By: Tedward B. Bouillon
North Coast Music Festival had a lot to live up to this year. With the talent they managed to line up in their inaugural weekend, just last year, they made their own event a tough act to follow. Not only that, but Lollapalooza is still fresh in many of the attendees minds (including that of yours truly.) Their sophomore effort proved a success however, selling out all three days – and no doubt many of the well-organized after parties – and filling Union Park with plenty of eats, beats and all manner of concertgoers, young and well, younger.
After some trouble getting my hands on a ticket for Saturday – the second day of the festival – I was out of the gates and free to roam around the spacious union park, located on the city’s near west side. I missed one of the acts I had planned to see so I wasted no time in getting down to business.
First up, I was lured in by the sounds of Rubblebucket. The Brooklyn octet had an interesting style and while the soaring vocals of lead singer Annakalmia Traver drew me to the “named after Groupon” stage; it was their eclectic sound that kept me hanging around. With a mix of horns, synths and diverse percussion, the band’s sound gave much needed variety to a sometimes monotonous lineup of electronic acts.
Speaking of electronic music, it wasn’t long before I made my way to the Red Bull stage to check out Felix Cartal. The heavy bass was drawing in crowds – although still quite modest at this point in the day – and the light display still looked good in the daylight. The Vancouver DJ had the audience surging, seemingly oblivious to the rain clouds moving in overhead.
Having flashbacks of a rather soggy final day at Lollapalooza last month, I headed for the trees to wait out the rain. It didn’t last long, but by the time it let up, Zed’s Dead had taken the stage in place of Felix Cartal. The beats didn’t stop and the bass only got heavier as the duo gave the audience the pulsing dubstep that teenagers seem drawn to these days, like moths to a flame. I must be getting old; but not too old to enjoy the offerings of Zed’s Dead – who I’d be seeing later that night at an after party.
With this in mind, I took the opportunity to see what was going on elsewhere in the park. I cruised the avenue of food stands and got my grub on at Smoke Daddy, washing the Chicago BBQ down with a Goose Island orange cream. It’s good to see local business represented at events like this. Gone are the days of starving, half-to-entirely naked hippies in the days before port-o-potties were a standard at public events. I say my parents were missing out not having pulled pork sandwiches and root beer floats at their festivals- but I digress.
I ventured over to the North Coast stage to see the New Mastersounds. All the way from Leeds, England, this four-piece funk band grooved their way through the downpour. The rain let up eventually, but it didn’t faze them. Oh yes, the funk was brought, my friends. Though they’ve been doing their thing for over a decade, they seem content to jam together and that’s always fun to watch.
The skies still weren’t looking good and I sought shelter in a “cool down” CTA bus, where I took some time out to tweet about the festival thus far. As the bus slowly turned into a daycare (what, no Kidzapalooza here?) I took my leave and eventually made my way back to the Red Bull stage for Major Lazer.
Featuring a mix of vocalists, dancers and the talents of Philadelphian DJ, Diplo, and British DJ Switch (whom I had the pleasure of seeing play a solo set at Lollapalooza this year) Major Lazer brings an intoxicating rhythm to the stage with every track they spin. Although Major Lazer’s hype man Skerritt Bwoy kept the crowd going, there were some moments that didn’t go over so well – at least in my mind – such as a rendition of Blur’s Song 2, which, don’t get me wrong, is a real crowd-pleaser, but having such a unique sound for a DJ-backed dance set, it was disappointing to see them do what most amateur DJs would consider a trick up their sleeve – busting out an alt rock mashup. It seemed out of place for Diplo, but it was still a good show and audience was really into the set.
The crowds had grown since the afternoon, with the weather improving, and they flocked to the Groupon stage for Chicago native Common. One of the most talented rappers in contemporary hip-hop, Common had no problem entertaining the home crowd with confidence. I find hip-hop shows can be hit and miss, but Common is not just a household name at this point, he’s a sure thing, giving his performance all the energy he can.
It seemed inevitable that I’d see the veteran British DJ Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim at the end of the night, despite having already seen him once this year in Detroit, where he closed out the Movement 2011 festival. If you haven’t heard Fatboy Slim by now, you must have been born in the 90s like much of the audience. Seriously, some of these kids were in diapers when Fatboy Slim’s first album dropped in ’96. Don’t get me wrong, 1998 was a good year, especially Cook, whose career really peaked that year, but there is no song to be mixed with Rockafeller Skank that will bring any freshness to what’s likely the most overplayed electronic hit of the late 90s. Many of these kids weren’t old enough to appreciate Fatboy Slim the first time around, so perhaps his second coming is a welcome one. Or maybe his big beat, club anthem style just seems antiquated in today’s musical world of dubstep and attention-deficit mashups (I’m looking at you, Girl Talk). I’ve got nothing but love for Fatboy Slim – nostalgic love at that – but at this point, seeing him tour is the equivalent of my parents going to see Crosby, Stills and Nash play live at some arena. One can only hope that Cook will soon bring something fresh and innovative to the future of this music scene, just like he did back in the 90s.
Was I ready to go home? No sir.
Last item on the list was an after party at the Congress featuring Major Lazer’s Diplo, Zed’s Dead and French DJ SebastiAn. Diplo and Zed brought it even harder than they had earlier that day, but nothing compared to the performance put on by SebastiAn. The lights, the video display, the theatrics of the Frenchest DJ I’ve ever see – seriously, he made an *art* of chain-smoking – from start to finish it was one of the best electronic sets I’ve ever witnessed. Do yourself a favor and look up SebastiAn if you’re not already familiar with his work. Whatever you do, don’t pass up his live set. The perfect end to a good day of a festival that offers a fitting end to a summer of live music in a city that increasingly becomes a destination for concertgoers.
Tedward Bouillon is a guest contributor to Outside The Dial and considers it an honor be here.