[FESTIVAL REVIEW] Electric Zoo 2023's Stacked Lineup Spoiled By Catastrophic Planning Errors

Electric Zoo: Hyperspace

| September 10, 2023

Music festivals are supposed to provide an environment in which all attendees can release their built-up tension and engage in hours of carefree fun. Unfortunately, carefree fun was impossible for many at Electric Zoo: Hyperspace on Labor Day Weekend. Each day of the festival – held annually on Randall's Island in New York City – was marked by major problems that ranged from inconvenient to downright dangerous. 

Ticket holders were shocked just before noon on Friday, September 1st when they received notification that the first day of the festival was cancelled because construction of the main stage had not been completed. The festival – which was purchased by NYC event company Avant Gardner last year – blamed this nightmare scenario on “global supply chain disruptions” in their social media announcement.

For a small percentage of dance music fans, their moods were boosted at Friday's sold-out Brooklyn Mirage “afterparty”. While GRiZ and co. popped off at the Great Hall, FISHER and Chris Lake ripped a mean five-hour b2b on the complex's rooftop. This was a nice surprise due to the fact that it was only supposed to be FISHER headlining that night, nevertheless it still failed to make up for the canceled day one.

A feeling of unease enveloped the community as this major blow cast doubt on the rest of the weekend. Following a tense evening, Saturday's day two appeared to be going on as planned. However, thousands of attendees were soon to be in for another rude awakening. A significant number of ticket holders needed to pick their wristbands up at will call – which was only being staffed by a small handful of people.

This lack of foresight from festival organizers resulted in an hours-long will call line that left hordes of people in the hot sun with limited access to shade, water, and bathrooms. Some unlucky folks were still in the will call line long after sunset, unable to hear more than the distant basslines of ongoing performances. 

Meanwhile, inside the festival, the atmosphere was lukewarm. Free water refill stations were nearly impossible to find across the vast Randall's Island Park, but you could not take more than 10 steps without seeing another alcohol and paid water stand. The festival's main stage, named The Convergence, was clearly still incomplete, and opened late – around 5 PM – on Saturday. Festival-goers flooded in to see Matroda rip a fun afternoon set. The layout of that stage left something to be desired because it was more narrow than in years past. This made it very difficult to get in and out of the crowd, especially as the night wore on and the crowd grew more dense.The bassheads who were avoiding the main stage were treated to an electric sunset set from NGHTMRE at The Continuum stage while Rusko dropped a crazy set filled with nasty dubstep and DnB at The Landing stage. Liquid Stranger's WAKAAN label took over The Landing on Saturday, with Rusko's set followed up by nonstop bangers via JantsenPEEKABOO, and Liquid Stranger himself. This stage had solid production, with clear sound and plenty of lasers to augment the experience.Sound bleed was a real issue between The Landing and The Continuum, which were right next to each other with little barrier. There were also times when the low-end bass did not feel as powerful as it should have at The Continuum, which was likely due to the stages' close proximity. However, the artists definitely did their best to put on electrifying performances despite the festival's apparent shortcomings.

Big Gigantic followed NGHTMRE up at The Continuum, bringing their patented blend of multiple dance genres with live instruments. Their performance was a fitting build-up to the headline performance from funky dubstep sensation GRiZ.The Detroit native – who recently announced he will be taking a break from performing until further notice – produced one of the best sets of the (shortened) weekend. His energetic, saxophone-fueled set had the whole crowd partying. Heater IDs were deployed with reckless abandon throughout his performance. Saxoriddim and Infinite were undoubtedly two of the highlights of his set, with much credit going to GRiZ's live saxophone riffs over the infectious basslines.

Other headline acts on Saturday night included Zedd at The Convergence, Camelphat closing the Cityfox takeover at The MegaMirageand Skream at The Morphosis stage's Gray Area takeover. One can only hope that all of the will call line victims were able to at least catch their favorite headliner on Day 2. 

For those who chose to close out their night anywhere except the MegaMirage, they were still able to catch the veteran melodic techno duo in action at their extended afterparty set at the Brooklyn Mirage. With bassheads throwing down at the WAKAAN takeover of the Great Hall, CamelPhat lead a cast of house and techno technicians, for a three-stage experience.

Prominent house brand and imprint Desert Hearts had their own showcase at an indoor boiler room, with the electrifying labelboss Lee Reynolds at the forefront. There was also a secret stage where airy and soulful melodic house tunes were being spun. The vibe was immaculate and the DJ was fully in sync with the crowd as he transitioned flawlessly from one masterpiece to the next. 

Back at the Mirage's rooftop, CamelPhat blessed the crowd with alluring visuals and entrancing basslines. They played an assortment of their recent hits, from “Higher” with London Grammar to “The Sign” with Anyma.

Many festivalgoers were riding high from Day 2 when disaster struck on Sunday. Even the one-day ticket attendees that got there early struggled to make into the festival. Will-call was again understaffed and there was no rhyme or reason to the way the lines were organized. You could see the tension building as attendees tried to push through the mob to fight their way inside the venue. 

Things got even worse when they were notified that the promoters of Electric Zoo had over-sold tickets and had reached capacity at only around 5 PM. The crowd started aggressive chants towards the staff and security, yelling profanities directed at the festival. Eventually, the hostility surpassed its limit and all hell broke loose. A mix of NYC-natives and people who had flown in from across the world to enjoy the Labor Day Weekend festival stormed the gates. 

The sheer amount of running ticket holders was overbearing for security, which led to even the police officers on duty stepping aside as thousands of frustrated attendees hurriedly paced into the festival grounds. It was pure luck that no one was killed, yet some ravers who tripped were trampled and injured during the madness.

Over at the mainstage around this time, 3LAU was putting on a masterclass of high-energy house anthems and lively remixes. A large portion of people then trekked to the Morphosis stage, where the magnificent Nora En Pure was at the helm of her Purified label's takeover. Nora supplied her audience with exactly what they needed: feel-good melodies and driving deep house beats that blended perfectly with the setting sun. 

Next up was Elderbrook, and anyone who was there to witness this magical set knows it was the top performance of the weekend. Even for the ones who have attended countless festivals and shows over the years, there was something extremely special about this multi-talented artist's performance. 

He hopped back and forth between fusing ethereal chill and melodic house to grabbing the mic and blessing the crowd with his sensational vocals. A number of incredible tracks from his new album Little Love rang out as the crowd danced euphorically.After Elderbrook, the bulk of the E-Zoo population was split up between Dirt Monkey b2b Boogie T, which is a combination that attracts wooks far and wide. Their barrage of wubz and trippy visuals rained down on the Sunday night crowd. Then at The Continuum, Marshmello headlined with a weaponized assault of heavy dubstep edits, Latin flips, and a myriad of lasers.Also closing out the Sunday night performances was the deadly tag team of Zeds Dead b2b GRiZ, who dropped haymakers of bass, saxophone and breathtaking mashups. This was complemented by John Summit b2b Dom Dolla who premiered their Everything Always event brand and unrivaled experience at the MegaMirage stage. Both sets were extended, which gave everyone time to hop from one to the other. 

As remarkable as the sum of performances across Sunday were, festivalgoers were met with hours of waiting when attempting to exit the venue. The huddled masses stayed immobile due to being over capacity and the small lane that the bridge presented. Some even tried to hop over the gates to take shortcuts but were met by the brute force and fists of agitated security guards. 

Not to knock the sensational roster at this year's Electric Zoo, and believe us it was sensational, but just about everything else logistically fell apart. When it comes to presenting a one-of-a-kind experience to your guests, planning safety and organization is just as crucial as the experience itself. Hopefully, this will be a lesson to live entertainment promoters and brands across the board, and especially for Electric Zoo going forward.

 

Photos Courtesy of Electric Zoo.

 

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Harrison Goldstein

HARRISON GOLDSTEIN

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Born in New Jersey and living in NYC, Harrison loves two things more than anything else: telling stories and dancing to electronic music with his friends. He became fully immersed in the world of EDM after experiencing the magical atmosphere of live shows and festivals for the first time.

Harrison hopes that his passion inspires his readers to check out new artists and introduce new people to our beautiful little sub-culture. When he isn’t dancing, Harrison loves to ski and golf, on top of being an avid soccer and MMA fan.

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