“I sing the body electric” – Walt Whitman from “Song of Myself”
En route to Rothbury via Milwaukee, somewhere in Indiana, at a gas station-shower facility-Subway-McDonalds, assumedly in response to the hispanic couple speaking Spanish, a man offers this insight to nobody in particular: “I’m American. I speak English.” My traveling companion Chris and I take turns mocking this man with increasing volume and drawl until it’s no longer funny (well, was it more funny or scary in the first place?).
Thursday Morning, Rolling into the Rothbury’s JJ Ranch
From the minute we approach the waiting line to enter the campgrounds there’s an increase of “womp womp” and crunch fuzz coming from poorly equipped sound systems—Skrillex is playing in at least five different vehicles simultaneously despite his absence from the fest this year (his songs still get spun in DJ sets throughout the weekend). Exchanged for bandanas, dreadlocks, and sandals are Air Force Ones, straight-brimmed hats, and graphic tees with “dubstep” and “bass” puns. One reads “Dubsex,” another, “Sex, Drugs, and Dubstep.” All of this hype leads one to question: “When did dubstep become a blanket term for all dance music?” (If there is one true dubstep artist at Electric Forest this year, I won’t question the collective infatuation.)
Severe looking Michigan State Patrol police guide traffic into JJ Ranch. Locals get held up in the traffic on their way to church (or at least I imagine so, despite it being a Thurday morning). One traffic signaler, excited that the Sonata-driving girl wearing a “RAGE” hat does not instantaneously abide by his signal, offers, “Come on now. It’s your time to shine. Get a move on!” RAGE doesn’t hesitate. She just giggles at the officer’s impatience and makes a slight left. Our line is called next. I try not to look at the officer as we roll past, as these intimate moments with authority make me all too nervous—we would not hesitate to ignore one another outside of this containment, and I’m no good at artifice.
The two lanes converge into one before splitting into eight entrance lines leading into the campgrounds. We hit the easternmost line, closest to the campgrounds, and observe the west. A girl in cut-off jean shorts and a tank-top is dancing on the passenger windowsill of a slowly moving car. Her hips take an abrupt turn, but not enough to shake her balance. She bounces up and down quickly before throwing her right hand up in the air and jumping to the ground just in time for the bass to drop on a bass track and she’s bringing her right arm up and down like an oil well dredger, her left arm cupping her crotch as she throws in a little ghetto twist. A short girl,wearing a bikini top and old high school gym shorts rolled up to expose a little tush, approaches the dancer with a beer. They alternate taking large gulps of Busch Light and they fall over laughing, giddy, as they await to enter their home away from home for the next four days. A minute later the dancer flashes past us, now in an open field playing frisbee with a group of five shirtless college guys in mesh shorts. All around us, people are crawling out of their own skin with relentless energy. It’s enough to make me ponder my almost sedated state amongst this hustle.
After forty-five minutes of stop-and-go waiting we pass the precipice. We’ve officially made it into the Electric Forest. Leaders of groups ranging from two to twenty cars attempt to choreograph their group into one line to set up mass-camp inside. Some of the common phrases involved in this process include: “Dude, can you help us out?” “Man, much appreciated, man,” “Fucking Electric Forest!!!” and “You fucking rock man, thanks so much for letting us sneak in. Enjoy your fucking fest, dudes!” And we will enjoy our fest. Right now, however, I’m looking for the fuckstick who kept me up for four days at last year’s festival—the wookie with the megaphone peddling bagged wine for ass-slaps. Each time I hear a megaphone, I’m vigilant to track it. However, my much fantasized slaying of this guy never comes to fruition in these four days, and in a weird way, I end up missing the asshole and his exhaustingly sad little sideshow. But I digress. Chris and I set up shop at our campsite and hunker down underneath the EZ-UP to hide from the blistering heat and dust showers created by passing vehicles. In five hours the forest opens, and I can’t wait to see what String Cheese Incident’s lighting guy has done to the place.
The first show I see is Afrolicious’ set at the Tripolee stage, right upon entering the festival grounds. It’s 6:30 pm, hot as fuck. We head for shade. Afrolicious sounds like funky Prince. A girl puts a blanket down next to us, walks fifty feet ahead of it, and starts swaying to an electric guitar solo. Later she doubles as an ice fairy, coming up behind Chris and I to rub down our necks and chests with a chunky piece of ice.
By 7pm I’m off to see Reggie Watts on the mainstage. The sun blasts the stage and Watts dons full body black and afro to boot. He beatboxes, then records and loops the beats before adding more layers of sound and looping them. After the sonic layers form into cohesion, he raps or sings loose prose. In between songs he diatribes about politics without any real authority on the issues. Most of the crowd hides in the trees 100 yards from the stage and don’t cheer or boo his attempts at obvious right wing knocks. The one highlight is a Radiohead like beat with an off time measurement and swing on each end of the beat, which gives it a percolating characteristic. I don’t remember the lyrics to this song, or any of the other loops, but the beat had me dancing and feeling good.
Off to Conspirator at Sherwood Court, but not before encountering the forest for the first time. Not too different from 2011 in full scope, but inside the trees are some surprises. A small shack serves as a sitting bar for continuous nonstop chilltrance. Old recliners and long row seats are filled with people not talking or thinking, and I’m reminded of the milk bar from A Clockwork Orange. Cool shit. A clocktower sits in the middle of the forest, perpendicular to the forest stage, which by day tells time accurately but by night speeds, its arms like a windmills’ in a storm. Finally, there’s a circle of gongs where patrons get to enjoy the physical and aural sensation of multiple gongs struck at once. Conspirator trades in last year’s fashionable bass heavy loop (as heard in Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”) for a more tranquil trance set, more akin to old Tiesto or Armin Van Buuren than Bassnectar. It is a nice preview for STS9, who will play Friday and Saturday night.
Back to the tent for a break. I meet some neighbors who are from Colorado. They want me to watch their campsite so they can go find some lost friends. An hour later they’re back. The guy offers me a nice chunk of high grade hash for my troubles. We smoke a bowl together. It’s the best I’ve smoked in over a year, and after two beers I’m ready to get back in. Wolfgang Gartner plays a classic set of old and new dance songs, not too bassheavy or too basslight, but a perfect mix of drops and trance rhythyms. I dance for an hour with my eyes closed, only opening them every so often to get my bearings. Early in the fest yet, but Wolfgang’s my favorite so far. I wander for the next hour from stage to stage before packing it in around 2am.