Festival season concludes one week from today with a three-day-long torrent of lasers, confetti, and bass on Randall’s Island at the 10th annual Electric Zoo. New York City’s annual end-of-summer dance ritual may be a Mecca for pyrotechnics, gonzo rave attire, and big-room EDM trappings, but it remains steadfast in showcasing top-flight dance music from all corners. While its stage design announcements usually grab as much attention as its headliners, just peer down the lineup and you’ll find as much diversity in the smaller fonts as there is in the cages at the Bronx Zoo.
Curations like 2017’s entire stage dedicated to the Dixon- and Ame-led imprint Innervisions have kept it a viable option for the more discerning basshounds. Meanwhile, larger festivals like TomorrowWorld that went all-in on the more superficially bankable elements of EDM culture had their bubbles burst along with it. This year, Electric Zoo has skewed a little more niche in their collaborations for smaller stage bookings. Hype certainly precedes party elites like Brownies & Lemonade and Hyperhouse, but geographic constraints and the clandestine nature of some can make catching these happenings red-handed prove difficult.
That is, until they’re transplanted to Ezoo for a weekend. The small stages where these parties will live aren’t pulling the same weight as Ezoo’s vaunted main stage, to be certain. But there are enough gems to mine that you just may forget about the enormous, smoking monolith of lasers and light a few hundred yards away.
A festival powerhouse goes small(er)
All My Friends’ Gary Richards definitely knows how to throw a party. You might have heard of Hard SUMMER, the dance megalith he masterminded for a nearly a decade. In stepping aside to found All My Friends, the LA parted ways with Live Nation to go back to his roots (albeit with a much more elite friend circle to mine). His casting of Dirtybird’s Justin Martin and Shiba San with Wax Motif and his own Destructo moniker opens the door for a fascinating collision of styles, but the hallmark of Electric Zoo has never been its predictability.
Old Friends meet again
Electric Zoo won’t be the first meet-up between Los Angeles bass merchant AC Slater and Australia tastemaker Anna Lunoe. The pair’s respective labels, Night Bass and Hyperhouse, took over a stage at Hard SUMMER 2017, which gave birth to a pair of outstanding mixes from Slater and Lunoe each. Also returning from that epic Hard SUMMER collaboration is remixer and DJ Chris Lorenzo, whose Rinse FM sets are revered for pushing the Jackin’ house style forward. The real gem of this curation, however, is Newark, New Jersey’s UNIIQU3. She’s the queen of the Jersey Club scene and a purveyor of sound found nowhere else at Ezoo. Her frenetic, but oftentimes darkly soulful sound owes as much to Chicagoan ghetto house-style breaks as it does to its progenitor in Baltimore Club.
The pinnacle of German engineering?
As austere and efficient as one might come to expect from the country that gave us the both the BMW and Hans Haacke, HYTE is a well-oiled Techno machine. Its Sunday School Grove stage on the final day likely boasts the highest concentration of fortysomethings at the entire festival, but within it is decades of institutional knowledge for pounding out four-on-the-floor. Pete Tong, Gregor Treshor, and Chris Liebing are all masters who could each headline many European dance fests, and lower competition for legroom at the smaller stages means full enjoyment of legends at work.
Anjunabeats’ Sunday Riverside takeover
The dichotomy of Above & Beyond’s Anjunabeats and its subordinate label Anjunadeep mirrors that of Sunday’s Riverside stage lineup versus the Sunday School Grove and the Treehouse. In the former, you have a roster of mostly up-and-coming producers, albeit with more populist leanings. In the latter two, you’ll find something a lot headier from purists closer to the baselines of House and Techno.
Gabriel & Dresden, however, stand apart from their peers at the Riverside. They’re one of just a handful of producers on the entire lineup whose mainstream success predates the commercial EDM boom of the late aughts. Their early catalog of remixes is both vast and varied, however, with reworks like New Order’s “Someone Like You” still enduring.