With the rise in popularity of EDM, Chicago has taken on a direct role with local promoter React Presents organizing it’s own exclusively EDM festival to showcase local acts as well as internationally-acclaimed DJs, in a symbolic movement to honor the birthplace of house music and its long-awaited return to the forefront of the music world. Spring Awakening Music Festival, though, is a world away from the warehouse parties and underground raves from the era of club kids in the 90s; rather, SAMF celebrates the diverse evolution of the EDM genre with international, national and up-and-coming local DJs featured in the line-up.
June 14, 2013 had finally arrived, a year of anticipation in the making after last year’s inaugural SAMF shook downtown Chicago with insane success. SAMF had already made a name for itself, making the leap from a one day event at a local venue in years past, to this year’s second annual SAMF that has solidified Chicago as an institution at the forefront of the EDM scene. React upped the ante again this year, extending the festival to three full days of dubstep, house, trance, and everything in-between, wreaking havoc on the hometown crowd, transforming the historical Soldier Field (home to the Chicago Bears) into a neon-and-glowstick mirage of beautiful, bassdropping, chaos.
Over 75,000 EDM-heads flocked each day, in a pilgrimage of sorts, to the massive lakefront arena as onlookers took in the hordes of scantily clad neon bodies that filled the trains and roads leading to the festival. The infectious energy of hardcore ragers rushing through the gates and across the grounds all weekend was insane – smiles on everyone’s faces, running and dancing as they made their way to any one of the four stages already blaring heart thumping bass by early afternoon.
Four stages, a silent disco (where ragers donned headphones and danced to a live DJ at the entrance to the stadium), nearly 100 artists, and dozens of after-parties kept fans dancing (or rushing between stages) for nearly 16hours each day – 10 hours of seamless set-transitions and 6hours of late-night concerts featuring top headliners at venues across the city until 4am. With the help of the SAMF personalized schedule app and a map of the whole grounds, it was easy enough to navigate the jam-packed schedule, whether or not you’d lost your friends (an inevitability at festivals, especially with scarce cell-phone reception).
The vibes and energy reverberating throughout the whole festival were nothing short of amazing, and the music was, too. Despite the long-days, headliners like Moby, Bassnectar, Zomboy, Calvin Harris, Flosstradamus, Paul Oakenfold, Wolfgang Gartner, Chuckie, Nero, Savoy, Robbie Rivera, Porter Robinson and Excision (I could go on…) teamed with amazing light shows, sound systems, fireworks, and React’s meticulous clockwork set scheduling, there was absolutely no going home early.
While Moby drew a huge crowd with his bass high, treble low, and a serious laser show, ushering fans back to the early days of house music; and Calvin Harris gave a radio-hit heavy progressive electronic set that sated his fans; my personal headliner highlight came Saturday night when Bassnectar took the main stage and the bass hungry masses ran towards the light.
As the sun set, it seemed as if everyone flocked in unison into the stadium grounds for this highly anticipated set. Everyone was on their feet jumping up and down in unison with the thunderous, stuttering basslines and neon explosions of fireworks in the sky that mimicked the bassdropping on stage and the sea of glowsticks in the SRO (seating room only, that is) stadium. Neon hula-hoops, glow sticks, smoke machines and lasers shows took over in insane, hypnotizing visual montages that upped the energy and put smiles on faces in the crowd as fans were assaulted with multi-colored rave-gloves and the lights and lasers that worked in tandem with the bass that quickly became a second heartbeat reverberating from the main stage. An hour into his set, Bassnectar mixed the Beatles’ “Lucy in the sky with diamonds,” and right as he dropped into his 4×4, the rain started. Intensifying the light show, Bassnectar yelled out to the raging crowd: “CAN YOU FEEL IT?” This lit the fire and the crowd raged even harder – dancing, hands and faces stretched to the sky embracing the refreshing rain shower while rocking rhythmically to the bass lines pumping out of the speakers, singing along to a beloved classic, and having the time of their life.
All in all, SAMF 2013 was a pure representation of current rave culture. The carefree attitude that impels ravers to leave home in sensory overload, toting inflatables and adorned with wild outfits and accessories (my favorite was a full-body Spiderman-Deadmau5 hybrid costume), body paint and hideous multicolored furry boots (a “Where the Wild Things Are” fashion statement that I don’t quite understand…they’re called ‘fluffies’). The festival drew in fans of all ages and sub-genres, but what makes a festival like SAMF special is that there is no conflict between genres or debates on the superiority of new versus old EDM; rather, the lines are blurred and all that is distinguishable is the ethereal glow from the slow crescendo of lights and sound sweeping over sweaty dance music fans, swaying and rising together, atop shoulders, arms outstretched, embracing the music.
While there was unfortunate overlap in set scheduling within the same sub-genre, forcing a tradeoff, overall SAMF wrapped up its second year having made a huge name for itself in the EDM world – a name I have no doubt will continue to grow and draw larger crowds for countless years to come. Personally, all I could think about the moment I woke up late Monday morning was, “Is it really over? I’m ready for day 4!” – just aching for more.
Well done, React. It was no doubt one for the record books.