Right off the bat, I say with no qualms: Any adventurous music festival fan living in the States needs to get their ass in gear and head straight to Rothbury, Michigan and experience the Electric Forest. Even now, a week after the event, I'm still riding the good vibes from last weekend as I sift through my pictures, re-connect with people I had met out there, and recall some amazing events & encounters.
There's a few factors that lead me to fly halfway across the country to arrive in the epic sanctity of the Double JJ Ranch and the Sherwood Forest:
#1. The Pursuit: It's been a stupidly ridiculous year for traveling + music. From Miami Music Week to watching the annular solar eclipse in Pyramid Lake, Nevada (Symbiosis Gathering) to back-to-back festival weekends to sneaking into day 3 of Coachella, I live for this and love every moment of it. :)
#2. The Experience: Bassnectar, STS9, Thievery Corporation, Santigold, Richie Hawtin, Wolfgang, Major Lazer, Beats Antique, Minnesota, EOTO, Gramatik, Paper Diamond, Alvin Risk, Crizzly, The M Machine, and Dada Life, etc. etc. What a ridiculous lineup.
With all of those artists jammed together into an action-packed weekend at a festival that's been branded as "ecclectic" since day one when it was originally known as Rothbury Music Fest, the decision was simple. It wasn't a matter of IF I was going to attend, it was a matter of WHEN. Luckily, things worked out and it was sooner rather than later.
#3. The Landscape: Everything else aside, just SEEING photos of past years sealed the deal before I even knew the name of the damn event. SHOOT FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER.
#4. The Cats: A few weeks after making our decision, we found out the Electric Forest organizers had launched their first ever King & Queen contest. With a "Sure, why not?" shrug, Snow Leopard and I entered the contest with our 90-second video submission. While we didn't win, our "Where the Wild Things Are" inspired animal onesies video snagged us the titles of Duke and Duchess of the Electric Forest.
To follow through with some royal duties, Snow Leopard and I brought along gift kits comprised of 200 feline tails (100 leopard/100 tiger), a case of a few hundred ear plugs to gift out to sleep-deprived festival goers, and stacks of Hello Kitty & dinosaur tattoos to put on passed out festival attendees (j/k, but not really/sorta/kinda).
This "so cute it will make you vomit rainbow clouds and shit baby ducklings" storybook art was made by the infinitely talented Dree. With little more than a simple request for "SOME CUTESY STORYBOOK SHIT" to aid our quest, she went astronomically past what we had originally intended. Thank you, Dree!
#5. The Occasion: June 30th just happened to be Snow Leopard's birthday, and a pretty important one at that. Signed, sealed, and delivered.
And with that, we were locked in to visit the forest with our friends Puma and Willowtree in tow. Considering this trip was coming off the end of a pretty aggressive festival hunting and traveling summer (Symbiosis Gathering, EDC, Opulent Temple SF, etc.), preparing for Electric Forest was a pretty daunting task.
In the end, procrastination left me with all my packing to be done in just a couple hours before departure (lol), and in keeping congruent with my Duke of the Forest persona, I grabbed way too little normal clothes, and stuffed my duffel with a borderline insane amount of random tiger schwag I had accumulated for this occasion.
To avoid an EDC recap sized essay, I'm going to stick to bullet pointing a non-chronological order list of encounters, instances, and epiphanies. Trust me, it'll save time and sanity for you and me both.
After experiencing a summer weekend in Chicago, I'll NEVER complain about Los Angeles weather again. With dead of night mugginess and freak thunderstorms so bad that vehicles were forced to pull over on the freeway, the weather translated well over to the festival grounds. Reaching into the '90s each day with Amazon like humidity, I was sweating in places that I didn't even know existed, especially wearing animal onesies during our first day of royal court duties.
One of my tweets about the weather: "Chicago's weather is the climate equivalent of a venereal disease. Spontaneously unpredictable, unpleasantly moist, and at times, physically dangerous."
^We were seriously bummed that we didn't get enough time to explore Chicago, but we did get to stop by Maxwell Street Depot for some dope PORK CHOP SANDWICHES.
- WTF This is Ridiculous Moment: Standing alongside the King & Queen with Snow Leopard, sweating into my tiger suit, screaming/hurling candy at entering festival guests, and pretty much hallucinating from the extreme heat. I tell you, man, things started to get wavy.
(Thank you to the gentleman who found our King & Queen video so horribly offensive that you felt the need to scold us over the interwebz for having the audacity to wear animal skins. My almost heat stroke was for you bud. :) )
My absolute favorite photo from the weekend. Though I feel bad for creeping on the couple like this, I thank them for being in such a naturally peaceful state. #DressedLikeATigerCreeping4Photos
- Travel time from Chicago to JJ Ranch was listed as 3 hours and 45 minutes on the EF website. With traffic delays, a trip to Meijer (their version of Wal-Mart), and an obligatory stop at Dunkin' Donuts, it took us a calculated 7-8 hours to get to the festival and into the event. This also accounts for stall-time at the gate for inspections, delays in getting our wrist bands, and finding a nice camp spot. Through the sweat and tears (SO. MUCH. SWEAT.), the feeling of finally settling in was transcendent to say the least. HUGE respect to people who drove from damn near across the country for this.
- The overall vibe was out of this world. With its beginnings focused on providing a mixed genre experience as the Rothbury Music Festival (and a strong emphasis on a more holistic experience with the forest, art, community, eco-awareness, etc.), there appeared to be a strong cross-pollenation of different communities. From families to ragers, bluegrass to electro, the lineup and community was far-reaching (Official Lineup Here). The makeup of the festival community felt like one part Coachella, another part 24/7 smiling hippy types, and a strong injection of EDM candy kids. Regardless of initial impressions though...
- Everyone I met was ridiculously friendly. Since most everyone I chatted with seemed from the middle states, I chalked it up as that Midwestern charm that I only ever heard about. Though I'm not quite complaining about how things are with our scene, there was something different and unique here. It just seemed more natural to smile or say hello to random strangers, to give someone a compliment on their outfit, dancing, or random whatever (saw a dude walking around with a tray of bobbleheads...lol wut?); and when positive gestures were expressed, they were always reciprocated in kind.
Maybe it's something in the water, or because I was dressed as a tiger, or perhaps it was because I roamed with three aesthetically pleasing females. If anything, it was probably because while traveling in a small group of four, thousands of miles away from home with no extended group of 20+ like it is with festivals over here, we were forced to go outside our comfort zones and talk to any and everyone possible. WHAT EVER it was, the feeling for the weekend was spot on.
- A couple of awesome run-ins with food vendors:
- Conspirator ended up being one of our first and favorite acts of the festival. Not knowing who they were, I loved their electro-inspired jam band sound. Perfectly danceable and upbeat with some dirty half-time switch ups, they set an amazing tone for the weekend.
- Another amazing musical introduction were the fellas from Zoogma. Playing on the final day as we wandered freely through the Sherwood Forest, their exotic, trance-inducing sound served as the perfect backdrop to a view of a whole 'nother world before us. Hundreds of people decompressing in their hammocks, aerialists and contortionists, and dozens of art installs on multiple mediums -- live painters, interactive art like the Human Avatar Project, and static sculptures that took on whole new feelings each time you returned to them. Unreal.
Oh man, it was a weird weekend indeed
- One of the things about this festival that REALLY drew me in was the sheer abundance of different crowd/light signatures that people had. They were little beacons of home-made art made of varying materials (EL Wire, LEDs, fur, PVC piping, camping rods, etc.) that served a dual purpose for both the owners and crowds: to communicate their presence, creativity, and intent to others, and no doubt to help those in their immediate circle find each other when things got crowded. So many times did this help me too. I never had to worry about whether my group would find me 'cause I'd just simply reply back to their texts: "I'm next to the glowing squid lion thing. OH SHIT, IT'S GONE. JESUS CHRIST, WHERE'S CARL?"
It's a bummer that things at other festivals are so strict that even naked pool noodles get confiscated. -_- Anything to keep the # of impaled-by-styrofoam incidents down I suppose.
- Only after seeing hundreds of instances of the Bassnectar symbol incorporated into people's costumes/art did I realize that in this particular forest, Bassnectar is the fuckin' BEVERAGE OF CHOICE.
- The PERFECT photo above to describe this. NEVER have I witnessed such epic glowstick throwing at any other EDM event. I thought it was a bit odd that glowsticks were officially being banned at security check, but I guess it was done to avoid too many of these glowing plastic showers and the eventual litter they'd cause (not to mention some possible risk to crowd and performers). Regardless of the ban though, almost every major beat drop following the massive buildups that we EDM-heads know and love was dotted perfectly with the scene of hundreds of glowsticks flying through the air. Absolutely unreal and this picture spoke so much to me about just how hard the forest dwellers go.
The funniest scene was watching Wolfgang grab his own handful of glow bracelets and chuck them back into the air in between mixing lol. (Photo above by B Hockensmith Photography. Be sure to check out his other shots from EF2012 because they're seriously amazing).
- Like the damn final battle on Endor in Return of the Jedi, there were enough lasers, strobes, disco balls, and LEDs to completely engulf the Sherwood Forest and make you feel like you were in a completely different galaxy. Fuck off ewoks, I'm here to party. (Credits to Jay Luck Club for Endor reference).
- For some reason, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a younger dude who demanded I give him my original ethnic name. Never have I been pressed for this information before.
"I have plenty of Asian friends, man! I don't want none of that changed-over Western shit. I want your REAL name."
Since you asked, I was born with the name Ting. Thank you so much for caring. =p
- One of the weekend highlights for us was the awesome back lot access at the main stage. Catching Wolfgang, a bit of Ghostland Observatory, and Thievery Corporation from back stage was an amazing experience, and getting on stage to dance during Girl Talk's set was seriously one of the most amazing but physically taxing things I've ever done. For those who have tried dancing in an hooded onesie for an hour straight with no breaks, it's pretty effing painful but glorious.
And how were we able to pull off the back stage access? Going to keep that close to my chest, but let's just say it took a series of misunderstood instructions, some patience in getting from check point to check point, and talking to some wonderfully generous people at the right time and place to make it all happen. :)
- Probably the most positive moment of the weekend was witnessing two girls talk to a youngish looking kid (definitely in his later teens) that was, for subtleties sake, looking extremely down from raging hard the night before. It was mind-opening to learn that the pair had just met him and were exhibiting the patience in sticking the evening out with him to make sure he was all right. No qualms or complaints, it just seemed like such a natural gesture of kindness and personally gave me some evidence that PLUR isn't necessarily dead; it just takes some patience to find it.
- Another weekend highlight: Running into Minnesota as he casually walked around during Santigold's set. "YOU'RE MINNESOTA," I screamed at him. He nodded. We conversed a bit, and I thanked him for playing a stellar set. The kicker, Willowtree decides to ask if he remembered the *FACE PALM* moment when, at a recent LA show, she asked PAPER DIAMOND (of all people) to take a picture of her + Minnesota. L. O. L. Thanks, Willowtree. That wasn't awkward at all.
- Probably one of the biggest surprises of any set I caught this weekend was watching Alvin Risk belt out live vocals on an especially melodic track in his predominantly hard electro/dubsteppy set. I won't lie, I got some deep chills watching this quirky artist put his musical soul on the guillotine like that (you can be sure if he was off-key or subpar there'd be a shit storm of critiquing from angry Youtube experts). One of my musical highlights of the weekend for sure.
- STS9. Badass show. 'Nuff said. Their live electronic jamming, their synced visuals, their whole fucking show. These guys were simply unreal for the time we saw them, and I regret to the BOTTOM OF MY SOUL not sticking around for longer (had to catch Thievery and meet up for Girl Talk). Still having nightmares about this one. NO JOKE. :(
- Something that BLEW MY MIND was the sheer amount of bottle rockets, totally legit (but probably illegal) fireworks, and paper lanterns lighting up the sky each night like it was the 4th of July in Thailand. Best of all was on our final night (Saturday for us) when everyone just let everything loose. It definitely made sleeping a bit difficult though. (lol) GLAD WE BROUGHT HUNDREDS OF FOAM EAR PLUGS.
- Pictured here is Camp Bowser, the theme camp that won the first official Electric Forest Ultimate Camp contest. The contest protocol consisted of me, our leopard duchess, and royal highness King & Queen traveling from camp to camp, shooting the shit with the different camps, then deliberating on our favorite. Though "The Sherwood Incident" (fully stacked party camp with music and props) and "Tip for Tat" (trade a festival tip or life advice for body paint/temporary tattoos), Camp Bowser took it home for us.
Their collective group energy was absolutely infectious, every one of them being positive and enthusiastic as we "inspected" their camp and eventually returned to name them the winners. With their cohesive theme, group costumes, mario-themed gifts, and decked out camp decorations, they really set the bar for what the Electric Forest Ultimate Theme Camp contest was seeking. Best of luck to you guys next year. You were great. And a big middle finger to the lowlifes that stole their awarded Ultimate Camp Contest sign. I hope the sign flies up in a windstorm and bludgeons your pancreas.
Photo credits to Spady, #EFOfficialPhotographer, UNREAL stuff!
Visit for more official photos!!
- About the royal court. It was an honor and privilege to perform our royal duties with King Brandon & Queen Orly of the Electric Forest. Though every voter/commenter had their own strong opinions on "what the King and Queen of the Electric Forest should be like" (and made no concessions to express both well wishes and disdain for all entrants), working with these two was for lack of better words, the shit. They were ridiculously charismatic, often silly, and ALWAYS in character with their own set of amazing hand-made costumes they brought along. Even in moments where I went completely HERP DERP and had no idea what to do, it was just so simple to follow their lead. Long live the King and Queen.
- Highlight: Running into King Brandon in the morning looking tragic as all hell. He was wearing his royal robes from the day before and covered in an obscene amount of glitter. The explanation? Raging all night and giving morning pastries out to festival goers. You can't even make that shit up.
So here I sit, with another way-too-long event recap, and I honestly don't give a rat's ass. I genuinely thank those who have stuck out my rambling for this long. Through writing these reflections, I've revisited the feeling I had as I was driving away from the JJ Double Ranch. Electric Forest was hands down one of my favorite festivals. I couldn't have had better camp-mates, everyone I met was out-of-this-world friendly, ready to give well-wishes when they found out how far we had traveled. We were gifted free food from amazing vendors and had the equally amazing opportunity to go back stage by simply staying positive, and throughout the festival, serendipitously met a few of the artists we so admired.
To sum it up, there was something about this festival that I haven't experienced in awhile, maybe because the scene on this end has been so much about being angry when DJs change their sound, who's sold out, who's recycling what, blah blah blah. In the end, the difference for me was keeping an open mind to whatever music and experiences the forest could offer. Instead of feeling alone and estranged because we were thousands of miles from home, we did our best to build our own connections and do it with a fuckin' smile.
Damn. THAT's what I haven't experienced in awhile. Embracing a bit of naivety, not being so familiar with the scene and happenings, and the result: walking around the festival with a gigantic dopey ass grin like my face had been stapled to my ears. When you have no expectations, the positive bits will surely seem that much better. And as I found out this year at Electric Forest, no amazing chain of events will ever happen if you look like you just got punched in the face.
THE weekend anthem that perfectly captures the vibe of the event. That's some proper tree-humping music right there. Now WHERE the hell is CARL at?