Intense. That sums up Labor Day weekend at Electric Zoo, a three day open air electronic music festival held on Randall’s Island in NYC. This year marked the third year of the festival. Electric Zoo started as a two-day event in 2009, but has grown to three days and four stages with over 100 artists performing. On any given day, you may find yourself listening to the wobble that is dubstep, the uplifting tone of trance or the simple beauty of house and everything in between.
This year, I ventured down to Randall’s Island Park along with two friends and 25,000 other ravers dressed in everything from pig costumes to neon suits to nothing but paint. We arrived the first day in time to see AN21 & Max Vangeli at the main stage. The duo proved their worth in a mere 65 minutes. We made our way over to the Hilltop Arena to witness Gareth Emery turn this massive tent into a full on rave. After quickly rehydrating with some delicious three dollar water, we returned to the main stage to get our first dose of the wobble from the one and only Rusko. It had only been about a month since I last saw Rusko live in Holmdel, NJ, but when you’re surrounded by thousands of people who love the music as much as you do, it’s hard not to go a little crazy again.
Italian electro house producer Benny Benassi immediately followed Rusko on the main stage, playing “Cinema (Skrillex remix),” “No Beef,” and many more bangers. We also paid a visit to Loco Dice during Benassi’s set at the Sunday School Grove tent, which was standing room only, and then returned for Benassi’s closing.
Just as the sun set on NYC, Benassi waved goodbye to the crowd and we made a quick transition over to the hilltop arena where MSTRKRFT, a Canadian electro duo, was just beginning and proved to be highlight of the day.
The end of MSTRKRFT’s set meant only one thing; it was time for the main event, Tiësto. The main stage could not have been filled with more energy, and rightfully so, as Tiësto stepped up to the decks. He played classics such as “Elements of Life” and “He’s a Pirate,” as well as some new singles including “Work Hard, Play Hard.” But the end of his set would not come until he played his new massive unreleased track “Maximal Crazy.” There could not have been a more epic finale to the night as confetti poured over the entire festival grounds from the main stage as his final song of the night ended, and thousands of people eagerly awaited to return the next day.
Our second day at Ezoo started with a 75-minute set by Sidney Samson, which immediately set the tone for the day. Afterwards, Porter Robinson, a 19-year old up and coming artist from North Carolina, was in the middle of his set at the Red Bull riverside tent when we arrived. It was my first time seeing him live and I could not have been more impressed. He had seamless transitions and amazing drops which included many of his own remixes and singles. This 19-year-old is going places; he’ll be on a college tour with Tiësto for the next couple weeks. Some more highlights of the day included John Digweed, an English progressive house DJ, and Above & Beyond, a British trance trio.
The most memorable set of the day for me was Dirty South, an Australian electro house producer. He had some of the best transitions I have heard, using some of his own songs like “Alive” and “How Soon Is Now,” as well as other artists’ like Avicii’s “Le7els.” He concluded his set with his unreleased track “Walking Alone”, which he has only played live once before.
We finished the night off with David Guetta’s set at the main stage which proved to be enjoyable since he played many of his lesser known no- pop songs such as “Sunshine” and “The Alphabeat.” After Guetta, the legendary Bloody Beetroots Death Crew 77 came on. With a name like that, you know the show is going to be like no other. The climax of their set was paralleled with what is perhaps their most famous song “Warp 1.9.” The thing about the Beetroots performance was that they were playing almost every part of their songs live with keyboard, guitar and drums, adding a “wow” factor to their performance. They ended their set about 20 minutes before Ferry Corsten did, so we quickly hustled over to watch him play before the massive crowd from the main stage to end the night. Only one day left at the zoo.
By the third day, we were all exhausted, to say the least, but there was music to dance to so we arrived at the festival in time to catch the end of 19-year-old house artist Alesso’s set. Alesso is the epitome of up and coming. He has been collaborating with a member of Swedish House Mafia all summer and has continued to release hits such as “Pressure (Alesso Remix),” “Dune: Heiress of Valentina (Alesso Remix),” and “Calling,” all of which he played at the main stage. This kid is going to be big; expect to hear more from him in the future.
Following Alesso, we paid visits to almost every tent, stopping at Guy Gerber, Calvin Harris, who closed with a unifying “Feel So Close” finale, DJ Snoopadelic (Snoop Dog), Fake Blood, Gui Boratto, and Jack Beats. Around 7.40 we headed over to the main stage where Afrojack was just beginning his set. I had seen Afrojack 4 times before, and his set at Ezoo was by far the best out of the 5. He made an incredible transition from “Day ‘N’ Night” to “Le7els”, and played his songs “Bangduck”, “No Beef”, and “Take Over Control”. It was easy to see that Afrojack truly felt in his place on the decks.
The festival culminated with an epic finale set by Armin Van Buuren, a trance legend. The light show for his set was unbelievable; fireworks were shot, confetti spread and minds blown. As the night ended it seemed that he was finishing his set with the classic,“In and Out of Love,” but he returned to the stage for an encore, which topped anything I had seen in the past 72 hours. The roar from the crowd at the end could be heard from the G.W. And as I slowly made my way back to the car with 25,000 other people, I realized how beautiful that music was. You don’t need to know it to love it; you just need to listen.