By Jack Spencer
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By Rob van Alstyne
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It used to be that the best music festivals offered something for everyone — a mix of genres aimed at different ticket buyers, all united under a banner of powerful live performances. But in our modern, shuffle-play society, the format is increasingly everything for someone. With nearly every artist of note offering a sampling of their music online, our discoveries begin long before the festival gates open, and today's fans have the potential for wider-ranging preferences than ever before.
"You don't even have to buy a CD or a record or anything to discover new music these days," says Jack Trash, a Minneapolis DJ and CEO of the promotional company Sound In Motion. "You click on YouTube and you start watching, or you open Spotify and you start listening. Music is so accessible to people nowadays that it makes these transitions really easy. It also makes it easy to try and sell our acts and what we do. It's great for us, and exciting."
He refers to the acts he has helped assemble for this weekend's Summer Set Music & Camping Festival in Somerset, Wisconsin. The three-day festival is a mash-up of electronic music, hip-hop, bluegrass, folk, reggae, and indie rock.
Summer Set features Girl Talk, Big Gigantic, Passion Pit, and more on August 9-11 at Somerset Amphitheater; full lineup and schedule at summersetfestival.com
"Each festival, naturally, has an audience that they are catering to, but in 2013 most people are open-minded to a variety of different forms of music and don't feel the need to be attached to any particular scene or aesthetic," says Girl Talk's Gregg Gillis during a call from his Pittsburgh home.
Girl Talk will headline Summer Set on Saturday with a performance that provides a near-perfect reflection of the divergent tastes found among omnivorous modern-day music fans. Ever since his 2006 mix Night Ripper captured the public consciousness, Gillis's scattershot but instantly recognizable pop, hip-hop, and indie-rock mash-ups brought dance and DJ culture more universal appeal suited for the festival atmosphere. Plus a whole lot of Nirvana fans heard Clipse for the first time, and vice versa.
"There's value in very different forms of music, and I think, in general, music fans understand that," Gillis says. "I think it's cool. I've always been a fan of being a part of any event where it's a wide-reaching selection of bands. That's always something that's been exciting for me. I get offers from various festivals sometimes where it's all one particular thing, and that's a lot less appealing for me."
Balancing diversity and entertainment value is also central for Summer Set organizers Trash and Matt Gerding, who owns Madison's Majestic Theatre and Majestic Live. For the second year running, Majestic Live and Sound In Motion have partnered with the Chicago-based React Presents to create a uniquely Midwestern music festival that takes cues from larger coastal cities while still maintaining a level of connectedness that appeals to area music fans. Don't expect anything less than a stadium-sized show from Girl Talk on Saturday, though.
"My goal has always been, with both the live shows and the albums, to make a complicated collage of pop music," Gillis explains. "I like it to be maximalist and big in every way possible. Playing to these larger audiences has pushed me further down that line to keep it growing."
Joining him will be Colorado hip-hop-electro-jazz fusionists Big Gigantic, indie-pop stylists Passion Pit, Outkast rapper Big Boi, reggae legends the Wailers, and global dance experimenter Diplo, among the weekend's big draws. Add to that a smattering of area acts like Poliça, Doomtree, Dessa, and the 4ontheFloor, and this year's Summer Set lineup defies categorization — unless that genre is simply "music festival."
"All of the acts that we book play into this party atmosphere that we want to create with Summer Set," says Gerding. "It's a festival, and it's all about live music, for sure, but there's a fun, party energy that comes across from all of these types of acts in these different types of ways. So we wanted to combine all of these different energies together to just create one big party."