This year's Summer Set Music & Camping Festival demonstrated the unrelenting hold that the contemporary EDM movement has on popular music and youth culture as a whole. Tucked away in the sprawling fields of Somerset, Wisconsin, the grounds were abuzz with young people beneath layers of hand-beaded rave kandy. They traded bracelets in a precise manner that involves mutual hand gestures that represent Peace, Love, Unity and Respect.
Strangers were eager to make friends, and homemade signs bobbed above the crowd as a barrage of dubstep-heavy DJs tested the limits of the bass. The omnipresent hula-hooping rave girls held their positions along the fringes of the dance floor, which swelled greater as the sun fell each night and the glow-in-the-dark masses migrated to the main stage for the final acts.
Slideshow: Summer Set: People and Scenes
Just before Schoolboy Q's Saturday set, A$AP Ferg's "Shabba Ranks" blasted over the system, and festies descended like a group of neon zombies on ecstasy down the hills and toward the Main Stage. It seemed like a quarter of the concertgoers were toting signs: the Wu-Tang "W" on yellow poster board, a giant photo of movie popcorn, Homer Simpson's head. At first, the vast concrete lot seemed suspiciously empty, but the bodies continued coming down the hills, slowly filling it to capacity. Between each song, the DJ sounded an airhorn. Q mounted the stage with the words, "Any Schoolboy Q fans in this motherfucker? This is the Oxygen experience," then launched into "Hands on the Wheel." The crowd was hyped. Tank-top bro approached us, asking for a lighter. "Happy Summer Set," he said, lighting a joint and passing it along.
Schoolboy Q was taunting the crowd, shouting, "Hey, whatup nigga? Whatup nigga? Whatup nigga?" It seemed like every kind of hipster hat in existence was present in the audience. There were trucker hats with neon block-letter phrases emblazoned across them, visors, and baseball hats with the stickers still on the brim. People were singing along to "What They Want." Q continued taunting, instructing people to "turn up!" The airhorn was relentless, and Q's energy was contagious. "I remember the last time I was in Wisconsin and shit, and shit was so turnt up," he said. "This shit is even more turnt up." He then went into "Collard Greens," his infectious song with Kendrick Lamar (who we were silently praying would pop up out of the fog machine to join in).
The sun was very hesitantly beginning to go down, and the glowsticks started to glow brighter in the dusk. Suddenly it became apparent how many people were wearing glowing devil horns. A girl frantically waved a street sign in the air reading "RAVE." Groups of shirtless bros adorned the grassy hill to the left of the stage, bro-ing out hard to "Studio." Schoolboy Q started taunting the crowd again, pretending to take requests while insisting that he wouldn't play "Man of the Year" until the end of his set.
We began walking over to the Big Top stage, past the spinning Starship 2000 carnival ride and the towering, flashing Ferris wheel. A group of people wearing neon orange shirts printed with "Full Moon Party" lurked on the edges. "I can't stop smiling!" a guy walking past exclaimed. KandiMan Sam was absolutely covered in kandy rave bracelets, one of which he had fashioned out of rows of interwoven plastic beads wrapping around a slinky. The kandy created the illusion that he had overly muscular arms. Over his mouth he wore an oxygen mask, also fashioned out of beads. It seemed like some kind of contest to display the most kandy, yet young ravers were eager to trade their bracelets with one another.
When New York's the Chainsmokers began, it was extremely crowded under the Big Top. As soon as the music started, more people ran from all directions, pumping their fists in the air. The bass was pounding. The jingle of girls' skirts, beaded with metal coins, was heard over the roar of "Reload," the drop-heavy track by Sebastian Ingrosso featuring Tommy Trash and John Martin. People sang along at the top of their lungs. The Chainsmokers, a tag team of Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall, played a set full of electro house and progressive house including their hit song "#Selfie," which chronicles a conversation between two girls at the club taking selfies on Instagram and trying to figure out who they'll go home with that night. Faces were illuminated by the glow of hundreds of smart phone screens.[page]
Back at the main stage, Wu-Tang started their set with "Killa Beez." There was an overwhelming barrage of yelling as the clan was rapping over a backing track which also had vocals. "We came over 2,000 miles to party with y'all," they exclaimed, and the crowd went nuts. By now the sun had gone completely below the horizon, and rave gear everywhere was glowing and flashing. Wrapped in an embroidered shawl, a girl holding a "I hate heroin" sign swayed to the beat. A girl who looked to be in her late teens approached me. "Can I pet your hair?" she asked. I nodded and she proceeded to stroke my hair, putting her arms around me. She kissed me on the cheek, laughing, as I held her. Then, just as suddenly as she had come, she danced back off into the throng of people before us.
Wu-Tang tore through most of their greatest hits, including "...Ain't Nothing Ta Fuck Wit," "Protect Ya Neck," and "C.R.E.A.M." Their performance was filled with intensity, their rapping intelligible and delivered with precision. Most songs were laden with references to the late O.D.B. There were times when the DJ went into some awkward periods of mixing in between songs, where he engaged in off-kilter scratching that seemed to follow no apparent beat or time signature. Aside from these oddly jarring occasions, the show was excellent. After all these years, Wu-Tang still brings down the house.
Under the Big Top, San Francisco house and techno producer Claude VonStroke was spinning on the stage, adorned by two women dancing before their respective stacks of speakers. His set consisted primarily of house, deep house, some minimal, and a bit of ghettotech. Again, the bass was absolutely thundering. The crowd had grown, and was spilling out from underneath the tent onto the elevated plain of woodchips. The hiss of smoke machines sounded, and the air towards the front of the tent filled with fog.
We walked through the tent and followed the woodchip path down a treacherous hill, lined with Christmas lights and colored spotlights bathing the trail in blue, pink and green hues. Arrows pointed us in the direction of the Grove, the stage gracing an enormous field at the bottom of this series of hills. Blinding lights illuminated thousands of people in the field, raving madly to the sounds of Joshua Kierkegaard G. Steele, the English dubstep producer and DJ known as Flux Pavilion. The sounds were very contemporary EDM, and the aesthetic matched perfectly: an excessive amount of anxiety-worthy slow build-ups and stomach-turning drops were met by an excessive amount of glow sticks.
It appeared that once one chose to descend into the madness that was the dance floor, they may be sucked in and disappear entirely. Dubstep screamed through the speakers, its grating, metallic sound elements rattling our skulls. A row of porta-potties loomed above on a higher level of the hills. Police officers roamed the crowd, eyes intently focused on people's hands. Festies refilled their water bottles with a spigot where the hill trail met the flatness of the field. Flux Pavilion scattered bits of moombahcore in with the dubstep, keeping everyone on the dance floor moving, waving their signs in the air and lit up by flashing binkies, wands and more devil horns.
As each stage cleared, people began moving in a sea back towards the Main Stage, where the last act of the evening was playing. Big Gigantic was an intriguing act, managing to inject their EDM with some live drums and saxophone. Again, the music was very dubstep heavy, though the group also employed some elements of jazz and hip-hop that got muddled into the "livetronica" mixture -- including a remix of Jay-Z's "Can I Get A." At this point, the Main Stage was the only place where music was happening, so there were thousands upon thousands of people in the crowd. Still, the girls were hula-hooping. Big Gigantic seemed to quite enjoy the hype-man concept, as one of their members seemed to endlessly taunt the crowd. It looked oddly as if everyone were at worship before the huge and endlessly flashing stage, for which Big Gigantic had brought their own stage-lighting, design and production for a full-sensory experience.
It was at this point that we realized the live drums and sax we were seeing(or trying to, from our spot on the hill) was actually the first of the entire evening. Granted, we certainly didn't get to every act at the fest, but it was clear that EDM and hip-hop were the two rulers of this festi kingdom. Top 40 radio's EDM saturation has seeped its way into festival land, where booming live bands on big stages have been replaced by one person, or perhaps a handful of people at the very most, up on the enormous and well-lit stage by themselves, adorned with turntables and a myriad of other DJ equipment rather than any instruments. There was a very particular age group who seemed to be incurably obsessed with this concept, and it appeared that everyone within that bracket from Minnesota and Wisconsin (and wherever else) had somehow managed to get a ticket and a ride to Summer Set. Youth culture was turning to rave culture for inspiration, and managing to Americanize it to a point of appearing somewhat cartoonish. The kids were eating it up. We knew tomorrow held plenty more in store.
Critic's bias: Okay so, I love electronic music -- techno, house, dub, industrial, and all kinds of noise -- but I am so confused by this dubstep craze. I mean, yeah, I can dance to it, and I get that it's a party and all... I just can't get myself to really get lost in a lot of the stuff I heard tonight. I'm so obsessed with Schoolboy Q though that just that set itself was enough to make my entire weekend.
The crowd: Lots of young people wearing neon and fur and drowning in beaded bracelets who looked kind of lost but happy to be that way.
Overheard in the crowd: "Christine the drama queen, more like!"
Random notebook dump: I got kandy again from this young girl from Wisconsin. She offered to let me wear her light-up gloves. The bracelet that she gave me has beads on it that say "Glove love."GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
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