I didn’t expect to attend New York’s Electric Zoo as my first ever festival. A far chiller environment than an EDM festival better suits my personality, but I attended with an open mind. It differed from my expectations in more ways than it matched. In many ways, I was pleasantly surprised. EZoo and its attendees alike know how to throw a party and I was along for the ride. The Electric Zoo I had heard about began almost immediately upon arrival.
The cave-decorated main stage and jungle themed costumes are far from the only aspects of Electric Zoo that earns the festival its title. Entering the festival through a ceiling of branches, protruding from the dense trees of Randall’s Island Park is like entering a jungle. The atmosphere is chaotic, the energy palpable as fans flock by the thousands for New York’s premiere electronic festival. This came as a surprise, as you suddenly no longer feel like you’re in the city. You are transported even before the music begins.
The musicians at Electric Zoo perform from four different stages. The main stage, mimicking a stone temple, boasts massive boulders which tower over the standing crowd. The monolithic structure is visible (and audible) all the way from the walk over Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. The bass from the main stage shakes the ground across the island, even sending ripples into the surrounding boroughs. Once fans reach the island, they immediately see the first two active stages as they make their way to the main grounds.
Electric Zoo is a sure way to feel the effects of summer. The walk across the bridge, while exciting with the view of the main stage, left most guests sweating on the other side. I spotted a group of annoyed guests trying to stick jewels and sequins back onto their damp brows. The wide open fields offer little in ways of shade, and the sheer volume of attendees creates an inescapable mugginess. With shaded areas reserved for artists, caterers and media, guests will have to find their own ways to keep cool when taking breaks from dancing the dense crowds. Still, most Electric Zoo visitors are aware of the harsh environment of this fest, and even welcome it.
In terms of infrastructure, the grounds are bare bones and easy to navigate. The main walking area is uncluttered, with all vendors, charging stations and lounges pushed to the perimeter of the space. This was necessary as at times, it felt as though the entire tri-state area was attending EZoo. Additionally, the simplicity of the festival presented itself in the stage design. I was hoping to find a massive, multi-colored elephant head above the main stage like in photos I had seen of previous Electric Zoos. The stone formations were less exciting than I had hoped, but reinforced a major focus on the performances themselves. Nonetheless, what was lacking in stage design and infrastructure was accounted for in pyrotechnics, smoke, lasers and the personalized themes displayed on the jumbotrons behind each performer.
The set times each day were well planned, creating an organic flow in the relationship between audience and performer. For instance, choosing a big name but lower key performer like Diplo ushered the audience to the main stage, without overexerting them. This allowed guests to save energy for a far more intense performer like Slander, and carry that adrenaline into a more emotionally charged closer in Porter Robinson.
Day 2’s programming created a conveniently placed dilemma at around seven-thirty. To keep the entire festival from stampeding DJ Snake’s anticipated set, Diesel, better known as Shaquille O’Neal, was programmed on the other end of the park. A surprising amount of fans skirted DJ Snake’s set to see the basketball legend live out his second passion. I was one of them. To break up crowds during the third and final day, anticipated musicians including CloZee, Mersiv and INZO of the Odyzey label played on the Levitron stage. ARMNHMR, Subtronics and Martin Garrix dominated the main stage at the same time.
The Heart of EZoo
As a first time electronic festival attendee, the pure attention to music and the passion the fans have for it impresses me. While so many festivals feel like another backdrop for Instagram posts, Electric Zoo represents a fanbase motivated to attend purely for love of the experience. After revisiting the studio versions of some songs played at the festival, I found myself wishing to hear the festival versions again, purely to feel again the experience of existing in the organism that was the EZoo crowd. I can excuse the shortcomings in design and infrastructure because of the attention to music and audience. The heart of Electric Zoo 3.0 beat thanks to a focus on why festivals exist in the first place: a communal love, appreciation and celebration of music.