Article by: Ryan Hood
As a first-timer at Electric Forest, who’s been deep in the electronic music weeds for years, I had lofty expectations. I’d heard incredible tales of the tight-knit community and the outpouring of love, but I was curious and even the tiniest bit skeptical of how it could be different from other festivals I’d attended.
Arriving early on Wednesday, I found out very quickly that Forest was unlike any event I’d ever been to. Festivals are typically either massive city festivals or more intimate independent festivals, which usually involve camping and a greater influence from sound system culture.
But Forest has the best qualities of each — it’s huge and has incredible production without sacrificing the feeling of intimacy. Everybody is so friendly and unbelievably happy in their current state. For a handful of days at Forest, 40,000 people forget about the world’s problems and come together to love the forest, the nature, the music, the community, and themselves.
The Bustling Forest
The festival venue itself is unlike any other. The Lucky Lake campgrounds in Rothbury, Michigan are set up with four massive stages along with several small stages, and the paths connecting them are full of art installations, lights, vendors, games, hammocks, and more. Everywhere you look is something new to explore.
The Sherwood Forest within the venue is a true oasis for festival-goers — one could spend the entire weekend among its tall, slender trees without setting foot near any of the main stages. Throughout the weekend, my group and I would head into the festival early to put up our hammocks and nap in the forest, escaping the hot sun beating down on our tents in the campground. The festival grounds were dusty due to a lack of rainfall in the area before the festival, but otherwise, the weather and camp conditions were heavenly.
The grounds also featured countless art installations and numerous non-musical performances such as sketch comedy, stand-up comedy, magic, carnival games, panels, workshops, and more. Forest attendees are notorious for imploring new festival-goers to spend time wandering through the festival for this reason. There are dozens of unique food and retail vendors to fit all tastes.
The stage production perfectly matched the vibe of the festival. Tripolee, hosted by Insomniac, featured a more traditional stage set up with three large monitors and sculptures on either side. Sherwood Court was made up entirely of LED panels, creating unique vibes for each performer outside their typical visual aesthetic. For example, visual artists mixed various fractals around the edge of the screens during sets by LSDREAM and CloZee.
The de facto main stage, Ranch Arena, was s a beautiful home base for the festival and provided an outstanding backdrop for the live music performers and main headliners. Finally, tucked in the back of the grounds, Carousel Club created the aesthetic of a tropical club. While the visual aesthetic was very appealing, the single way in and out of this stage combined with the deep beach-like sand made navigating through crowds exceedingly difficult.
Of course, there were also smaller stages tucked inside Sherwood Forest. The Observatory allowed spectators the chance to sit or stand above the dancefloor, almost like a small amphitheater in the middle of the forest. The Honeycomb offered unique 360-degree views of a small, center stage. And the Grand Artique held special performances all weekend, including surprise b2bs such as Smoakland b2b Mersiv and NotLö b2b Khiva b2b A Hundred Drums.
This year’s Forest lineup was not lacking in talent, both from hometown icons and up-and-coming artists alike. Of The Trees was among the standouts. His soundscapes have incredible depth as he brings listeners into his euphonic world — the festival grounds came to life during his set. After some technical difficulties, CloZee rocked Sherwood Court, unleashing bass, glitch hop, trap, and world beats on a crowd that remained packed to the brim. MIZE made a memorable return to the Forest, opening his set with an unreleased Zeds Dead collab that sent fans into a frenzy. His signature a cappella blends had the crowd singing along.
Smoakland packed out Sherwood Court on a blistering Day 1 afternoon. Their bass-heavy tunes sounded so crisp on the massive sound system. LSDREAM took fans on an intergalactic journey near the end of Day 1. NotLö decimated Tripolee with deep dubstep, halftime, and drum & bass beats. potions set the tone for one of the best stage lineups bass music fans could've asked for while debuting tracks from his upcoming LP. Supertask at The Observatory was cleansing for the soul. Those two combined as Lab Group for an emotionally-gripping performance on the festival’s final day.
Khiva entranced onlookers with deep dubstep and her captivating vocals. Big Wild surprised fans with a live band performance, digging deep into his catalog. Mersiv crushed Sherwood Court with select cuts and edits from his last album as well as fan-favorite collabs. SunSquabi and Big Gigantic flexed their instrumental chops, representing the Centennial State. TOKiMONSTA dazzled fans with ethereal halftime and house tracks.
Last and most certainly not least, was the Detroit-raised, hometown hero — GRiZ. He was the talk of the festival all weekend. His headlining performance on Friday was energetic, euphoric, and powerful. He mixed his new dubstep tracks with classic glitch hop and electro-funk selections. The emotion in his voice was evident, especially when speaking on the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade. It was a performance for the ages!
He also played a rare Chasing The Golden Hour set on Sunday, where he played funk and downtempo, setting the vibe for the last night. This festival was an outstanding display of the electronic music scene's past, present, and future, as industry icons and budding stars alike blessed fans with unforgettable performances.
A Forest Fit For A King
One of the most impactful people of this year’s Forest wasn’t even physically at the festival. Charlesthefirst was booked for the festival before his passing last December. While his performance was dearly missed, his presence was felt by all. Of The Trees played an unreleased collaboration of theirs, as these two incredibly talented producers were the closest of friends.
Charles was also a founding member of Lab Group with Supertask and potions, and these two continue to carry on Charles’ legacy. Their Lab Group set featured iconic tracks featuring Charles’ vocals and fan favorites from his discography. Tiedye Ky treated fans to a heartfelt acoustic rendition of “Figured U Out,” leaving not a dry eye in the audience. Countless people wore Charlesthefirst merch all weekend and attendees felt his impact throughout the festival weekend.
Renegade stages are a mainstay of Electric Forest, providing attendees with live music from underground artists, surprise headliners, and spontaneous b2bs. Mean Mug Music, Debussy, and Soundsystem Cultures collaborated to put on an outstanding renegade stage lineup. These stages featured projected visuals and a rocking Funktion One sound system. The lineup was stacked, featuring artists like Mersiv, MIZE, Smoakland, NotLö, Freddy Todd, Super Future, and countless others.
Many artists took this opportunity to showcase a DJ set different from their typical sets. Mersiv played old-school dubstep. MIZE played house. Super Future and NotLö graced fans with downtempo into the morning hours. EVOL Chicago hosted the other renegade stage of note. This stage’s highlights included an early arrival pre-party on Wednesday right outside the festival entrance, before moving to its permanent location. Subtronics and John Summit did a surprise b2b on this stage after Day 2. Black Carl!, Tiedye Ky, Super Future, CLB, and Freddy Todd were other notable performers at this stage. It was nearly impossible to keep up with all the artists who stopped by the renegades. These stages remain one of Forest’s strongest traditions and one of the fans' most anticipated experiences.
Electric Forest remains North America’s premier camping festival experience. More than just a lineup, Forest teaches its attendees about universal love and acceptance. It’s so beautiful to watch 40,000 fans of all walks of life — and vastly different music tastes — come together in celebration of life, love, and music. It’s reiterated by many, including artists, that attendees take the love they experience in the Forest and carry it with them in their daily lives. This is a mantra that is going to stick with me for the rest of my life. There is nowhere on Earth quite like Electric Forest.
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