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Summer Set Music & Camping Festival, 8/15/14

Chromeo
Chromeo
Anna Gulbrandsen

Summer Set Music & Camping Festival
with Danny Brown, RL Grime, Chromeo & Kaskade
Somerset Amphitheater, Somerset
Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday of Summer Set 2014 had everything you might expect from a music festival in the middle of the woods. There were flower crowns, neon-clad ravebros, nonsensical internet meme signage, and gigantic lines -- and a lot of solid, high energy and fun performances. It was a fitting start to a weekend of music, people watching, and general sensory overload.

See also:
Slideshow: Summer Set: People and Scenes

When thousands of people are trying to go through security and park their cars in a field near an amphitheater in a tiny town in Wisconsin, delays are part of the deal. Still, Summer Set's logistical clusterfuck was a sight to behold. People seemed to be having a decent time in their basically immobile cars -- one dude even flew a kite -- but the wait was nuts. Even after skipping the last 100 yards or so by finally figuring out how the media entrance worked (whoops), getting into the festival took almost three hours.

Through the madding crowd, past the DJ tent full of vaguely swaying ravers, down a surprisingly steep wood-chipped path, was the grove stage. In this clearing in the woods, surrounded with grass-covered slopes, Danny Brown performed for a few hundred people. Conditions seemed ideal for turning up. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Tepid is not a word commonly associated with the green-haired leader of the Bruiser Brigade. But a lot of the set was, an example of the festival taking precedence over the music.

Summer Set Music & Camping Festival, 8/15/14
Anna Gulbrandsen

It wasn't entirely Danny Brown's fault. The audience, with a few enthusiastic exceptions, didn't seem very familiar with the Detroit rapper's catalog. Brown put the mic over to the crowd for the hook in "Molly Ringwald" -- which is just "Molly Ringwald" -- and got almost nothing back. The same problem repeated itself for typical hits like "Drinkin and Smokin" and "Trampy." All in all, the set counted on a lot of help that the audience didn't provide. Brown's performance wasn't blameless, however. Though his prodigious technical skills were on full display, his delivery and stage presence were straightforward and by-the-book.

Summer Set Music & Camping Festival, 8/15/14
Anna Gulbrandsen

Still, the show managed to get something going, despite itself. "Shake that ass for a hipster n*gga" from "Handstand" seemed to resonate with a lot of the crowd, and the song transitioned seamlessly into "I Will," the ode to cunnilingus off XXX that is basically the platonic ideal of Danny Brown. People got involved and stayed engaged for "Dope Song" which featured a moment of actual spontaneity from the audience in the form of a rhythm clap. For that part of the set, it wouldn't have mattered if Brown had been playing for a checked-out afternoon festival crowd or a nursing home -- it was going off.

Turnt
Turnt
Anna Gulbrandsen

Next up in the grove was Los Angeles EDM savant RL Grime. Good DJ sets are like roller coasters -- moments of intensity balanced with anticipation, moving ceaselessly forward. RL Grime switched between remixes about every 40 seconds, with few exceptions. With so many sharp transitions, it was shocking how few were jarring, and the character of the set was both surprising and consistently high energy. Unlike most other DJs throughout the weekend, RL Grime was almost unaided by lights and visuals, with only a white outline of a doorway on a black background projected behind him. The overflowing, absolutely boisterous crowd helped him out with an impressive and sometimes confusing array of signs and flags, including several stuffed bananas, a laser-beam shooting space cat that read "Fuck real life," and Ron Swanson's face with "aroused" written on it. It was like living inside the internet.

 

RL Grime
RL Grime
Anna Gulbrandsen

But how was the music? In-depth description of the texture of various bass drops quickly becomes Pitchforkease, and honestly, you either enjoy this kind of stuff or you don't. But it's worth a try, briefly. Near the middle of the set, after lighting a cigarette in the middle of his world-ending "Mercy" remix, RL Grime began playing a mix of Benny Benassi's house staple "Satisfaction." A blast of fog and confetti cannons signaled the arrival of song's central groove. The deceptively simple sequence of warped notes, riffing off the original's iconic sound, combined danceability with ambulance-siren urgency. In other words, the beat slapped hard.

Summer Set 2014
Summer Set 2014
Anna Gulbrandsen

The main stage is an entirely different experience than the grove--a massive concrete pad surrounded by amphitheater slopes. On it sat a Ferris wheel, and the small-town water tower off in the distance created a county fair vibe. Luckily, that wholesome feeling dissipated when Chromeo took the stage. The Montreal electro funk lords begin their set with hair-rattling bass and blinding strobe, but they built a vibe with steady groves rather than shock and awe. Extensive use of Vox box and light-up women's legs for keyboard stands lent a 80s vibe to the proceedings, and their stage presence, appropriately, exuded sex appeal (or at least efforts towards it).

This was occasionally undermined by corniness in their interactions with the crowd. They introduced songs with puns twice, which is two too many times. And the audience seemed a bit distracted during their longer buildups. Still, while they weren't quite as cool off their instruments as they were on them, a lack of self-seriousness is good. So was their show. Their synchronized joint solos, with both members jamming out on a drum pad, and synth harmonies were consistently on point. The highlight was "Fancy Footwork," a straightforward dance track that became much more complex live without losing the grove. The duo added layers of synth and drum loops over the length of the song, keeping the beat both driving and funky. After a long breakdown accompanied by a constellation of stage lights, Chromeo finished off with "Jealous." It's so catchy that you know it after one listen. Live, it was visceral, the vocals lending some emotional reality to the jealousy while keeping and amplifying the funk.

Kaskade
Kaskade
Anna Gulbrandsen

Closing out the night, Kaskade performed a 90-minute set from 10:30 to midnight. He was the only act playing at the time, and the amphitheater was almost full near the end of his performance. In comparison to RL Grime, Kaskade's house-focused DJ set was more like a typical concert, with most of the songs played almost in their entirety and more focus on tension-filled builds than dramatic drops. Kaskade was fist pumps, RL Grime was trap arms.

Kaskade's show was also much more visual, aided by the darkness of the night. The audience was treated to huge video boards projecting Tron-esque cityscapes, giant eyes, and cartoon psychedelics of all kinds. The signs and banners were there too, and it was amusing to see an inflated Mr. Krabs from Spongebob on a stick going dumb in front of a projection of the horsehead nebula. This image happened during "Atmosphere." During that track, Kaskade perched on top of the screen in front of his kit, hyping up the crowd, only bending down to adjust the levels for about five seconds before the song's largest crescendo, setting off a roar from the crowd as the nebulas race forward on the screen. In a way, these shows run themselves.

And yet, they don't. The mix was immaculate. At times, 15 minutes of the set would pass without a discernible seam. Of course, it's easy to create an atmosphere when a light-up octopus passes over the crowd in the middle of the show and a half harvest moon shines overhead. Kaskade didn't squander the opportunity, and whether he was somberly remixing Lana Del Ray's "Young and Beautiful" or blasting faces off with light and sound, the audience was eating out of his hands. The set ended at midnight with perhaps the one thing that could top it for pure spectacle: actual fireworks. No need for a noise ordinance in Somerset.

Critic's notebook:

Random notebook dump: I got hit in the back of the head with a flying pair of pants during Schoolboy Q's set on Saturday. I have no idea if they ever made it back to their owner (or if he or she even wanted them back).

The crowd: Friendly, plurnt. You already know.

Overseen in the crowd: A few "war bonnet" headdresses and an "ethnic jewelry" stand. Come on y'all, it's 2014.

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Somerset Amphitheater

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Somerset, MN 54025


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