Review: North Coast Music Festival 2011
Words by Erica Treais, Photos by Erica Treais, Eric Rademacher & Chris Monaghan
In itâ€™s second year as the end of summer Labor Day blow out, Chicagoâ€™s North Coast Music Festival played host to more than 60 acts over the three days, with Saturday and Sunday both selling out according to promoters. Located on the west side of Chicago at Union Square Park (also the home to Pitchfork), North Coast featured electronic headliners straddling sets between jam band faithful and everything in between with a hip-hop â€œitâ€ boy and indie heartthrobs making appearances. The lineup again showcased up and coming Chicago artists like Van Ghost, Future Rock, Orchard Lounge, Midnight Conspiracy and Mario Florek alongside their national headliners.
Read on for Ericaâ€™s day-by-day breakdown and to see more photos from BTJâ€™s photographers.
Austin-based, electronic duo, Auto Body took the Groupon Stage mid-afternoon, proving that synthesizers and a bass guitar could make any dance party a little bit funkier. The indie electronic group mixed hard beats and an underground rock lyrical style to stir up the crowd.
Over at The Magic Hat Local Stage up-and-coming artists attempted to prove that they could also stand the heat. Fifth Worldâ€™s compilation of acid jazz and cultural funk was a change of pace before Midnight Conspiracyâ€™s electro house set.
As a heat advisory continued to bake festivalgoers, DJ Steve Reidell of Hood Internet spun tracks alongside a cut-out of absent partner Aaron Brink. The concept of Hood Internetâ€™s mash-ups of indie rock and hip-hop may not be original, but this production team has found a way to keep their on-stage performance interesting with life-size dancing computer monitors bobbing back and forth at the front of the stage while projections resembling Atari figures shifted behind them.
A relative new comer to the scene, Wiz Khalifa has found himself at a slew of festivals this summer, and while a barrage of strobe lights and hearing â€œTaylor Gangâ€ screamed through the microphone roughly 100 times in less than two minutes may seem like an obnoxious concept to most, others live for Khalifaâ€™s juvenile energy on and off the stage.
Khalifa held the crowdsâ€™ full attention with an aggressive delivery and rhymes about sex, riches, and smoking weed. â€œYaâ€™ll smokinâ€™ good tonight?â€ he asked the crowd as the crowd obliged with thick clouds of skunky smoke. Â Khalfiaâ€™s sing-a-long set leaned heavily on his album â€œBurn After Rollingâ€ as even fans in the back who couldnâ€™t make out the lyricsâ€”due to the fact that Khalifaâ€™s mouth was practically stuck on the micâ€”still knew something â€œyoung, rich, and famousâ€ was happening on stage. Â The young rapperâ€™s reputation exceeded him during â€œBlack and Yellow,â€ when kids looking no older than 13 were reciting his lyrics word for word as he closed Red Bull stage with a bang.
The weather was nothing close to ideal on day two, as sporadic rain brought out mud pits and festivalgoerâ€™s piled themselves under the small bit of trees and a thick mix of port-a-johns and vendor food filled the air. However, those enduring the weather were treated to back-to-back funky soul driven sets from New Mastersounds and Lettuce on the North Coast stage.
A surefire highlight set of the day was RJD2 with Break Science. RJD2 started his set solo in his â€œCommissioner Crotchbuttonsâ€ outfit: a bejeweled jumpsuit with a mirrored helmet and a sampler pad on a Lazy Susan strapped to his crotch. As he toyed with the instrumentals to â€œA Beautiful Mine,â€ RJ began to tap away at his sampler and every few seconds heâ€™d stop, pop his hips and spin the sampler before returning to the beat.
After stripping out of his Commish outfit RJ hopped back behind his turntables and started digging through his crates of vinyl. Toying with hip hop tracks like â€œGhostwriterâ€ and â€œSmoke and Mirrorsâ€ RJ overlapped different beats, keeping the crowd and himself moving as he rifled through his vinyl collection while the crowd bobbed along. Break Science drummer Adam Deitch added to RJâ€™s beats injecting a punchy rock flare to the set.
RJ infuses hip-hop beats with a more psychedelic electronic sound, and while some segments of his work seem cyclical, he uses it as a build-up mechanism and transition phase into other styles such as cosmic tone and blues. â€œ1976â€ found fans shaking to a Latin-infused track, gyrating to the trippy cadences, proving his never-ending musical versatility.
Meanwhile, over at the Red Bull stage, a crowd of soaking fans swayed to the jazzy melodies of Big Gigantic. Beads of sweat rolled down saxophonist, Dominic Lalliâ€™s face while drummer Jeremy Salken pounded his Turkish cymbals through the rain. The bands combination of electronic music and jazzy melodies gave the crowd a bit more ambition as yet another downpour hit Union Park.
Fans crowded around the GroupOn stage during the end of Ruskoâ€™s rowdy dubstep set, awaiting hip-hop legacy, Common. After some delay, the Chicago rapper performed songs from his hit album â€œBe,â€ flowing to deejay tracks and acknowledging his Chicago pride. By the time STS9 took the stage, their psychedelic light show took center stage as the rain had let up and the Atlanta quintet slammed the night to a close with the closing â€œArigato.â€
Sunday seemed the most crowded of the three days, as festival goers poured in throughout the day to check out the wide variety of indie rock and the festivals biggest name, turntable lunatic, Bassnectar.
In an hour-long set, Chicago natives Van Ghost took to the North Coast stage with their blues-tinged jamband tunes carried by the funky popping bass lines of Klem Hayes and the buttery smooth voice of Jennifer Hartswick.
The Red Bull stage showcased back-to-back electronic throwdowns asÂ ATB spun trance before the crowd packed in to see a â€œclubâ€ set fromÂ Benny Benassi; some fans even set up shop in nearby trees in hopes of getting a better view. Benassiâ€™s set ran late, but nobody seemed to be complaining as sweaty bodies bounced off each other at the end of his hour-long set.
The most colorful performance throughout the weekend included mass amounts of balloons, a neon animal resembling the mix of a goat and a dragon, and humans riding horseback on top of other humans.Â The eight person eccentric indie pop band, of MontrealÂ rocked like no other band at North Coast. Dancers dressed as monsters and superheroes shot streamers and balloons into the crowd as front man Kevin Barnes and his trendy lipstick flamboyantly pranced around the front of the North Coast stage. The bands performance was nothing short of a circus.
One of the best sets of the weekend went to Gogol Bordello, as within seconds of hitting the stage, lead singer Eugene HÃ¼tz and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev were jumping on the stage front speakers, reaching the crowd with their instruments. Die-hard fans were throwing their bodies over the pit rail, trying to snag anything Gogol.
The gypsy band has created implied story-telling music, inspired by a combination of European and Spanish influences; their live show is no less than a soccer riot. Fans screamed the lyrics to â€œStart Wearing Purpleâ€ as they danced back and forth in an outlandish rage. The octets blend of Spanish lyrics, punk thrash and general chaos made for a performance best found in a gypsy punk playhouse. Bodies were flying everywhere; even percussionist Elizabeth Sun jumped off her box in front of the drum set and started running wild.
Even when the band slowed down for â€œImmigraniada,â€ they were still in high spirits, and even if the lyrics were in another language, the energy and zeal translate to any language.
As Sunday wrapped up at 10 p.m. a mob of people had collected on the corner of Ashland and Washington. Many were still reeling from Bassnectar, while others drew their attention to street performers banging on trash cans and buckets in the middle of the street.
Overall North Coast Music Festival has shown great progression in its second year on the festival scene, with pleased attendees and a wide array of eclectic musical talent. Despite Saturdayâ€™s weather, green team volunteers were constantly working to keep the festival grounds sanitary and vendors did their part in cleaning up come the end of Sunday night. Though the electronic and dubstep scenes brought a mix of aggression on the final day, with few attendees suffering mild injuries during Bassnectar, the festival overall was considerably docile. Being only their second year in the festival scene, North Coast Music Festival was successful and fulfilling. Hopefully next year the division between electronic and jam bands will be a bit more equal with possible venue and stage expansions.
BTJ photogs took the North Coast MusicÂ Festival by storm last weekend, so check out our first gallery from BTJ Photographer Chris Monaghan, Erica Treais and Eric Rademacher.
Click the arrows in the bottom right corner to see hundreds of beautiful photos from our photographers in a fullscreen gallery photo wall.