Live: Armin Van Buuren, Diplo, And Aeroplane Regale The Ravers At Electric Zoo
Not only did this Labor Day weekend mark the last day to wear white without glares of disapproval, it also brought Made Event's second-annual Electric Zoo festival to Randall's Island. Fashion clichés were hardly a concern for the approximately 26,000 in attendance (many content with wearing neon -- or close to nothing -- instead) as they flocked to the two-day rave that featured 67 DJs sprawled over four tents. Hellbent on being part of it all, we headed over on Sunday afternoon.
Getting there is half the experience. The host island is so far removed from everything else in the city that you're guaranteed to run into a mix of candy ravers and proud guidettes reminiscing about the night before during your trek. The 35th Street water taxi was our transportation of choice; the dock (shared with ferries to the US Open) was swarmed with partiers swapping stories. We ran into a couple (Robert from upstate and Lindsay from VA) who hadn't seen each other since their last Made Event: "We love doing this together," he explained. "We were out at the Pacha afterparty last night til 7 a.m. This guy let us stay with him." (Note: Earlier, the two helped us get an over-partied, passed-out, scraped-up, middle-aged man an ambulance. That whole PLUR thing is real.)
We entered the grounds around 6:30 p.m., a cloud of dust immediately rolling our way and making us realize that the bandanas and surgical masks many dancers were wearing were not part of some new rave trend, but a necessity to breathe. We made a beeline for the Red Bull Music Academy's tent -- surprisingly, the second-biggest stage this year -- in anticipation of Aeroplane, Diplo, A-Trak, and Bassnectar. It's been two months since Aeroplane's Stephen Fasano left the duo, though Vito de Luca still performs under the moniker (apparently he's responsible for most of their recent production), and judging by the his solo set, things seem to be going just fine -- he commanded the audience with a mix of smooth disco, grooving bass, and a slew of pop-infused remixes (Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" and Friendly Fires' "Paris" included).
Old habits die hard, and where Aeroplane went for breezy jams, Diplo opted for bass-thwarting, dubstep-teetering hip-hop. His own production on "U Don't Like Me" (featuring Lil Jon), followed by Dru-Ski's "I'm a Nympho" and "A Milli," prompted one girl to booty-bounce her way off off her boyfriend's shoulders. "That was just the warm-up!" he shouted, after a singalong to Skream's remix of La Roux's "For the Kill." The tempo doubled with his own remix of Bingo Players' "Get Up" as a small Asian girl battled with security stage left: "But all I want to do is meet him!" she slurred. "He's my favorite DJ!" A sympathetic photographer gave her a swig from his water bottle; later, that photographer would be inadvertantly kicked in the face by a crowd-surfer during Bassnectar's headlining set.
Fedde Le Grand and Armin van Buuren were left as the main stage's big close-outs for the year; the former was so heavy on Top 40 sampling that we lost ourselves in the familiarity of it all. Among the expected Black Eyed Peas and Major Lazer remixes came Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Otherside" and Kings of Leon's "Sex on Fire." It's to be expected, we suppose -- just the sort of common-denominator, mainstream-friendly dance music that boosts a DJ to international fame. As for Dutch trance god Buuren, we couldn't help but sway along with the now very dehydrated, very tired patrons who were determined to throw their hands up in time with the beat, albeit sloppily, anyway. The DJ's headlining set, backed by a huge flashing display bracketed by the words "Armin" and "Trance," climaxed with his new collaboration with Sophie Ellis Bextor, "Never Give Up on Love." The surprisingly slow drum-and-piano interludes were drowned out by thousands singing the chorus.
The whole concept behind Electric Zoo is pretty admirable, even if you can't imagine succumbing to the culture clash that comes hand-in-hand with these kind of things. We barely skimmed the surface during our time there: Sure, there's the trance, techno, and ridiculous outfits, but there's also house legends, DMC champs, and some of the city's most beloved food trucks. Most importantly, there are the couples that trek to the festival as some sort of Woodstock-esque experience, emblematic of everything they adore about music and each other. I can't even begin to hate on that. Electric Zoo: A Love Story.