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12 Unforgettable Moments of North Coast Music Festival 2013

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Chicago’s North Coast Music Festival couldn’t land on a more appropriate weekend. Although the lineup is always eclectic, it’s wonderfully curated for the Windy City’s large collegiate demographic. Spread across three days of indie-dance, jam, hip-hop, and club beats, the team behind North Coast transforms Union Park into a massive “quad” for co-eds to reminisce on the summer, discuss plans for the upcoming year, discover some fresh tunes, and meet a herd of quick-friends. Set across five-stages, a leisurely stroll keeps revelers saturated in eclectic summer vibes, yet many Coasties choose to chill on the baseball diamonds and soak in the comfort of kindred spirits.

There’s one major issue with establishing a festival as “Summer’s Last Stand”, creating something different than the dozens of other summer festivals that have been established over the last half-decade. Adding a fifth stage (opposed to two silent discos in 2012) and a massive Dos Equis viewing structure have enhanced the overall experience, but when it comes right down to it — how has North Coast differentiated itself from the likes of Summer Camp, All Good, The Werk Out, Electric Forest, and Camp Bisco?

North Coast Up High

Photo by Amanda Koellner

In short, even though it might book similar talent (that will time-to-time play very similar sets), it creates a sonic snapshot of the diverse tastes of a specific city’s youth culture. And it may be true that North Coast doesn’t yet have the clout of Lollapallooza or the indie-credibility of Pitchfork; however, it doesn’t want to. It’s already satisfied with its own off-kilter personality — one shared by the millennials that have headed to Chicago to help (re)define a sense of self.

As a sign of respect to Chicago’s many teachers and students returning to classrooms around this time, CoS has taken a slightly more analytic approach to examining the success of North Coast 2013. Utilizing a 2×2 matrix, we have plotted some of the more interesting happenings during the extended weekend. Since most festival goers appreciate something new, the x-axis has been designed to gauge the how the set ranged from “unexpected” to “fits within standard framework”. And the y-axis measures total satisfaction, because sometimes even the most expected sets, when executed effectively, can be mind-blowing.

Quadrant 1: Satisfaction in the Unexpected

Claude VonStoke Spinning Drum and Bass

claudevonstroke 12 Unforgettable Moments of North Coast Music Festival 2013

Photo by Lilian Cai

As the co-founder of San Francisco’s Dirtybird collective, Claude VonStroke has gained world-wide recognition for his booty-bass mixes. Without the use of monitors during the first half of his Sunday night set, VonStroke skillfully blended a set of tech-house and drum and bass. Even though he had been known to spin drum and bass during his time DJing in Detroit, the genre has recently been absent from his label-repping sets. The blistering DnB tempo was unexpected, but following early sets by Datsik and Madeon, the amplified beats fit nicely within the days harder-edged EDM. With the monitors corrected, VonStroke moved into the more psychedelic bass of his forthcoming LP, Urban Animal, and demonstrated that a true DJ doesn’t need to be handcuffed by genre or faulty technology.

Chicago Spends A Lot Of Time Looking Up Danny Brown Lyrics

SONY DSC

Photo by Lilian Cai

For the Danny Brown uninitiated, the Detroit-bred emcee often sounds like Roger Rabbit attempting to rap through a broken oscillating fan. Despite a track’s beats, which are often based on slow-burning UK garage, Brown’s tongue is in a constant race against his brain to finish verses oozing of sexuality, obscure pop-culture references, and drug use. When the dude would finally run out of breath from running around the stage or jumping into the crowd, the undulating audience had no issue finished the verses from tracks like “Blunt After Blunt” or “Dip”. Hell, the crowd could even keep up with the fury of Chicago’s own SD to work though  ”New World Order”. SD’s mic didn’t seem to be working at 100%, but it didn’t matter — the audience had the words on lock. When all the hysteria settled, it was a shirtless Brown that remained behind to speak with fans while the stage was being set for Rebelution.

Discovering ProbCause After A Few Hours Of Wandering

ProbCause

Photo by Derek Staples

Following a lengthy weather delay on Friday, both artists and attendees looked slightly beaten. Most notably, AlunaGeorge’s debut US performance (which was reduced to only 30-minutes) seemed limp despite their best efforts. While wandering through the fields weighing the options of dealing with the Hot Topic-clad teens watching Mac Miller or grooving to the jams of The Werks, I happened upon the raw power of Chicago-based ProbCause. His rhymes had a social depth that challenged Saturday headliner Nas, and assisted with a live drummer, his vocals were dispersed through the intimate sent with an added buoyancy. After spending 30-minutes with the duo and hearing ProbCause transition from the angst of “Black and White” to the deconstructed beauty of “LSD”, you could see bodies finally warming amid the post-rain chill.

Quadrant Two: The Pursuit Of Perfection

Cherub Uses Their Performance Fee To Douse Their Audience With Champagne

Cherub 1

Photo by Derek Staples

When I first discovered Nashville’s Cherub about three years ago during Electric Forest, I made it a point to see them in a more intimate setting. Having seen the duo about six times in the interim, I’m still baffled at how they continue to strengthen both their stage presence and revamped Minneapolis sound. After a spirited performance that captured Jason Huber with some new tricks on the controller and confidence in live editing Jordan Kelley’s funky guitar arrangements, the guys closed the set with fan-favorite “Doses and Mimosas”. Sad in content but uplifting in delivery, Kelley spent much of the song dousing the audience with champagne. While some might see the act as over-indulgent, the fun only strengthens the connection Cherub have fused with their plans through touring and near constant tweeting.

The Low Lying Cloud That Formed Over Rebelution

rebelution4 12 Unforgettable Moments of North Coast Music Festival 2013

Photo by Lilian Cai

Santa Barbara’s Rebelution is the band the music community needs. Borrowing from the reggae-rock of collectives like Sublime and Slightly Stoopid, Rebelution’s lyricism strays (slightly) from the hazy stoner vibes of the those Cali-natives and more toward the genre’s Jamaican originators. Lead singer Eric Rachmany’s eyes ignite with intensity as he wails vocally, juxtaposing against the band’s horn-tinged, walking bass-driven instrumentals. Altogether, however, the messages are powerful in their simplicity: love, understanding, diversity, sustainability and good vibes. Although Rachmany never directly addressed politics or recent international conflicts, he used the platform to discuss the importance of cultural understanding and respect for different races and ethnicity. A message that cut sharply through the low lying fog that formed between “Good Vibes” and “Green To Black”.

Aloe Blacc And Backing Band Perform “Wake Me Up”

Aloe Blacc

Photo by Derek Staples

Aloe Blacc is a hell of a soul singer, but an artist who would understandably have a different draw than that of producer Avicii. So, it was quite odd when Avicii enlisted the talents of Blacc for single “Wake Me Up”. Backed by a six-member funk/soul outfit, tracks like “Hey There Brother” and “I Need A Dollar” were delivered with a new intensity — particularly from the live drummer. Sporting a navy blazer and shades, Blacc exuded a sense of cool even as he marched across the stage looking almost directly into the setting sun. As the set was about to wrap, it was Blacc’s turn to merge the world of minimal soul and progressive house, with the band performing a near spot-on rendition of the chart-topping club single. Although the moment didn’t have quite the same magnificence as Ultra, it showcases what’s possible when artists totally avoid genre limitations.

Quadrant Three: Can We Move On Now?

Just In Case You Didn’t Know, This Is A-Trak!

atrak 12 Unforgettable Moments of North Coast Music Festival 2013

Photo by Lilian Cai

To be fair, in the official printed schedule, A-Trak was scheduled to play by 7:30 p.m. at the Last Stand Stage. So, it would make some sense for him to mix his name into the 5:30 p.m. set. However, there comes a point when the effect turns redundant and extremely self-serving. If A-Trak’s set was a painting, instead of a tiny signature at the bottom-ride, the painting would be a graffiti of the word “A-Trak” with somewhere between 87-102 signatures embedded within the artwork. A-Trak is a renowned turntablist, and his taste in music still showcases an ear that is as comfortable crate-digging 1990’s German rave house as it does current mixtapes from Louisville, but the branding kills the vibe. And even if you can get over the constant reminders, A-Trak then has the visual team blast his Twitter icon across the LED display. I still appreciate the skill of A-Trak, but until he gets off this current tilt, his 2008 essential mix with Erol Alkan is still my preferred go-to selection.

Dvbbs Throw Down The Most Cookie-Cutter EDM Set Of My Year

people10 12 Unforgettable Moments of North Coast Music Festival 2013

Photo by Lilian Cai

Prior to Toronto’s Dvbbs hitting NCMF saturday evening, Jazzy Jeff had accused the young duo of faking their DJ sets. While I can’t confirm the statement, I will champion the duo as one of the most cookie-cutter outfits within EDM — only topped by the marketing skills of DJ Bl3nd. The merger of Tritonal progressive-trance, R3hab jump-up, and Flo Rida hip-house, the set was undoubtedly infectious for the teens in attendance making the leap from One Direction to Zedd or those looking for a nice overview of the recent Beatport chart-topping sounds. If Jazzy Jeff is right and the dudes do pre-record their sets, at least they have jumping and hyping (ala Steve Aoki) mastered.

AlunaGeorge: Like Using Losing Your Virginity To Another Virgin

AlunaGeorge

Photo by Derek Staples

Not in recent memory can I recall too many indie-dance outfits that received as much hype as Britain’s AlunaGeorge. North Coast was the duo’s first US festival performance, and following the extended weather delay, it just fell a bit flat. It’s heavy comparing Aluna Francis to other noteworthy indie/electro crossover leading ladies like Maya, Elly Jackson, and Santigold, but in order to live up to the hype the comparisons are a must; as of now, they’re not truly applicable. With only 30 minutes (the first 30 after a severe storm halted Friday night’s activities) to grace the stage, the expanded live outfit just never fired on all cylinders. All the favorites like “Outlines”, “Bad Idea”, and “Body Music” were there for fans to digest live, but like losing one’s virginity to another virgin, the reality of the situation just cannot live up to our weighty dreams. We aren’t really ready to move on from AlunaGeorge, but let’s just give them the time to develop into a formidable touring unit.

Quadrant Four: Let’s At least Try And Forget This!

Passion Pit Headlining Friday Night With A DJ Set

Passion Pit DJ Set

Photo by Derek Staples

No doubt, Michael Angelakos and his cohorts from Passion Pit have honed their DJing skills during their silent disco sets this year. That doesn’t mean they should headline a festival with such a set. Taking the stage slightly late, and playing until 11 due to the storm, Angelakos only made his way up with Ian Hultquist and Jeff Apruzzese for a headlining set that sounded like an attempt at emulating a Knife Party mix with a few favorite Passion Pit songs thrown in for indie-pop attendees.

It wasn’t their fault. Seventy-five percent of their equipment was destroyed in the aforementioned storm, which forced them to do what they could with what little time and resources they had. Despite what Swedish House Mafia think, there really isn’t a reason for three dudes behind one computer, and this set even made that more obvious with Angelakos just sort of milling behind the others as they were selecting tracks and kind of whispering in their ear to indicate when he might address the audience.

Destroyed by the situation, Angelakos simply apologized for the occurrence between the drops which Apruzzese was feeding through his laptop. Bad night for everyone.

Skream Is No Longer In Need Of An Emcee

SKREAM

Photo by Derek Staples

Without a doubt, emcee Sgt. Pokes has helped advance the careers of Skream and Benga. But, as Skream pushes further away from grime, dubstep, and drum and bass, the emcees presence is no longer needed. In fact, when Skream was sharing his new appreciation for nu-disco and deep/minimal house on Saturday, Pokes scratchy messages were a solid distraction to avoid. With a voice perfect for the underground, he just doesn’t add value to the elongated builds and melodies of Skream’s new live arrangements. With Skream already abandoning his former aesthetic, we just kind of figured that he would have let Pokes down easy, now we are just trying to remember the set without Pokes’ ill-informed countdowns.

A Festival Clearing Thunderstorm

Rain

Photo by Derek Staples

It’s hard to plan for the weather. It is even more rough in Chicago when it can change in just a few moments, and festival’s like to share information on their public spaces about how beautiful the forecast is supposed to be. Nonetheless, the team from North Coast tried to handle the issue Friday night as effectively as possible, and safely cleared the grounds leading into the powerful winds. While the storm fractured the overall mood and a number of performances, it did lead to some quite ironic situations. From the comfort of an automobile, it was easy to catch the glimpse of scantly clad teens seeking refuge near a church and bug-eyed ragers trying to find comfort beneath the awnings of a nearby school. In a sense, Mother Nature simply clearing itself for the next two full days of debauchery.

Gallery

Photographer(s): Lilian Cai, Amanda Koellner, and Derek Staples

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