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Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13

Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Photo By Anna Gulbrandsen

Summer Set Music Festival, Day Two
With Girl Talk, Passion Pit, Blackalicious, SBTRKT, Zedd, MaLLy, and Doomtree
Somerset, Wisconsin
August 10, 2013

Replace the palm trees of Coachella with corn fields, or swap out Lollapalooza's dramatic Chicago skyline backdrop for rolling Wisconsin farmlands, and that approximates the vistas of Summer Set 2013. With an emphasis on electronic and hip-hop acts, the little festival that could managed to put on one hell of an enjoyable show on a picture-perfect Saturday in Somerset.

See Also:
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Taking in the sights and the scenes of the festival-goers while getting acclimated to the grounds proved to be far more interesting than the music on offer in the late-afternoon hours, as the spacey, psych-funk of Papadosio and the electronic dance rock of STRFKR proved far too innocuous and generic to compete with what was going on elsewhere at Summer Set, even with the latter's bubbly take on Cyndi Lauper's good-time anthem, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."

At indie-rock shows, most fans are dressed in dark colors and have a darker attitude to match, while at Summer Set, neons in all shades were the predominant colors of the day, and I gave out more reluctant high-fives than I did during the entire 15-1 Vikings season of '98. People were clearly there to enjoy themselves to the fullest, and that uninhibited, carefree atmosphere permeated the entire event. While the attire (or complete lack thereof) of some fans would cause even the most experienced club kids to cringe, blush, or both, that brazen sense of exhibitionism only added to the overall spectacle.

The Main Stage (one of three performance areas spread throughout the festival grounds) area was sparsely populated just minutes before Doomtree were set to start, leaving me to wonder if more people were here for the scene than the actual music on offer. But once Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak unleashed their festival-sized beats and the local crew got things going with a particularly feisty take on "No Way," the party was officially on and the fans packed the front of the stage to join in the fun.

Though you could tell that this wasn't a typical Doomtree show straight from the start -- with P.O.S. taking the stage yelling "Rave or die!" and eventually taking an inflatable whale out of the audience and throwing it behind the speakers, to Dessa asking the guy spraying the audience with water to concentrate his efforts on a fan's "Show Me Your Tits" sign in order to bring it down, eventually taking it into her own hands to spray the sign (and the fan) into submission.

Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Photos By Anna Gulbrandsen

But musically, their set was vibrant and lively, with the towering speakers booming the beats over the slowly swelling crowd as the group got them amped with spirited takes on No Kings tracks "Bolt Cutter," "Beacon," "Little Mercy," and a massive run through of "Bangarang," as well as a sampling of solo tracks from the various MCs that peaked with dynamic versions of Mike Mictlan's "Creeper Status" (which he hostilely dedicated to "the guy who pissed next to my tent last night") and P.O.S.'s "Get Down," which got the audience into it under the fading summer sun. The spunky hour-long set came to an end with a unifying version of "Team the Best Team," as the crowd showed the crew plenty of well-deserved love.

The local hip-hop vibe continued up the hill from the Main Stage at the small Saloon, as MaLLy worked up a sweat with an impassioned set of his own. Drawing from his stellar recent record, The Last Great, the upstart MC put on an assured half-hour performance that showcased his potent lyrical talent as well as his boundless charisma. MaLLy dedicated an animated take on "Winner" to everyone who was staying at the festival all weekend, while he brought the rapid-fire set to a strong close with a funky version of "Good One" that sent the crowd out into the early evening with some positive thoughts.

Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Photo By Anna Gulbrandsen

The German DJ Zedd was up next on the Main Stage, and the electro-house dubstep artist ended up putting on one of the clear highlights of day two of the festival, as the crowd reached its peak (in both senses of the word) and went completely bonkers for his booming, towering beats. It was the perfect confluence of the ideal time of night and proper frame of mind for the fans, as everyone still had plenty of energy and the setting sun turned the clouds pink to add to the celebratory display.

Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Photos By Anna Gulbrandsen

For any DJ set to truly be successful, it's ultimately up to the crowd to put on most of the show, especially when the light show is rather minimal and Zedd stayed behind his laptop the entire time. And the large crowd went wild for the massive drops of "Clarity" and an 8-bit tinged "The Legend of Zelda" mix. It was such an impressive set that I even saw a dude in a Cannibal Corpse T-shirt getting down to the music, which totally encapsulated the appeal of an event like Summer Set in the first place -- no matter your tastes or background, there was definitely a place for you here.

 

The international EDM pulse continued over in the Grove -- a lengthy walk from the Main Stage area to a dance tent hidden placidly amongst the trees -- as the masked London DJ SBTRKT put on a set featuring smooth, ethereal beats that had the large crowd lost in his propulsive rhythms. The relaxed ambiance in the Grove was quite a departure from the Main Stage area, with the tranquil setting adding to the slow-burning atmospherics SBTRKT was generating. A small digital screen behind him featured close-up images of a colorless rose and billowing clouds of smoke, which dreamily augmented the Londoner's splendid, hypnotic set.

Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Photo By Anna Gulbrandsen

The enthralling charms of SBTRKT's sound were far more subtle than Zedd's poppy appeal, and it was interesting to hear two distinct DJs take their electronic sounds forward in such disparate but equally effective ways. And who knows when these two international EDM stars will ever be back to these parts again -- yet another reason why Summer Set was ultimately successful in its mission to bring artists from all over the world together in a unifying celebration of music, and the 15,000+ fans who turned up on Saturday night ready to dance their collective asses off certainly agreed.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts, indie-pop quintet Passion Pit were up next on the Main Stage, and their hour-long set sounded safe and spiritless in comparison to the untamed electronic experimentalism featured throughout the earlier part of the day. Their keyboard-driven dance rock was rather uninspired and lifeless, with singer Michael Angelakos's grating vocals coming through too high in the mix.

Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Photos By Anna Gulbrandsen

A good portion of the crowd were clearly drawn to their electro-pop sound, and their booking certainly made sense within the flow of festival (and obviously gave Summer Set another big-name draw), but their colorless songs (like "Take a Walk" and "Little Secrets") proved far too pedestrian and bland to hold the attention of much of the audience.

Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Photo By Anna Gulbrandsen

After Blackalicious brought their California swagger to a packed Saloon, turning out the crowd with Gift of Gab's rapid rhymes and Chief Xcel's old-school beats, the Main Stage audience then swelled to its largest point well before Girl Talk even took the stage, as everyone clearly wanted to be in the middle of Gregg Gillis's mash-up fueled party. And Girl Talk's festival set was a bold step forward from the memorable First Avenue sets of years past, with a series of digital screens lit up behind Gillis's trusty laptop setup.

AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" launched the start of the festivities, as explosions of confetti fell slowly over the already dancing crowd. From there, the set was just a wild game of Name That Tune, as Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" settled seamlessly next to samples from the Strokes, Ice Cube, and Weezer, all of which was augmented by random images of dancing pineapples and heavy-breathing basset hounds that lit up the screens at the back of the stage.

Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Photos By Anna Gulbrandsen

Obviously, part of the appeal of Girl Talk's mix is how he can effortlessly bring together anyone and everyone's music collections within his brisk, dynamic mash-ups, and different portions of the crowd would go wild when their jam was played, with no one getting left out. Whether you were a fan of Footloose, Missy Elliott, Spacehog, Wu-Tang Clan, Aerosmith, Bananarama, Notorious B.I.G., Eurythmics, Daft Punk, the Breeders, Eminem, or Robin Thicke, Girl Talk had you covered, as instantly recognizable beats, riffs, and rhymes from each of their hits blended fluidly together, and continuously set off the crowd for the entire 90-minute set.

The peak of Girl Talk's set was when Gillis dropped a massive mash-up of Marilyn Manson's "Beautiful People" and Kanye's "Black Skinhead," with the two aggressive, antagonistic songs forming one hostile anthem that just towered over the crowd. Gillis took hits from all ends of the radio dial and melded them together, as Tone Loc and Salt 'n' Pepa gave way to Icona Pop and Deee-lite, which all built up to a massive drop before the crowd erupted as Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" turned Summer Set into one big singalong. Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" surprisingly fit with Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl," while Van Halen's "Jump" eerily morphed into Radiohead's "Idioteque." It all just worked, somehow, and the jubilant crowd clearly loved every minute of it.

Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Summer Set Music Festival, day two, 8/10/13
Photos By Anna Gulbrandsen

The set closed with a triumphant sample from Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," with the crowd again singing in full voice. "Thank you," Greg Gillis screamed as he stood proudly atop the stage. "Good Fucking Night!" And as the audience streamed back to their cars, tents, or the late-night dance party going down in the Grove, it was clear that no matter what your tastes or inclinations, if you came to Summer Set with an open mind and were ready for anything and everything, you got just what you were looking for and then some. Good fucking night, indeed.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Of all the acts on the bill, I had only seen Doomtree, MaLLy, and Girl Talk before, so everything else was relatively new to me.

The Crowd: Young, scantily clad, on drugs, and friendly as hell.

Overheard in the Crowd: To me, at the start of Girl Talk's set -- "Dude, are those people on stage? I've got to get up there, man." I hope that my obviously wasted new friend did make it up on stage at some point.

Random Notebook Dump: While the layout of Summer Set proved to be smooth and easy to get around in (despite the long walk to the Grove and the lengthy checkpoints between there and the Main Stage), the drink selection on offer was really substandard, and clearly geared to a younger audience. Vodka and lemonade/Red Bull were the only options (as far as I could tell), and a few "bars" even ran out of the fixings for those meager drinks after just a few hours of being open, leaving a terrible beer selection as the only drink options. But I was offered some Molly a mere 30 seconds after exiting my car in the parking lot.

See Also:
50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list
Top 10 must-see Minnesota music videos this week

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