Since 2016, every Memorial Day Weekend, The BangOn NYC Crew takes over a summer camp in northeast Pennsylvania and transforms it into the weird, wonderful world that is Elements Lakewood festival. Using the camp infrastructure and the surrounding lake and forest as a palate, the BangOn NYC art department and creative collaborators delivered interesting, stimulating, interactive spaces and experiences that were thoroughly enjoyed by our crazy, camping family all weekend long.
This year was my first Elements Lakewood, and it did not disappoint. The line-up included Damian Lazarus, Fisher, Disclosure, Seth Troxler, Justin Martin, and Shiba-San, as well as a whole slew of bass acts and underground talent like Liquid Stranger, Clozee, Monolink, Big Gigantic, and Sofii Tucker, who unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute due to an injury.
Adding a bit of comfort to the dancefloor debauchery, I was quite impressed with the amount of choices we had for camping. They had primitive general camping and VIP camping, limited RV camping, limited car camping, and a glamping village with options from 2-4 people per tent, a private lounge, indoor bathrooms, and HOT showers. Campers could also rent gear, which was probably super convenient for people taking the bus from the city. Additionally, while the different types of camping technically had their own areas, the awesome rave fam I met camping out by the Earth stage showed that nobody would sweat you if you decided to camp up in the woods – as long as you don’t mind being away from amenities like showers and indoor bathrooms.
On top of camping, they had cabins ranging from 2-14 people that you could rent, apartment style rooms, hotel style rooms, and a hostel cabin where you could just rent a bed, which is what I ended up doing and didn’t have any regrets. By the end of the weekend, my cabin of hostiles was one big ass happy rave fam. Cabins included electricity, showers, and bathrooms and were the epicenter of theme camps and renegades like The Drop & Camp Pickleback all weekend. Not to mention, the cabins were truly a saving grace on Sunday afternoon, offering campers shelter when the skies opened up on us and lightning caused a temporary evacuation from the tents.
With the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water, being the central theme, each was represented by amazingly decorated, themed stages and surrounding spaces.
The water stage was the epicenter of daytime activity as things got wild and wacky on the small lakefront beach, complete with water activities like paddle boarding and kayaking, a pirate ship, and a gang of inflatables. On the shore, colorful performers from the whimsical House of Yes twirled on aerial hoops and twerked it in the sand to soulful house and bootylicious beats. There were giant bubbles and colored smoke, art cars, people doing festival braids and face glitter, and a microwave on the dancefloor that was used for the free Totino’s pizzas they were serving to the crowd! Also in the area were a climbing wall which featured mellow lounge music at night; the small Alchemy stage, which had people dancing on top of an art car; and the Pool Haus, the camp’s indoor pool that was converted to a swanky, glowing pool party at night, which went OFF on Saturday night.
A short walk from the lakefront, a dimly lit path led you into the woods that were filled with amazing lighting, interactive booths, and art installations. I saw sculptures built into the trees. There were people doing live art. There were all kinds of old cars and boats you could climb around on and get inside. There were moon rituals and tea ceremonies. They even built a love shack complete with dancers and stripper poles in the middle of the woods. It was amazing to wander through the forest and run into all of it because I noticed something new every time. The immersive art experience at this festival is better than most and they encourage people to explore and get into shit, climb on stuff, and discover secrets – there are plenty of hidden gems waiting for those bold enough to push the rules a bit.
The other three stages were further out in the woods and went up the side of a hill that was loaded with art and lights, with Air being at the bottom, followed by Earth, then Fire. The Air stage was one of my favorite spots out of any festival, ever. It’s in a perfect clearing where the trees kind of just envelop the space in a cozy ambiance that feels like an outdoor living room. Surrounded by multiple treehouses and a VIP tea house, the small, sunken dancefloor at the Air stage was the only one that stayed going until 9 A.M. every night (morning?), a stunningly beautiful backdrop for a sunrise set by Damian Lazarus, which was amazing.
The Earth stage was a short climb up the hill and despite being at a loftier height than the Air stage, it was firmly grounded with deeper sounds of bass and dubstep. I didn’t spend too much time there, being a house head from Chicago, but I heard great things about the Liquid Stranger set on the Earth stage and I met a whole rave family camping in the woods up there who made sure I saw the dope tapestries and art and offered my tired feet solace in their hammock hotel!
The Fire stage felt like it was the main stage. Perched atop the hill in the far corner of the camp, there were food vendors and a couple of dragon art cars from Heavy Metal that we could climb on and dance. The stage itself was rigged with fire cannons that would blast huge flames twenty feet in the air on the drops, lighting up the entire crowd like the sun had come out. The most talked about set of the weekend was at the Fire Stage; Justin Martin took us on a fierce, fiery journey Sunday night.
With so much to do and see, it might seem a bit overwhelming. BUT, one thing that sets Elements apart is the size. It’s on the smaller side with only 4K attending in 2018 and I would guess closer to 6K this year. I don’t know about you guys but for this old raver, the smaller parties are always the gems. You have plenty of room to move, no long lines, intimate sets, and you make a ton of genuine connections as you run into the same people all weekend long.
On top of the natural family vibe that’s created with a smaller crowd, Elements adds a splash of transformational flavor via their wellness area, the Wellnest and a stacked roster of summer camp games and activities that makes it arguably one of the most diverse festivals in the country. To give you a visual, if Electric Forest and Dirtybird Campout got married and had a kid, that kid would be Elements. Don’t let the size fool you either. There was so much to see and do that I didn’t get to half of it in four days.
Between the Wellnest schedule and the camp activities, we had all kinds of options including silent disco yoga, couples massage, workshops on parkour, festival glitter, twerking, and traditional Indian dancing. There was bubble-making and crafting, dodgeball, a vinyl scavenger hunt, rock climbing, zip lining, basketball, tetherball, and even a fire-walking ceremony! Add to that parades, contests, drum circles, and a Viking Funeral on the lake and it becomes clear that you may need more than one visit to get to everything!
It’s easy to see why so many people who go to Elements come back year after year! Yes, there was rain on and off all weekend and mud pretty much covered everything and everyone by the end. But as I kept hearing all over camp – That’s Elements! And we loved it. I can’t wait until next year!!!