Much like the fish that grew legs and wandered on shore many eons ago, New York City’s premiere electronic music festival has experienced an evolution. Electric Zoo has taken many colorful forms since its 2009 inception, but this year’s “evolved” theme was palpable thanks to improved sound, curated takeovers and new stages, on which a roster of EDM titans and underground heroes slayed.
Since LiveStyle North America President, Gary Richards (aka Destructo), teamed up with the promoters at Made Event three years ago, Electric Zoo has become a sleek and modern machine, attracting audiences more than 100,000 strong.
One thing that hasn’t changed for the annual extravaganza is the heavy focus on lineup, which always brings the industry’s biggest stars to Randall’s Island over Labor Day weekend. The 2019 event, happening Aug 30 – Sept. 1, welcomed a bevy of icons back to the grounds, among them Above & Beyond, Armin Van Buuren and Zedd — all names that are no strangers to EZoo. For every megastar on the schedule, there was an emerging artist to match, keeping the festival vibrant.
Here, we hone in on nine moments that made this installment one to remember.
Kaskade’s Sunset Send-off
Festival OG Kaskade kicked off Friday’s festivities with a breathtaking sunset performance on the main stage. Starting the high-energy hour with “Fun,” a collaboration with future house duo Brohug and Mr. Tape (featuring vocals by Madge), Kaskade took a crowd of fanatics on a journey through the shimmery side of his discography.
Kaskade was on the original Electric Zoo lineup in 2009, but tracks like ‘Disarm You’ and ‘On Your Mind’ came much later, reminding listeners of his own musical evolution. Against a backdrop of glowing red skies and a firework finale, he leaned on nostalgia and “Something Something Champs’” to close out his set. He also announced that he’ll return to NYC for a special NYE performance at Manhattan’s famed Terminal 5.
Diplo Does It All
There are some artists who do one thing well, and there are others who crush it all. Among the latter is Mad Decent label boss Diplo, who on Friday delivered a main stage performance built on years of star-studded productions released as both a solo artist and master collaborator.
Sprinkled with tracks from his Major Lazer and Jack Ü days, as well as newer side projects like Silk City (with Mark Ronson), and LSD (short for Labyrinth, Sia, Diplo) the 75-minute performance was bouncy and unpredictable. Catchy mashups, such as one he concocted using Daft Punk’s “One More Time” and Silk City’s Grammy-winning hit “Electricity,” paved a smooth path toward house-heavy interludes. But of course, it wouldn’t be a Diplo set without a massive dose of moombahton, trap and megahits like Major Lazer’s “Lean On.” He ended on a sparkly note with fresh remix of “Heaven Can Wait” by The Aston Shuffle.
The Animals Got Artsy
The “evolved” concept put art at the festival’s forefront, as live installations emerged inside sponsored areas and out in the general grounds. The Espolon Tequila branded activation was stocked with spray painters working on NYC-themed murals long after dusk, while other graffiti artists turned wood into wonder between the stages.
Perhaps the most enthralling of the additions was the bionic menagerie of monkeys and giraffes that roamed the park daily. We saw one giraffe get stuck on its way out of the Pryda Arena during Cristoph’s set, but it triumphantly freed itself when the driving beat of his remix of Camelphat’s ‘Breathe’ dropped in.
Alison Wonderland Talks Mental Health
Australian bass queen Alison Wonderland is an outspoken advocate for self-care and mental health. Her Sunday evening performance became a safe place to share personal stories of exhaustion and depression, which led her to cancel a recent leg of performances in Europe. Back in the spotlight at Electric Zoo, she took several opportunities to thank fans for their thoughtful messages, stating she wouldn’t have made it onstage without their support.
For the record, it was among the best Alison Wonderland sets we’ve seen, made complete by her repertoire of bass bangers. She started strong with “I Want U,” and proceeded to delight the crowd with a collection of smoother progressive house sounds, including the 2015 Kaskade and Deadmau5 heater, “I Remember.”
B2B’s Were King
Electric Zoo: Evolved delivered on the promise of rare, never-before-seen performances with ample B2B bookings. Wuki B2B Nitti Gritti saw the “bro-verall” sporting bass stars trade in their signature wubs for classic house and hip-hop throwbacks, among them Alcie Deejay’s turn-of-the-century smash “Better Off Alone” and The Sugarhill Gang’s early ’80s staple “Apache (Jump On It).” Saturday saw Borgore and DJ Diesel (a.k.a. Shaquille O’Neal) dominate the main stage with bone-crushing dubstep, while FuntCase and Cookie Monsta brought their own brand of U.K. dub to the newly designed Riverside Stage — all ephemeral performances that happen once in a lifetime.
Dog Blood Returns
In 2013, Dog Blood brought a state of the art 3-D experience to Electric Zoo. This year, their dynamic production required no glasses. The breakbeat-driven side project of Berlin-based producer Boys Noize and dubstep visionary Skrillex is in revival following the release of 2019’s Turn Off the Lights EP. Now well into their festival tour, the duo has crafted a finely tuned, 75-minute bonanza that boasts Dog Blood oldies like “Middle Finger” and “Chella Ride” plus loads of new material, such as “Midnight Hour,” a bumping tech-house track from the Skrillex and Boys Noize monikers featuring vocals by Ty Dolla $ign. Skrillex even took a moment to shout out Gary Richards for his hard work on the event — a nod that was met with earth-shattering applause.
The “Unshirt” has its moment
Pasties have found a new best friend, and while it possesses some key elements of a shirt, it’s definitely not a true shirt. The newest rage in festival fashion is the “unshirt”, a minuscule crop top that cuts off just below the clavicle. This is underboob elevated, and perfect for the revelers whose fathers told them they weren’t leaving the house without wearing “proper” clothes. Pair the unshirt with a loud, sequin kimono and you just nailed the look of Electric Zoo 2019.
Prydz Headlines Twice
There are some artists so nice, you have to see them twice. Such was the case with Eric Prydz — who lit up the main stage on Friday night, then headlined his own Pryda-centric stage at the Hilltop Arena on Saturday. The first showing kicked off with “Every Day” and led into upbeat tracks like “2Night” and “Opus.” Fans of his darker, moodier collection got their fix on night two, when he unleashed favorites like “Stay” and Pryda’s “Legacy,” with a jaw-dropping laser light show to boot.
Gerry Gonza Gets Vocal
The All My Friends Stage, AMF for short, was the destination for bubbly house and techno sounds. While captivating performances from the likes of Solardo, Golf Clap and CamelPhat may have seen the densest crowds, it was a set from a fresh name that really got us moving.
Saturday’s early birds were gifted a breakneck performance from Gerry Gonza, a young producer and vocalist who dominated the decks and the mic with an old soul swagger. Providing his own vocal renditions for Dom Dolla’s “You,” Aeroplane’s “Counting on Me” and Boys Noize’s “Killer,” Gonza was among the few “live” performances to grace Randall’s Island this Zoo. His set also brought a bag of originals, among them a hoppin’ house track called “Rubber Band” — which he co-produced with Destructo himself.