any genre and do it flawlessly on the decks.
All Gone Pete Tong was the stage of legends on Sunday. Many who made a point to attend acts like Pete Tong, Green Velvet or Maya Jane Coles never ended up leaving that stage (or if they did, it was only for a brief moment to catch a bite to eat). Golf Clap was a particular favorite, as their upbeat house grooves brought us back to Detroit and they looked like they were having a blast doing so.
The entirety of Spring Awakening Music Festival made the wait well worth it. It’s one of those festivals that makes one take a step back and think about how gluttonous we can be with music, yet how gorgeous that can be. See you in 2017!
Feature Photo: Chris Saliture