New York’s Electric Zoo came to a close earlier than expected this weekend after the tragic deaths of two attendees, but things were rather positive at the festival before the plug was pulled. For two sunny days, tens of thousands of fans made their way to Randall’s Island, where five massive stages housed the world’s biggest DJs. Made Event had big plans for the festival’s fifth anniversary, expanding the grounds extensively and adding a second main stage. While it’s impossible to ignore the sadness surrounding the unfortunate consequences for two young individuals, it’s also unfair to discount the positive experiences of majority of attendees.
Electric Zoo has been widely perceived as the top EDM festival in the Northeast, and has maintained that reputation amid increased competition from Insomniac and others. Made Event is known for running a very tight ship, from set times to after-parties. But there’s always been something very “homey” about Zoo; it’s a big festival but still manages to feel intimate. Look no further than last year’s recap video to get a sense of what Zoo is all about: DJs play an important part of the equation, but at Electric Zoo the fan comes first.
‘EZoo5’ was supposed to be the best EZoo yet — and even though it was cut short this year, in many ways it was. From improved production to its extensive lineup and even a more diverse food selection, Electric Zoo 2013 surpassed the previous year’s festivities on many levels. And yes, while the weekend’s rep will undoubtedly be tarnished because of these grim developments, there were still quite a few uplifting moments that remind us what this music is really about…
At the end of the day, Electric Zoo — like any other music festival — is about the music. Yes the LEDs and the lasers are all important, but without a soundtrack to back it all up, you might as well be anywhere. On day one, Skrillex and Boys Noize united as Dog Blood to deliver an incredible set at the Riverside Stage, surrounded by impressive 3D visuals. At the Main Stage, Above & Beyond provided the means for one attendee to pop the question to his girlfriend, as the Anjunabeats men typed out the proposal for him on the huge LED wall. Earlier in the day, Showtek asked fans to sing along to a song not usually heard at EDM festivals: “Happy Birthday.” Then, at the end of the night, Avicii delivered his signature mix of happy melodic tunes and upcoming tracks from his album, all while the endless sea of people sang along emphatically. It felt right, and it felt happy.
Day two featured an equally impressive lineup, with many of the youngsters taking the stages to show off their skills. In the early afternoon, Eric Prydz protege Fehrplay spun his soulful beats as he literally spun around on the rotating Hilltop Stage. Mat Zo took over after him, picking up the energy while maintaining the vibe with harder-hitting electro-tinged bangers. The French wonderboy Madeon worked his nimble fingers for meticulous sampling, which was a highlight when displayed on the Main Stage East screens. There was a massive arrival at the other Main Stage in the moments before Hardwell took his perch and played from his extensive arsenal of tracks. But Tiesto closed out the night by reaching into his back catalogue, playing old hits like “Feel It In My Bones” and bringing Hardwell back out for “Zero 76.”
Day three’s DJs would have included Krewella, Zedd, Carnage, W&W, and Rusko, but they were unfortunately unable to perform. Diplo, who was poised to set a world record for twerking, played an intimate show at the TriBeCa Grand Hotel instead. (But maybe that’s for the better.)
Made Event made a big deal about its five main stages for EZoo’s fifth birthday, but redesigns to existing stages were even more impressive than the newfound Main Stage East. A redesigned Hilltop Arena featured a circular rotating DJ booth, fully encircled by LED screens and four LED-lined columns that made it feel like an interactive wrestling ring. Riverside’s wall-to-wall screens both provided a stunning visual element and dwarfed the DJs hiding behind them — especially with Dog Blood for their 3D show.
It’s not that the new main stage was not impressive, but in a festival world full of animatronic owls, exploding volcanoes, and towering pyramids of lasers and lights, the structure felt a bit dated. EZoo’s main stage production hasn’t evolved significantly in a number of years and we’d like to see something new next year. Other visual elements scattered throughout the festival were minimal but familiar: giant painted animal statues clustered on the hill between the two main stages, and twinkling lights in the trees.
THE EVERYTHING ELSE
Outdoor festivals aren’t quite as enjoyable in the rain, and the New York skies held out for both days of the event. Electric Zoo has had problems with dust in the past, but the reported $1 million expenditure on grass for this year proved well worth the money. Tons of food trucks and stands opened up on the grounds to keep attendees fed and provide options well beyond the usual fare.
We may never know exactly how much pressure Made Event was under to shut down Electric Zoo’s final day (the NYC mayor’s office says it merely “recommended” the decision), but the fact that they did it speaks to the company’s virtues and passion for the scene. Made proclaimed the decision was made “because there is nothing more important to us than our patrons,” and its decision to refund tickets backs up that claim.
Made Event will likely take a sizable hit to its bottom line for the day three cancellation, but that’s not a lot in the grand scheme of building a festival brand like Electric Zoo. Because even though things didn’t go exactly as planned this year, Made Event is already thinking about how to improve next year. And, if you ask us, there will be a next year.
Image credit: Christopher DeMairo for Electric Zoo Festival.com