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The 10 Best Sets at Electric Zoo 2018
Electric Zoo marked its 10-year anniversary with a grand celebration on Randall’s Island Labor Day Weekend (Aug. 31-Sept. 2) with some of its festival favorites and a spry crop of newcomers who thrilled crowds tens of thousands strong.
The festival first landed on Randall’s Island in 2009 as a two-day event with about 50 DJs, and has since grown to three days. In that time, it's taken several forms and morphed as business and dance music has shifted around it. Many of E Zoo’s original headliners -- like Armin van Buuren, David Guetta, deadmau5, Luciano, Richie Hawtin and Tiga -- remain at the very top of electronic music, but today’s crop of artists like Alesso, Marshmello, Virtual Self (Porter Robinson) or Martin Garrix were barely a blip on the radar screen back then. Electric Zoo has been an integral part of the dance music calendar for the Tri-state area, and has has woven itself into the community and become a vital festival to bookend the summer each year.
The festival has always had its finger on the pulse of electronic music, adapting to the current trends and seeking to push music forward in the right direction. Over the last decade it's done so with a balanced lineup, booking both for the biggest acts while making sure the underground gets a proper place at the festival.
We now take a harder look at 2018, recapping our 10 favorite sets from the weekend in alphabetical order.
Celebrating the release of his first single of 2018, Alesso was prepared to be the "Remedy" for the end-of-summer-blues for New York ravers. Fans have been yearning for the classic progressive Alesso, and he did give them that, but first hit them with some grittier, drum-driven festival weapons over the first 45 minutes. He did sprinkle in classics like “Under Control” and “Years” to switch up the mood. He led a poignant moment about an hour in with a tribute to fellow Swede and “Swedish King,” the late Avicii, mashing up “Something Just Like This” with the vocals from “Wake Me Up” as the late DJ's face lit up the screen. He continued the tribute with his own 2015 Forever album track “Destinations,” blending it with Post Malone’s “If I Fall Apart” and Avicii’s remix of Armin van Buuren’s “Drowning.” From there he fired off classics, including “If I Lose Myself,” and ended it with the timeless “Calling.”
Showing the joy of someone who is just discovering dance music for the first time, Anna Lunoe capped off the night in the Sunday School Tent for her Hyperhouse takeover with AC Slater’s Night Bass. The small tent was overflowing out the sides and back with people shuffling along to Lunoe’s impeccable blend of house music. Donning a bright orange jacket so you would never lose sight of her under the glare of the lights, LED screens and nighttime darkness, she would occasionally jump out in front of the decks to songs like “Radioactive” and dance with the crowd on her own personal dance floor.
Chris Liebing & Dubfire
It isn’t everyday you get three-hour sets at major EDM festivals, let alone back-to-back sets with two underground legends -- but Electric Zoo seems to making a habit of it. Last year they brought in Sasha and John Digweed for a hypnotic throwback to the late 1990s/early 2000s. This year the HYTE-curated Sunday School tent went darker and harder with Chris Liebing and Dubfire going back-to-back for three hours to end the night. The two were ruthless in their execution and somehow managed to create a set that built to a point, but also allowed the listener to come in and enjoy at any moment for a short period of time. After a weekend of dubstep, house and bass music, these two were here to rinse out your soul with techno.
Kaskade has remained a constant figure in the dance since the inception of the festival. He played the very first Electric Zoo and was booked for several since then, though bad weather brought about the cancelation of his set in 2014.
On Saturday evening he took the time to give thanks to the festival and say how happy he was to be back once more for its 10th round. He needed to correct one regret he had that he never played an iconic song that night in 2008, so he stood tall on the decks and asked everyone to put their lights up as “I Remember” started playing close to its own 10-year milestone.
Kaskade also brought a health dose of his own music, mixing in vocals like “Angel On Your Shoulder” and “Turn It Down” with his new record “Fun” and then ending it with two fan favorites “Last Chance” and “Disarm You” as a sustained volley of fireworks fired into the night sky. He also had a nice tribute to Avicii with the late DJ’s bootleg of “Fade Into Darkness,” “Bong” and “Baba O’Reilly” into Tiesto and Sevenn's “BOOM.”
On a day filled with dubstep, Marshmello knew how to conclude Friday night as the festival’s main stage headliner. With his bright backgrounds and even brighter sounds, Mello mixed together rap, his own brand of syrupy trap music and a heavy dose of dubstep. Capping off a night with cool and very comfortable temperatures, he would mix tracks like “Seven Nation Army” into “Zombie Nation” or the golden age of EDM era vocals from “Reload” into his own record “Alone,” before one final festival salvo with “Sweet Dreams” and the GTA remix of Destructo’s “Party Up” that still goes hard. He sent fans into the night on a slightly mellower note with his new single, the Bastille collaboration “Happier.”
Just 22 years old, but already with the air of a headlining veteran, Martin Garrix felt right at home closing out Electric Zoo on Saturday night. Playing mostly his own music, Garrix’s extensive discography was showcased with his breakout single “Animals” still getting a raucous response. Many big progressive tracks like “Break Through The Silence,” “Gold Skies” and “Forever” soothed the crowd as the stage’s production was at full force with lasers, pyro, lights, the occasional burst of fireworks and some of the best visuals all weekend. He dropped many of his fan-favorites like “Tremor” and “Turn Up The Speakers." Chart-topping future bass-influenced tracks like “Scared To Be Lonely” or “So Far Away” with David Guetta may be designed for radio or streaming play, but they also sounded just as big on festival speakers. He capped off the night with his new progressive record “High On Life” as a cascade of fireworks shot off into the night.
Zeds Dead’s packed Deadbeats stage brought some of the most diverse range of sounds to the festival all weekend. Names like Eprom, GG Magree, DMNO and Troyboi all performed in the Hilltop tent with Deadbeats paraphernalia scattered around. There was no one who made quite the impact as Mija though, skirting the idea that you should go heavy and drop only dubstep to appease a crowd that would clearly enjoy it. Fighting through some soundbleed (even inside the tent), she mixed house tunes like Billy Kenny’s “Seahorses” with some drum-heavy techno and deeper cuts. Keeping to the theme, she did not miss out on playing her melodic and dubby remix for CHVRCHES' "Miracle," while making sure that her mixes were both adventurous and pretty damn flawless.
There may be no artist who has risen faster than REZZ in the past year. In 2017, REZZ played to an overflowing Riverside during the daytime and in 2018, she reigned supreme over the main stage with the sun setting over the Manhattan skyline. Armed with her freshly released album, Certain Kind Of Magic, she brought her gritty blend of techno and dubstep to the eager growing masses on the main stage. Bobbing heads milled around, many with glowing hypnotic headgear to match their rave mom as others from the Cult of REZZ held up signs praising REZZ with signs like “REZZ will you be mom?”
At a festival where all the performers were either standing behind DJ equipment or standing on top of it, seeing one of them jump out in front to play guitar and sing was a refreshing sight. This type of artistic freedom wasn’t just found on the side stage, but during San Holo’s Friday main stage set. He opened the set by riffing on a special intro edit of hit “Light.” He would bookend his time at Electric Zoo with “Light” again for one last burst of energy. In between, his set was spent spinning a blend of bitbird and harder trap records, rhythmically spazzing along to each drop, and then showing off his chops on guitar. With an album coming before the close of 2018, he made sure to play plenty of the songs leading up to it like “I Still See Your Face,” “One Thing” and “Right Here Right Now,” which brought him out for some wicked guitar.
There was plenty of heavy music at Electric Zoo on Friday, but no one got heavier than Porter Robinson's Virtual Self alias. It's fitting that Virtual Self returned to New York to sub-headline Electric Zoo on the main stage given that he premiered the project on a cold night in December at Avant Gardner in Brooklyn. The set came in waves as he brought out his various muses, like technic-angel and Pathselector, to help vault the tempos well past 150bpms. He gave the fans what they wanted right at the beginning with the original of “Ghost Voices” before they were brought on a high-bpm journey of early 2000s trance and hardcore with a few glitzy bursts from the Virtual Self EP.