In its sophomore year at Addams-Medill Park, Spring Awakening came into its own, while still pinging off the glass ceiling of top quality that they’ve managed to hit for Mamby in the same amount of time. The list of issues is short but presented themselves up front: there was a shortage of water stations, some of the same sound bleed issues of the year prior, and a crowd that generally didn’t forgive for these mistakes.
That last one is definitely not React’s fault — but when you show up on Friday and the ticket booths are shut down at peak hours because rowdy festival goers rushed the tent instead of waiting in line, you start the weekend with a sour taste in your mouth. You definitely wonder about the crowd you’re spending the next three days partying with. Luckily, it was a 15 minute disruption that was handled quickly, although with very little explanation.
Once we had our passes and got in, Friday was mild and laid back compared to the nights following. Louis The Child absolutely stole the show for the evening and made me eat all of my words about the relative lack of local talent — those dudes ripped, and put on a hell of a tight show for their largest hometown festival crowd yet. Route 94 controlled the Body Language tent into the evening with Ibiza-ready house and techno, but conspicuously skipped his UK #1 hit from 2014, “My Love,” which although I understand (it was played to death that year), actually sucks when you finally see the guy you found out about through the song. Armin Van Buuren played a fun but predictable set on the Solstice stage, where we were mostly amused by ravers who didn’t ‘get’ trance and ravers who got trance way too much.
The fest’s only sold-out day, Saturday, had a noticeably different atmosphere than Friday and Sunday; the grounds felt ever-so-slightly cramped as hoards of Diplo fans buzzed around Addams/Medill park. Sticking to my favorite stage, a tented area with rotating label/genre takeovers, I caught some of the artists scheduled for the Anjunabeats takeover. Moon Boots and Lane 8 knocked it out of the park—I’d seen Lane 8 at Concord late last year, and somehow his SAMF set was even better than before.
In no rush to get to Diplo’s set, I meandered my way over to the Corona Electric Beach tent. The tent offered some much-needed relief from the heat, with many fans and misters positioned around the area. Though it was a smaller stage, there was a decent sized crowd bopping away to the techno b2b between Ludo Mir and Alejandro. I stuck around for a while grooving, enjoying the plentiful amount of space I had to dance. Finally, I decided it was time to take a peek at ol’ Diplo (or, as many festgoers were referring to him, Major Lazer). I’ve seen Diplo many a time, and always appreciate his showmanship. His level of stage production has steadily increased since I first caught him at SAMF four years ago, playing in a tent about 1/16th of the size of the massive Solstice stage his headlining set was at this year. Running the crowd through the classics, it felt like a “Best of 2012-2015 Soundcloud” retrospective, but it was still plenty of fun. Lots of butts were shaken and beats were dropped as the masses lost their damn minds to the sweet sounds of Daddy Diplo.
Sunday set itself apart as the best of the bunch, by a fair margin. Ready for a full day of sun, sweat, and sound, I arrived in time to catch the first few acts on the Sunday School stage. DJ Godfather banged out a set that was worthy of a headliner, then Dirtybird artist J.Phlip hopped on the decks and took it one deeper. After J.Phlip wrapped up her set, I decided to do a little exploring around the festival grounds. Along the way, I spotted some great festival fashion—if you’ve ever been to a Chicago festival, you see that we have a certain look. We’re different from the LA Coachella aesthetic you associate with festivals; here in Chicago it’s a little bit streetwear/athleisure edgy, a little bit Instagram trendy, and a dash of Eforest Wook.
What So Not’s afternoon set was wonderfully laidback and presented itself as a leisurely stroll through Emoh’s best. Spag Heddy’s set in the Bass Kitchen tent was impeccable, in terms of ultra-hard bass music. His approach to DJing felt reminiscent of Rusko’s, incorporating beautifully harmonic productions with extreme sub-bass for a wild journey that doesn’t dilute musicality in its aggression. It was a bit much after 45 minutes, but from a performance stand point, effortlessly enjoyable.
Another SAMF win was Duke Dumont. Having last seen Dumont play at none other than Kinkell Byre in St Andrews, I (Staley) was intrigued as to what we’d hear at SAMF. Let me tell you: IT WAS INCREDIBLE. By far my favorite set of the weekend. Dumont kept it UK funky the whooooole time, and I never stopped moving.
The stage that owned the final night — and for my tastes topped the rest of the lineup for the whole weekend — was Sunday School, closing out with Eats Everything and Gorgon City. They did exactly as the stage name implied and provided a proper education, with Gorgon City laying down a set that utterly smashed the first time I saw them years prior. The temperature was hot enough you could certainly believe you were in Ibiza if you closed your eyes, and with the duo hosting a residency at Amnesia this year, you may as well have been.
I might’ve griped about the lack of new names on the list — and indeed, I still haven’t entirely forgotten or forgiven — but this year was solid fun. That said, the issues that React needs to fix remain the same. Sound bleed is one thing and I can get over it, but when every line to every water station (every single one of which was sponsored by a singular outside vendor) is a quarter-mile long in 92 degree heat, you’re asking for trouble. Even EDC Chicago, a shit-show of a festival that got most things wrong but had three times the attendance, was able to keep water lines down to 5 minutes the entire weekend in 2013. It can be done and there isn’t anyone who wouldn’t love React for doing it.
Also guys — don’t rush the gate next year. That’s so Lolla of you.
Reporting: Josh Messer and Staley Sharples
Photography: Liz Carlson