North Coast 2011 Recap: Day One

Photo Credit: Andrew Hertzberg

As I passed two cops walking by, I contemplated the difference between the presences of authority at Chicago’s three major music festivals. Simultaneously, in the background, I heard the local hip hop group 40Oz. Kings express the common trope of “Fuck cops” as they went on to discuss their fondness for smoking weed. Thus was my introduction to the North Coast Music Festival.

I continued to walk the grounds a bit, gathering my bearings and knowledge of port-o-pottys, food vendors and (most importantly) beer tents. The crowd slowly filtered in through Groupon’s meta-advertising threshold on the 90+ degree day. The trees were filled with ornaments and I headed toward the Red Bull Grove Stage. The festival’s green initiative was obvious, with an active groundskeeping unit nearly equaling the crowd. Of course, that’s an exaggeration but their presence was felt. On the stage was Orchard Lounge with rotating DJs and a breakdancing crew. An MC on the side of the stage was doing her best to motivate the audience, but the combination of the heat and early set time was hindering the crowd response. Shortly after, I headed to the Magic Hat Local Stage and my hypothesis was quickly proven wrong. Stratus was rocking the dubstep for sure, but damn was the crowd moving. The stage took the caged in basketball court that fills the area the rest of the year and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get my head bobbing just a little bit. Not to mention the crazy light show that was irrelevant at the 4PM timeslot.  But for whatever reason, people like to get down to this music, especially at the breakdowns when the beat dropped. I had my doubts as to how well a dance-centric festival would fair in a city with a reputation for being on the well-behaved side. Orchard Lounge proved the original theory but Stratus for sure got ‘em moving.

The crowd was still getting down, but I moved back to the Red Bull stage to catch the Hood Internet. The local duo is known for mashing up hip-hop with indie tracks and naturally they supplied. Well, he actually. Steve was the only member on Friday, never explaining why ABX didn’t show, but rather a cardboard cutout remained instead. They kicked it off with Modest Mouse’s ‘Float On’ sounding more like the Lupe Fiasco sample than the original. A myriad of pop, rap and indie tracks were mixed up, most notably: a sped up, clubby version of Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy,’ ‘Billie Jean’ over at Ratatat beat, Yeasayers’ ‘One’ turned into a Michael Jackson-esque 80s pop tune, a cryptic (although equally danceable) version of Martin Solveig’s ‘Hello,’ Cee Lo’s ‘Fuck You’ over the beat of ‘Baby Got Back,’ and a danced up version of tUnE-yArDs ‘Gangsta’ as dancing computers came on stage.

Curious to see what was going on at the main stage, I checked out a little bit of Auto Body. The more generic electro tracks did little to command the crowd the hometown favorite the Hood Internet could do. Even with only half the duo, I feel they had the strongest set that day. Not to mention the background video of dancing C3POs, altered B-movie clips, ADD Pacman villains and an overall variety of shapes and colors.

Around this point in the day I found myself wandering continuously, surrounded by womps vs. unts, nothing really catching my ear, but just enjoying the park and people watching. For the people watchers reading this: go to North Coast Fest. Wow. It may be the cynic in me, but that dude getting down to dubstep in a neck brace: you are either a champion or taking ironic accessories to a whole new level. And how can so many people in furry boots (rainbow colored furry boots!) lack such self-consciousness? The park seemed nearly a ghost town at the beginning of the day and it certainly makes sense for the majority of music that is mostly appropriate in late night clubs or sweaty basements. Therefore, it was not surprising that the park became a lot more crowded after sunset (and perhaps the latecomers that had work on Friday had to do with it). SBTRKT added a masked UK dubstep meets Chicago House dance party to the sunset and Ghosthouse provided the 80s throwback/Chromeo cover band to the local stage.

Things really picked up, though, when Wolfgang Gartner took the main stage. All of a sudden, the park’s population was x10 for the American DJ. For me, it was a bit underwhelming. I’m very into a certain stage presence and, well, watching a DJ is about the most pointless task you can come up with. But I can’t deny the power of the crowd. Hands up in the air everywhere, small side dance circles away from the pit, and nearly everyone entranced in the light show. Things didn’t slow down between acts, as French house producer David Guetta seamlessly took over, adding a pop element to the electro tracks. I’d been made fun of all day by friends for not knowing who this guy was. For those in a similar boat, he is the mastermind behind the nails-on-a-chalkboard hit ‘I Gotta Feeling’ by the Black Eyed Peas. Needless to say, the pretty light show wasn’t enough to keep me listening to this garbage. Time for the more credible headliner at the side stage.

Just gotta point this out: the crowd at North Coast is very young. Let’s just say I saw more than a fair share of braces this evening. Pitchfork is for the cool 20-nothings like myself, Lollapalooza has a bit of everything, but North Coast is all about youth culture. More than a handful of people I saw, even those I hadn’t seen nearly since I was in high school (quick shoutout to Nelli, Schultz and Greszta!) discussed this. But that’s where all the energy comes from: the kids. And damned if it didn’t come out for Wiz Khalifa. The side stage for the headliner was packed, a pervasive scent of weed clouding the area, and multiple people handing around fifths of contraband. I took Gene’s word to catch the Pittsburgh rapper play. It was high energy all the way, and the downtown shots of Chicago in the background were much appreciated, but I can only stand so much talk of getting high, hoes, and gang life to make it worth my while. Passed by Guetta again on the way out — still sounded pretty much the same as before. Day one of North Coast was pretty much a fail from my perspective, but I know I have plenty to look forward to the rest of the weekend.

Photo Credit: Andrew Hertzberg

Andrew Hertzberg

About Andrew Hertzberg

If identity is an illusion, I’m a magician in training. And although Emerson was right in pointing out that “with consistency, a great soul has simply nothing to do” the one constant I don’t mind in my life is Chicago. Yes, even the boredom of her suburbs couldn’t suppress the glow of the city, my attraction as a moth to flame. The future is unwritten, the characters are ever-expanding, and the plot is a perpetual foray through rising actions, conflicts and falling actions; the setting, however, remains the same.

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