The Electric Zoo festival was a success, if only for the sheer amount of bodies on Randalls Island off New York City during a beautiful Labor Day weekend. The official count was 85,000 for the three-day event. Unofficially, you could not move, jump or make a heart with your hands without bumping into a Hello Kitty backpack or a set of bare tone abs.
The crowd came because in three years, Electric Zoo has exploded into a full-fledged event that attracted the top DJs in the world, in every style and subgenre of electronic music, who filled the bill with 12 hours of dance music each day and kept the crowds dancing literally nonstop, which was the true gauge of the event’s overwhelming success.
As David Guetta, from France, hollered from the stage during his headlining set on Saturday night, “The last time I was here was two years ago. And Electric Zoo was a small event. Now it’s a huge festival. What the fuck?”
Electric Zoo Headliners
The other headliners were trance specialists Tiesto on Friday night and Armin van Buuren on Sunday night, but the hallmark of the Electric Zoo was its wide diversity of artists.
In addition to the main outdoor stage there were three smaller stages inside tents, where you could easily jump from the smooth grooves of veterans such as John Digweed and Above and Beyond to the down and dirty dubstep of 19-year-old newcomer Porter Robinson in the Red Bull Riverside tent to the old school sounds of Carl Cox in the Sunday School Grove.
At one point, Benny Benassi, the Italian DJ, played crowd-friendly anthem house on the main stage -- where he was joined by Gary Go, the British pop singer -- while SebastiAn, a vampiric French DJ making his American festival debut in the Red Bull Riverside tent, calmly smoked a cigarette behind the decks and blasted his audience with a sort of dubstep hybrid, accompanied by a backdrop of mock-propaganda videos.
One of the most anticipated sets came from Skrillex, the 23-year-old phenom from Los Angeles who was once the vocalist and guitarist for the hardcore punk band From First to Last.
Skrillex began and ended his raucous set, which packed the Hilltop Arena from first beat to last, with his remix of Benassi’s “Cinema.” In between was a varied array of head-banging dubstep. Skrillex, who has made official remixes for Lady Gaga and La Roux, mixed a strong saw bass beat with rhythmic and modulated shrills and screeches that resembled an aerial assault – all of which at one point he managed to segue seamlessly into a tight reggae groove.
This was Electric Zoo’s third year. Most of the 100 artists on the three-day bill -- among them Chromeo, Afrojack, Carl Craig, Luciano, Diplo, MSTRKRFT -- can headline their own show. One could be forgiven to think that such DJ saturation could contaminate the atmosphere. But that wasn’t the case at all.
In fact, there was a moment at dusk on Friday it was easy to feel that life doesn’t get better than this.
Moby was playing the main stage in front of thousands – with their hands, glow sticks and other assorted lighting implements in the air – as the setting sun cast the sky in a warm glow.
With a powerful (and really, really awesome) set list that pulled from his early dance-music days, the scrawny musician leaped onto the deck table and pumped his fists.
Moby may not possess a large physical frame, but dressed in black T-shirt and jeans with his bald head gleaming and surrounded by flashing graphics, the DJ was a god. Cliché? Perhaps, but not to the thousands that were jumping up and down with him in the crowd.
For more from Richard S. Chang, follow him on Twitter: @r_s_c