Electronic goddess Nicole Swanberg lives in Chicago and is regular EDM In Stereo contributor.
Thousands of music lovers streamed into Union Park in Chicago last weekend for the city’s 6th annual North Coast Music Festival. With stacked lineups all three days and genres to satisfy almost every musical taste, my hopes for North Coast were set pretty high! Over the next three days, the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Manic Focus, Steve Aoki, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Until the Ribbon Breaks, and D’Aneglo would grace one of the four stages with their presence. The organizers of the festival made sure Chicago was well represented, with local artists Porn n’ Chicken, Lili K, Green Velvet, Stefan Pouce, Ne-Hi, and Leather Corduroys.
The festival this year was all ages. Originally in April, North Coast was billed as a 17 and older show, but it got changed to all ages in August. I didn’t really like that I saw little kids and 12 year olds running around, but hey, it’s all ages! I was more concerned that these little kids would accidentally wander into where Porn n’ Chicken were performing, complete with a guy in an inflatable penis costume and a girl wearing pasties onstage. If the parents are cool with that, whatever. Live and let Live.
I would have liked a little more of an older crowd, but having the younger kids and families there didn’t ruin the experience for me! I did appreciate that there were a few places that were strictly 21 and older. One was the Heineken House, which rocked chill old-school vibes all day and night. I also enjoyed the Strongbow area, where you could, of course, purchase Strongbow hard cider (which is delicious from the tap, by the way), play large jenga, Connect 4, and checkers, or just hang out in the comfy lawn chairs. My group definitely spent a lot of time both of those places!
I was pretty impressed with the food selection, but it was mostly fattening greasy food. Don’t get me wrong; I definitely had more than my share of deep fried Oreos over the weekend and I didn’t regret it one bit! However, I would have liked to see a few more healthy food options. Maybe a salad or veggie and hummus cups? That way I would’ve have walked away from the weekend feeling like I gained 5 pounds! And, like most festivals, portions were pretty small for the price. $10 for chicken fried rice? No thanks! I also would have liked a larger beer selection; all I saw there was Heineken and some other beer, maybe Coors?
The other part that wasn’t so awesome was the water stations. If you got there early in the day, there was no issue filling up your CamelBak. At night, I stood in line for 15 minutes. I know this was pretty typical, but North Coast should have more than one water station. If they had more than one, I never found it. All in all, the food was ok. But pricey (as expected).
NorthCoast gave off a real chill vibe this year. Lots of people hung out in the grass instead of dancing at the side stages. I loved seeing the ways people expressed themselves, especially the totems! I kept seeing the same few around all weekend: a broccoli, a “before dub/after dub” sign, and many blow-up dolls on sticks.
And now, onto the important stuff: the music!
Drifting mostly between the 630 stage, 847 stage, Silent Disco, and the Heineken House, I experienced a little bit of everything over the weekend. I stuck mostly to the outer stages, but did venture into the center area for a few performances (D’Angelo, Atmosphere, The Chemical Brothers, Booka Shade, Future Rock, Chromeo, and Widespread Panic).
I LOVED the vibes in the Heineken House. As soon as you walked in, you felt like you were going into an underground scene, which probably was the feel they were going for. The ceiling of the dome had super cool lights on it- I could have spent hours just staring at the ceiling! No one was really dancing in the Heineken House, just shuffling back and forth to the beat and vibing. Super great atmosphere!
Kill the Noise
Kill the Noise really brought their unique musical taste to North Coast. Walking by, I caught snippets from Five Finger Death Punch in their songs. Their Under and Over It Remix was amazing! Seriously, in love! I love that they blend the two genres! He brought a good dance beat to an energetic crowd!
The Chemical Brothers
The Chemical Brothers pioneered electronic music and I was so excited to see them! The Bros brought it hard to Chicago and they had a huge turnout!
Oh my gosh, the feels during Porter! Before going to North Coast, I had heard seeing Porter live was life-changing. And for many of those in the crowd, seeing him definitely was! Some girls (and guys) cried, while others just stood in awe. Porter Robinson brought a spectacular heartfelt performance to NorthCoast!
Porn n’ Chicken
Every Porn n’ Chicken show I’ve been to has been completely crazy. Although I feel that they’re underappreciated, they had a pretty decent turnout during their set on Sunday. The energy was electric and I could feel it buzzing through the air. I could tell the three guys loved bring on their home turf performing!
Snails was one of the best acts of North Coast for me. He threw down so hard! The crowd was super packed and everyone was feeling the hard-hitting beats and bouncing in time. I almost didn’t have enough room to put my hands up. Almost everyone I met told me they were going to see Snails- and He was amazing live.
If you’re into super chill music, you should’ve seen Tycho. His music was super good to vibe to and just hang out. The crowd was real cool and mellow, hanging out in hammocks and chatting. He had some pretty cool graphics that went along with his music too!
Haywre’s set was unique, combining electronic music with some jazz and classical themes. The vibe here was definitely more chill and so was the crowd. To me, it kind of sounded like elevator music at times, but I loved stumbling upon Haywre!
Slow Magic played a fantastic show for a relatively small crowd. During the song “Girls”, he came out into the crowd and played the tom drums in the middle of everyone. It was a pretty cool moment!
I was so pumped to see Knife Party! Unfortunately, they didn’t deliver it for me. They were okay, but not nearly as good as I hoped they would be! It seemed like the played the same electrohouse song for their whole entire set. Internet Friends, a Knife Party staple, was played for over 10 minutes! Their transitions between songs weren’t very good and the whole set didn’t feel very high energy to me.
Until the Ribbon Breaks
I happened across this act while waiting for Snails to perform. I give them props for the band coming from the U.K. to play at NCMF, but that’s all I’d give them props for. Some of the guys behind me even yelled, “Get off the stage!” Until the Ribbon Breaks had a mellow sound, but definitely was not a good pump up in any way for the next set, Snails.
One of my favorite things of NorthCoast was the Silent Disco. It was super cool to be listening to music with other people and just be connected through headphones. Some of the DJs were good and others were not so good, but I still really enjoyed hanging out at the Silent Disco.
Going into the weekend of North Coast, my expectations were not very high. I had no idea what to expect, but was pretty certain it was going to be different than Spring Awakening. I’m happy to report that North Coast definitely provide my low expectations wrong and now is on my list of festivals to recommend!
– Nicole Swanberg