We came, we saw and we conquered North Coast 2011 at Union Park. It wasn’t all ice cream and puppies, either. We braved some serious Chicago thunderstorms to make sure you got a piece of the action. Whether you were sitting on the sidelines or front row and center getting your face blown off by Major Lazer’s sound system, we’ve got you covered. Ready to dive in? Let’s go.
-- When the marketing team behind North Coast’s tagline thought up “summer’s last stand,” they didn’t slack when it came to actually backing up that claim. It really felt like a traditional hot summer weekend just outside of downtown Chicago. For a cooling station, the peeps at North Coast brought in a double-length city bus with the air conditioning blasting. The local stage was smack dab on top of the civic basketball courts. We were surprised no one popped open a fire hydrant or laid down a slip ‘n’ slide.
-- On that note, isn’t the idea of a day rave just plain wholesome fun? Wide-eyed frat boys stumbling around in basketball shorts, distraught drunken girls wondering where they left their purses or best friends, the strange scent in the air that compels people to dress up in giant animal costumes -- North Coast offered its fair share of day rave variety this year. We loved it. Keep it weird, Chicago!
-- Friday offered up lots of live sets. There were also some disappointments. The Hood Internet was facing a tough set time, hitting the Red Bull Grove stage at 4:30 pm when most patrons were just getting out of work. But the duo didn’t fret, choosing to stick to the mainstream rather than trying to work in some technical mixes and deep cuts. People were definitely feeling it. To boot, our usual distaste for jam bands was blown away with the copious amounts of marijuana smoke as Lotus lured us into the evening and Wolfgang Gartner helped make our pre-festival predictions come true.
-- The major highlights of opening day included David Guetta’s set on the North Coast main stage. It felt like a bona fide concert more than anything else. That dude is a pop superstar DJ if there ever was one. Meanwhile, Wiz Khalifa was closing out the festival at the Red Bull Grove stage. Flanked by up-and-comer Chevy Woods, Khalifa seamlessly blended his heavy, hard-hitting album fare with his radio friendly flare. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find Amber Rose anywhere.
-- We’ve seen their work before at Detroit's Movement festival and San Francisco’s Outside Lands, but the fine visual backdrops that Grant Davis and Casey Bishop of VJ Culture were cookin’ up all weekend at the Red Bull Grove stage were consistently top notch.
-- On the flipside, the Magic Hat local stage didn’t really take off until headliners Midnight Conspiracy closed it out at 9:00 pm. In our minds, the local stage was going to offer some burgeoning Chicago acts. But often times, it felt like we were watching a high school talent show. One major exception to that rule was Team Bayside High who wrapped up their set on Saturday night, shoved it down a canon and sent it flying over the crowd with an unforgiving assault of in-your-face techno and deep house.
-- We were worried about the second day of the festival becoming a wash. Severe thunderstorms loomed over the audience, unleashing lots of thunder, lightning and gobs of rain. The consensus from the crowd was, “Dude, this sucks.” But it didn’t take long for RJD2 to break through the bullshit. This dude was actually spinning vinyl. It was like watching a technician dusting off the history books. A set that wasn’t afraid of ripping through fan favorites and the complement of live drums didn’t hurt either.
-- Big Gigantic was a big surprise. It’s two dudes -- one who drums, one who rocks a saxophone -- and a whole bunch of dubstep in between. But they’ve managed to rip the saxophone out of every music video from the ‘80s, take away the irony factory and are preaching its revival with force.
-- How many times can you hear “The Percolator” in one day before you want to rip your ears off? As it turns out, about 6 times.
-- Holy Major Lazer! Like, what the fuck? Diplo (unfortunately without Switch) hopped off the plane to Chicago and landed on-site with guns blazing. Through the haze of dub, dancehall and electro remixes, Diplo unleashed a handful of new tracks from their upcoming as-of-yet-untitled sophomore album due by the end of the year. The stage was also shared by one of the most flexible booty dancers we’ve ever seen. To boot, Diplo’s after show performance at the Congress Theatre was a sweaty favorite.
-- Before Fatboy Slim wrapped things up on Saturday night, we caught up with the international DJ where dubstep quickly became the topic of conversation. The avid surfer summed it up: “It’s like when you’re surfing and you see a giant wave coming at you. You can either ride it or swim underneath. With dubstep, I’m swimming underneath that wave.” Damn. By the way, this dude has had so many hits of the years that you couldn’t help but get down with the bit of nostalgia going on.
-- By Sunday, we had to figure out why dozens of people were attaching various signs or stuffed animals to sticks and holding them up for over an hour at a time. It was beyond us. Was there something significant to a clear umbrella decked out to look like a jellyfish? Did that killer whale carelessly ducked tape to the end of the broom just look cool or something? We picked out a kid with dreads who attached Animal from the Muppets to his makeshift rod. “I just wanna be able to represent myself and make sure my friends can find me,” he said. “Animal also looks cool as shit shaking around up there.” OK!
-- The last day of the festival offered up some of the biggest names. Little Dragon was like a festival Tylenol. Their set was down-tempo and relaxed. With most DJs bringing audible assaults on the senses, the few musicians booked on the bill had an uphill battle. And while Little Dragon was a nice change of pace, it got a little lost in the mix.
-- If Of Montreal didn’t travel with a posse of people who change costumes 20 times a set and feed an endless line of balloons, glitter and insanity into the crowd, they probably would’ve gotten lost in the mix as well. But their over-the-top patriotic display was like watching flamboyant community theatre.
-- Gogol Bordello also didn’t lose a step. When you go old world, you tap into some instinctual beast a bunch of laptops just can’t reach. And that gypsy tent show Gogol Bordello has been bringing around the world all summer was a big band bringing a big breathe of fresh air to the weekend’s activities.
-- One of the most controversial rules at North Coast this year was the banning of glow sticks. But that didn’t stop the kids -- the glowstick black market picked up where North Coast tried to close it off. And within the first five minutes of Bassnectar’s set, hundreds of those damn things were flying through the air. With every mammoth bass drop Bassnectar brought out, there they were. And as the undisputed prince of dubstep, Bassnectar had plenty of wobble wobble to go around. Closing out his set with a thundering remix of Dick Dale’s “Miserlou?” Does it get more end-of-summer than that? We think not.
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