North Coast Music Festival 2013 recap

Day one: Friday, Aug. 30

Severe rain and thunderstorms nearly ruined the opening day of North Coast Music Festival, but ultimately, the jams survived. Around 6 p.m. festival organizers pulled the cord on the music and forced the entire park to evacuate due to major storms approaching the Chicagoland area. Taking one glance at the bleak skies, it was clear hours before the fest was called off that things might get hairy. The festival stayed closed for roughly two hours as attendees flooded the nearby Ashland Pink Line station to avoid the blowing rain and madness in the street below. Once the storm passed, gates reopened and acts started again at 8 p.m.

Trap artist RL Grime wasted no time in getting to the point and amping the crowd enough to surpass all negative sentiment from the rain delay. Immediately following RL Grime, Dutch house DJ Laidback Luke stepped to the decks to completely destroy what was left of the crowd, playing over 20 tracks in his 25 minute set. Closing out the night was The Disco Biscuits, who captured the crowd with a funked out electronic groove that didn’t stop for a moment until the festival’s delayed close at 11 p.m. Unfortunately, festival headliners Passion Pit saw their gear and stage setup destroyed in the storm and were forced to perform a very tacked-on DJ set that held none of the “umph” of their real live shows.

Day two: Saturday, Aug. 31

Coming off of Friday’s super storm madness, Saturday at North Coast went off without a hitch. Starting at 1:30 in the afternoon, the lineup was a diverse collective that leaned a bit towards the flashier dance acts that have dominated the festival in years past. Disco Biscuits’ side project Conspirator landed an early spot at 3:30 p.m. on the North Stage for a fusion of electronic jams that rely as much on laptop samples as live instruments. The set was solid and provided for some good grooving, but didn’t hold a candle to the energy of the Disco Biscuits. One of Saturday’s better moments came shortly after with a set from the grimy Brooklyn rap group Flatbush Zombies. I haven’t been too interested in live hip-hop this summer, but these three bring a level of shock and awe to a show that I haven’t experienced since the early days of Odd Future. After a dizzying number of back-to-back tracks and improvised freestyles, Flatbush stepped back and simply jammed on stage to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” while a crowd largely comprised of EDM fans jammed out to a rock band like I never thought they could. It was one of those great North Coast moments where so many styles of music are flawlessly fused together for such a variety of different people, creating something unique and new all together.

The night ended on a more electronic note with sets from Big Gigantic and Afrojack. It was an interesting pairing of headliners. Each of them certainly falls into the EDM category, but their styles put them leagues apart. On one hand, Afrojack is this force in Dutch house with all the wild theatrics and hype that go with European dance music; dramatic vocals and beats that don’t let up for even a moment. Big Gigantic, on the other hand, is a new age of funk that fuses heavy bass and electronics with saxophone and live drums. Catching roughly half of each set, it’s obvious that both these artists belong at the top of the billing, and either one was a more than serviceable pick for the dance focused second night.

Day three: Sunday, Sept. 1

The final day of North Coast Music Festival 2013 saw a return of the storms that hampered day one, bringing the fest to an early close. Prior to festival organizers pulling the plugs on both headliners Wu-Tang Clan and Lotus, Sunday was arguably the strongest showing of artists all weekend.

Taking the North Stage for a surprisingly early afternoon set, Detroit MC Danny Brown further solidified that live hip-hop can be a force.

“Hello, my name’s Daniel,” Brown announced to the crowd before launching off into an ode to oral sex that would make even the truest of fans Wu-Tang bat an eye. It was all parts shocking and fantastic. Like Flatbush the day before, Brown was able to capture an audience that wouldn’t normally be listening to anything even akin to his music.

Following Brown, world-class DJ and Fools Gold owner “A-Trak” played what was possibly the most impressive set of the day. Classically trained behind the decks, Alain Macklovitch has mastered the blend of old-school and new with continuous live scratching and mixing as he works with the biggest dance and hip-hop tracks out. It’s really something special to see these days. While dropping one of his biggest hits on the crowd, a remix of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Heads Will Roll,” A-Trak burst into wild free-for-all scratch that worked the song in ways I’ve never heard before; the electronic equivalent of a shredding guitar solo. Not since the early hip-hop groups of the ’80s has scratching and mixing a live record looked or sounded so good.

Closing out the night properly was duo Purity Ring, who brought their fusion of haunting vocals and bassy beats to the North Stage. The setup was perfect with only hanging lanterns illuminating the dark stage. It all fit together perfectly, and sounded fantastic considering some of the lows these two were hitting sonically.

Wu-Tang was all but a flash, as the legendary collective was only given around 30 minutes on stage. It was certainly a sight to behold, especially with lifelong fans flooding Union Park just for these precious few moments. The crowd was rapping along with every bar, and there was no doubting the high status that their breakthrough album “36 Chambers” still holds to this day. After a weekend full of dancing and frequent craziness, this was somewhat of a mellow send-off for North Coast. The Wu still has it in them, and that was great to see despite how brief the set was.