After seven years, Electric Forest has finally found its footing.
The festival debuted in 2008 as Rothbury, with eclectic headliners like John Mayer, The Dead, The String Cheese Incident, Dave Matthews Band and Snoop Dogg.
Rothbury had two years under its belt when organizers announced the 2010 festival was canceled, due to artist schedules and fear that year wouldn’t live up to the previous years’ high standards. The news left fans wondering if they would ever have the chance to come back to Double JJ and enjoy four days of music and community.
In 2011, Rothbury experienced a resurgence. Renamed Electric Forest, the festival phased out more of the rock and folk acts to make way for household names and rising stars in the electronic dance music world. The festival site—which is a few hours’ drive from Detroit, techno’s birthplace—immediately drew tens of thousands of festivalgoers, and not just from Michigan, either. Like Bonnaroo in Tennesee, Lollapalooza in Chicago or Coachella in California, Electric Forest quickly became a destination festival.
Fast forward four years and Electric Forest 2015 sold out for the second year in a row. We packed our tent, glowsticks and durable shoes and headed out to Western Michigan to spend a weekend amongst the neon allure, these are the Top 10 Electric Forest 2015 Performances.
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I’m a Skrilly virgin. It was a sin I confessed to the girls camping next to me, who quickly made a plan to absolve me of my transgressions. They told me stories of performances past, and how the artist formerly known as Sonny John Moore earned the title for most energetic EDM performer. They weren’t wrong, either. Skrillex spent his set looking like a mad scientist behind his table, bouncing from the decks, to the front of the stage with a mic in hand, to the table top encouraging his already-hyped crowd. The set included remixes of current and years-old pop songs from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beyoncé and Major Lazer, as well as his original dubstep compositions. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Skrillex show without alien imagery flashing throughout his set. Possibly the most Skrillex thing to happen this weekend was his surprise appearance on Saturday. Not content with just doing his own set, Skrillex joined The String Cheese Incident on guitar and vocals during one of the band’s three sets this weekend. Can I have some of his energy, please?
“This is the best EOTO show I have ever seen,” a concertgoer told me when he saw me taking notes at the show. “It’s intense and super electronic compared to their other shows.” Personally, I had nothing to compare it to since this was my first EOTO show. I will say that it was unlike any performance—electronic or otherwise—I have ever seen. Rock and EDM styles blended together perfectly, with two musicians onstage, one in charge of drums, the other wielding a guitar and DJ equipment simultaneously. Equally impressive was the light show happening during the set. Lasers crisscrossed the audience, with the lights surrounding the stage accompanying the music. The moment peaked when EOTO did an “Electric Avenue” remix, substituting the lyrics with “We gonna rock down to Electric Forest too.”
Like fellow headliner Skrillex, Bassnectar is one of Electric Forest’s standout EDM acts for 2015. The California-based DJ/producer treated his set like one of his songs. He warmed the crowd up with ambient, trippy and melodic electronica for a good 15-20 minutes before dropping into the heavy dubstep sounds for which he is known. Neon lights accompanied the sounds, with the audience going nuts at every bass drop. This show was definitely one of the audience’s most anticipated and the highlight of many people’s weekends, with crowds moving toward the stage to get a good spot an hour or more before the show.
It’s possible that Kaskade wins the title for best entrance. The Los Angeles-based artist came out in a burst of flames that blasted over the stage. Once he emerged, Kaskade put on a visually stunning show, continuing the tone he set with his epic entrance. In addition to the pyrotechnics, Kaskade weaved gorgeous imagery on the stage screens that ranged from wildflowers, geometric figures, spacescapes and more. Pyrotechnic surprises were peppered throughout the set. One song saw sparks falling from the ceiling, while fireworks synched up to the beat showered the skies above the stage during crowd favorite, “Last Chance.”
In a male-dominated genre, appearing on a male-dominated lineup, Alison Wonderland came in and made it completely clear that women deserve more recognition than they get when it comes to the EDM scene. The Sydney-based musician rivals Skrillex in terms of energy and performance, despite just releasing her debut album in March. Throughout her set, Wonderland jumped up on her table, dancing on pace with the crowd, garnering enthusiastic cheers from the audience. The girl’s got mad swagger and EDM desperately needs more artists like her.
Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires
Bradley is possibly one of the more unlikely and surprising acts to hit Electric Forest’s stages in years. The 66-year-old singer released his debut album only four years ago. He gained widespread popularity thanks to a 2012 documentary about his career called Charles Bradley: Soul of America. The film focused and the adversity he faced in the 60 years leading up to his musical success, from his brother’s murder to a handful of homeless stints and various odd jobs. For years, he was a James Brown impersonator, inspired by the artist when, as a child, he saw Brown perform. He spent years practicing Brown’s moves and nuances, which come through in his current performances, even now that performs his own funk-infused soul music with a backing band. A true visionary, Bradley has been dubbed “The Screaming Eagle of Soul.” Just minutes into his performance, the nickname became completely obvious. Bradley wails and screams with gusto and power. He does the genre well, making you wonder why it took 60 years to unearth this gem.
The String Cheese Incident
This festival truly belongs to The String Cheese Incident. The independent/grassroots jam band from Colorado jumped on board in 2011, when the festival rebranded as Electric Forest. Since then, the band has not only gotten top bill, but played three three-hour sets every year. For the fans, these performances are a choose-your-own adventure of sorts. They can pick which day they want to see the band, or if they want to take part in all three performances. The music also lends itself to different experiences, some people were hanging out in hammocks or on blankets, and others were dancing like nothing else mattered. The vibe lends itself to either. That doesn’t mean the performances stay the same, however. String Cheese is known to bring out surprise guests, like Lauryn Hill in 2014 and Skrillex this year, offering quite a number of “Oh damn!” moments for attendees.
Yonder Mountain String Band
One of the few bluegrass acts on the lineup, Yonder Mountain String Band refers to its music as “EDM’s original form: Acoustic dance music.” The band is extremely charismatic, whether members are playing their instruments with impressive intensity, talking to the crowd between numbers, or debuting a new song. Yonder Mountain’s vocalist even made reference to Rothbury, telling the crowd “We were here before this place was Electric Forest.”
One of the few rock acts on the lineup, Phantogram took advantage of their dusk timeslot, which complemented their moody rock and smoky stage set up. Noticeably missing was Josh Carter, the duo’s other half, who had a family issue he needed to tend to. Frontwoman Sarah B and Phantogram’s touring guitarist and drummer held their own. The band omitted the tracks where Carter has primary vocal duties, leaving the show in B’s hands, who proved to be an animated and passionate frontwoman, mesmerizing the crowd with her dancing and impressive vocals the entire set.
Ten minutes before Lindsey Stirling – who won over judges and viewers on season five of “America’s Got Talent” – went onstage, hoards of people flocked toward the Jubilee stage, where she was set to perform. Once the crowd got close to the stage, however, it was evident that you probably weren’t going to catch a glimpse of this violin-wielding electronic artist, who also dabbles in cosplay. An audience member turned to me as we tried to carve a space for ourselves and said, “I just want to be able to see her once. Just once!” These chances were slim considering the size of the crowd. Electric Forest was the last stop on Stirling’s U.S. tour, not that you’d be able to tell by her energy and intense violin playing. Her violin stole the show. Sure, there were electronic beats, but they were around only to accentuate Stirling’s eccentric talent.