I’d been trying to envision what exactly it was that I was expecting as I faded in and out of consciousness on the red line. Getting off at NoMa Gallaudet I couldn’t hear or see anything resembling a festival so I decided to follow a young crowd of people that seemed to be walking in the same direction. As we approached Union Market, the 4th Street side seemed as abandoned as it does at Midnight – a peaceful lifelessness contrasted heavily by the festivities just a block down and around the corner. I walked in just as Niykee Heaton finished her set and made my way to the front towards the stage, a massive platform tucked in between a pair of warehouses. Any other day, this would have been a prime loiter spot.
I pull myself up onto a ledge and sat for a while, trying to see what people were doing. At this point people were trying to prep themselves for the main event – the bars were packed and people were flooding the food stands to grab what they could before they got bumrushed again after the next act. So far, it seemed like there hadn’t been too much clamour among the crowd – most of their thoughts appeared as tweets or Instagram posts on a large screen on the stage with the only actual conversation being among friends or discussions about how stoked they were for what’s yet to come. The screen idea was genius and it was hilarious to see people shamelessly express their adoration for Niykee Heaton’s bottom.
It took quite a while for Penguin Prison to set up. I was admiring the Nord keyboard as the band would step on and off the stage rocking outfits that made them seem like the quintessential pop-punk band with denim jackets contrasting a clean, plain futuristic style. The bassist was the only one wearing a black button-up and slacks. I had had their self-titled debut sitting in my iTunes for quite some time having only listened to it once or twice – I never imagined that I would see them live so I was interested to see what would happen. The first couple of songs were a pleasant surprised and the visuals were kept nice and simple. My only qualms came up later in their set when it felt like they had gotten much too repetitive with their sound, but looking around it seemed like people couldn’t get enough and that kept me going. The band was having as much fun as the people were with the frontman, Chris Glover, busting out in an overdriven solo that pierced through the synthesized mellows that the rest of the band was trying to weave together. The truly outrageous feat that caught everyone’s attention though, was their cover of “All Night Long” – a performance that left me unsure of whether I loved the reckless attempt to have a good time, or hated the actual performance littered with overdone adlibs that punctured the ears of anyone who was relatively near the speakers.
There had been only one other band left before Kygo’s set began but that was still about 3 hours away. I quickly made my way through the small, scattered circles of people (with ease that I took incredibly for granted, as I would find out later) to the warehouse on the right where all the food sponsors had set up their booths that attracted unreal lines of customers. The food options were anything but conventional and I found myself going back and forth several times to try and decide what I wanted to eat. Maketto had already sold out so I just bit the bullet and stood in the long-ass line behind Buredo and was surprised to see that it was moving quite quickly. Regardless, it was unequivocally worth it. Rarely had I been so excited for food but this was pure genius. Buredo is essentially a sushi burrito; sashimi, vegetables and seasonings wrapped up in a burrito-sized seaweed roll. It was one of those things that could either bomb or absolutely rock. Upon drenching my half-Hanzo roll in a bunch of sriracha there was no doubt that it was the latter. The only thing that got me more excited about this place was finding out that it’s on 14th street by McPherson Square station. By now I was ready to get back in the game. I bought a bottle of water and managed to get back to exactly where I was earlier.
Night washed over day and that same tide brought an influx of more people ready to soak up the nocturnal vibes. The guy next to me was trying to get me hyped for the Knocks in between his attempts to take my media pass. I wasn’t sure what to expect of these guys – they were big but I hadn’t ever heard of them. They walked onto the stage where their setup was waiting and stationed themselves in the center of the semi-square rigging that housed a myriad of synthesizers and percussion devices. Their outfits spoke volumes. One was dressed head to toe in all black sporting some Kanye-esque chic with a hat on backwards while the other looked and sounded like Lionel Ritchie had Lionel Ritchie been a member of the Brothers Johnson after deciding to wear sleeveless shirts exclusively (a lot of Lionel Ritchie motifs floating around today). Their music fluctuated between Tron-like technopop jams and disco-house tunes that made me reminisce about summers and winters I spent at home floating through the bright nights and waves of sound propagated by those early 2000’s dance hits. I realized I was here more for the vibes than anything as the music pushed everyone away from me and made me look at the night. I was finally ready for Kygo. The awe in my eyes would deplete shortly after but I was tided over by the bizarre visuals, which had erratically bounced between being darkly cool and mellow to being delightfully sinister. Finally, the band brought out Powers, one of the earlier acts, to feature on a track and the joined charisma of the two relative-unknowns almost frenzied the crowd. They signalled that their set was coming to an end.
The band made a quick exit and by now the hushed murmur that rose from the crowd earlier became a flurry of banter as people got properly hyped for the Scandinavian headliner. Trying to leave to get food or water was not an option because I would have never found my way back and the people that did try to worm their way through the crowd attracted many a glare from the surrounding mob. By now, the alcohol was fully in everyone’s system and the energy emanating from it was almost palpable. The hour prior to Kygo’s set went much faster than expected and before I knew it the crowd was lifted by the tropical synths of his “I See Fire” remix that bridge the path between waking up to the chilly morning sun in Norway and being on some beach somewhere with people you love. I was never into his music but it would have been ridiculous not to feel good. It was probably at that moment that nobody cared about anything except being right there at that time – that was the endgame. Whether it was one of his many remixes or the new track he premiered right there at the festival, people found themselves taken away. It was unreal.
I had never imagined myself going to a festival that was almost entirely rooted in electronic music. It just isn’t my scene and I still stand by that. But festivals are never entirely about the music or the people that attend them, but rather both forces acting upon each other to create something special. People found themselves lost in the wilderness created by the warm synths, copiuous amounts of liquor and the simple desire to have a good time, and, whether I liked it or not, I was caught in that too. As I walked away about 45 minutes into Kygo’s set and looked back at the sea of onlookers I couldn’t help but feel at least a bit pleased, as much as I tried to fight it.
And I wasn’t even drunk.