Pretty Lights at Identity Festival Photo: Allie Foraker
Identity Festival was a smash success. With a diverse bill that featured some of the biggest names in the electronic dance music scene today and a tour that hit almost every major city in the U.S., the brand new festival made a name for itself this year, pretty much ensuring that it will be back next summer. Like Warped Tour but for EDM music, it is the first major all electronic music festival tour in the country. I got the chance to catch the three-stage festival just outside of San Francisco.
The day started slowly with subpar sets from Le Castle Vania and Datsik. Le Castle Vania has an original sound at least, but unfortunately it hasn’t changed in over three years. Datsik has a similar problem, playing the equivalent of Top 40 dubstep with no deviation from the norm. It’s the same music, day after day, and it was old three years ago.
Booka Shade stepped it up on the Skullcandy main stage with a live show that was energetic and hard as shit without even trying. Some of the hardest hitting EDM is so simple, just a strong four-to-the-floor kick drum, a couple of layers of synths, a dope bassline and a strong drum beat on top. Music doesn’t have to sound like shit to be hard as hell. Booka Shade is a great example of the places electronic music is heading, and their DJ-Kicks album on K7 Records is especially worth checking out for some chill, futuristic house and downtempo.
The Disco Biscuits rocked the main stage next with a fun, low-key set that, in retrospect, was a great lead in to the chaos of the night-time sets. With only about an hour to play, most of their songs were a lot shorter and more rushed than usual, but they managed to get in a decent amount of material and were able to transition from one song into a second into a third and back into the first, true Biscuits style.
We caught the last twenty minutes of The Crystal Method, who played a fun DJ set, complete with a double bass/turntable/keyboard, a Black Sabbath “War Pigs” remix. A few guys in the back of the crowd were doing the goofiest breakdancing I’ve ever seen, two guys were sitting on the ground rowing a canoe and another one was doing flips. The Crystal Method is a classic electronic duo and these days, their fans range in age from sixteen to forty, something pretty rare in the electronic world.
Pretty Lights played the main stage next with an amazing visual setup. There were LED towers behind him ranging from five to fifteen or twenty feet tall, meant to look like skyscrapers, a huge screen and a three-level LED platform that his DJ table was on. During his remix of Kanye West’s “All Of The Lights,” the towers glittered like a city skyline and a beautifully stylized sky twisted on the screen behind. Only high quality videos will really do it justice.
Kaskade finished off the night with a fun, electro-house/trance set that had the entire crowd (my estimation: around 19,000 people) going nuts, singing along, shuffling, stringing glowsticks and rolling around on the ground in ecstasy. He performed on top of a huge fifteen or twenty foot LED screen with another huge screen above him with trippy, ethereal graphics in pinks and blues. Not quite as impressive as the Pretty Lights setup, but the sheer size of the screens was captivating.
Identity was an experiment in how—and if—an all-EDM festival tour could work in the same way that rock festival tours work—and it works. Somewhat counter-intuitively, an amphitheater is a great place for electronic music, because let’s face it, as long as the music is loud enough, it doesn’t matter how far away you are. It sucks if you can’t see the stage at a rock concert. You want to see those guys playing their instruments, and your eyesight maybe isn’t good. But when seeing a DJ and/or producer, you don’t need to look at the stage unless there is a visual setup. And all visual setups are big enough to see from really, really far away. You could see Kaskade’s and Pretty Light’s screens perfectly from a football field away, at the top of the amphitheater.
Electronic dance music has absolutely blown up in the U.S. in the past two or three years and it is an absolute certainty that it will only keep getting bigger. Yet there are continuous problems with EDM concerts, festivals and raves, to the extreme point of some California politicians attempting to ban all concerts with prerecorded sets that are more than three hours. Los Angeles has had teenagers die at events like the Electric Daisy Carnival, bringing a whirlwind of bad publicity and an uncomfortable spotlight on the electronic music scene. As representations of the scene, the promoters of these events have to tread carefully to avoid being shut down for good. The EDM scene has a bad reputation, but when it comes down to it, it’s not about the drugs, or the partying, or the kandi, or the girls dressed like whores—it’s about the music. So promoters will keep throwing events and fans will keep going, regardless of the reputation or the laws. Identity Festival is a great example of that. Moving forward and taking the scene to every corner of this country, Identity has shown that EDM is here to stay, like it or not.
Photos: Allie Foraker