House was big at this year's EDC festival in the Big Apple (well, technically New Jersey's MetLife Stadium), but across all four stages, the boundaries between EDM's big sub-genres felt particularly porous. Trance DJs spun hardstyle, dubstep crashed against hip-hop, house tracks vanished into dubstep-influenced drops and tens of thousands of fans moved toward whatever sound caught their ears. Krewella even covered Hozier's "Take Me to Church." As we emptied our pockets and prepared to enter the grounds this holiday weekend, a DJ cut to 2 Unlimited's jock jam asked the very question that we had been asking ourselves: Y'all ready for this?
Calvin Harris was the only EDC artist to have scored a Number One pop hit. This meant that he was also the only artist who refused to play his Number One pop hit, skipping Rihanna's "We Found Love" for a tough remix of her new "Bitch Better Have My Money." If anyone had complained, their words were drowned out by the sound of tracks like "Sweet Nothing," "Bounce," "Summer" and "Feel So Close," not to mention remixes of Capital Cities' "Safe and Sound" and Fatboy Slim's "Praise You." This was the peak three minutes of everyone else's sets, stretched into an entire hour-long energy rush.
Lasers strobed over the crowd, fireworks exploded above and a Coldplay remix blasted from the speakers. Was this Hardwell's big finish? Nope, it was minute 10, though the fireworks kept going through minute 12, only to reappear at minutes 43 and 55, at which point "Empire State of Mind" marked his actual close. In between, the DJ lived up to his name, repeatedly introducing pummeling drops that emphasized thumping bass over clever synth riffs. One of the festival's most vertigo-inducing moments came when Chris Martin's voice sang about a sky full of stars: Hardwell pointed for us to look up, but the interstellar video displays emitted too much light for us to see any.
The owls were not what they seemed. EDC's gigantic main stage featured fountains, fake plants, massive flamethrowers and enough fireworks to launch on the hour for two days straight. On opposite sides, two birds towered over the parking lot, guarding video screens that killed time between sets with a loose narrative involving bearded wizards, cathedral windows and the search for personal freedom. As evening approached, the cathedral windows were blasted away to reveal gears and machines.
For a DJ who had a crossover hit with a near-instrumental, Martin Garrix was able to elicit the most effective sing-along of the weekend, playing a mash-up of Bastille's "Pompeii" and repeatedly dropping the volume so that the crowd could harmonize a cappella. About halfway through his set, Garrix introduced a few new tracks, enthusiastically dropping them alongside hints of "Truffle Butter," a little Pitbull and original bangers like "Proxy" and "Animals."
How could anyone pass on the opportunity to look at cute animals while dancing? As Bassnectar closed Saturday, pictures of puppies, monkeys and elephants were projected on the screens behind the DJ booth. His sound wasn't as cuddly though, butting heavy tracks like "Noise" and a percussive remix of Technotronic's "Pump Up the Jam" against a few surprisingly soothing reprieves. At one point, an atmospheric take on Wiz Khalifa's "We Dem Boyz" was cut with the Naked and the Famous' "No Way."
Afrojack might be the bro-iest of all EDM DJs. His sound is abrasive, and he wears his headphones over a baseball cap cocked to the side. He also knows how to work a crowd. "Take Over Control" and "Ten Feet Tall" came early and led to "Hey Mama," his collaboration with David Guetta and Nicki Minaj, which was played before the half-way mark. Other highlights included a sped-up take on Guetta's "Bad" and new joints that will surely have taken off by the time that EDC returns to the tri-state area.
Kaskade is all about the treble, so much so that his set often sounded like the Legend of Zelda soundtrack — even more than Zedd's sets did back when the younger DJ remixed the game's theme song. Initially jarring, the mood quickly turned happy and bright; songs like Kaskade's own "Last Chance" and Disclosure's soon-to-be summer hit "Bang That" filled the parking lot with neon energy.
Two years ago, DJ Snake was best known the French producer behind novelty hit "Bird Machine." Last year, he was the French producer behind novelty hit "Turn Down for What." Now? He's transcended both. His three current collaborations — "Lean On," "You Know You Like It" and "Get Low" — were played across the festival, and his own set found room for all of the above. DJ Khaled's "All I Do Is Win," Rae Sremmurd's "No Type" and 2 Live Crew's "We Want Some Pussy!" also made appearances, as did DJ Laz's Miami bass hit "Esa Morena."
On a much-played Flosstradamus track, rapper Casino promises to turn the club into a mosh pit. On Sunday night, Eric Prydz tried to turn the mosh pit back into a club, blacking out the owl stage's massive screens, pumping continuous fog and shooting green lasers into the air. He played a challenging set to begin with — there were few drops and no vocal hooks before the 40-minute mark — and early sound issues drove most fans across the parking lot. Still, the unique visual experience and driving, prog-y house slowly brought many back. We assume that the man with Prydz's "Epic" logo shaved into his chest hair never left.
Knife Party kept the crowd raging even at the tail end of a long weekend, starting out with the surging "Resistance" and following with a set so hot that it literally set part of the stage on fire: Pyrotechnics exploded every few minutes, but something went wrong and part of the setup began to burn. The hazardous moment only added to the duo's haunted vibe, which was complemented by all-red lighting for the entire set. Later, they played their new song, a collaboration with Tom Morello that was as lit as their backdrop.
Even Isaac Newton saw the truth: What turns up must eventually turn down. EDC attempts to shield you from this realization by converting a parking lot built over a swamp into a self-contained world where raving is the highest form of personal expression and peace and quiet are mutually exclusive. The chill-out tent involves massive neon dandelions, and re-entry is strictly forbidden. Hence the joy of the Ferris wheel. After you enter your car — for once, they force you to remain still — you move out in the direction of the Giants' practice facility, then ascend toward the top. The New York City skyline becomes visible and the people below begin to form a single neon mass. Solace, almost. But nothing — not even the rides — can stand outside the festival's rules. Just as you begin to become comfortable, the wheel starts to tick, and you prepare yourself for what inevitably comes next: the drop.
Flux Pavillion's set was fast, aggressive and wildly captivating. "Do or Die" (his collaboration with Childish Gambino) and "I Can't Stop" (which could be heard across the festival) were all crowd-pleasers, but the real highlight was watching his grandma fist-pump as the audience spelled out "F-U-C-K" like Country Joe and the Fish at Woodstock. High in the VIP, she and the DJ's mom sported bedazzled shirts that said "I Am Flux Pavilion's Nan" and "I Am Flux Pavilion's Mum," respectively. The pair never stopped dancing, even when posing for pictures with fans.
Most main-stage DJs anchored their drops with booming, repetitive bass hits. Oliver Heldens didn't turn down the volume, but he added a little low-end melody — something much appreciated by those who prefer dancing in place to jumping up and down. The 20-year-old's sound is usually compared to Nineties house, but his new music seemed closer to bassline, the brief British movement best known through T2's "Heartbroken." And yes, there were a few old-school nods — a breakbeat here, "Rhythm of the Night" there — but Heldens generally focused on EDM's present. His unedited use of hits like Robin Schulz's "Prayer in C" remix and Martin Solveig's "Intoxicated" seemed to be evidence that the genre has followed him toward lighter, groovier bliss.
When Andrew Rayel wanted his crowd to do something more than jump and down, he stood on the booth and cued Armin van Buuren's "Ping Pong." Forty seconds in, the track breaks down into a slow back-and-forth between two carefully crafted bloops, and here the rising trance DJ instructed everyone to wave their arms in time with the notes. "Armin already did it!" yelled one cynic, but each time, the sea of people did as instructed.
Krewella's backing band gave the Yousaf sisters an added rock edge. Jahan and Yasmine traded vocal duties in front of the DJ booth on original tracks like "Alive" and the irrepressibly catchy "Somewhere to Run"; dropped back to mix hits ranging from Rae Sremmurd’s "No Type" to Blur's "Song 2"; then covered Hozier's "Take Me to Church." As their time ran down, Jahan got back on the mic: "Thank you so much for being open-minded!"
Plenty of DJs mixed hip-hop into their sets, but only Carnage played his set in the style of a hip-hop DJ, quickly cutting through tracks like Big Sean's "I Don't Fuck With You" and Rihanna's "Bitch Better Have My Money." In between, he'd frequently jump on the mic — we were waiting for him to salute those who owned their own car, Mister Cee style. Although he eventually transitioned to EDM, Carnage ultimately brought it home with a crowd-pleasing pop hit: 'NSync's "I Want You Back." The DJ also deserves recognition for his superlative custom graphics, which featured an endless loop of his body morphing into and out of a Chipotle burrito.
EDC fans don't just stencil onto jumbo paper and hold their signs up in the air; they print custom graphics, then attach their creations to tall posts and carry these across the grounds. Here are the five best we saw poking above the crowd.
5. (tie) Every oversized emoji poster, the blown-up image of an Instagram "like" notification
4. "Nicolas Rage"
3. Crying Kim Kardashian
2. "Turn Down for Butts" (featuring an illustration of Tina from Bob's Burgers dressed for a rave)
1. "EDM Saved My Life" b/w the logos of a dozen EDM DJs
Flosstradamus DJ'd with their faces covered and designer bulletproof vests shielding their torsos, looking like they were about to rob the Williamsburgh Savings Bank. Autobot worked the locks — his eyes rarely left their laptop — while J2K jumped on the counter and shouted instructions. Most artists thanked New York, but this duo seemed uniquely excited about the fact that the fest actually took place in Jersey: Their set was the first we caught to include Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen," and Autobot made sure to shout out Newark's DJ Sliink, with whom they produced a pair of tracks. An early blast of fireworks briefly threatened to overpower the music, but instead the smoke became an excuse to play a remix of Collie Buddz's herb anthem "Come Around."
Blasterjaxx delivered the weekend's weirdest finale when they dropped Linkin Park's "In the End" as their time came to a close. The Dutch duo took full advantage of the haunting piano intro, which they cut against their own "Fifteen."
Last year, Gina Turner played an excellent set in a small, dark lounge within MetLife Stadium. This weekend, she was moved outside to the much larger CircuitGrounds stage, where she became the best argument for arriving while the sun was still high in the sky. Turner's set was among EDC's most subtle, dishing out suave house tracks like Ballast's "For Club Use," a chopped and screwed take on Drake's verse from "Truffle Butter" and her own "Turn Me Up." Heat be damned, the DJ danced in the booth as if she were another fan wilding out on the pavement.