North Coast Music Festival: Friday

Amy and Dominick catch Chemical Brothers, dodge druggies

Imagine a jam band festival colliding with the Perry stage from Lollapalooza with Rock the Bells jumping into the mix just for fun.  The product of that grisly fight is the North Coast Music Festival in Chicago’s beautiful Union Park.  Friday was surprisingly chilly considering the days leading up to North Coast were in the 80s and 90s.  But the cool weather made for a nice evening, with Chemical Brothers and Pretty Lights wowing audiences with their performances and light shows.  Writers Amy Dittmeier and Dominick Mayer jumped right into the fest and found a couple surprises.

Dominick Mayer

4:15 – The general layout of the festival grounds is extremely similar to Pitchfork. One thing that’s rather curious is that one of the main stages (or at least what I thought was the main stage) is where Pitchfork’s B stage normally is. I don’t know why Moby is going to be playing there on Saturday; it’s a tiny space. To be fair, the Groupon stage is going to have De La Soul and Lupe, so it’s not like that’s a side stage either.

4:16 – There’s a head shop tent selling bongs made out of Arrogant Bastard Ale bottles. Well played, techno festival. I thought about logging the time of this post four minutes later, because I’m just that professional of a writer.

4:25 – It’s far colder than I accounted for. Surely, cheese fries will heal all wounds.

4:30 – The cheese fries are not working. Orchard Lounge is on the North stage kicking the weekend off. They’re talented, but aside from a few ambient/trance flourishes, there’s really not much to differentiate them from the standard “uhn tiss” electronica stereotype. Regardless, people are getting into them. A woman who has more body hair than I do is juggling hacky sacks (I’ll note that she did this for about four straight hours). I’m not being sexist, for the record; I’m a very waif-like man.

5:00 – Orchard Lounge is decent, but I figure a trip to the local stage is in order. To the credit of the festival planners, there’s very little sound washout, despite the fact that the Red Bull stage is literally about fifty feet to the right of the main stage. Upsettingly, there’s only about five people at this stage. I try to do the robot in a show of unity, but the DJ spinning at that time glares at me. I wasn’t being ironic; I merely wish to robot, and that’s really my only move. Oh well, self-assigned A for effort.

5:15 – I meet up with Amy. There is a woman dancing by herself near the entrance, by the ATMs. Everything is festive here!

5:30 – I spot the first of many, many anthropomorphic cat girls. Also, on an unrelated note, did you know you can rent a laser dome for $500? If only I’d come to the techno festival prepared.

5:45 – Paul Kalkbrenner is playing the Groupon stage. Despite the cold, and the rain that’s commenced around this time, he’s incredibly infectious. As the whole “happy house” pseudo-genre goes, he’s one of the most talented guys I’ve heard in a while. I feel bad, because several people around me make the observation that they thought Moby was playing. First of all, Moby’s beats are not this gigantic, and second of all, not every bald man at an electronica show is Moby.

6:20 – One thing of note: the festival organizers got really lucky that it’s going to be the first fall-like weekend of the year. There really aren’t the kind of water refill stations that you see at Pitchfork or Lolla. This is problematic given the sheer amount of drugs that are already being done and will continue to be done throughout the day.

6:30 – Paul Van Dyk should be taking the North stage any time now. He’s late, so Kalkbrenner is continuing to spin. Man, this guy brings the energy.

6:45 – All is quiet now. Still no Van Dyk. The festival announcer does a booming introduction of “And now, Paul Van Dyk…will be playing very soon.” Audience does not approve. I have my first sighting of an awkward middle-aged guy. I misjudged him, however; when Van Dyk finally started, he raged with the spirit of ten teenagers.

7:00 – We’re now at 30 minutes into Van Dyk’s allotted hourlong set, and finally his crew appears to begin setup. The advantage of being late at a festival like this is that nobody’s really in a whining spirit. After Lolla this year, I’ll take that.

7:05 – At last, music! Van Dyk hasn’t identified himself as a trance artist in some time, and this set speaks to that, because it’s pure dance. There are no breaks for skittering waves of sound, either; I seriously doubt there was any point where the bass was absent for more than 15-20 seconds. Despite only getting 25 minutes (to his credit, he didn’t go a second over his allotted time), the German electronica legend put together an excellent set, closing with the soaring “Time Of Our Lives.” The bitterly cold wind has nothing on how wild the crowd has gone.

7:30 – Pretty Lights, the handle of Derek Vincent Smith (and his collaborator/live drummer Adam Deitch) hits the Groupon stage and wastes no time kicking off a full-blown rave in Union Park. By this time the sun is down and the glowsticks are out. The duo has been making music since 2006’s Taking Up Your Precious Time, but has been rolling in this past year; I’ve heard nothing but raves about their Coachella set, and their North Coast performance was every bit as wild. Kudos to their lighting designer; the laser show they put on was stellar for being on a second stage.

8:15 – Nearly the entire park is full for the Chemical Brothers. Their live show rig looks like something straight out of a spaceship.

8:30 – The Chemical Brothers take the stage. Within about ten minutes it’s apparent that everything you’ve heard about their live show is the God’s-honest truth. Their multimedia show is awe-inspiring, using images of an endlessly running woman, a terrifying clown mask and a series of creatures built out of dots of light (among a ton of others) to back a set that mixed old favorites like “Horsepower” with newer recordings off this year’s Further; “Another World” is a particular standout from the new material. The entire field is packed to the gills with an entranced crowd; by halfway through the set, I noticed that quite a bit of the audience was no longer even dancing, and rather just watching in awe. It’s now easy to understand why the Chems have stuck around as one of the few marquee, scene-transcending electronica acts; it’s impossible for hype to oversell the raw power of their performance.

10:00 – As I enter the scrum of people attempting to leave Union Park, a man with pupils the size of dimes asks me if I know where to get pills. I politely inform him no, aware that if I stare into his eyes any longer I’ll see how I’m going to die.

Amy Dittmeier

First observations of North Coast:

-       The crowd is extremely mixed.  You have hippies, club kids, bros, high schoolers, music critics, college kids, stoners and a few older people thrown in the crowd.  It’s eclectic at best.  But the most surprising demographic is the amount of teenagers present at the festival.  I have no problem with the under 21 crowd.  My younger brother is 20 and I’ve become friends with many of his.  The problem I do have is the under 21 crowd that insists on being irresponsible.  It’s an electronic and jam band fest so you know drugs are present.  It’s fine to smoke a little pot and go crazy but it’s another thing to mix it with alcohol and get belligerent, rude, and annoying.  There should really be a concert etiquette class…

-       North Coast is in the same park that Pitchfork is held and the set up is quite similar.  However one thing North Coast has done is add a small local stage called the Red Bull stage in the concrete court that usually holds the press tent and the Chirp record fair.  Which is awesome.  Some great bands like Hey Champ, Gemini Club, and Stephen Paul Smoker are playing the Red Bull stage this weekend and I can’t wait.  Bravo to North Coast for including more local acts!

-       The timing of the festival for Friday was way way off.  As you read in Dominick’s breakdown, Paul Van Dyke’s set was cut in half due to problems.  Say what you will about Van Dyke’s music, but it sucks that because of technical difficulties or scheduling problems that his set suffers.  Is the crowd really going to be cross if the Chemical Brothers’ set is cut short by 30 minutes?  As awesome as it was, I think I would have survived if it did.  Hopefully these problems don’t crop up on Saturday, when the festival is running a full 3 hours earlier.

-       I’m not sure how the CTA/festival pacts work, but North Coast did not make one.  What was great about Pitchfork and Lollapalooza this year is that they made great efforts to accommodate bikers and locals by adding extra buses along the fest route and setting aside lots for bike parking.  From what I saw yesterday night leaving the ground neither of these things were in place.  No troves of bikers exiting the park, no Ashland bus waiting outside.  This could be because this is a smaller fest but it still sucks.  Walking home when it’s 50 degrees out and you’re underprepared is not a treat.

-       Friday’s line-up was pretty weak.  Aside from Chemical Brothers and Pretty Lights there wasn’t anyone I cared to see.  On the first day of the first festival, shit should go off with a bang.

-       Security is lax.  Good for stoners, bad for stupid kids.  I saw maybe on cavalier security member searching a concert goer but I only saw one other guard the rest of the time there.  Also as Dominick mentions there were no water stations, and when kids are more prone to spending money on beer than water it can get dangerous.  News flash, kids tripping balls aren’t smart.  Give them free water.

Coming on Saturday: De La Soul, Moby and the strange, stream-of-consciousness whatever-it-is of Jay Electronica.

Posted by Amy Dittmeier on Sep 04, 2010 @ 11:11 am

north coast music festival, chicago, chemical brothers, pretty lights, paul van dyke, orchard lounge, paul kalkbrenner