The gates to Electric Forest 2012 opened early on Thursday and cars came through quickly and efficiently, waiting to get a taste of the magical Sherwood Forest and experience one of the deepest lineups of summer festival season.
With cars crammed in tightly and not much space to be had in the hot fields, neighbors quickly became friends and parties got started early.
After looping beat boxer comedian Reggie Watts kicked things off on the Ranch Arena, Israeli dubstep producer Borgore heated things up with a heavy set full of grumbling bass and fan-favorites.
Highlights were a cover of Knife Party’s “Centipede,” complete with ominous, National Geographic-style documentary voiceover about the predatory insect. The crowd’s energy was palpable and the natural high of the first few sets of a festival was evident all around.
A short walk through Sherwood Forest led attendees through a labyrinth of towering pines and art installations like a gigantic clock tower with random symbols rather than numbers and constantly spinning hands. Organizers obviously spared no expense and overlooked no detail in decorating the grounds with stretched out fabric, disco balls, LED lights and a dynamic, ever-changing color scheme in the forest that was easy to walk around in yet interesting to observe at every impasse.
Conspirator opened up the Sherwood Court with a schizophrenic set that was all over the place in a good way. Launching into a robotic yet organic electro track, Aron Magner led the way on keys and continued to do so throughout the evening. He looked comfortable and in charge behind his massive set-up, leading the band through jams with samples and synth-inspired under and overtones.
Each member had their own persona on stage. Magner seemed intently focused on his work while Marc Brownstein and Chris Michetti dueled with each other, smiling knowingly and challenging themselves to top the other. KJ Sawka played to the crowd, motioning to them multiple times and hyping them with syncopated perfection.
But it was Magner who was paramount to the best set of the evening as everyone else played and fed off his wild energy.
At times Asian-inspired electronic, other times heavy drum and bass and sometimes that flowery bouncing dance Conspirator is best known for, their set had music from so many styles and genres. For a less talented band, the set may not have flowed, but for them, it was the best received and most crowded of the night.
Bassy and slow or high and fast, the band did it all and changed tempos naturally, keeping fans on their toes. It was impossible not to leave with at least one personal highlight – regardless of your taste in electronic music.
“This is one of my favorite weekends of the year,” Brownstein said earnestly to the crowd. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything.” And he backed it up, walking around the forest later on soaking it all in.
After that proclamation, the band played some faster-paced melodic songs with Michetti taking the lead and ripping on guitar. This would foreshadow things to come as he was warming up for the highlight of the night – a cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Fire.” With Magner shooting out organ tones and Sawka pounding the skins, Michetti let his guitar do the singing as he emphatically and emotionally wailed.
Big Gigantic’s Dom Lalli and Jeremy Salken could be seen rocking out on the side of the stage and though they never came out for a sit-in, it seems that since they don’t play their regular set until Sunday, the rumors of a Gigantic Underground Conspiracy show in that 11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. slot on Saturday may not be too far off base.
World-renowned DJ Wolfgang Gartner kept energy high with a solid set that was well placed by organizers. Right at the peak of the night, Gartner and a surprisingly impressive light show got people moving with a sample of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” that was slowed down and sped up masterfully.
The first of many String Cheese Incident member sightings occurred on the Ranch Arena with EOTO taking their fully improvisational music and Lotus flower stage set-up to festivalgoers.
With a giant Octopus making its rounds through the crowd, EOTO opened things up with some reggae-inspired tunes as Jason Hann modulated his voice through hip-hop songs like Ludacris’ “How Low (Can You Go).”
After a slow and bouncy “Shots” by LMFAO, the highlight of the night came with a reimagining of Phil Collins’ classic track, “In The Air Tonight.” Though most everyone in attendance probably wasn’t born when this song was popular, the dark, brooding nature of the song fit perfectly with EOTO’s style. They changed tempos during the song nicely, building to a peak as Hann really emulated the singing style with some technological help.
Michael Travis played a good amount of guitar during the set and it was a welcome break from the heavy dubstep beats. It’s amazing to watch him pick up instrument after instrument and create such evocative music on the fly and in real time.
Beats Antique’s night-closing set featured some major highs, but was overall lacking cohesion and was a bit too slow for the riled up first-night crowd.
Beginning with some eerie violin coupled with pounding drum and bass produced some futuristic sounding Arabian dance music. Tense and beautiful at the same time, the beginning few tracks seemed to touch extremes all over the spectrum.
The set was full of standalone segments that created piecemeal style songs. Often pausing for dramatic emphasis, it was tough to find a consistent groove.
As always, the music was tight and Zoe Jakes’ dancing was hypnotizing as she spun in rhythm with various costumes and animalistic attire.
Throughout the set, people were constantly caught frustratingly dancing to silence with pauses and abrupt endings, so when the final song rang out, fans reveled in the chance for a release. In typical fashion, all three members of Beats Antique adorned animal or Mexican wrestling masks as they pounded large bass drums and sped up the tempo.
A few other people were dancing in masks alongside the band and once the song reached its peak, they ripped them off to reveal they were actually Hottub, a trio of female rappers who launched into a hard-hitting song and paced the stage aggressively.
Beats provided the background music as the girls pounded the audience loudly with half the crowd staring in bewilderment and the other half embracing the oddity. It was sensory overload and at worst, a fun way to end the night.
As the crowds emptied the surreal forest with calls for Carl and random chants or screams of joy filling the air, the unique vibe at Electric Forest was solidified and the masses’ collective smile was cemented.
Day 2 of Electric Forest will feature the first of three String Cheese Incident performances, the first of two STS9 performances, Thievery Corporation, Midnite, Paper Diamond, Datsik, Zeds Dead, Brother’s Past and more.
Be sure to check out the CrowdsEye booth at Electric Forest and submit your pictures via their website to win prizes like tickets to next year's event. If you're not in the forest, check out everything that's going on in real time.
Stay tuned to Headstash for more daily updates and live Instagram coverage from the grounds.