Derrick Carter at Spring Awakening Music Festival, June 17, 2012
Photo: Max Herman
Even a couple of years ago, the idea of throwing a rave at Soldier Field would have been unthinkable. EDM (Electronic Dance Music) had flirted with the mainstream in the recent past, but for years the scene operated in the shadows.
On Sunday, thousands of electronic music enthusiasts descended on Soldier Field to close out the second and final day of the Spring Awakening festival.
Derrick Carter: A few hundred people gathered to see Carter, an elder statesman of Chicago 90’s house. A cool breeze off the lake kept temperatures bearable. Carter was a low-key presence, nodding along to his disco and latin-infused beats. The crowd was more boisterous. Some, including a few sporting novel rat-tail/Mohawk combinations, frantically danced in place. Carter worked in a sample of Kevin Hart doing his “Alright, alright alriiight” thing, then added a soulful horn line. One sample repeatedly asked “Do you want to party?” To which the crowd naturally replied “Yeah!” Carter rode beats for longer than some of the later acts, making fewer, and more deliberate transitions.
Green Velvet: More people were trickling in when Green Velvet, aka Curtis Alan Jones, hit the stage. He started the set with “Millie Vanillie.” Fittingly, he and his singer wore wigs of long thin braids. “You guys know who Milli Vanilli” are, right?” the singer asked at one point. Given the average age of those in attendance, it was a valid question. After all, most were in diapers when Jones broke into the Chicago house music scene. Done with the jokey wig, Green Velvet unveiled his signature green mohawk. Jones then went into “La la land” which paired tongue-in-cheek vocals with a jazzy beat. The song is a satirical take on the party culture, obsessed with “unreal thrills” from “little pills” and constantly in need of a ride to the after party. Jones sang his vocals through a pickup in his headphones. “I’d never have thought I’d play here at Soldier Field,” he said at one point. “And I know a lot of you’d never thought you’d be partying here at Soldier Field.”
Carl Cox: One advantage of electronic music acts over bands: seamless set changes. A newscaster came over the speakers to announce that Carl Cox was taking over the building, Jones dipped off stage; the crowd didn’t miss a beat. Cox is a veteran house DJ who consistently packs clubs and festivals across the pond. He brought a deeper house sound, and frequently interjected in his toney British accent to exclaim “Oh yes, oh yes!” During the set, the crowd grew from the hundreds to the thousands. Some people took seats in the lower level of the stands. People were dancing and having a good time, but you got the feeling most were waiting for the dubstep.
Flux Pavilion: When Flux Pavilion, aka Joshua Steele, dropped the first wobbly dubstep beat, the crowd went wild. This is what most folks had come for. Steele, a young DJ from the U.K., mixed dancehall snare drums with deep distorted layers of sound. The music was far more aggressive than the previous acts, and the crowd proceeded to handbang and gyrate accordingly. Steele seemed genuinely touched by the response from the crowd. Before leaving the stage, he thanked “every one of you so fucking much for making this so special.”
Diplo: It was much warmer outside, under the tent of Da Equinox stage. After a short sample by the Police, Diplo, aka Wesley Bentz, busted out the manic dancehall beats. The jet-setting producer got the party started without delay, blending hip-hop, reggae, reggaeton and dancehall samples into a high-energy blur. After a couple bars of the Panjabi cut “Beware,” Bentz unleashed a Lil’ Jon sample. You knew it was about to get serious. “This is the part of the show were I bring girls on stage,” he said. He scanned the crowd, “You? You gonna dance?” Before resuming the show, he requested that the ladies properly represent Chicago. In the crowd, couples grinded against each other and groups formed circle dances. Huge balloons and several rolls of toilet paper flew back and forth. Diplo kept it krunk, breaking out Waka Flocka Flame’s “It’s a Party” before playing an extended clip from “Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys. The projections behind him consisted of trippy, flashing 8-bit animations. Next came Jay Z and Kanye West’s “Niggas in Paris” which he would cut away from to let the crowd sing punch lines like “fish fillet” and “married Kate and Ashley.” Diplo’s brand of relentless and accessible party music was a perfect fit for the occasion.
Moby: Moby was Sunday’s lone representative from EDM’s last brush with the mainstream, back when the likes of Fatboy Slim and Chemical Brothers ruled the airwaves. Hits like “Natural Blues” mixed earthy, soulful vocal samples with rocking electronics. Sunday night, Moby stayed away from his greatest hits, though, choosing instead to play a pretty straightforward set of house music. Night fell, and so the glow sticks emerged. The crowd (that stayed) kept rocking out, but for my money Moby put on one of the day’s weaker sets. At the end of his hour, Moby stood on the DJ table and pounded his fists in the air as the BPMs increased until they reached infinity.