On the Double JJ Ranch in the upstate Michigan town of Rothbury, a mystical, euphoric kind of energy flows in abundance throughout Electric Forest. This festival is unrestrained by the suppositions of societal life that limit our hearts, minds and souls from fulfilling our creative promise and life-affirming connections with others. The vibes of the Forest stir the soul into transformative awakening, opening the doors to one’s truest self, lifelong memories and perspective-shifting revelations for all who embrace the elevated wavelength.
Upon initial entry into the venue, a bassy buzz from the Tripolee stage rises through your body. Groovy tunes soundtrack a jaunt across the width of Ranch Arena to the pair of Forest Guardians protecting the main trail. Your eyes gaze skyward to the canopy of hanging art umbrellas leading to the iconic owl gateway of Sherwood Forest itself. By this time your inner child bursts out to play, imagination running wild at the sight of otherworldly characters, impressive art structures and stunning sculptures. The wacky interactions with fellow attendees really start to cultivate momentum and inquisitive exploration steers your internal compass amidst all there is to absorb, even if you’re on a mission towards music on the other side.
Once the sun has completely gone down around 10 p.m., the Forest undergoes a metamorphosis from an immersive playground into another dimension entirely – the Neverland of the Festival Realm. Lasers colorfully cut through the trees, projection mapping amplifies the art and environment into mesmerizing, endlessly fluctuating displays, and seemingly every nook and cranny of the woods contain some sort of bemusing delight. From intricate fairy doors to fascinating conversations with quirky new friends – the Forest will guide you somewhere special, including to some of the greatest sets of your life.
The Journey Home
With Electric Forest topping many attendees rankings as their favorite fest, Forest Fam spend months planning and preparing small gifts, supreme costumes and the grandest showing of totems of any U.S. festival. And more than anywhere else I’ve been, Electric Forest works as a cumulative experience, each previous expedition there specifically informing your next trip back. With such an incredible amount to do and see, it’s not so much about the performances as it is about directing your own journey.
I did GA camping with one friend and a fun assortment of random people from the fest app Radiate in 2017 (a couple in that group got engaged in the Forest this year!). Due to our (poor) luck-of-the-draw camp placement, it was a BRUTAL walk to the main entrance each day. Last year I had the best weekend of my life, doing GA group camping with some of my dearest hometown Kansas City friends – which placed us pretty close to the RVs (after parties), Main Street vendors, and most importantly, the front gate. I wanted to do both consecutive weekends of EF this time around, but the return to a single weekend event (to reduce the impact on the grounds) prompted me to instead pay double the GA cost and upgrade to Good Life VIP.
With my festy fam all in GA, this means camping on my own. Thankfully, I can still easily locate my KC crew and my Denver friends each day in their labeled group camping spots. My best friend Sam and I are both doing personal festival-year quests, part of which involves introducing one another to our respective festival “homes”. Five weeks prior, she took me to the instantly gratifying Party Olympics of my first Electric Daisy Carnival, where I reached my potential as Superhero of the Dancefloor like never before. Now, I’ll be guiding her into the slow-burn self-discovery of the Forest, to lose her mind and find her soul.
But first, tensions run a little high as Sam does the vast majority of almost 24 hours straight of sleep-deprived driving in an overfull (my fault), small rental SUV with her expert-level Forest-veteran friend Victoria and me (sorry again, Sam). When I do take the wheel, a semi-truck blows a tire that comes straight at us, damages the bumper a bit and tears off the front license plate. I’m rattled, but at least we bought full coverage. Once we eventually make it to Double JJ Ranch and through the car line, I’m told we went to the wrong box office to pick up my media wristbands. Surrounding staff can’t help me, but an artist named Matthew gives me detailed directions on where to go that save us from several hours in additional line-time.
Matthew explains he’s the mailman operating the post office in the Trading Post, invites me to visit him the next day, and the forging of my first friendship this Electric Forest eases the stress from the trek to get here. Arriving Wednesday allows us to set up by dusk, decompress and score a good night’s sleep preceding the first of four demanding days of adventure – instead of exhausting ourselves doing all that under the blazing sun Thursday and not entering the venue until late.
When Fest Life Is Best Life, Move Up to Good Life
Having to haul all my stuff from group camping to Good Life – way over on the other side of Sherwood Forest, requiring a shuttle to travel there – proves an arduous task. But I befriend another cool dude along the way, and a guy driving a golf cart offers us a freewheeling ride to our destination. Turns out, this is a Rothbury local who just zips around giving gratis transportation and meeting people, exhibiting the kindness and thrilling spirit of the festival in spades. We fly through the Electric Avenue cabin trails and forested Back 40 camping areas until winding our way to Good Life Village. Luckily, I’m able to set up camp right across from my golf cart passenger comrade, his goofy friends, and next to gracious, extremely pleasant neighbors.
When the adjacent camp introduces me to their totem – a taxidermied raccoon gleefully named George Cooney, wearing a bandana and wielding a rolled-up dollar bill for nose beers – I feel like I’ve made my way to the correct spot. I proceed to meet up with my editor Jen in the nearby glamping section, coordinate plans for the weekend and reflect on how far I’ve advanced since befriending her at Electric Forest one year ago.
The Forest energized my passions, emboldened my identity as Speed Raver and pushed my festival crusades in their destined direction last summer – just as it inspired my artistic pursuits, reinvented my understanding of festival culture and totally committed me to the festival lifestyle the summer before that. Now here I am: becoming the writer I was always meant to be after a three-year funk unable to move beyond outlining; improving my photographic skills and shooting in a place I’ve dreamt of capturing since first setting foot there; and hitting my stride as my psychedelic alter ego.
At the Good Life silent disco, Golf Clap is laying down frothy, undulating house grooves, so I join Jen and her friends to put some bounce in my step and turn on the dance moves for a satisfying taste of the kinetic expression I’m ready to let flow the next four days. Then I catch the shuttle to GA and happen upon my friend Amelia – the craftswoman who stitched up Speed Raver’s current supersuit in April – right as she pulls into her group camp. Electric Forest has a funny way of uniting people like that.
I’m able to get ahold of Sam by text – my last instance of phone service until Monday morning – and we reconvene at her camp. She finally goes to bed and I initiate an agonizing, mile-or-so hike back to the shuttle, lugging a painful amount of stuff (with the help of several obliging Forest Fam). On the bright side, I find the familiar faces of the goofballs camped across from me in line, as well as a DJ friend from Taos Vortex – Tree Gaud – who I ask about his amazing opportunities of playing numerous shows at my favorite venue, Meow Wolf. People pack into the shuttle like sardines, making a humorous affair of the cramped conditions (now and every ride after). When I at last arrive at my tent, I pass out immediately, too dead to even undress.
Action Plan for an Awesome Opening
It’s a slow, humid process waking up in the morning, though a trip to the air-conditioned Good Life bathrooms and real, hot-water showers revives me into a living being again. I meet up with Sam and Victoria to eat lunch in the AC of our car and go over specific meeting spots and times for the day, with ODESZA’s headlining set to mark a culminating event in Sam and I’s friendship.
My legitimate introduction to the genre-transcending electronic act was seeing them at Ranch Arena in 2017, a few months before their “A Moment Apart” tour commenced. They’re Sam’s favorite group and she’s had defining experiences, both personal and musical, at the four stops on this tour she’s attended. Her obsession has thoroughly deepened my appreciation for them, and as this is not only one of their final performances of “A Moment Apart”, but just over a year since she last saw them – it is absolutely imperative that we witness it together.
I want to unify forces with as many of my friends as possible during Forest, so during the drive, I figured out an average of nine clear-cut meeting points and exact times per day of when and where we could link up based on my schedule, then sent the list out to everyone Wednesday morning. The LED strips I’d be wearing on my arms (and sometimes legs) – and particularly my LED-lined “Halo” energy sword totem – make me far easier to track down in a crowd than most. But these crowds are usually massive, so having a detailed meet-up plan is the best method for group-formation success.
Leaving the GA campgrounds, I “yikes” at the unbearably protracted line to enter the venue – apparently, some people wait up to four hours due to a lack of security staff. I head back to Good Life for its most valuable perk – quick, direct entrances to multiple stages and one right at the onset of Sherwood Forest. I barely whet my appetite peering around at the art, basking in the sun streaming through the trees in this most enchanting place. Strolling under the familiar tableau of the vibrant hanging umbrellas, the bliss of being back home, in one’s all-out comfort zone, starts to tingle throughout my essence. I eagerly access Ranch Arena for my first set – the wavy, buoyant “sunset house” of SNBRN.
The faces of Forest Family sitting in the shade, smiling; the hula hoopers gyrating with perpetual motion; all the vividly decked out bodies gathering to get loosey-goosey – the magic begins to swirl, palpable and uplifting, in spite of the small, afternoon audience. No one turns up at my sound booth meeting spot, so I follow the visual stimuli – hallucinatory shapes and valleys on the screen onstage, inflatable animals like a dolphin dragged on a leash, eye-catching totems including a shiny disco ball, CatDog and a fuzzy rainbow alpaca. A girl flutters her ribbon hand fans to-and-fro, garnering attention with a precise flow.
I walk into the Forest hesitant about one of the most notable changes this year – replacing the artist and fan-favorite Forest Stage with The Honeycomb. Some of my most enrapturing sets and memorable moments at EF took place there, surrounded by trees with hypnotizing projection mapping sliding across the stage design. It’s where I first discovered and went nuts to Chris Lake, prior to his ascension to the vanguard of electro house.
But my reservations subside immediately as I step into the circular, intimate, soothingly yellow and multi-leveled Honeycomb. The quirky duo Handmade Moments hilariously spout lewd non-sequiturs akin to a “Broad City” bit in between bucolic, acoustic indie-folk bluegrass tunes. The Honeycomb’s layout and living-room appeal make it a niftier stage than Forest was, while its lineup highlights low-key yet wonderfully engaging, out-of-the-ordinary surprises. Less awesome wow-factor than its predecessor’s performances, but a welcome space to relax and enjoy the sort of refreshingly off-kilter acts a hip NPR programmer might recommend.
I spot my righteous KC friend Katie, with whom I got lost in the Forest Stage production of RÜFÜS DU SOL’s DJ set last year, and her waffle-wizard boyfriend Sam – both in impeccably stylish outfits suited to the EF aesthetic. We venture upward to the top floor for a bird’s eye view of the whole area, prime for people-watching and relishing the originality of attendees’ looks. We wander forward, admiring the minute detail and inventive design in several fairy doors, while the brightly painted, LED-tricked-out Volkswagen hippie bus (aka Dub Lounge) provokes me to install some dope lights in Speed Raver’s Techno Cruise Ship (my festing road-trip van). We pay our respects to some recurring installations and the sacred Spirit rising as the Forest comes to life with festivalgoers.
I lose them at the Trading Post as I find Matthew the Mailman, who’s wearing the traditional blue uniform furnished with headier pins than any postal worker could sport, and I express my gratitude for his invaluable assistance the day before. He hands me an Electric Forest postcard and explains how people can write to their friends or themselves (like a message of tripped-out clarity for your sober mind to later decipher) and freely send it through the mail drop-off box on the side. He elaborates in regards to being the mailman at Burning Man, receiving and delivering Burners’ letters on the Playa. He also hands me an envelope with a special gift and the instructions to wait until a dazzling occasion in the nighttime zest of the Forest to open it.
Power Up and Headbang
Whereas a roundtrip between the Forest and GA campgrounds would typically be a fairly lengthy ordeal, it’s fast and painless dipping out of the Forest into Good Life and back. So I go construct a nourishing sandwich in my tent, slip on and plug in my LED-strip neon veins, then return brandishing the ultimate weapon for dancefloor destruction – the “Halo” energy sword featuring a recently upgraded, LED rainbow-chasing plasma frame contouring it. Speed Raver first pulled this sword out of the stone at Desert Hearts Festival and it evolved into my own Excalibur through a whirlwind conquest of the Neon Garden techno court at EDC.
The energetic tide has finally emerged and Sherwood Forest is teeming with creative forces as I walk into the center hub of Reincarnation Village. A menagerie of mystical ocean life forms – including Aquaman with a golden trident, King Crab, and a rainbow-plush dolphin totem vaping bubbles from its blowhole – make their own waves. My camp neighbor from 2017 (and now local Denver friend) Chris crosses my path, flooding me with exalted vibes at the sight of his glorious, long-standing totem. Its illustration of an open-chested Jeff Goldblum laying in front of a hurricane-sunset horizon, emitting laser beams from his eyes with the caption “BECAUSE ACID”, remains an immortal beacon of festival and totem culture’s extraordinary silliness.
I swim through the Ranch sea to the bass harbor of Tripolee, which I previously frequented, but only have a handful of sets calling me there this year. Sam insisted the wub torpedoes of Riot Ten would be too filthy to dismiss as dingy dubstep, and upon surfacing at the stage, his electro trapstep vibrates at a frequency that supercharges Excalibur and recalls my own headbanging roots.
The meeting plan with Sam falls into disarray; the multiple flying saucer-like structures that had been easy designation points on the Tripolee battlefield the past two years must have been sent back to Area 51 in the 2019 redesign. So I slice and dice my way through the masses, aligning with worthy warriors and using my camera to capture bassquakes – up to 8.8 magnitudes on the Riot Ten scale – shaking headbangers to the core.
The punchy build-ups drop with the trap fury of an alien spaceship’s laser-chop strikes, wreaking heavy-bass havoc and ripping Tripolee into a wub wasteland. One rail-rider headbangs so hard she literally throws herself over the rail, and an electro-psytrance remix of “Losing It” damn near blasts me into the Shadow Realm. Now that’s what I call dub-namic.
Groovy Crews and KC Moods
The daylight slowly fades from the sky as I venture back towards Ranch, consorting with a squad of superior style and sharing the empowerment of Excalibur, sparking some totem brainstorming along the way. Hopes of assembling multiple groups of festival friends into an all-star crew this night fall short when none of them materialize at the meeting spot, but thankfully I detect the “DETROIT RAVES HARDER” flag of one of the groups stationed up by a tree.
Here I meet Kelsey Lamb, a Detroit techno friend of my Denver techno fam. We both bought our Desert Hearts Festival tickets from the same friend and were similarly bemused to notice the other ticket in the pair go to a raver with the same last name. We didn’t link up there but eventually connected online, and now two hard-partying Lambs band together for the electric guitar blues and soulful, funky bass grooves of Gramatik. Night falls, light-up totems come to full illumination throughout the audience and the get-down takes hold with a smooth, uninhibited sway. Jazzy, burning trumpet from Balkan Bump adds howling harmonies to the rolling reverberations, reaching hair-raising resonance on the GRiZMATiK classic “As We Proceed”.
Following the Lamb coincidence through to real festival friendship has the satisfaction of synchronicity behind it, but after the set ends the pressing urgency to find Sam before ODESZA seizes the stage returns. So I split off from Kelsey’s cluster and wander the edges of the crowd, waving my glowing arms and intergalactic weapon about in hopes of signaling my best friend, wherever she may be. One lively group stops me, recognizing Speed Raver from the last Dancefestopia and revealing themselves as fellow Kansas Citians – instituting a camaraderie that immediately puts me at ease.
Excalibur grabs their attention and evokes a sense of awe from them, fueling a nostalgic intoning of the “Halo” theme opening that organically transitions into a chorus of the “Chiefs Kingdom Tomahawk Chop” chant. The others chop using their arms while I do so with the resplendent plasma sword, imbuing the action with commanding clout – like William Wallace directing his motley army into combat in “Braveheart”. The chant spreads beyond our sector and echoes in unison across a sizable swath of the audience. In all my years living in and repping Kansas City, I’ve never felt so much pride for where I’m from as I do in this instant, leading my hometown’s signature call in the place I feel even more at home.
A Moment Together
“You know the story of the Russian cosmonaut?”
I thrust Excalibur upwards to the heavens in anxious excitement as the intro suspends us all amidst the twinkling stars of outer space, spellbound from the onset and the developing tune of “A Moment Apart”. Anticipation grows as the trumpeters walk onstage, and like a bolt of lightning, Sam appears at my side with “HEY! I saw the sword, LET’S GO!”
The booming horns swell in synch with a flash from the lights, hitting a crescendo as we dart forward for a better spot. The Forest united us just in time. Relief gives way to pure elation as the ODESZA Drumline marches forth with invigorating percussion building to a fireworks burst on the primal roar of “Loyal”. The horns come back in a soul-piercing euphony and the big, bassy drop jounces everyone into cathartic, fist-pumping, foot-stomping release.
ODESZA inhabits a unique place in the sphere of electronic music, aligned more on the chill side yet incorporating poignant, supremely symphonic live horns and the enthralling drumline for epic instrumentation and sweeping emotion – a combo virtually anyone can revel in and respect. The deep, dynamic beats of tracks like “La Ciudad” and “Bloom” soar alongside these live accompaniments and surge through the bodies in the crowd with a gripping scope and rousing power. Pulsing rhythms like “Late Night,” “The Loco-Motion (Little Eva cover) (ODESZA Remix)” and the vrooming concord of “Koto (VIP Edit)” positively energize the dancefloor, while the lighter songs focused around vocals swoon with engrossing bridges and expanding, layered melodies.
The encore of “It’s Only” rings out in a spine-tingling frequency, ramping up to electrifying strength as the drums pound increasingly palpable chords in our hearts every eighth beat, synchronized to a breathtaking flourish of fireworks for the final minute. Sheer ecstasy ripples through the audience as the track climaxes to its pristine conclusion. Sam is overwhelmed with emotion, but in the best kind of way: saying goodbye to an album and show that spurred her to truly feel, to pull herself out of darkness, out of bad habits, out of bad situations. To take more risks, to pursue a more adventurous life, to foster more meaningful connections. It’s the closing of a chapter for her and embrace of the better person she’s matured into across the past 19 months.
I see her process the end of a personal odyssey – one that’s been a core aspect of her identity – with remarkable aplomb, and I feel encouraged to not keep such distance from the zone of vulnerability within myself. I peered through that fence when I first saw “A Moment Apart” in October at Hulaween, though I wasn’t quite ready to actually open it up then. Now, through this ODESZA experience, the gate has unlocked and I’m preparing to step through.
Into the Forest We Go…
We join the river of people in an exodus from Ranch, flowing down the umbrella path for my first parade through Sherwood Forest at night this year. This is always a special occasion, as the veil of reality has been lifted and the otherworldliness greets you with sensory overload. The rallying cry of “Caaaaaarrrrrlllllll???” initiates with one person then circulates to many as we approach. Legend has it that at Rothbury Festival 2008 (prior to its rebirth as Electric Forest in 2011), a spunion named Carl got lost and his friends shouted his name throughout the venue as they searched for him all weekend. Now, anyone could start the call at most mid-to-large size fests and it billows through the crowd with a life of its own – but it originated and thrives in the culture here.
Thanks to the duo at DeepLight Labs, last summer Carl reincarnated in the form of a dodecahedron infinity mirror with premium LED-strips lining the interior, endlessly mesmerizing modes of light-play coded into a computer chip and linked to the strips. An M.C. Escher-inspired hand supports the geometric shape, countless tiny hands extend out from the pole in layers beneath it, and a Playstation controller conducts the LEDs in spellbinding displays of technicolor insanity, siphoned straight out of the Quantum Realm. Carl is now the ultimate totem, melting faces from fest to fest, and one year after his debut at EF, there’s a second version I notice alongside him, cavorting across their natural environment together all weekend.
I stop for a glimpse into the eyes of the owl perched atop the Forest’s entryway, seeking a nugget of wisdom from he who presides over this mystifying landscape. We continue down the center path, passing the prismatic chapel, encountering a saxophone-playing unicorn (amongst other oddities), walk beneath the new Moonflower installation, then exit the treeline through the vivid arch at the end of the trail. Up ahead, the fairy door portal sucks us into its iridescent translucence. On the outside of its wooden door, 24 points on a map of Sherwood Forest reveal the general locations of the two dozen fairy doors. The portal itself cycles through rainbow colors, illuminating the crystalline pane like an ethereal artifact. We move on before I totally fall under its hypnotic spell.
At the far end of the venue grounds lies The Hangar, a mall-like structure housing as many shops and activity areas as it does alluring secrets. Sam fills me in on her evening’s events, including going to the Time Travel Agency here to acquire her passport for the infamous scavenger hunt. At the back, we enter the attached Carousel Club for the end of Amtrac, a longtime friend of Kelsey who’s laying down underground house beats. He supplies the circus-like tent with an infectious air of hip, dark funk that swirls between the dancefloor and shimmering disco balls. As the set finishes, I spot Kelsey’s flag, bid my fellow Lamb a happy Forest, then Sam and I walk back into The Hangar with our curiosity piqued by the scavenger hunt riddles.
Gracious Gifts and Fairy Doors
We tackle the easy clue regarding a space creature in old-school sci-fi posters scattered on the walls, find most of them, then head for more exploratory mystery awaiting us in the Forest. The funky jams of Lettuce emanate from the Jubilee tent as we wander back into the woods, wide-eyed like Martians scouting a new planet. Sam may look a bit dumbfounded by it all because a girl offers her a hug, then also gives Sam an adorable piece of her own art. The wooden, hand-painted fox launches Sam over the moon with delight. We stop at the spaceship-esque spire installation and I remember Matthew’s gift to me, realizing now is the perfect moment for such a surprise.
The envelope bears the coolest festival gift I’ve ever received, representing the spirit of Electric Forest both visually and through the intention that bestowed it upon me. It’s a square pendant necklace sporting a vibrant view of the watchful owl on the Sherwood Forest sign, the flower structure of the hands forming a heart (the Cradle) further back below him, and an expansive, colorful stream of lasers spanning from below the heart to above the owl’s head. The convex glass on the image imparts 3D-like depth, the saturated hues speak to my own photo aesthetic, and circular lines of sacred geometry engraved into the silver backside seal it with shapes of universal flow. A window into the Forest resting next to my own heart, to channel its magic wherever I go.
Riding a wave of glee, we ogle the exquisite selection of curios obtainable through high-value bartering at the Trading Post and observe an impressive demonstration of acro yoga in the library. We stumble upon a rotating circular puzzle with a scrambled code to reorient, then amble into the married couple at the helm of Engineer Artisans (formerly HobbyGypsy Creations). Since EF 2016, their imaginative artistry and meticulous wizardry have been responsible for the Fairies in the Forest installations – the captivating little fairy homes featuring cute and meditative quotes behind their doors, where attendees will leave or exchange trinkets and treasures.
Discovering fairy doors encapsulates the wonder and awe of Electric Forest on a miniature scale. Everyone comes across at least a few, though each new sighting elicits more gratification – especially when something enticing hides within. Jennifer and Mark provide fascinating insight into their process as we talk: how it takes them half of each year to fully construct all the fairy doors, considerations for sturdy design, secure placement and lighting, and occasionally refashioning elements of past doors into new ones. Hearing how they glide about, personally stashing gifts in their art, and have the pleasure of witnessing countless people jubilantly react to their hard work, draws a stirring perspective of a key part of the Forest that we all cherish.
Sherwood Forest begins to thin out as closing time encroaches, so Sam and I leisurely weave between installations, admiring projection mapping patterns not only crawling across the structures, but trying to swallow bodies in the light on the main path, too. ODESZA infused new life into us both so we delve into Reincarnation Village, touring the electric octopus’ garden and savoring the galleries of trip-tastic paintings. One artist’s compositions bend the clouds, trees and stunning surroundings of nature like a 360 tiny-planet viewpoint. A canvas framing nature like an oyster subliminally yet divinely resembles the Bassnectar bassdrop, so much so that it stands out as a synchronistic message of the transformative potential his Saturday night set holds in store.
We’re shuttered out of Sherwood and, at the exit from Tripolee to GA, happen upon Victoria, her birthday twin/best friend, Elam, and her Twin Flame boyfriend, Star Child – who guides us to his RV to relax and review the day with the rest of his troop. This cosmically conjoined crew had been veering all over the place inside, thus necessitating Sam to slip away with just me for the set that mattered. But as they breathlessly recap their trajectory, I’m astonished by how much they’ve accomplished in only the first day.
They rep expert status through their rundown of having finished virtually the entire scavenger hunt already, explaining what it entails without spoiling things, and what pins/tokens they need to acquire at the Trading Post for other Secrets of the Forest. I shall strive to attain a commensurate level of EF prowess in the next year or two – but in the meantime, I can complete the whole scavenger hunt, having been curious yet only dabbling along its fringes the last two summers. Sam and I resolve to meet that goal together so we can gain access to Sunday night’s secret closing set in the Carousel Club with the others.
Numerous lively renegade sets from smaller DJs plus some bigger ones playing the festival can be overheard in full swing at the RVs, but it’s been a full day and none of us have the wherewithal for that tonight. So Sam and I set a meeting plan for tomorrow and, in the midst of excessive ramblings in the RV, I dip out to reunite with my true KC Vibe Tribe.
Rave Cave Reconnect
“Speed Raver has entered the building!” I proclaim, bursting into their sumptuous campsite with Excalibur at full glory, to the cheers of Raina, John, Mikey and Lucy. Many a late-night from 2016-2018 were spent hanging out till dawn (or later) in their old house’s basement, the Rave Cave. They’ve managed to recapture that glowing, homey ambiance under their deluxe double canopy, and it feels just like the old days as I recap my recent marathon of festing conquests for them. We share highlights from the day (“We all took turns sinking into the most comfortable chair at The Honeycomb”), outline our squad-up for the evening and marvel as John and Mikey warp the speed of light, whirling a string of LEDs taut between them to open “The Void”.
My schedule has gotten so busy this year that except for my closest comrades also living in Denver, the likelihood of being able to hang out with friends is slim unless we link up at a music festival, which is more difficult to coordinate if we aren’t camped as a group/near one another. That’s the reality of friendships as you grow older, move away, and everyone’s lives fill up with more responsibility – it requires a lot more work to maintain a strong connection. But quality time with the hometown homies reminds me it’s worth the effort.
As per usual, daylight has surfaced when I eventually bid adieu to this crew, so I stroll through the photo-op installation walls in the Brainery on Main Street on my way to the shuttle stop. The shuttles must be on an extended break as the rain starts to pour, leaving everyone waiting, all huddled together under one canopy.
Chatting with another Denverite who’s now making absolute bank after having become an insurance appraiser, he gives me the lowdown on how I could do the same since I have experience working with insurance adjusters ad nauseam at my day job. The catch to this pursuit is giving up my flexible lifestyle and working constantly from one city to the next for half the year or more. Tempting, but it feels like a test from the universe that would throw me off my highest path of artistic creativity – away from my personal truth and most desired goals. Eventually, a shuttle picks us up, and I PTFO back at my tent to the soothing rainfall.
The Afternoon Delights of Forest Sprites
The triumphs of Thursday slingshot me into my element on Friday. I meet Jen at her glamping tent at 2:15 and we roll into the Forest earlier than I ever have before. Ironically, the first thing we stop at is the snail fairy door, with the quote “Adopt the pace of nature / Her secret is patience” written on its inner wall. In the same vein, we glance up at a four-sided clock tower with a variety of different symbols on each face – no numbers – and the hands spinning swiftly around the systems demarcating anything but time.
Afternoons in the Forest certainly exemplify a more laid-back pace, with significantly fewer people milling about and simpler navigation through the surroundings. Once the myriad layers of visual lightwave extravagance and the influx of Forest Fam morph these woods into an extraterrestrial dimension, losing your bearings (and yourself) gets much likelier. But during broad daylight, something else fantastical invigorates Sherwood Forest with a living atmosphere of the surreal: the troupes of costumed character performers.
Our first run-in with such Forest creatures is a ROYGBIV ritual in front of the Moonflower, glimpsing a troupe wearing wigs, platform boots and glistening jumpsuits. They walk in a continuous circle with hands folded in prayer, each individual fully donned in a different color of the rainbow. At the Creation Station Art Bar (where friends can decorate each other using blacklight reactive paint), we happen upon mute masquerade jesters with gleaming flower petals blooming around their masks. An art bar staffer interacts with them through his turtle hand puppet, seemingly conferring a mission of probing purpose upon them.
We spot the moss lantern fairy door (“A time amongst trees is never time wasted”) closer to eye height on a tree and I swap a kandi bracelet for one with a bejeweled Hamsa amulet on it (my favorite new addition to my kandi collection). Jen pulls out her box of opulent, vintage diamond rings and leaves a jaw-dropping one inside as a gift to make someone’s month. In one of the hammock zones, we see last year’s most entertaining sprites of the Forest – the four Curious Kukuricoos – have returned for more mirthful mischief.
One eye on their wooden masks bigger than the other, their mouths forever “Ooooooh”-ing, and spouting a speedy, exuberant gibberish, they hide behind the trees and sneak up on those peacefully lounging – then “Boop!” them on the head with the giant leaf sprouting out of their sound-hose tentacles. Non-stop giggles flow from spectators. Upon boop-ing everyone in the hammocks, they twirl their tools to generate that uncanny whirring noise, group up shoulder-to-shoulder, then target those watching. They shuffle forward, quietly uttering “diddle-diddle-diddle-diddle” to uproarious effect, and continue to kookily “Boop!”
Music hasn’t even begun at Ranch yet, but that doesn’t deter a group with a parachute from using it in the shade of the empty arena to relive those games from grade school gym class. As Jen and I traverse the expanse of the field, we notice the peacocking persona of viral NYC street performer Matthew Silver, who’s more recently expanded his brilliantly wacky brand of subversive comedy and all-encompassing message of love out to music festivals. So, of course we have to meet this legend.
He’s dressed in a sunset-rainbow tutu with plush breast pillows spilling out, carrying a walking stick and a cardboard sign with FART in large letters. At every turn he makes us laugh with awkward goofiness, though his fearless commitment to ridiculously, unapologetically putting himself out there and associating with anyone and everyone simultaneously inspires. Jen expresses her appreciation of him as an artist, to which he incredulously responds, “I don’t make art…I make…fart!” She bestows one of her gorgeous rings on his pinky finger (“You’re…engaging me?!?”) and he imparts some of his boundless love with a benevolent hug and humble gratitude.
Next, we have the honor of interviewing Dixon’s Violin, who I never saw the previous two years. Intrigued by how he had one set per day with his electric violin, my perception of him amounted to an anomalous, mythical being out of a fairytale. When I stumbled upon him closing out Hulaween, I was moved by his beautiful music, which blends classical instrumentation with looping techniques for an original, improvised performance.
Hearing Dixon’s personal story, it’s evident that he epitomizes the spirit of how Electric Forest can change your life. After attending his first music festival he had a total perspective shift, getting in touch with his feelings and recognizing the openness and freedom with which life could be lived. So he left his corporate tech career, combined that expertise with his 25-year hobby of playing the violin, and wrote thousands of lines of code to design his own musical looping system. The acceptance present within festival culture gave him the courage to pursue his dream of being an unconventional type of musician – and now he spreads the tenets of compassion, universal connection and following one’s calling to positively influence people at festivals himself.
Close Encounters of the Synergistic Kind
Deeply relating to Dixon’s journey and on a high from their splendid conversation, Jen doles out compliments and “Happy Forest”’ greetings left and right, asks for pictures with a handful of cute strangers and gifts out her remaining rings on the walk to The Hangar. I inquisitively read aloud an incoming totem, “Carl isn’t a person”, and the wise guy conveying this sign slyly quips as he passes, “It’s a state of mind.”
We move through the line for the Time Travel Agency in a reasonable 30 minutes (the line to initiate the scavenger hunt is always a hurdle) and snag our passports. Among the boxes to fill out on the itinerary are baggage (“Light-up supersuit”) and emotional baggage (“Too analytical, not in-tune with emotions enough”), and I’m serious about sorting through the latter before reaching my destination.
“OOH YEAH!”, an ostentatious Macho Man Randy Savage growls in support as we head back into the Forest. At the Moonflower I snap the striking glamour shot of Jen she so desired, then capture other flamboyant characters with my camera: a sparkly-silver space queen, a quintet of mimes in an ensnaring array of black-and-white patterns, and the shirt-and-pantless Foxy Aloxy. Outside of Reincarnation Village, I discern a familiar black flag emblazoned with the Radiate app logo and tons of surrounding festival logos, belonging to festival marathon-man Melvin (a swashbuckler who exalted my techno battle fervor at EDC). I’m heartened by his drive to facilitate squad-ups with random Radiate users and I encourage him on his noble mission.
I designated the Animal Party in the Chapel as the day’s first rendezvous point, so I check out the wild assortment of creatures as I wait. The MC’s golden sequins jacket twinkles above the oversized inflatable chicken he’s mounted, and he issues a challenge to stack as many people as possible on top of each other in a cheerleader-like pyramid. The three cultishly cloaked ducks at the base look ready to quack when the formation tops out at 19 party animals.
Raina, John, Mikey and Lucy arrive briefly ahead of schedule and we all spend a few minutes limbering up through crucial but all-too-often forgotten stretches. Jen swings back around and Sam shows up as well, thus uniting three primary sectors of my life – my best friend, my KC crew and FMF Rave Mom – in a holy trifecta of festing synergy. They all have the opportunity to meet and chat for a few moments, then we must split up again. Despite the fleeting nature of this, the power of this level-up accomplishment will course through my auric field with an extra oomph all night, and Sam and I arrange to reconvene with my Vibe Tribe later.
The two of us have barely moved forward when my birthday twin Haley (aka Disco Unicorn) pops up in front of us, sporting a pink tutu, unicorn headband and her signature yellow rowing paddle totem. Sam and Haley used to work together, although this is the first instance the three of us – all Gemini Sun Scorpio Moons – have been in the same spot as a trio. It’s an exciting convergence of cosmic significance that I’ve wanted to occur for several months, but there’s something too unstable at play between our intense energies to intertwine collectively at this juncture. I photograph Haley with the quintessential owl gateway overhead, as well as her serving up a paddle-spanking requested by a stranger, then we carry on our separate ways.
Relax, Refill, Resume
Unable to link up with Victoria earlier, Sam spent the afternoon exploring alone. Her “Sam in Spiral Land” outfit theme featuring zig-zagging legs wraps, a comforting pashmina and chic, octagon sunglasses takes an ironic twist as everything catches up to her and she spirals into a bit of an emotional meltdown. The fatigue/sleep deprivation, her cliquey camp neighbors, the cathartic release from ODESZA, an exhausting several weeks before this, and the general overwhelming nature of the Forest – “It’s all just a lot,” she says. So I bring her back to my campsite in Good Life to chill out and rebalance while I suit up for the evening.
“Everything’s gonna be fine. You had the transcendent “A Moment Apart” finale you’ve been needing to move forward and we saw it with each other after nearly a year talking about it. Your life is finally coming together how you’ve wanted. I know you love Disneyland but THIS is the Happiest Place on Earth. Legitimate magic is in the air. I’m sorry I made the trip here so rough for you, but I’ve got your back now. Stick with me tonight and we’ll have a blast with my awesome KC friends,” I reassure her.
“I know…I’m just Doom and Gloom. I’m not used to things working out for me,” she responds.
“Well, miracles happen in the Forest. People find their true selves and destiny opens up in front of them. Dreams become reality,” I say. “Here, have a bagel and these vitamins.”
We refuel with dinner and eight different kinds of healthy, supportive supplements, notably improving our moods. Tonight I’m on deck with my wizard persona, Doctor StrangeLamb. My Alex Grey shirt visually represents the mind-mastery and energetic sorcery I feel capable of, while the LED strips activate an ongoing stream of colors snaking around my arms and legs that externalizes it. We’re ready to venture back into the fold. If any bad vibrations pass through my dance-magic defenses, Excalibur will be able to transmute or eviscerate them.
Just Look for the LED Costume
Coming out the far side of Sherwood Forest as the sun falls over the horizon, we examine the interesting dichotomy of Gorgon City’s sound, which casts a smooth-groove mood upon Sherwood Court. They oscillate between high-key house melodies showcasing soulful singers belting vocals in a classic disco-pop vein (not really our flavor); and vigorous bass-house trilling and synthesizer-wanging to magnetically danceable effect over seductive lyric refrains such as that of “Motorola”.
OG disco house from Studio 54 alum (and one of the early, actual remixer/producer DJs) Jellybean Benitez awaits us at the next meeting spot in the Carousel Club. I’m impressed by the light-up jumpsuit I notice in front of The Hangar, then ecstatically recognize it as the LED strip-lined spacesuit of my soul brother Astroboy as I approach. The two of us met at EDC, initially just raging together as a pair of dazzling dancefloor superstars. But as we got to know each other, similarities and coincidences within our lives and styles of creative expression proved so potent that the deeper connection between our souls – beyond just kindred spirits – became clear.
His last name is Lamboy, he went to NYU Tisch Film School (I went to film school and am ultimately compelled to be a writer/director), he’s built his own luminous supersuit, developed a thriving festival persona, and on a spiritual level – he gets it, man. He only began his raving journey in January and has progressed extraordinarily rapidly through the Festival Realm, full-sending it to numerous events like a pro. Electric Forest was a last-minute decision for him, and he managed to secure a ticket and ride across the country only two days prior to its onset. I’m so proud of him for manifesting it, and he mentions the Forest already took him on a life-changing experience the first night.
Astroboy departs toward Tripolee for the heavy wubs, but I’m sure we’ll dynamic-duo it up soon enough. Since Sam is part of my Soul Family and the one who took me to EDC, I’m thankful she meets the dopest friend I made there. We locate the fourth poster related to the scavenger hunt clue while walking through The Hangar, and uncover the hole puncher that verifies our riddle-solving skills. This immensely pleasing sign of our success vitalizes us with momentum, reinforced by the rare sighting of a ridiculously on-point Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker’s character in “The Fifth Element”) robed in the unforgettable leopard-print catsuit.
The purity and old-school vivacity of Jellybean’s disco house elicits an unpoppable rhapsody in the Carousel Club. A blue-dreaded alien girl (also wearing leopard print) radiates red-pill vibes right at me, leading my attention down the rabbit hole towards the Cheshire Hatter expert lightsmith. His Cheshire Cat mask flashes a delirious lining of electroluminescent wire across its devious face, while his magnificent Mad Hatter top hat glimmers with electrifying symbols, varying sections of their outlines highlighted with each blip of the wires. He introduces himself as Z, The Mad Masker, hands me a card for his bomb-ass Etsy shop, and tells me about turning his crafty hobby into a supremely cool, artistic mode of revenue. Mad props, Z.
The KC crew detects the confluence of such outlandish LED indomitability and they come grab Sam and me for the start of Bob Moses back at Sherwood Court. The soothing strums of the guitar and yearning vocals on “Grace” sway our bodies as we float forward through the audience. Reverbing drum machine beats slide along the layered wavelength as airy pings and claps creep into the glossy indie-dance rhythms. I hop on over to a group with a wacky frog totem, whose eyes of kaleidoscope light spin and change hues while its glowing, slinky-tube legs – attached to a pole at each hand – swim through the overhead space under individual control.
It takes five people to hoist around this electro-amphibian, which hews closer to Crazy Frog at more feverish sets, although it stretches quite enthusiastically as my own vibrant appearance perks up the group. Upon asking its name, a rush of laughter and embarrassment hits them, realizing they forgot to christen their thoroughly engaging entity. I swap Excalibur with one of the frog’s puppeteers and gesticulate the arm in an elastic push/pull/freeform motion for half a song, tied-in to the others, then trade back and return to my friends.
The Vibe Tribe elects to paint with the marginally more uptempo Crooked Colours of the wind at The Observatory, so we saunter into the Forest. They ask Sam and I our plan for the remainder of the evening, which emphasizes a clash in our schedules but imparts a willingness to compromise that works out to satisfy us both. Crooked Colours saturate our ears with tingly tunes, blending house roots into a grounded, full-band sound and leaving an imprint as another Australian alternative-electronic act to keep on my radar. Unfortunately, we lose Raina, John, Mikey and Lucy almost immediately, which has the impact of dropping us out of an objective-based team mission and letting us loose in a co-op, freeplay sandbox mode.
Go with the Flow, Explore the Unknown
On the second story of The Observatory, I run into Melvin and am elated to enchant his Radiate gang with my LED radiance and high-falutin’ mythology. Sam and I then dive into an art vendor’s booth brimming with wicked, deep-sea distorted items and crust-punk aesthetics, until the Infinity Temple installation sucks us into its orbit like a moth to the lamp. Doctor StrangeLamb crosses over into the mirror dimension and discovers an EL wire-adorned Black Panther waiting in the wings. I photographically merge his essence with the limitless iridescent force of the temple and am thrilled to befriend another lustrous Avenger. Sam snaps a photo of our epic superheroics, then he wanders back to save Wakanda and I continue on my quest across the multiverse.
In between The Honeycomb and the ancient wisdom of the Garden of Dreams, I brace myself for the most psychedelic wall of projection mapping, eager to show Sam a favorite display of mine. With the enhancement of my 3D glasses, I’m swallowed up in a multicolor third-eye wormhole, melting between geometric patterns and surreal moving graphic. I pass Sam the glasses and she stares incredulously until a loaded “Oof” slips out.
A beautiful piano sonata drifts our way as we revere the treasure mine fairy door, replete with lambent crystals. We follow the melody to the Ocular Organ, where a crowd peacefully chills out and appreciates the prodigious sense of calm one attendee institutes by sharing his musical ability with everyone. We use the secondary path from the Forest towards Ranch, honoring the divine femininity and galactic makeover of the dancing Forest Goddess effigy in front of us. Rumors of trampolines pay off with the web-like Treenet hammocks, and we lay back in serene suspension to rest our bodies and luxuriate in the moment, gaining a couple of new pals before we move on.
The Beija Flor hummingbird (one of my favorite artworks the last two years) flits through my mind as we encounter the new sculpture from the same artist: a huge peacock erected out of coniferous trees, LEDs and, in its open chest, reflective CDs. We spend a few minutes absorbing that Big Peacock Energy then station ourselves under the overhead Night Lily flower installation, which blooms with trippy, animated lines of projection mapping and sporadically discharges a pollinating mist. Governing over this bewitching trail is Sez-A-Me, a whimsical wizard statue exhibiting his mastery of illusion and projection-mapping alchemy to spellbinding effect. Like Merlin bolstering King Arthur, his magical presence emboldens my own swordcraft and sorcery.
Sufficient Set Samples and Chillness in Stillness
Sam and I exit the mystical path through the rainbow portal archway and browse the back-left vendors of Ranch Arena, where a wondrous lamp shop boasting ornate iconography and labyrinthine designs proves quite the light to behold. The sensitive piano keys of Kygo begin his set of tropical-house-infused, lyrically rooted, feelsy mainstream EDM that spurs the audience to croon alongside it and puts me into a bored, cynical daze. Sam reacts ambivalently to this showcase of basic electronic music taste while I occupy myself interacting with a couple of guys entranced by Excalibur, letting them harness the elevation in qi it provides. Kygo drops Avicii’s “Without You” 15 minutes in, the only song Sam really wants to hear, and then we dip.
A hop, skip and a jump back to Sherwood Court envelops us in the jamtronica of STS9, an inviting soundscape of groovy-woovy instrumentation and electric seasoning that we similarly ingest a solid, 20-minute dose of (more enjoyable for me than Sam), then move on. A savory sample from Gorgon City’s DJ set of house music harmony wafts our way as Sam takes me to her favorite place in the Forest.
Triangular prisms of wooden-slat faces and tree-bark corners stack on top of and over one another, in rotated directions on the three larger bottom pieces, with grass and flowers topping each. Pacifying lights shine on two sides of the timber while wooden benches, built with a slight tilt-back to them, encircle it. When we sit down, however, the seat angle and subtle atmosphere coalesce into a sublime space of tranquility.
Ah, okay, I like this too. Something about the minor slant establishes impeccable equilibrium. So we spend a half-hour recharging, discussing the differences and similarities between EDC and EF and how they have served as catalysts in Sam’s life and my own, respectively. We note the challenges faced and growth attained for each of us so far this Forest, and how successfully we’ve turned Sam’s day around. Then we stand up to persist in our adventure, glimpse some weird clown/circus-like zany performance in the Chapel, and zip on outta there to conclude the night with Black Tiger Sex Machine.
The League of Extraordinary Dancers
On the way to Tripolee we happen upon the person best suited (literally) for this BTSM set – the Black Panther himself. Even better, he delivers an announcement and directive that upgrades the Friday finale from ‘Time to Rage’ to ‘Mission Critical Climax’.
“I danced with some other superheroes earlier, let’s go find them!”
The bass battleground erupts before us, a post-apocalyptic rampage of heavy electro, G-house, madcap trap and dirty-distortion dubstep. Vicious new visual production and occasional orchestral transitions solidify the cinematic blockbuster scope with which the masked trio constructs the BTSM Church. Their own backstory frames them as superheroes who ventured into the depths of the galaxy but returned to Earth to save it. Black Panther and Doctor StrangeLamb certainly resonate with this tale, and track down another pair on the same wavelength.
We spot Thor, God of Thundering Bass and Infinity Lighting, by his mighty Mjolnir hammer – an infinity mirror box containing Asgardian LEDs – and Catwoman by his side with her LED-chain mace, punctuated by a transparent diamond shape filled with lights on its end. They join our ranks and Thor leads us, cutting through the crowd with his unstoppable weapon, to the Ryan Reynolds duo of Green Lantern (carrying a lantern with a marvelous LED blaze inside) and Deadpool (an LED strip illuminating his chest in an X). For 12 months I’ve envisioned assembling my own squad of superhero luminaries, and at last, it manifests! The League of Extraordinary Dancers has officially arrived to glow this mutha up.
We blast out shockwaves all around us, combining our dance-magic dynamics and superpower prowess into an explosive level of festival clout. An electric current surges between us at an unprecedented voltage, and our bodies bounce and thrash to the frenzied beats with Kung-Fu warrior intensity. BTSM transmits booming frequencies and obliterating basslines – by far the most badass set I’ve witnessed by these dark electro fiends – and my team rises to their staggering detonation-drops with a matched ferocity in dancefloor destruction. HUZZAH!
When the raucous ride reaches its heavy-hitting, headbanging resolution, the League and I commemorate our legendary win with a picture in front of the prismatic Ferris wheel. Perfection is a fickle mistress, impossible to retain for lengthy periods, but remarkable to achieve and grasp for even a brief moment. As soon as we exit, the League members are drawn back into their own individual hero’s journeys. Thor invites us back to Asgard, then literally flies out of sight. We trust the Festival Realm will arrange a sequel when the dancefloor direly needs our unified strength once again. Until then, Speed Raver will continue to recruit worthy characters to the cause.
Camp Hang and the Renegade Gang
No one’s at Sam’s camp, so she and I scurry over to my KC fam for the real hang-out. They get a kick out of our simpatico anecdotal style as well as Sam’s heavier bass and dub leanings contrasting my house and techno zeal. My best friend and closest KC compadres personally, actually get to know each other now, completing – with gratifying solace – the energetic circuit board boost that only briefly interfaced during the trifecta meet. Having been there for the conceptual formation and early development of the League, Raina, John, Mikey and Lucy react with amazed delight to hear about the righteous BTSM escapade.
Eventually, we stand our asses up to partake in the renegade sets at the RVs. Rather than checking out Panky Rang, the Struggle Bus or one of the other primary bus stages, we explore the winding RV rows, just following the music to whatever renegade set grabs our attention. We dart from one to another, noticing idiosyncratic hilarities such as an inflatable-pool ball pit, and get jiggy with it at a smaller setup that’s banging electro house and sporting some lasers to boot. When the sky begins to lighten, we all call it quits and head back to our camps to hit the hay.
Saturdays Are for Speed Raver
Saturdays tend to be the wildest days at music festivals, loaded with the grandest caliber of performers, so that’s when I pull out all the stops and go full-scale Speed Raver. Saturday of EF 2017 (weekend one) featured the life-changing, greatest Bassnectar set I’ve ever seen, and Saturday 2018 (weekend two) closed out with deadmau5’s far superior techno alter ego, TESTPILOT. Those were each the peaks of their respective weekends, and I anticipate Lorin Ashton to dispense that kind of fire tonight, too, as he loves this festival. But the supersuit suffered some damage amidst the League’s historic crusade, so I bust out the hot glue gun and initiate a pit-stop repair in the Good Life open-air lounge after the (slow) wake-up ritual.
Hairdressers administer radiant glow-ups at the lounge’s vanity mirror stations while quintessential festival persona Rawb Lane generates bubbles exceeding the size of humans over to the side. “Watch out, Electrical!” he exclaims when rogue bubbles blow my way. In everything he does, the House of Yes performer oozes with the outrageous and motivational type of vitality I do my best to embody as Speed Raver, so I hold onto that ideal as I pack up my gear and burst into Sherwood Forest.
En route to the Carousel Club I encounter Alycia, a friend I made from Radiate for my first EF. I experienced ODESZA (and a spectacular NERO set) with her YAS QUEEN crew and thought it was so cool how she was launching her own music and festival journalism site. So this meeting bears a full-circle significance as she planted the original seed in my subconscious to pursue music festival journalism. We proudly congratulate one another on the progress we’ve each made in this field, exchanging my vivid calling card for her site’s sweet sticker to continue mutual support.
Carousel Club is dishing out a stellar lineup of house and disco house all evening, and Dirtybird player OMNOM already has the tent sweating from ebullient moves to his fizzy, resilient reverberations. On the raised platforms to the right, Astroboy dangles the top half of his suit from his waist to ventilate, so I pluck out my 13” hand fan from my shoulder-pocket sheath and air-bend the breeze right to him. “Soul brother!” He introduces me to his friends, the pep now back in his step, and we indulge in the thumping, four-to-the-floor rhythms with wavy wobbles and sprightly swagger. The spunky bass house of Dr. Fresch signals Astroboy back to Tripolee, so we don’t get to jointly tear it up for long. But what we do, well, issa vibe.
Scavengers on the Storm
I dig out my passport, walk into The Hangar to get some air, and can feel the synchronicity as Sam, Victoria and Star Child immediately find me. The stewardess at the Time Travel Agency had hinted that there were a limited number of scavenger hunt pins available, and they’d likely all be gone by Sunday – thus we need to finish this mission in the next four hours or so before our Bassnectar pilgrimage. That’s plenty of time, right?
The next clue on the passport for The Hangar points to the Apothecary ailment shop to decipher a riddle on the radio. The message whizzes through each part rapidly, necessitating a handful of listens to understand how those hints correlate to the confusing statements on the jars above the bar – which explain what letters make up the code and in what order. Sam and I routinely devise innovative solutions to circumvent complex obstacles in our lives, so we put our heads together on this, quickly unravel the same answer (PILLS), and acquire the approval and hole punch from the mustachioed, old-timey bartender.
Moving on, the last clue here refers to the candy and game parlor. Multiple lanes for a smaller, lower-key rendition of bowling engage festivalgoers in the center-back of this room while we scan the sports team pennants hanging along the wall. Most of the pennants are for real teams, but approximately eight of them stand out as fake, with a random capital letter somewhere in each of the fairly generic, animal-based team names. We write those down and attempt to unjumble the letters into an actual word, but this one is much trickier.
Jennifer and Mark of Engineer Artisans stroll into the parlor and I break from the brain-buster to chat with them again. They’ve never done the scavenger hunt, so I detail the various aspects of it for them – figuring out the riddles, the performative last segment awaiting us, the pin and secret set. I hope to give them a fresh perspective on an EF staple, akin to the informed lens through which to appreciate the Fairy Doors that their behind-the-scenes viewpoint provides to me.
Sam has it figured out by now, thanks to the epiphany that not all the letters are included in the codeword. She shares that helpful hint, the answer reveals itself, and I go over to the barkeep, who compliments Excalibur. “I had to scavenge through a flooded CRYPT on the Halo moon for this esoteric artifact,” I wryly respond. He’s the one to take a hint here, hole punches my passport, and we’ve solved both clues within 40 minutes.
“That was fast, good job guys,” Victoria says. “Now you just have to make it through the last one…”
The Long Wait
Leaving The Hangar at 8:15, we cross paths with Haley on the far West trail through Sherwood Forest. She high-fives us both simultaneously, no words, but the message is clear. “IT’S NECTAR DAY FAM. ESKETIT!” We are definitely all in alignment with that.
Most of the way down this least-traveled of the four trails, opposite a sector of treeline populated by countless hammocks and the easy-resting attendees within them, we come to the enigmatic Banyan Family House. As the interactive maze last year, this was my favorite installation of EF. I roamed its captivating passageways in absolute awe, thoroughly, five separate times.
After my initial excursion, I picked up the telephone in the library, told everyone on the other phone lines scattered across the Forest about the maze’s grandeur, and directed them to its location to partake in the magic with me. That was the first of three groups I led through it because I was so excited to share and relive the phenomenon. You could walk in and wander without any wait, rushing through in 20 minutes or gleefully getting lost in the fantastic splendor of the maze for nearly an hour. This year, however, it is something else entirely – an interactive narrative expedition lasting almost 80 minutes.
Victoria and Star Child drop us off at the line, where we are beset with a level of anxiety comparable to kids sent off to a new daycare. “I hope we can catch the end of Ookay.” “We need to make it to the String Cheese Incident Shebang. It’s a crazy bonanza of costumes, performers, aerial production, crowd participation and classic songs, not just endless jamming, so you’d like it. It’s sick, I promise.” “ClaudeFather VonStroke will spin up a rollicking good party before Bassnectar. He’ll be at the top of his game for a set that overlaps with Lorin.”
The temperature lowers as the sun starts to set and the line goes on and on, affording me a solid scenario to knuckle down and wrap the LED strips and EL wire around my limbs, secured by velcro, safety pins and light-up armbands. It’s a process, for sure. Victoria and Star Child stop back by after an hour with some pizza and the Nectar rendezvous plan set for midnight. Suited up and raring to go, I befriend those in front of us, Max and Nora, as they become enamored with Excalibur. At the 90-minute mark, we’re included in the next group of 20 and deemed the Laser Pandas, after one member’s tattoo of a fierce panda firing lasers out of its eyes – amongst an incredible canvas of badass, eastern iconography on his back.
Laser Pandas and the Banyan Chimeras
The clock strikes 10 as a fast-talking, slam-poet style woman in a sparkly sequins hummingbird headpiece and jacket invites us into the story and home of the Banyan family, a strange clan of human-animal hybrids who have lost various memories of their identities and pasts. Things are out of place and we, the Rememberers, must help patch them back together.
First up: Grandma Turu, whose snake head trips us out as it moves in sync with her voice. She’s a classic forgetful, charismatic old lady archetype who shoots from the hip (“You, Rainbow Pants! Read that out for me”). She reminisces about several family members and enlists us to search the living room. We find numerous elemental jars stowed away throughout it, then arrange them on opposite sides in matching order to enable a message-transmission portal. It’s a fun little puzzle requiring us to cooperate as a unit, and upon correct execution…the fireplace opens up and her son – with a soft, pink dog head – enters.
He welcomes us through the portal into his dimension of pink, furry walls, where others and myself pet them and bliss out in the extremely soothing environment. He refers to himself as Fuzz Fuzz, speaks in an onomatopoeia-adjacent language, communicates succinctly through body language and tone, and exhibits the polite mannerisms and locution of an unassuming Japanese businessman. His entire interaction revolves around teaching us the song of his people, one line at a time, as we repeat it back to him. This section is deliriously goofy, like a bit out of a Wes Anderson movie, but his understated charm and humor resound through the “Hama sama yama hey, oweyo,” singalong.
Upon uttering the final refrain, a door unfastens from the wall into the dark, cosmically backdropped domain of Skyhoe, the patriarch of the Banyan family. A horse mask rests atop his head and he addresses us with a sinuous eloquence and grandiosity befitting of the magnificent beauty of a starry night sky, while effectively relating one’s personal existence into the grand scheme of the galaxy. He then asks us to think of a meaningful memory of hardship and triumph, one that played an important role in shaping each of us into who we are today, and share it with someone in the group we don’t know.
So I divulge the tale of Speed Raver: Year One, where I mistook a red herring from the universe as the answer forward, gambling in a risky arena of the stock market under the thumb of a tyrannical, naive boss, who was chasing a pot of gold at the end of a conspiracy rainbow. I was too stubborn and greedy to objectively re-evaluate this error and let go of the fallacy, which ran parallel to the true quest I was meant to follow – the reinvention of myself as Speed Raver and forging of my own career path in the Festival Realm. The tyrant tried to pin his own failings on my growing commitment to my passion and real destiny – but Speed Raver was undeterred. As I began to thrive, the monster destroyed himself, and Speed Raver has been the guiding light in my life ever since.
Seal the Sea with Captain Cartman
Behind the next door lies the boudoir of the silent seal girl. This turns into the most difficult zone of the house as we must determine what to do essentially from only the seal pointing at things and our own wits. Giant puzzle pieces fit together to yield a fish-shaped painting of ocean waves. Sockets in some of those then support poles, upon which a 3D-printed puzzle sculpture must be assembled to uncover the story and mystifying model of a bizarre water goddess hidden in a closet. In-between a couple of these steps, the mammoth fireworks display for the larger-than-life String Cheese Incident Shebang blazes across the sky, prompting the seal to teach us motions of crashing ocean tides that we add amusing whooshing noises to.
Drunk uncle eagle-head in the following room throws us for a loop with rhyming riddles, oxymorons, droll quips and the kind of dialogue expected from an “Alice in Wonderland” character. We have to scour bookshelves for a few specific items, while a nautical ship’s steering column rotates a riddle/clue wheel on the wall. When the imbibing birdman asks for someone to pilot it, the early-20s version of Cartman from “South Park”, who’s been spouting immature retorts and disruptive commentary in each room – somewhat annoying but begrudgingly, consistently funny – redeems himself with a real humdinger.
“Oh my GOD, are you kidding me? YES, I’m the pirate captain! Finally it all pays off! $200 for this jacket, TOTALLY worth it.” Cartman frantically pulls a dark maroon, lengthy captain’s jacket out of his backpack, throws it on and grabs the ship’s wheel like he was born for this. “This is the greatest moment of my life,” he exclaims. We uncover a key that unlocks the fourth hole puncher, and Cartman punches everyone’s passports with a sense of duty and accomplishment.
Mirrors line the two main walls of the black-and-white concluding room, home to the ribald zebra man. He doesn’t have time for any crap and aggressively swears and insults whomever. We’re all on board with that, because after more than an hour inside here, we’re anxious to GTFO. Mr. Zebra explains the disparate parts of the physics-defying contraption behind him and assigns everyone a task to get it operational, from pouring in some whack concoction and cranking an egg beater lever to dancing around in the mirrors. Ready…Aaaaaaand poof! Through the black-and-white striped door, we can exit this freaking madhouse at last!
Race Against Time (Travel) to Nectar
We book it towards the Hangar at about 11:15, and luckily the line for the Time Travel Agency is short. Several others from our group have the same agenda, including Cartman. He had me rolling my eyes over and over during the line for Banyan, but now he’s gained my respect and I keep chuckling at his comments. Most of Banyan was engrossing, entertaining and sporadically, even thought-provoking. In the cornucopia of weird and wonderful that Electric Forest always presents, this Banyan experience leaves an unforgettable impression for being an even further out-there oddity. It just took forever and we should’ve done it in the afternoon. Finishing this scavenger hunt is a notable feat in and of itself, though.
The travel agent validates our passports and awards us each a copper pin with a lightning bolt in the center, and a wing on the side that recalls Hermes’ flying shoes. The swelling feeling of pride from our victorious exploit washes away the disappointment from missing those earlier sets, and we invoke the speed of that aforementioned Greek god of travel to zoom across the venue in less than 15 minutes. We even make it to the candy shop meeting point, between Tripolee and the vendors leading into Ranch Arena, before midnight and preceding Victoria and Star Child. They soon arrive and we band together to infiltrate the horde of bassheads already proliferating Ranch like a colony of bees swarming at the source of that sweet, sweet nectar.
Slightly off-center to the stage and somewhat back from the middle of the audience, we nestle in and root ourselves near a couple of trees. I put away my camera, make the remaining adjustments and additions to the supersuit, and with nothing left to worry about, fervently strap in for the virtuosic journey. We hold our ground while the buzzing crowd expands in size. This is my 10th trip on the Bassnectar merry-go-round, and if I ever needed an undeniable confirmation of the bass prodigy as electronic music’s obsession-inducing equivalent to the Grateful Dead, the fact that this is literally Star Child’s 60th time seeing him settles it.
The resounding ribbits of “FROGS” flip on the systems of the Bass Ship and the four of us look at one another with impish grins and a devilish glint in our eyes. Thrusters power up with the deeply felt commotion of “Dive (ft. RD)”, then Joker’s “Boat” starts the countdown with cowbell punctuation. The rumbling rise of Proper Villains & Hellfire Machina’s “Tooty Fruity (Bassnectar Edit)” initiates liftoff and the sub-bass beams directly into my solar plexus, uncoiling through my body and enacting the gears of my energetic sphere of influence.
The transition into Bassnectar & Jantsen’s “What” stokes the massive gathering to bounce then repeatedly shout-along, “Are you readyyyyyy??” into the dirty-dub drop. Lorin hops on the mic and poses that hype-up question himself, the response radiating forward and the dead weight detaching from the ship to free up significant room for our whole area. The magic kicks into action as the sirens of “Witch Doctor 808” whoop up and the bass booms down. Sam and I lock eyes and punch the turbo in conjunction with the Bass Ship exiting the atmosphere. I whirl about with Excalibur and unleash Speed Raver, vrooming to and fro the surrounding bassheads in rip-roaring form.
The climbing melody of Bill Posters & Deckscar’s “Face Off (Bassnectar Remix)” signals hyperdrive engage, stars streaking at the thundering drum beats. With the savage acapella mix-in of Napoleon Da Legend’s “Andromeda”, the ship blasts through the hypergate with earth-shatteringly-heavy sonic vibrations, twists through atom-splitting dimensions and explodes out at the center of the galaxy. The serenity of Mars Leon’s “Fire (Bassnectar Remix)” slows us down as our bodies float without gravity, until the sun below us shoots solar flares that bring the heat with rocking resonance.
Interstellar Emotion in the Deep-Bass Ocean
“I’m gon’ send him to outer space, to fiiiiind another race,” Bassnectar teases with the rubbery refrain of Mac Romeo’s reggae classic “Chase the Devil”. And that he has, as Speed Raver sashays beyond the laser daze and glides into the snake-charming, subterranean frequency of Truth’s “Lion (ft. Taso)”, my slinking movement and spiraling LEDs transfixing the vicinity.
Stars begin to spin while the shelling of deep-bass distortion from Mastadon‘s “Decimate” reverberates in thrashing fashion and glowstick-tossing across the arena. Daladubz’s “Takeoff” dispatches a conduit of cosmic vitality that bears down a soulful swooning of photon-bass chills from the heavens, striking me with unexpected sentimentality and appreciation for being here with the squad – so I slide back to their position.
The high-pitch quavering of Run DMT’s “Sugarcube (Bassnectar Remix)”, visualized as an interdimensional cube and vortex of illusory squares behind it, beguiles Star Child in an enrapturing trance. I activate Excalibur as a metaphysical tuning fork and vibe conductor to tap into the audio/visual occult nature of the cube and infuse it into the sword’s plasma field. I subsequently surf into the tempo upswing of Franky Nuts’ “Waves”, then ride into the cathartic bloom of an especially potent edition of “Empathy VIP”. Confetti erupts into the air in a ravishing spectacle backlit by the stage lights and lasers, while the emphasized lyrics “Anything you feel / I can feel too” echo poignantly.
“Sam, I’m really glad to be here experiencing this with you,” I express to her with sappy, sincere gratitude. “So am I,” she nods back, laughing with tears of joy in her eyes. We hug and I raise Excalibur to the sky – in celebration of our auspicious friendship, becoming more emotionally connected, and – dare I say it – this beautiful, heartwarming moment at Bassnectar. Bravo, Lorin.
Teflon Tel Aviv’s “Sound in a Dark Room (Bassnectar Remix)” allots a welcome few minutes of calm to simply rest and process this tremendous bass odyssey, so far brimming with bold bangers and righteous rarities at only halfway-through. That interlude smoothly oozes into “Irresistible Force”, which soars into spiritual territory with a dreamy voiceover and celestial sound. The visuals majestically frame the Milky Way swirling around a Starseed soul, until it barrels down a tunnel of shimmering starlight towards earthly incarnation, the full array of lasers twinkling white then solidifying and lifting our collective consciousness in breathtaking sensation.
Nectar clearly means to blow minds tonight, treating the cutback from two supreme sets across two weekends to one 90-minute performance as an opportunity to unequivocally deliver the stuff of legend. Tribal drums, throbbing beats, sonorous braaams and the sublime chanting of the Northern Cree Singers on DJ Shub’s electrifying “Indomitable” mix with – in epic accord – a palpitating, repeating sample of the titular refrain from Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”. Black-and-white historical images of Native Americans and footage of a tribal dancer in full garb atop a jaw-dropping canyon combine with the music in a charged reminder of America’s heritage.
Paring down to just the drumbeat and clangorous horn braaams, part of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Great Revolution” speech follows, galvanizing the audience with its criticism of America’s military prioritization over caring for its citizens and feeding the hungry. The culminating revelation that “All life is inter-related” unites each of us through the profound, hair-raising presentation of this fundamental message.
Heavy Bass Champion of the World
And so we jump back into the wildstyle insanity. Task Horizon & MC Spyda’s “Da Vibe” levitates Speed Raver up Bass Mountain like a ski lift, until it launches me down the black diamond drum-and-bass trail in a cascading avalanche of rocketing Doppler ballistics. The mountain heats up into a volcano as The Nextmen’s frenetic “The Lion’s Den (Sigma vs. Bassnectar Remix)” detonates fire so filthy it causes wooks who are too lost-in-the-sauce to spontaneously combust. The electro-breakbeat basslines and voodoo-vocals of the namesake verse enthrall me into Jedi-caliber dance combat.
“Breathless” meanders through a sinuous digital dreamscape, like a hallucinatory compilation of mid-2000s wavelength visualizers and drippy, warped-out technology noises that ultimately ring in an exalted confetti storm. Nectar harkens back to emo piano-chord days of the aughties as Camo & Krooked’s bravura remix of Professor Green’s “Just Be Good to Green (ft. Lily Allen)“ commences. The acapella track on top adds a robotic flavor, which ruptures into rabid pulsars and a rousing transition into “TKO”.
Star Child summons the strength of a supernova to “Hit ‘em with the heavyweight” as the entire crowd shouts “Make the rooooom shaaake!” The climactic sub-bass shockwaves surge outward to not only make the Forest quake, but to tear at the fabric of reality itself. Lorin triggers Godzilla-stomp tremors that spark Speed Raver into Super Saiyan mode – slaying mental limitations, absorbing the vibrational chaos energy and letting it flow through my aura into ferocious dance magic that ripples into those around me as well.
In a League of His Own
Bassnectar resets the playing field with his undulating remix of Grimes’ fluttering “Genesis” then weaves a shadowy line between ambient and otherworldly. A medley of the ghostly instrumental backdrop from Killer Mike’s “Ready Set Go (ft. T.I.)”, Susanne Vega’s vocals from “Tom’s Diner”, and the uncanny trip-hop of Prefuse 73’s “Choking You” create a dreamtempo tide that sizzles out with the relaxing Bassnectar edit of Decap’s “Yeah”. Hands go up and screams fill the air for the family photo, and then I feel the glory pumping through my veins full-throttle once again with the immortal Guns N’ Roses initial salvo on “Welcome to the Jungle”.
The jungle/forest evocation certainly tickles my fancy, then the electric guitar chords and cymbal crashes ricochet into “Heads Up” – propelling the enormous throng of bassheads into hysterics for one more gnarly, fire-laden throwdown. Sam and I emphatically wub out next to Star Child and Victoria until maestro Lorin shuts it all down with a wicked ending tease of “Ready2Rage (Bassnectar & Jantsen Remix)”. Holy moly hot tamale, that phantasmic set will go down in history.
The hardships and stressors of the journey preceding tonight’s payoff made what we’ve just experienced all the sweeter as a result. I’ve never had a friendship where we understand each other so acutely and find such solidarity in each other like Sam and I do. Miraculously, Bassnectar has just served as a catalyst for me to vulnerably open up. So I reiterate to Sam that she’s my best friend – a role no one else has legitimately fulfilled in about 15 years, due in part to my own guardedness from trusting others deeply and my avoidance of various emotions. We arrange to meet at Sam’s tranquil, favorite spot in the Forest in an hour and a half, and she heads off to Tripolee with Victoria and Star Child to decompress at Alison Wonderland.
Reveling in the afterglow of that rejuvenating Nectar-necromancy, I slip into the bustling stream migrating towards the other side of the Forest. I still wouldn’t exactly classify myself as a basshead, so to speak, but that set did eradicate somewhat condescending perceptions I held about some Bassnectar devotees idolizing and obsessing over Lorin Ashton as the Greatest Of All-Time. In fact, hitting my number 10 milestone here alongside Star Child for his 60th Nectar show adds to the monumental magnificence of it all.
I’ve recognized and enjoyed him as a masterful DJ, producer and innovator in a league of his own since I first witnessed him at Dancefestopia 2015. But my electronic music tastes have expanded and matured exponentially since he shook my essence to the core two Electric Forests ago, and not all subsequent sets left a notable mark on me. Now, however, I fully comprehend what an uncompromising force of nature he is, and justifiably revere his musical wizardry with a similar kind of respect to that which I reserve for my own favorites amongst the techno greats.
Excalibur and the technicolor LED supersuit attract people’s attention akin to the way moths flock to bright lights and cats chase shiny objects. But they’re also beacons for bold and awesome festivalgoers, signals to others who go above and beyond the call of duty and/or transmit high-frequency energetic signatures themselves – thus how I befriend Jordan while leaving Ranch. Shirtless, in athletic shorts and sporting a big wig of curly, frizzy hair, he boasts a goofy personality yet an immense well of wisdom underneath.
I describe what Speed Raver represents: mythical adventure across the unlimited fantasia of the Festival Realm; exploration, discovery and documentation of human truth and secrets of the universe; living as a creative act and collaborative connection with other artists and inspiring spirits. He can relate, having just led his crew of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” the day before. For the better part of two years, he traveled the world alone and continues to write about the lessons learned abroad and in his day-to-day be-ing. He works as a personal/life coach, “Decoding human behavior. Demystifying hippie science.” Oh, in Denver? Wow, and he literally lives a mile down the road from me. Hello synchronicity, nice to keep running into you like this.
We arrive at Carousel Club for the delectable disco house of Honey Dijon, a current selector on BBC Radio 1’s Residency. Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it because of a flight cancellation and Louis The Child has replaced her, regaling the tent with feel-good, rumpus-rattling rhythms and groovy, classic anthems. Jordan reveals himself as an ardent jam-band fan after a bit – staunchly befitting to the silly side of his persona – and we cavort over to Jubilee for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. Conversation shifts to the topic of astrology and we agree upon its status as the most enlightening resource – “a blueprint to existence from the universe,” as I like to say.
Astrologically, a person hasn’t matured into adulthood until going through their Saturn Return at the age of 29. Saturn rules discipline, responsibility/limitations and hard work, requiring you to grow up when it transits to the top of your chart – or suffer the consequences. This is also when people evolve from identifying mainly with the past-life karmas of their South Node sign, including talents and patterns carried from previous incarnations into this one – toward the North Node sign, representing the new directions the soul must traverse in this lifetime. I question Jordan about this transition, to which he pauses and earnestly responds, “Everything changes. It’s hard, dude. I’m in a completely different place than I was before.”
*Sigh*. There’s no dodging Saturn. This confirmation stimulates me to embrace implementing more structure into my life and not fear/avoid the intimidating changes and challenges of such growth. Accepting the forward flow and leaning into it is the best way to align with this stage. I still have more than a year until my path turns especially tough, although I’ve already felt Saturn exerting its influence and shaking my life and career up since December.
The Pigeons pluck away and hammer out boisterous harmonies, inciting rowdy bobbing and wobbling that instantaneously infects Jordan like a shook-up soda can popping open. Not only does the band’s name nail the alliteration, but I finally grasp how accurately it suits their zesty tonality. I wish Jordan well and tell him to unzip the lower pocket of my hydration pack, fish around inside and pull any item out. His hand emerges with the safari van from “The Wild Thornberrys” cartoon; I point out how his outfit reminds me of the show’s monkey-like little boy Donnie, and we both chortle. “I’ll see you in Denver, Power Ranger.”
Wandering Through the Woods
A dapper vendor across from Jubilee catches my attention and chides me into checking out the glittery accessories on display at his booth. I’ve never been interested in incorporating glitter into my ensemble because it’s typically such a mess, but not so with these glitter-lined eyewear frames, which add an undeniably sleek sheen to my profile. I purchase a light-purple-blue pair and notice while wearing them through the Forest how looking into the glimmering periphery of the frames imparts an ethereal feeling of staring into the cosmos. Oh my, what a starry-eyed surprise.
With this new special ability, I zero in on a gleaming intergalactic gallivanter, delightedly inquiring about his inventive “Rick and Morty” guise and its resplendent trappings. Introduced to this dimension with his first music festival last summer and having observed the costumed mania of an anime convention, he decided to submerge himself in Electric Forest like a vivid, LED-armored “Predator” equipped to the teeth for a dangerous off-world hunt.
Kaleidoscopic lights on his shoulders emit rays like cannons of illumination, while another sits atop his trophy-like crown of wacky “Rick and Morty” stickers. With a glowing attack-baton in one hand and spinning LED shield generator in the other, he’s ready for a dance-battle at any moment. Each day he has a different theme for his “Rick and Morty” warrior persona – Trippy Rick today and “Dragon Ball Z” versions of the show’s characters tomorrow. Standing in front of the Infinity Temple, decked out in one of the dopest outfits I’ve seen here, he appears preordained for this lifestyle.
I ramble on in search of the chill-zone rendezvous but have lost any sense of its placement, seeming to come across everything other than that spot. At the Trading Post, Matthew the Mailman presides over jars of candy like a merchant of sweets. I stop to thank him from the bottom of my heart for the most-excellent Sherwood Forest pendant, exhibit the comic-book-like ostentatiousness of Speed Raver in-person (after having briefed him on the mythology the other day), and try to convey what a staggering impact the Bassnectar set had on me.
Stunting around Reincarnation Village in the waning minutes prior to closing time, I meet pixel-eyed Punisher Wendy, who informs me how her friend group of a dozen or so all dressed as superheroes today (albeit without LED adornments). A missed opportunity for Speed Raver to join them, but a marvelous precedent I resolve to surpass with the League sooner rather than later.
I’m seduced by the Seven Chakra Pagoda as projection-mapping flames and fluctuating patterns engulf it, and the last guy inside leans out the window, playing distraught dad to a girl on the ground feigning devious daughter. He cracks us up with a charade of dark absurdity until the remaining stragglers are ushered to exit. I swoop by my tent for snacks then take the shuttle to GA, greeted by a “Hit ‘em with the heavyweight!” from Star Child back at Sam’s camp. “Ah, I knew you’d show up eventually,” Sam remarks. We all drink White Claws at dawn, reflect on Nectar and stare in awe at the unreal sunrise setting fire to the horizon.
Lazy Sunday Psytrance Surprise
The late night hits us hard in the morning, and I pass out in a camp chair for several more hours after lunch. Sam and Victoria muster enough moxie to get moving before the 4 p.m. secret set of Seven Lions b2b Dimibo at The Observatory, and I manage to zombie-walk into the venue around that time as well, uplifted by a flurry of high-fives from everyone zig-zagging through the GA entrance.
I don’t much care for trance, and Seven Lions generally hews toward that airy-melody, emotive-vocal “euphoric” trance I definitely don’t like…but I’ll survey the scene and then get ready in Good Life. On the approach, I can barely believe the bleeding tune bumping my way. Could it be? Why yes, that is the unmistakable high-speed tempo and thumping alien-beat of psytrance!
This genre operates on a wavelength far-out from the rest of EDM, one that’s tribal, primal, weird and a unique variety of intense. This b2b team-up goes by Abraxis and they effectively navigate a wide spectrum of psytrance styles, incorporating spiritual Eastern chanting, in-your-face rhythms, cyber distortion, electro bass, unstoppable undulations and technologic atmospherics. Seven Lions’ cloying-trance side rears its head occasionally for short builds or bridges, which apparently excite the crowd (excluding me), but Dimibo swoops in to restabilize the psy-vibe whenever this happens. A crazy experiment like this, especially in such a bass-heavy lineup, is a refreshing, welcome stunner that mainlines some musical madness straight into my vibrational frequency.
I shamble on to Good Life afterward and recharge with a shower, meal and robust helping of vitamins. I tend to take it a bit easier on Sundays of festivals – but sometimes Speed Raver sends it so successfully on Saturday, the momentum keeps me riding that wave into the final act. And how could I not at Electric Forest? So the Superhero of the Dancefloor returns (without the bottom half of the supersuit, because something’s gotta give on the last day) for one more round. Fun totems abound on the trek across Ranch Arena’s grounds, and my list of meeting spots saves the day as I locate Sam and Victoria sitting on the ground exactly where they’re supposed to be, behind the ADA area.
A Little Sleazy then the Secret Speakeasy
Hippie Sabotage oscillates between insouciant, mellow live-guitar riffs and aggressive basslines they too often decide to acrimoniously shout over. Their name works as an apt synonym for wookery and the multiple controversies attached to their reputation fit right into the negative aspects of behavior associated with that festing archetype. The music is…fine. A couple hot air balloons drift overhead and enliven the crowd, inciting me to entertain myself with people-watching.
Two hippie parents cheerfully savor the festival scene alongside their three teenage-to-early-20s kids. A wook roves through the audience selling simple EF hat pins from a board with only four different designs on it. A totem of Danny Devito’s face imprinted on a Dorito elicits laughs as the pun clicks in people’s minds. A guy and girl to our right have a twerk-off while a group behind us enthusiastically slap the bag and suckle from the teat of Franzia. Some surrounding attendees bounce around to the dirty wubs but many hang loose in a daze. Hippie Sabotage’s chart-topping remix of Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High)” winds down their set with a satisfying sway then Star Child arrives at our spot to shepherd us to the secret speakeasy.
A line along the wall in the putt-putt course room of The Hangar indicates the facade hiding the special saloon. A voluptuous woman extols our salacious sides when we get to the front then lets us into the speakeasy, which has been vastly upgraded from years past with a BDSM dungeon space and occasionally a jazzy lounge singer. Kinks fly out in the open as a bald man wearing only a thong sits on the ground, bound shibari-style, while a dominatrix chains a shirtless guy in a kilt to the X rack – then puts a pug mask over his face. Ten minutes of this bewildering bar is enough, then the exit takes us through the massage parlor, where masseuses reminiscent of Rosie the Riveter use car buffers to provide extreme muscle relief.
The closing secret set begins at 12:45 so we plan to meet in front of The Hangar at 12:30. The last of the blue luminescence escapes from the sky on our walk back through the brilliant lights and misty lasers of the fluorescent Forest, and Sam, Victoria and Star Child slime their way into the “vomit-step” of Snails at Ranch. I originally conceived of Speed Raver for the Halloween 2016 Snails show in Kansas City, so passing his set initializes that internal rave sequencing as I continue on toward Tripolee for a scintillating final hurrah of dancefloor sorcery.
Give Me the Grooves and Mystical Moves
Darkness has fallen and I have yet to contribute to the Giving Tree this year. So I stop there first, circling around to see what people have left in search of a modest memorandum to swap for. I pull out tiger, lion and dino-raptor finger puppets from my hydration backpack and set them amidst the array of knick-knacks at the base of the tree. The third bracelet I examine is the charm, spinning an immortal phrase from “The Office” into EDM terminology as BASS BEATS BOOTY. With this hunky-dory addition to the cluster of kandi on my wrists, I rush forth into the gathering of house-music faithful dilated across the Tripolee field, ample room available – even at the very front – to swirl about like a flouncing cyclone.
Mason Maynard pushes the frisky beat with fast-lane bass-juice, booty-shaking rhythms, lucid layering and savvy mixing, to spring his tech house tenacity into a swift, astonishing vehicle for staggering shuffling and rollicking movement. Excalibur swooshes through the torrent of grooves and Speed Raver zoom-zooms in spunky sync with one of his more naturally inclined genres of tunes.
I befriend a Los Angeleno named Max and our conversation digs into one of the most empowering revelations of Festival Realm dynamics. This unfiltered landscape is a prime outlet for personal expression – and music festivals are often THE place to connect with fellow Creatives, collaborators, entrepreneurs, etc. to forge your own career moves forward that advance dreams of artistic and/or business fulfillment.
People from all sorts of backgrounds converge at music festivals. The networking opportunities can link you up with precisely the kind of artist, administrator, technician or whoever you’ve desired a chance to impress or work with (or have yet to realize you need), but have been unsure how to make it happen. This is where it manifests. Be friendly and talk to other festivalgoers, and the universe will guide you.
As Mason Maynard’s vigorous conclusion transitions into Yotto’s set of silky, elastic progressive house with a pinch of trance, Speed Raver mingles with surrounding characters similarly warping the temporal kinetic flow in their favor. One Force-user generates drifting rainbow tracers by twirling around two Kyber crystals, while a fREZZy Krueger haunts between reality and the hallucinatory. One attendee’s infinity mirror totem, shaped in the letters OG, harnesses psychedelic energy and unveils a glimpse of the transdimensional vortex smoldering on the Egyptian spaceship-like stage.
Such a supernatural vision prompts Speed Raver to directly plug-in to the mystical elements so prominently in effect tonight. Like a cell tower beaming the only signal to the outside world, the Electric Cycle LED windmill shines bright and tall at the back of Tripolee, supporting the dimensional rift. The Superhero of the Dancefloor turns the windmill crank and draws strength from the cosmic LED influx, leveling up his superpower to party five-dimensionally.
Zeds Dead, Wedding Rings and Frick Frack Blackjack
Strolling back across Ranch Arena, Zeds Dead starts their engines with dastardly electro bass wubs and national-monument-destroying, filthy-explosive glitchstep. I held this duo in high regard during my early EDM days, and they still rank as one of Sam’s favorites (this set is her 7th time seeing them in a year), so I use Excalibur to cut my way forward into the back of the crowd. The last few times I’ve seen Zeds Dead they underwhelmed me (I’ve also outgrown them a bit). But shutting down the main stage of Electric Forest, they earn redemption with a pretty bangin’ assortment of big-bass robotic reverb, solid variations on and combos of glitch, dub, trap and mainstream-adjacent EDM, dope electro house plus cool remixes of classic songs.
Talking LED-shop with an electric tinkerer in the audience, I realize he’s the mischief-maker who’d been driving around a luminous RC car with a freaky baby doll on top of it throughout the weekend. Hahaha, keep up the shenanigans, good sir. I orient myself towards the wizard trail and upon stepping out of the main flock am flagged down by Ashley and her husband Barricade, a Kansas City couple I’m overjoyed to run into here. These two got married in the nest of Reincarnation Village last year, a beautiful celebration I learned about through their posting in the EF Facebook groups. The wedding rings were sadly lost the day of the ceremony somewhere in the Forest, and unfortunately never found/turned in.
View this post on Instagram
📺 click on the Insta TV Icon & turn your phone horizontal 📱⤵️ ⚡️🌲 #ElectricForest 🌲⚡️this time last year #EF2018 I was at @electric_forest thanks to @amilli_08 & @chrisrleon who asked me to 🎥 their #wedding … even though at the time I had never really done a proper one & did not even have a dslr 📷. They didn’t care & just told me they like what I do & to just have fun with it & be a part of their #ForestFamily Crew 🌲🤜🤛🌲 using my @apple 📱@gopro @rylo & film 📷 + some additional footage from the wedding party, this is the main chunk from the 👰🏻 video. 🌲 much 💚 to the EF crew who were all super nice 🙌 shout out to @_tyran aka BlkWaldo Totem Master aka Forest Spiritual Shaman 😆🤟 2 times that I got lost in sea of 👫👭👬 I could always spot that totem from a mile a way 👀 🙏🙌🔥🌲🎶🔉 by @illeniummusic the 👰🏻🤵🏻 fav. song 🌲✌️ #EF2019
But that didn’t stop them from still having the most amazing time of their lives! I met them at a KC show a month later, raged with them at Dancefestopia, and am once again touched by their resiliency, righteous personalities and sense of gratitude. In spite of the ring snafu, their story remains the eminent example persuading me to get married (when that day eventually comes) at EF or another extraordinary festival. I hear the twinkling keys and tremulous bassline of “Demons” – the song Sam has been chasing forever – and sift through the stuff in my pack for a toy of Mowgli, from the original “Jungle Book”, that can store candy inside. I bestow this gift of appreciation upon the KC couple, we laugh, hug, and look forward to meeting up back home.
As a deep voice warbles “Alien Technology” on HI-LO & ALOK’s thusly titled track, Speed Raver swings out the “Halo” Covenant-alien-race plasma sword – the most stylish, formidable weapon in the galaxy – and struts around the back wielding it like a space-age samurai. An eerie-then-heavy Billie Eilish remix calls for a stealthier ninja slide. Then a tinny-bass-blasted, electro-house curveball track ignites rampage mode into the groove-tacular Zeds Dead collab with Oliver Heldens, “You Know“, for a fluid round-out Ranch exit-romp.
Sez-A-Me playfully, eccentrically casts so many illusion spells that not only does his attire remarkably keep changing, he finally – on Sunday night – transforms into an owl observing those walking by, revealing the wise one watching over the Forest may have been the wizard all along. This extra mode of projection-mapping animation debuted during dusk today, cleverly, subtly tying into the EF mythos and at last dispensing decipherable meaning to the mystery that “The owls are not what they seem.”
Beyond the wizard and the peacock, risky business is underway at the Frick Frack Blackjack table. This traveling, gambling sideshow deals in prized possessions, knickknacks and other noteworthy pieces, and people’s bets range from silly and weird to unbelievably bold and nerve-wracking. One young guy careens down a vicious losing streak first with his belt, then wallet, several other valuables, and ultimately signs the deed for his soul over to Frick Frack and bets that. His luck flips at this high-stakes hand and he’s able to go on and win everything back. An older gentleman plays a couple of hands to get comfortable, decides to go after the vintage “Spider-Man” lunch box he wants, and bets his freakin’ wedding ring. He hits. Still in it. Dealer hits and bust. Whew. Enjoy Spidey you daredevil.
Light Through Death, Dragon and Dreams
Entering Sherwood, I step into the Spirit Center on the far left for a moment of reverence. Luminarias, decorated paper bags with LED candles glowing inside, line the two back walls of this chapel-esque structure. Each bag bears the name of a loved one/Forest Family member no longer with us. More bags encircle a mirror ball on the ground, like a crystal ball with an elusive tie into the underworld. I begin pondering ego death wisdom and lessons from the past lives I’m aware of thus far. I snap out of it when a couple comments on the lit-up figure of Speed Raver uncannily framed by the Luminarias on the wall.
I share some of my festival philosophies with Joseph and Nia as we become friends wandering to The Honeycomb on the other side. Joseph gets it; he’s formulating how to sell ultra-comfy, ideal fest shoes from his shoe company on-site at actual festivals. Outside of The Observatory we discover (in the same spot I found him last year) one of the most legendary totem creatures in all the Festival Realm: Funky Fred the LED Dragon. Similar to a Chinese dragon puppet but with lights in his eyes and along his face and body (all controlled by an iPad), Fred requires a fleet of four to fly him around. Technical issues and general difficulties limit his appearances in action, so any brush with this exceptional beast portends that a year of surreal festival adventure awaits you.
We arrive in time for the last few songs of Anomalie’s pacifying piano set, which elevates the sails of our Electric Forest soul journeys toward shimmering turquoise waters of self-reflection. I wish Joseph and Nia well, although I know the blessings of Funky Fred will send them soaring. I’ve got one more stop before the secret set – Jardín de Sueños (Garden of Dreams), in the top right corner of Sherwood. I stumbled upon this sculpture garden installation at dusk during my initial venture into the Forest last year, on my way to Space Jesus at Sherwood Court, and was so awestruck that I forsook the deep bass god in favor of immersing myself in this transcendent zone.
It served as an unearthly launching pad, aligning me with something greater than myself at the onset of last year’s EF endeavors. My return here in the home stretch of this trip acts as a bookend, embedding the introspective nature of the installation at the forefront of my mind to carry the liberating vibrational recalibration beyond this realm and into daily “reality”. Signs bearing contemplative poetry and trees with the lambent faces of spectral spirits emerging from them line the walkways. The wooden sculptures – bodies crafted from twigs and parts of trees, with waxy, incandescent heads and hands in meditative position – radiate with spiritual teachings of our ancestors. Grounded reality wavers the deeper I go, overtaken by visions of the astral plane.
A poetic signs reads:
“I can’t deny
such rapture anyway
or my own
as a pure note vibrates
here & now”–Kamila Aisha Moon
One of the ancestors sits legs crossed with two others just like him, backs all against each other, almost levitating on an extraterrestrial saucer with right hands raised and emitting pure light energy to those prepared to embrace the upgrade. Another ancestor, laying on her elbow, holds up a spindly ball of roots with the other hand, as a mirror image sculpture does the same from the back – conferring duality alongside Gemini’s twin representation. The path leads to the center of the garden, where Our Lady of Infinite Compassion, with her three heads and lustrous 12 hands, majestically inspires from her shrine. I tune into her message of samsara – accepting the endless series of deaths and rebirths we’re all subject to – and float out of the enlightening Garden of Dreams toward The Hangar.
It’s About the Journey, Not the Destination
I know I’m in the right place at the right time as I approach the Carousel Club secret set line, which ends with the exuberant face of Matthew the Mailman. Sam, Victoria and Star Child arrive right after me, and upon introducing my Denver crew to Matthew, he discloses that he lives right outside of Denver. This solidifies a strong friendship between us and retroactively highlights the synchronicity of how the first person I met this Electric Forest is part of the same local music scene as me and actually knows some of my friends back home already. As he tells me about his Burning Man camp he started last year, seeds are planted for me to join it in 2020.
Sam had told me that whoever was with her when she finally witnessed Zed’s Dead drop “Demons” would receive the kandi bracelet she’d made for the song quite a while ago. She points it out on Victoria’s wrist, glad that it stayed in the family and exemplifying the big/little sister-like bond between them. Victoria congratulates her on the laudable achievement of full scavenger hunt success in her inaugural year.
Moving forward with the line, we are surprised by the music we hear music coming from Carousel Club. We show off our Time Travel pins to enter – only 2,000 were given out – and a re-examination of the schedule reveals this closing set isn’t so secret after all; the closing party is labeled A Tribe Called Sophistafunk: ‘90s Hip Hop Tribute. It’s not the bangin’ DJ surprise we all had hopes for, but the funky throwback tunes still ignite the crowd in exultant grooves. The presence of a sudsy foam machine blasts bubbles amidst the dancefloor while dancers onstage in enormous loofah-sponge dresses fire bubble guns – a memorable sight that imprints an effervescent image in our minds.
I sit down with Sam, Victoria and Star Child for a final moment taking it all in, together. Oh what a ride this weekend has been! We review the pack-up/exit strategy to leave before sunrise and Speed Raver darts back into the audience to circle around with Excalibur once more, flowing from the denouement into the closing action.
In The Hangar I happen upon a Leeloo (Milla Jovovich’s character from “The Fifth Element”), one of my all-time favorite cosplays to encounter that never fails to instill me with a sense of outlandish gratification. I also notice Max and Nora from my Banyan group dressed as Ash Ketchum and Pikachu from “Pokémon”, and link up with their squad to catch the last rare creature on my list in his homefield habitat: Dixon’s Violin.
We wind our way over to The Observatory and absorb Dixon’s sagacious advice about translating the lessons of Electric Forest into the rest of our lives, extending the love and universal connection felt here into the outside world, and becoming the creators of our own realities rather than settling for the 9-5 existence that society indoctrinates us with. He then channels sublime elegance through his violin that poignantly reinforces his message.
Speed Raver leads the way to The Honeycomb to conclude his evolution as a being of light with the miraculous ascension music of SORNE. This singer-songwriter-composer utilizes his perfectly-pitched, four-octave vocal range to summon a choir of angels down from the heavens, delivering an ethereally resonant frequency that stirs our souls in a summiting of the music mountain. Underneath the flower heart-hands we say goodbye to the Forest until next year, having become better people than we were before entering it.
Eyes open. Hearts full. Spirits high. The Quest is complete. The Magic is real.