This past weekend, the security check-lines for the inaugural Moonrise Festival — which took place on Saturday and Sunday at Pimlico Race Course — looked like a sea of tie-dye, furry boots, baggy pants and T-shirts emblazoned with various DJ logos.
Security checks and pat-downs were predictably extensive following the recent deaths of two attendees at the electronic dance music (EDM) concert Mad Decent Block Party at Merriweather Post Pavilion earlier this month. Festival-goers were asked to remove shoes, empty pockets and open bags prior to entering the event. These extra measures which were applauded by festival performers such as Bassnectar, Carnage and Excision.
Providing free drinking water and places to cool off was another priority for organizers, as many of the illnesses at music festivals are attributed to over-heating. Free water and misting stations were packed all weekend, which allowed ravers to stay cool and refreshed. The Solar Dance tent was also a fan favorite as it provided shade, as well as a place to sit and rest your legs.
The festival’s four stages — Solar Dance, Lunar, Celestial Garden and Stellar — were separated by modern art installations. Painted canvases were elevated and supported by talented dancers while two tall, open-ended yellow, blue, and green structures created a skyline and served as a popular meeting location. The stages were not massive with complex designs, but simple and easy on the eye, which seemed to indicate this gathering was geared toward the musical experience over everything else.
The Vendor Village was among the most surprising aspects of Moonrise. Electronic dance music-driven brands like NGHTBRND, Electric Family, Bad Kids Collective and EatSleepRaveBra occupied small tents that offered goods such as backpacks, bracelets, hats and body jewelry. The village pulled a constant flow of consumers and served as a relaxing break from soaring synth bars and mind-numbing basslines that wafted throughout the festival grounds.
The weekend was also full of animated performances from some of the most popular groups in electronic dance music. Among the memorable sets:
Slander set the tone for the entire festival. The duo of Derek Anderson and Scott Land played their set just as the festival started to pack in around 2 p.m. Saturday. Their stage presence was undeniable, and their instrumental-based style hyped up the sea of ravers at the Stellar Stage. It set the tone for the entire weekend. They closed their time slot with a new production titled "Rave Friends."
Bro Safari would be more enjoyable without a hypeman. I understand the obvious role a hypeman plays in electronic dance music, though, sometimes I wonder if they are necessary. The music itself is adrenaline-pumping and a hypeman more or less takes away from the experience by pushing that "hype" factor over the top. I found Bro Safari's MC very distracting and could have done without him.
Kaskade knows how to create an atmosphere. The voice of EDM, Ryan Raddon (who's known to most as Kaskade) proved his ability to effortlessly create and change the atmosphere of his sets at Moonrise. He played a cut of Justice's "We are Friends" before eventually gearing his musical journey toward Porter Robinson's "Lionhearted." His vocal edits were clean and party-rocking. I constantly found myself singing along one minute and uncontrollably dancing the next.
Adventure Club's set was dampened by low volume. During most of weekend, sound levels were at the perfect volume. The bass was not overpowering, and the mid- and high-frequencies worked together for a clean mixture of waves. But that was not the case when this widely known Canadian duo took the stage.
Their track selections were some of my favorites of the weekend, but the poor volume levels dampened the set significantly. I was center stage, about 30 people back from the stage, and could hear what my neighbors were buzzing about very clearly. I wasn't expecting to be blown out by gigantic kick drums, but the low volume made it hard to stay into their performance. The most memorable moment of their set came when Yasmine Yousaf of Krewella made an onstage appearance. The crowd certainly appreciated her presence.
Crnkn, Djemba Djemba and Mr. Carmack overran the Celestial Garden stage. On Sunday, a lot of festival attendees seemed to roll in around 2:30 p.m., and they didn't make it far from the entrance before Crnkn drew their attention with his deep, pluck-y synth jabs and percussive elements. From 2-5 p.m., I found myself immersed in the sounds of Crnkn, Djemba Djemba and Mr. Carmack — the triple threat of this event. Hardly anyone left the small Celestial Garden stage before the conclusion of these acts. After Crnkn finished, Djemba dished out a slew of Jersey Club and trap selections before Mr. Carmack took us far left with Kendrick Lamar records. I specifically remember the energy of the crowd when Carmack subtly mixed in "Pay (For What)," one of his original productions. The bleep-y, 808-drum infused work boasts a "lean with it, rock with it" swagger that triggered a chilling roar from the crowd as the first climax slammed the airwaves.
Sander van Doorn should go back to his roots. At a point in time, Sander van Doorn was one of the most unique electro-trance names in EDM. Singles like "Drink to Get Drunk, "Riff" and "Nothing Inside" separated him from the rest of the scene. But in recent years, Sander has subscribed to the extremely simple, big-room electro-house style, just like many other artists. His productions have more or less stayed the same, but his DJ sets have changed dramatically. It seems his focus has shifted to big drops, triplet-styled patterns and crowd pleasing. I was only disappointed because it lacked a lot of his own original creations. It would be outstanding to hear reinvented edits and cuts of older SvD records, especially when you’re going to see a SvD set.
Bassnectar stole the show. As many expected, Bassnectar completely demolished Moonrise and closed out the festival properly. He played classics mixed with new productions from his recent album, "Noise Vs. Beauty." This was, without a doubt, a standout performance for first-timers because it offered a stunning visual journey to compliment the chaotic sound waves. "808 Track," "Pink Elephants" and "Put It Down" rattled the hearts of seasoned bassheads (an affectionate name given to Bassnectar fans), while inspiring new fans to become educated on everything related to Bassnectar. Right before 11 p.m., security turned on large floodlights as a sign to find the exit.
That effort didn't completely stop the party, though, as ravers used every second they could to continue dancing. The entire festival called for an encore that never came, before transitioning their chant into "USA, USA, USA." An eventful weekend had come to an end.
Tyler Almodovar is the president of the electronic dance music blog, White Raver Rafting. This is his first review for Midnight Sun.