12 Best Things We Saw at Electric Zoo 2014 - Rolling Stone
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12 Best Things We Saw at Electric Zoo 2014

Our favorite moments from the last mega-rave of the season, from Zedd’s fireworks and Clockwork’s Shmoney Dance to David Guetta’s Cartoon Zombies

Electric Zoo


Electric Zoo is summer's last hurrah for dance music revelers in New York City, a three-day weekend to grab the bull by its metaphorical horns and delight in some bass and beats before returning indoors. This year, headliners like David Guetta and Armin van Buuren were complimented by smaller acts like Jamie xx and Sub Focus, providing a relatively decent range of music for both fans of the left field and the pop and trance massive.

Unfortunately, the dance gods were not on our side – the Zoo got cut short for the second year in a row, this time because of torrential flash-flooding and freakishly near lightning. Much to our sorrow and chagrin, the whole thing shut down several hours before the Skrillex/Diplo superduo Jack U was scheduled to play, but we still got in a good two days of sweaty shuffles and flashing lights.



Best Fusion of Hip-Hop and Woodwind: Griz

Griz's gonzo DJ/saxophone project is a highlight of any festival, a break from heavy oonce-oonce and a deep dive into the sensual end of electro-funk. Playing just about all of these events, he has honed his unique combination of live mixing and sax-blowing, and he knows how to please a crowd: For this set, he blended perennial hip-hop staples "The Next Episode" and "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothin Ta Fuck Wit" into his own aesthetic, turning the party up while secretly getting a clutch of ravers to listen to jazz. The bait and switch is real. Go Griz.

Electric Zoo, Paul van Dyk


Best Keepers of the Flame: Saturday’s Small Stage Lineup

Sometimes on bigger EDM festival bills it seems like the originators can hardly get a break, even while more of-the-moment, charting DJs stake out territory that's hardly new ground. Saturday's line-up, however, was a nice homage to the innovators and veterans of the corporate rave, and it drew flush crowds of some of Electric Zoo's more seasoned kandi guys and gals. In quick succession, the fairgrounds saw sets by U.K. house scion Pete Tong, trance jammer BT, Philly rave pioneer Josh Wink, Welsh acid house DJ Sasha, garage vet Danny Tenaglia and trance god Paul van Dyk (pictured). Seriously, we think we might have seen half this lineup at the same rave in San Francisco in 1998. It was probably called SunShine and we definitely consumed Smart Drinks.

Clockwork, Electric Zoo 2014


Best New York Tribute: Clockwork

The Los Angeles-based producer Henry Steinway, known alternately as Clockwork and RL Grime, dropped a clutch of big-impact, festival-pleasing house upon his almost-main-stage audience, but near the end of his set, he cut out the beat to make an announcement. "I couldn't come to New York and not play Bobby Shmurda!" he declared, cueing up "Hot Nigga," the city's biggest rap jam of the summer, in its entirety. Towards the back of the crowd, it was unclear if many showgoers knew what had just happened (as of yet, Shmurda is a Vine-honed Brooklyn mini-star who hasn't quite crossed over into EDM zone) but shouts and an honorary shmoney dance to Clockwork for the sentiment.

Nervo, Electric Zoo 2014


Best Tag-Team Stage Energy: Nervo

The twin Australian DJs who comprise Nervo were two of the only women playing the entirety of Electric Zoo – a disappointingly common EDM fest occurrence that bookers need to try to remedy if they want the movement to grow. They were also some of the most energetic performers of the weekend, cutting into their squelching house set to beseech the crowd to bop and pogo to their drops. It was a tag-team thing – could that psychic magic that twins supposedly possess be real? – and their love for their fans was entirely infectious, such that even ones who may not have been crazy about their broad stroke house selections (points to self) couldn't help but bodyjack to the groove.

Zedd, Electric Zoo 2014


Best Fireworks: Zedd

One of the biggest acts on the bill, the Grammy-winning producer-DJ didn't short shift the experience, blowing up his soaring pop singles with the absolute biggest light rig of (it seemed) all time and dropping hit singles like his (pretty great!) Ariana Grande collabo "Break Free." Hey, what better way to flaunt your success than by dropping your biggest hit, "Clarity," while blasting off Statue of Liberty levels of fireworks between a cacophony of green lasers? Do you, Zedd!

Sub Focus, Electric Zoo 2014


Best Workout: Sub Focus

The British drum-and-bass/rave producer Sub Focus has had unprecedented, perhaps unexpected pop success in the U.K., hitting big with vocal collaborations like the 2013 hit "Endorphins" (with Alex Clare) and the massive Yolanda Quartey collabo "Turn Back Time," from his album Torus. But he's still a true-blue club DJ, and he played maybe the best set of the weekend, keeping his BPMs high for dance floor workouts and staying true to proper jungle with a hypeman and dubby cuts – the total experience for losing your damn mind.

laidback luke


Best Reason to Revisit That Junior Senior Album: Laidback Luke

Other EDM DJs play Junior Senior's 2003 "Move Your Feet" in their sets, but there was something about Laidback Luke's style that brought the song to life. He's played it before, too – this the DJ Snake Parisian remix – but the way the producer emphasizes populism, mixing songs from the collective pop cultural DNA with house party shakers, just kind of recontextualized it. It's been a decade, that album kinda bangs. Thanks Luke!

Armin van Buuren, Electric Zoo 2014


Best Way to Indocrinate the Youth into Trance Nation: Armin van Buuren vs. Paul van Dyk

Competing sets from trance icons on each end of the island: It's something like mind control, and the result is maximum oonce-oonce. Touché, Electric Zoo.

Jamie xx, Electric Zoo 2014


Best Show of Emotion: Jamie xx

It's still unclear whether the American festival massive is quite ready for the current British infatuation with wan, vocal-free deep house, but there were still plenty of fans engaging with Jamie xx's show of emotion. No one was hugging themselves on the dancefloor, but there is a good possibility that some of the people sitting on the grass were meditating. "Take Care" was dropped – in its instrumental version.



Best T-Shirt Cannon Choreography: A-Trak

A-Trak dropped Young Thug's "Stoner," climbed onto the platform of the main stage, did a couple rounds of turn-up arms and then shot a T-shirt into the crowd – all on the beat. Never shade the dance game of the Fool's Gold head guy, for it reps the sense of humor he always infuses into his aesthetic. In the years since EDM became a global corporate force, some DJs have altered their styles in order to better fit the demands of the market, but A-Trak stays A-Trak, taking over the main stage with revved up rap hits and his own playful Duck Saucian disco.

Gesaffelstein, Electric Zoo 2014


Best Techno Set: Gesaffelstein

Gesaffelstein co-produced Kanye West's "Black Skinhead" and "Send It Up," making him one of the reasons Yeezus was the most progressive-sounding pop album of 2013. Here, his DJ set reflected a similarly light-fractured, hard-edged approach, featuring funky, dark techno and electro that transported the dance floor to the seediest cool clubs in Paris (if those exist). It must also be said that he is the coolest Euro ever, sauntering to the stage in a black Jean-Paul Belmondo style suit and smoking a bogie while architectural line drawings of wolves were projected behind him. You can see why Kanye wanted to get in on that.

David Guetta, Electric Zoo 2014


Best Cartoon Zombies: David Guetta

Earlier this year, when he released new single "Bad," Guetta dropped a lyric video that featured an amazing animation of apocalyptic zombie ravers trying to attack a cute anime lady on a moped. Was it, some wondered, an allegory for a song that features the synth line equivalent of being repeatedly bopped on the head with a fried turkey leg? Who knows, but the animation looked perfect when it was projected on the massive stage behind him, and to be honest, who doesn't like a turkey leg?

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