I came to Electric Forest in 2014 uncertain of what to expect from this year’s festival. The lineup wasn’t as impressive as previous years, although the genre-spanning acts were a welcome change. I was rolling deep with an entirely new crew this year, many of them friends from various shows, but none of whom I had yet forested with. However, none of that mattered as our caravan rolled into Double-JJ Ranch. Once my tires hit the dirt, I knew I was home again.
Electric Forest is different from most music festivals in that it doesn’t rely on the strength of major headliners. It relies on the overall experience, the community, and the dedication of its attendees. Wandering through the forest aimlessly in awe and wonder becomes more important than running back and forth between stages, and who you’re seeing doesn’t matter as much as who you’re seeing it with. That being said, there’s also some incredible music to be experienced and discovered.
Ranch Arena opener Cherub started late due to a delayed flight, which was perfect timing for the throngs of people who had been stuck in the hot sun waiting to enter the festival grounds. The disorganized opening crowd outside the entrance had quickly turned into a drunken water gun fight, proving that you don’t even need to be inside the forest to enjoy its revelry. Once inside, high spirits were spurred on by Cherub’s energetic and fun, albeit shortened set, and J.Phlip kept us dancing at Tripolee with her deep-house sounds.
As the sun descended over Rothbury, the real fun began. After navigating through the magical twists and turns of the forest, the skies open up, and you’re at Sherwood Court, where the most eclectic artists on the lineup perform. It was here where bands such as EOTO, Umphrey’s McGee, and STS9 played lengthy, diverse sets. With ample space to sprawl out with your group and relax, soaking in the sound, or dance around like a fool, Sherwood Court was the place to get lost in the music for hours on end.
Back at The Ranch Arena, The Glitch Mob and Zed’s Dead blew my fucking mind, much credit due to the amazing lights. As the crushing bass ripped through the crowd, a full ceiling of lights went straight over everyone all the way to the trees, and real life completely disappeared. While some of last year’s heaviest bass sets like Knife Party and Krewella were plagued with sound problems, there were no such issues here. The Glitch Mob’s booming drums rocked the entire crowd, and Zed’s Dead’s bass drops shook my entire body in the best way possible. The largest crowds of the weekend were present for these two shows, where hardcore fans and casual dancers intermingled from the stage all the way back to the vendor booths.
As our campsite slowly woke up Friday morning, my body was already wrecked. Luckily, Electric Forest knows this, and provides free yoga sessions at Tripolee stage every afternoon. The free-for-all clusterfuck entrance method had been replaced with a zig-zag of gates, which provided endless high-fives as you snaked your way past fellow foresters.
After an hour-long delay, Lauryn Hill finally took the stage at Ranch Arena, and did her best to compensate for the wait with an amazing set comprised of her hits from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Standing front in center, I almost forgot that my skin was being roasted as the iconic artist performed with a surprising amount of energy and emotion for the crowd, which at that point was mostly just people waiting for String Cheese.
On a night where bass reigned supreme at Tripolee, Excision delivered one of the most crushing sets of the weekend, delivering 90 minutes of non-stop bass drops. As the crowd shuffled through, heading back to camp from Umphrey’s McGee, more and more people were pulled into the crowd, and by 3 am it felt like the entire festival was raging together.
Saturday’s highlights included Kastle, who played a great house/garage set in the blistering sun to a small crowd at Tripolee. Emancipator Ensemble followed at Sherwood with an incredible show. Emancipator’s music is perfect with a live band, and I hope he never loses the ensemble.
Say what you want about The String Cheese Incident, but they are a vital piece of the Electric Forest experience. I never, ever, listen to their music, it’s just not my thing. But the spectacle of String Cheese at Ranch Arena is truly unlike any other festival set, and this was never more evident than the Lauryn Hill Incident on Saturday. With Cheese acting as Hill’s backing band, they ripped through an incredible set consisting of numerous covers from every end of the musical spectrum, and plenty of Fugees hits.
After that show, I could have ended my evening happy, but there’s always more to see in the forest. Bookah Shade blew minds at Sherwood Court, and Steve Angello played an amazing set with lighting and pyrotechnics to rival major festival stages.
Sundays at Electric Forest are all about spending your last day with the people you love, and the lineup was perfect for exactly that. From Cosby’s opening set at Sherwood to Matt & Kim’s ridiculously fun show at Ranch Arena, great vibes were in abundance on Sunday. Deep in the forest, if you could navigate the tangled maze of hammocks, you may have caught one of the best sets of the festival on Sunday afternoon. Kygo played a blissfully chilled out set at Forest Stage, a perfect soundtrack to the final day.
Tripolee owned Sunday night, as What So Not, Cashmere Cat, GTA, and the immortal Moby all catered to those in the crowd that still had enough energy to dance for one more night. I ended my time at the forest with my incredible forest family at a near-empty Sherwood Court for Cut Copy. As the music ended and a booming voice instructed us to return to camp before the impending storm descended on Rothbury, I was reminded that all good things must end, but should never be forgotten.
Electric Forest has always been about the experience, and it was never more evident than this year. There was no shortage of venues, art installations, and interesting people to discover in the forest. With no massive headliners packing in a crowd, every stage had plenty of space to just hang out with friends and enjoy the music without getting trampled. If you want to run back and forth from stage to stage and plan out every minute of your festival, Lollapalooza is coming up. But if you want to get lost in the moment, fall in love with your friends, and party with strangers until the sun comes up, there’s no place like Electric Forest.
Photos by Travis Goldstein Photography and the author.