has been our favorite electronic music festival since its conception in 2009. It's extra special because every year top-notch artists flock to our "backyard" at the end of the summer for one last big she-bang. The sixth edition of Electric Zoo 2014
returned to the grassy fields of Randall’s Island Park
this Labor Day weekend with tens of thousands of dance music fans coming together to celebrate life with music and friends.
, we aim to live by our word by bringing you honest journalism and unbiased reviews. We wish we could give you a super shiny review of Electric Zoo
, but there was much more wrong with the festival this year than there was right. This is what Electric Zoo was really like.
Prior to Labor Day Weekend
, our staff was happy to hear that the festival was rebounding from the negative press and scrutiny over the two deaths that occurred during last year's event. We didn't know what to expect this year, although organizers made it clear that security was not messing around.
Indeed, security measures were stricter than JFK Airport and we had multiple complaints regarding the lack of organization during the entrance process. Drug-sniffing dogs welcomed and intimidated guests as they arrived. Uniformed security personnel searched through bags and all crevices of the body before letting anyone enter. Security personnel did a great job of preventing anyone under the age of 18 to enter the festival. There were highly visible booths and plentifully staffed “ZooKeepers” offering medical attention inside the festival grounds.
Mike: Our issues with the entrance to Electric Zoo first started with the organization, not from any Police presence. For the second consecutive year, we had a female representative enter the festival without her bag being opened (all three days). One day we were asked to take our shoes off, however the airport-like check seemed to be selective as some people were asked to do more than others.
Danielle: I was subjected to the "TSA" experience. They might as well have had full-body scanners. The security process I experienced on Saturday involved taking off my shoes, a border-line rubdown, looking the security representative straight in the eye, having the security guard comb through my hair and then instructing me to shake out my hair and other trite checks to make sure I wasn't hiding contraband. Upon the bag check, the female security guard who was searching me almost threw out my very tiny $36 tube of concealer (because it was unsealed) until I begged her not to. I had watched the girl in front of me have her Lancome lipstick tossed into the garbage can because it wasn't sealed. The entire ordeal was upsetting and made me question whether I wanted to come back the rest of the weekend.
Another issue we had was the “validation” of wristbands. As everyone knows, attendees were required to watch a terribly corny and misdirected PSA about not taking drugs in order to validate your wristband. The festival had gates where you held your wristband against and if valid, it would ring green. To avoid chaos at the door, we sat through two separate viewings of this PSA to validate our bands prior to heading to the show Friday. But after making our way through security, our bands rang up red, and we were told to go to the box office.
Chaos best described our experience at the box office. There were five windows and many people seemed to have the same issue as us. However, the five people manning the windows each had to ask for a supervisor to solve any problems (there was only one supervisor), so you can imagine the backlog this created. Many upset people were all asking the same question: “Why watch the stupid PSA if this was going to happen anyway?” To add to the confusion, people who simply wanted to buy a pass to the fest were forced to wait behind people who had issues with tickets or bands. A separate line for those wanting to purchase tickets might have made more sense, however nothing was labeled correctly; leading a very un-PLUR female to punch the box office trailer and scream out in anger before security came to investigate her behavior. After we escaped the box office nightmare, we had to go through security all over again. Once inside, the scanning of wristbands did not stop, as you were required to scan in (and out) of both VIP and backstage areas. Many times during the weekend scanners either broke or scanned incorrectly. We witnessed artists themselves be denied access to areas they played in earlier that day.
We understand that security and safety were both very important priorities this year, but the measures we witnessed were a bit overkill.
Once you made it in, there was a noticeably sparser crowd than previous years, but it was no less of a zoo. A new, more compact layout lead to sound bleed no matter where you were in the festival. The new setup of Main Stage East was disappointing, and the sound was not nearly as loud and clear as it could be. We absolutely loved the separate area that MSE had last year and in particular, the VIP area was huge. After one walk through the grounds, it was apparent that either there was a severe budget cut, and/or not enough tickets sold, as both Main Stage East and Main Stage West combined
were not as large as either of the Main Stages in 2013. Even the booklet which gave you the set times was noticeably thinner, (we couldn't even locate copies on the first day). The “VIP Area” for MSE was a small area in the front of the stage; right next to a machine being used to spray the crowd that leaked all over the place turning the VIP section into a mud pit all weekend. Not to mention, it was 75 degrees in the shade, leading us to question the point of such an activity. MSW VIP wasn't much better. The area consisted of picnic tables in a tent decorated with Party City status jellyfish hanging from the top and other "under the sea" themed paper decorations. Cute for a birthday party but not so much for the price of a $600 weekend VIP pass at a music festival.
Walking around Friday evening was like viewing the aftermath of a storm. While music festivals are supposed to be about the music being showcased, they have also evolved into an "experience." Compared to what we know Electric Zoo's potential can be like, the atmosphere was certainly lacking. Sometimes it felt reminiscent of the inaugural fest – smaller scale, less production, but unlike the first edition of EZoo, which included a diverse selection of artists like Frankie Knuckles
(R.I.P.), an intimate set with Steve Aoki
before his cake-throwing days, Paco Osuna
, Marco Carola
the talent this year was mediocre; the same lineup that you could see at any other "EDM" festival, however, at another festival, you get a huge production.
Gone from Electric Zoo also was the rotating DJ Booth from Hilltop Arena
that was the talk of the show last year. Riverside
was moved further back on the grounds and gave a great intimate setting. Possibly the biggest disappointment was the sauna known as Sunday School
."Sunday School" has now synonymous with the best names in underground music. The tent housing some of the biggest names in techno and underground and the only tent devoted to this sound, was way too small for how popular "the underground" has become; a tent that had makeshift stained glass windows, (the "Spiegeltent
" debuted at Mysteryland
earlier this summer). While nice to look at, the tent allowed zero ventilation, turning the enclosed space into a humid sweat zone. The bigger issue was widely mentioned by Chris Liebing
on his Facebook a week ago. The only lights in the tent were a ring of white lights similar to the “ugly lights” that come on in a bar when last call is announced. There were no strobes, pin spots, or any of the usual lighting that accompanies the experience of a show (or as Chris suggested, possibly David Guetta
’s bathroom at the show had better lighting).
Another bone we have to pick involves the newly implemented “cashless” system; requiring everyone to load money either by cash or credit onto your wristband to purchase anything from food and drinks to merchandise, all at a cost of .10 cents for every dollar. Yes, Made Event decided it was a good idea to make you pay them ten cents for every one dollar of your own money you wanted to spend. There are other festivals that have taken on this practice, including Mysteryland, but of all the complaints we heard from 2013’s Electric Zoo, I cannot remember one person complaining how they had to carry money. When we went to fill our band at the first station we saw, the computers were down, pushing everyone to another station with a 30 minute line. We hope that if Electric Zoo returns next year, they reconsider this practice. In speaking to some food vendors and bar tenders, they unanimously felt this system was terrible and disliked it. On a positive note, the food was delicious; we probably ate more than at most festivals. One perk VIP did have was the Hibachi food truck. The crepe stand was also a big hit.
Finally, we can get to some of the good stuff that Electric Zoo showcased. Friday we caught some amazing sets. The first we witnessed was from Otto Knows
(welcoming us to the grounds with Alesso
’s next hit “Heros”). While the energy of the entire show appeared to be more relaxed for most of the day, A-Trak’
s Main Stage West set seemed to wake everyone up. If we could sum up Jaimie xx
's set as a color, it was yellow; warm, bright, upbeat, and radiant. The set of the day for us came from Gesaffelstein
at Beatport’s Riverside.
His onslaught of techno, electro and tempo changes had the crowd moving from start to finish!
Gesaffelstein closing out the night at Electric Zoo
(Photo courtesy of Nicole Sozzi)
Saturday we heard two of our favorite sets of the entire weekend, the first coming from young Oliver Heldens. Opening with the drums from Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, Oliver made his NY debut by asking the crowd if they were ready to groove with him. He followed through with an hour of big room grooves where every track had his signature on it. The other set that took the cake for us was Laidback Luke’s Main Stage East headline set. In typical Luke fashion he featured everything from every genre you could imagine, including as his shirt proclaimed, his new collab with his wife “Bae”. However, at one point in the evening, after walking around to each stage, we found the majority of what was then being played was predictable and quite frankly, boring, prompting a member of our staff to leave for the night.
We arrived at the grounds Sunday by 2 p.m. to see security line further back than Friday and Saturday combined. It was clear once we entered that attendance on Sunday was the most of any of the three days of the show. However, there was one factor that loomed above everyone, which were the ominous clouds. In our six years of attending this festival, we were hard pressed to even remember a raindrop touching Randall’s Island, but that amazing streak of luck would come to a swift end. After catching Danny Avila’s energetic Main Stage East set, we headed to the Sirius XM tent to visit our friends when the rain came. Initially just a drizzle, which was a relief due to the stifling heat Sunday brought, the rain quickly increased. Everyone reached for their iphones as a weather alert was made, and then ....downpour. Within 30 minutes we received word that the rest of the day and festival were cancelled.
Looking back, we have more questions than answers. How were organizers at EDC NY able to bring a similar size crowd in an orderly, safe place inside Giants Stadium, while waiting two hours and then resume the show? Even more relevant, the U.S. Open Tennis Championship event just across the water from Electric Zoo also cleared the grounds with the exact storm affecting EZoo and was also able to resume play less than two hours later. The official statement from Made has led many to believe that NYC had something to do with the cancellation. Regardless, for a second straight year, Sunday of Electric Zoo was cancelled leaving festival goers disgruntled and upset. In an attempt to calm the anger, Made announced that that refunds will be provided for the final day of the festival, and would be waiving the $5 fee to return any money left on wristbands, (Yes, they were also charging you to give you back your own money they charged you a fee to use).
Overall the show underwent many changes, most of them leading to a negative experience. For a show that got so many things right for years, it was disappointing to see the sixth year of Electric Zoo reflect as one of its worst we can remember. On a positive note, in three days we saw exactly one pro-Molly shirt (we heard rumors that any shirts, hats or gear that mentioned "Molly" were not allowed inside) and of course the obvious fact that there were no deaths this year. That is not to say that drug use was not going on, as we were offered drugs on a few occasions throughout the 2.5 days we were on the grounds.