Nestled in Union Park, North Coast Music Festival is the approachable, easygoing cousin of Chicago festival beasts like Lollapalooza and Spring Awakening. Featuring a broad bill of notable EDM, indie and rap artists, attendees are pulled together to celebrate great music – no matter the genre.
The setup of the festival is a little claustrophobic. There are four stages, 3 outdoor and one indoor, which resembles an enclosed igloo and/or ice arena but in a warmer, sweatier and sandier fashion.
As one might predict from an all ages event, the North Coast crowd is noticeably younger than many Chicago festivals; I would argue that the median age rests somewhere between 17 & 20.
North Coast – Day 1
At 3:15 on the first day of the festival, a young man pukes on his arm near a tree while his friends try to force-feed him an empanada.
Don’t worry, though, I see him later and he’s fine.
With three backup singers, a trumpet, sax and full band, Jamila Woods has a remarkably rehearsed stage performance for a relatively new artist. Her latest album, HEAVN, was released a month ago, making her North Coast performance a significant debut.
Woods’ aptitude as a poet shines through in her lyrics; during her single “Blk Girl Soldier,” she laments “Look at what they did to my sisters / Last century last week / They put her body in a jar and forget her / They love how it repeats.”
Her rendition of “Day & Night” by Kid Cudi is imaginative, and although it (predictably) pales in comparison to the original, it all comes down to this: the girl has pipes.
As Jamila Woods echoes one last “Thank You” to the dwindling crowd, Tyler Minford of Louis Futon takes the neighboring Skyline Stage. His popularity is evident by the end of his set, but at the beginning he fights to match the nearby competition created by Hermitude.
Opening with “Hotline Bling,” by Drake, Minford seamlessly transitions to a new remix of “All My Friends,” by Snakehips. (Sidebar: I must have heard that song remixed at least 6 different ways at North Coast, and I still love it.)
Minford’s original track “Wasted On You,” is a crowd favorite, but he still utilizes remixes of recognizable songs like “I Want You to Know” by Zedd and “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd.
A nonchalant gathering suddenly becomes a wave of emphatic ravers as Galantis’ “Firebird” blasts from the Skyline Stage. A sign reading “Stop Drumpf” bounces haphazardly alongside a nude blow-up doll as Miike Snow’s Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklow scream at the crowd, jumping on and off their setup.
15 minutes into the set, Galantis sends their fans into a fit of hysterics with a teaser of “Runaway (U & I),” following it shortly after with “You.” The party continues to rapidly accelerate as the Space Jam theme song rips through the speakers, causing the (markedly) young girl next to me to ask, “Why don’t I know this song?”
As the sun sets a giant pair of hot pink, pixelated lips sing the lyrics to the full version of “Runaway (U & I)” and the duo closes out their set.
I originally intend to see Sleigh Bells, but Juicy J takes the stage and I’m caught up. There’s something nostalgic about the timbre of this voice, and I’m not losing my spot unless I need another beer.
“Bandz A Make Her Dance” teases the crowd into a frenzied mosh pit that continues through his feature in Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse.” Alternately, a mix of people passing blunts gives the performance a comfortable, personable feel. It’s almost like hanging out with your best friend – albeit the one that always gets you in trouble.
As one of the founding members of Three 6 Mafia, he doesn’t let his past fall to the wayside, featuring both “Sippin On Some Syrup” and “Who Run It.”
It isn’t often that I enjoy cramming myself in a sea of sweaty people, but for Odesza, I decide to make an exception. The air hums with patient anticipation and a light breeze offers momentary relief from the surrounding body heat.
A giant, glowing pineapple on a staff serves as a meetup beacon for countless groups of friends that have been separated by the disorder of the day.
Odesza never fails to pay homage to the city that they’re in, so I’m not surprised when the duo, consisting of Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, make an unforgettable entrance alongside members of the Chicago Bulls Drumline. Backed by the beat of the Bulls, “Bloom” and “I Play You Listen” leaves the audience (myself included) slack-jawed.
During remixes of “Something About You” by James Hayden, “Divinity” by Porter Robinson, “One Day They’ll Know” by Pretty Lights and “Big Girls Cry” by Sia, Mills & Knight drum opposite one another, decisively driving the audience to dance harder.
The sound quality during Odesza’s set is lamentable. We’re close to the stage, but people around me are begging for the sound to be turned up. A few express their worries for Friday and Saturday’s Skyline Stage headliners, Bassnectar and Zedd.
Sound problems aside, In Return tracks “Memories That You Call” and “Say My Name” remind everyone why they’re at North Coast in the first place: to dance.
North Coast – Day 2
Starting the day off with a lackadaisical groove, Big Wild throws me back into the festival with “Venice Venture,” making me feel as though I never left.
Big Wild is all about the bouncy beats, and he showcases his skills with live drums throughout the set. His most popular song, “Aftergold,” causes a throng of totems to flood the stage.
His remix of “UGK” (never fuck without a rubber) is surprisingly serene, and he gives a shout out to Chance before seducing the audience with his mix of “All My Friends,” by Snakehips.
Although the surrounding mood is much more subdued than the day before (I can only speculate on possible causes), baking beneath that end-of-summer sun makes everything seem rose-colored.
Chicago born Ty Dolla $ign is a showman. He knows how to play to a crowd, and he knows how to make you comfortably uncomfortable.
“In My Room” by Yellow Claw plays and Ty Dolla $ign grins at a girl in the front row, singing “I know you a freak / Let’s party let’s drink.” His most recognizable tracks, “Or Nah,” “Saved,” and “Wavy,” and “Blasé,” each elicit an emphatic response from everyone who has heard them – no matter their level of familiarity.
If you’re mad you missed Ty Dolla $ign’s set, then you’ll be even more upset when you hear that Chicago’s beloved Vic Mensa and Lil’ Durk hop onstage – a welcome surprise to an already invested audience.
The only glaring flaw with Ty Dolla $ign’s performance is his heavy (and I mean heavy) reliance on backing tracks. They are so good, in fact, that he doesn’t feel the need to finish his phrases, and only jumps in when he deems it necessary. As the set moves forward I am able to hear that he is, quite clearly, a talented vocalist, so I’m willing to chalk the backing track up to festival error.
Near the end of the set, Ty Dolla $ign rips off his shirt and starts pulling from a bottle of Bombay Sapphire. He yells, “If you don’t have an STD put your hands up,” and everyone scrambles to shove their fist in the air.
Grinning like a madman, he shouts and pours shots of gin into the open mouths in the front row.
The sound at the Coast Stage is impeccable, and the towering trees give it an intimate, exotic feel. That’s what I find myself thinking after four or five beers, at least.
Known for their live renditions and unpredictable mashups, Keys N Krates serves as the quintessential blend of electronic, rap, and trap music. After reading Jesse Pizano’s interview with members Adam Tune, David Matisee and Jr. Flo (Greg Dawson), I’m expecting a little mayhem and a lot of party. I’m not disappointed.
Erratic, white strobe lights pierce through the dust as Keys N Krates tear apart Kanye’s “Clique,” following it with a rapid-fire remix of Tove Lo’s “Habits.”
The stage is (appropriately) bathed in red for “Midnight Mass,” a hauntingly reverent track of their latest album that breaks up the heavy beats and fast pace. “
As “Dum Dee Dum” (the song that led to their recent notoriety) plays, I’m reminded of why Keys N Krates are such a unique, must-see group: they’re creating their music – electronic music – live. Keep it 100” and “Are We Faded” are melodically recognizable, but also have a few variations to remind you that you’re witnessing a performance – not a replay.
Bassnectar (But not really)
If you’ve managed to make your way through this North Coast recap thus far, then you’ll remember that there were some sound problems during Odesza’s set at the Skyline Stage. Well, it doesn’t get any better.
In fact, not only is the sound way too quiet for Bassnectar, but it’s also repeatedly clipping; this means that the best part of Bassnectar – the bass-y part – is almost completely out of commission.
He plays through it, although he repeatedly apologizes, voicing his exasperation by saying “I don’t know what’s happening guys.” Everyone’s pissed.
I can hear Logic from the Coast Stage; he sounds crystal clear. Despite not knowing much about him, I head over in an attempt to enjoy what’s left of the evening.
This is, without a doubt, the best decision I made the entire weekend at North Coast. Logic isn’t just a performer; he is pure, unadulterated talent combined with relentless rehearsal. After only a few moments of watching him onstage I’m taken aback by his eloquence and personability.
He uses his presence onstage not just as a platform to promote and deliver his music, but as an opportunity to bring about equality. Before I know what’s happening, I’m seeing this:
If you don’t want to watch the video, that’s fine. I’ll paraphrase. He says:
“You need to make sure you treat the trash man like he’s the president of the fucking United States. […] Everyone is equal. Regardless of race, creed, color, sexual orientation, gender, any of that, we are all equal.” Immediately afterwards, he jumps into “Flexicution,” leaving everyone wondering what they just witnessed.
If this isn’t enough, Logic notices someone in the front row rapping with him. He challenges them to keep up. They run through a verse again, together, at warp speed. Logic smiles and says, “One more time. One breath.” This time, he begins rapping at pace that is undeniably inhuman; everyone just stares in disbelief, as he says “thank you,” and walks offstage.
I wish I was a better writer. I feel like I’m not doing him justice.
North Coast – Day 3
I’d be willing to bet money that Joshua Mellody, or Zomboy, used to play in a ruthless punk band. Or, alternatively, he was a hardcore kid that loved thrashing in the center of a mosh pit. If not, his music sure as hell sounds like it.
Zomboy is my kind of show. When I’m in the mood for it I absolutely love harsh beats and mindless head-banging. Mellody isn’t trying to pretend his show is something it’s not, either. He understands that everyone is at Zomboy to put on their bass-face, and he’s more than happy to facilitate it.
With a visual countdown of 5-4-3-2-1, “Like A Bitch” rolls through the speakers, and everyone around me is temporarily incapacitated. The girl wide-eyed girl chewing on her necklace next to me mutters “Oh my God,” before throwing herself into a frenzied fit of erratic dance/grind/jumping.
“Nuclear,” “Miles Away,” and “Game Time” all have their place within the intense set; there were no breaks to catch your breath, because it’s not that kind of show. He begins to play an unedited version of “Lean On” by Major Lazer & DJ Snake, and then interrupts it with a section from “Airborne,” that says, “Welcome to Hell, who gives a shit?”
That pretty much sums it up.
Nobody told me that Matt & Kim love penises so much. And not just a little; the entirety of their set revolves around penis jokes. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. Their hilarious stage presence makes them relatable, and somehow adds a little more of that punk feel to Matt’s pop-punk vocals.
Kim tosses empty balloons into the crowd and jokes that she would have thrown them further but her arm is “tired from jerking Matt off all night.” She tells everyone blow the balloons up, and as “Get It” begins, the entire audience simultaneously throws them in the air. It’s pretty cool.
Other highlights of the performance include:
- Kim standing on top of her drums, playing the bass drum with a massive – and I mean massive – black dildo
- Naked blow up dolls being harpooned into the crowd
- Kim twerking as audience members hold her by the ankles to keep her standing upright
- Two Volkswagen sized beach balls rolling back and forth across the audience
- A giant inflatable penis, also thrown into the crowd, is forced to “fuck” a blow up chair that resembles a vagina
Despite their proclivity for adolescent humor, Matt & Kim are endlessly entertaining and keep the giggling audience enraptured for the entire set. They play all the favorites such as “Daylight,” “Let’s Go” and “Get It” and clearly have a blast while doing it.
If you haven’t watched Action Bronson’s “Fuck, That’s Delicious,” or “Action Bronson Watches Ancient Aliens,” then you have some serious television binging to do. Not only does the man eat an inordinate amount of food, but he smokes more weed than I ever thought humanly possible. Ever.
When Action Bronson walks onstage I lose my shit like a 6-year-old at Disney Land. He looks exactly like I imagined: a giant, stoned, majestic teddy bear. Bronson’s not shy about his appearance, either. Squinting out into the darkness, he says he is “302 pounds of fucking beast. I just need to lose six pounds.”
I’ve watched enough Bronson television to know that he also has two of his best buddies, Alchemist and Big Body Bes, backing him up the entire performance. Deep down we’re all hoping that Chance will make an appearance during “Baby Blue,” but unfortunately this is one festival he decides to skip out on.
Bronson released a new song just a few days before the show called “Descendant Of The Stars.” It’s possible he’s been chugging a little of the Ancient Aliens kool-aid; he declares “As a descendant of the stars it’s only right that I become one.”
It’s Bronson’s lyrics that make him so loveable. In “Acting Crazy” he boasts that all he does is “eat oysters / speak six languages in three voices.” In fact, you can learn a lot about him by listening to “Terry,” where he states that “Life’s ironic and it’s simple / Smoke good, fuck, eat, drink / drive nice car wear all green mink.”
There’s something special about a man who can appreciate the finer things in life. When I grow up, I want to be Action Bronson.
As soon as Zedd starts playing, a wave of relief flows over me. The sound is pristine. Any technical problems faced the first two nights are gone.
Zedd isn’t shy about playing for popularity. “Break Free” by Ariana Grande, “Summer” by Calvin Harris, “One More Time” by Daft Punk and “Loving Every Minute” by Mark Wills start one sing-along after another.
I’ll have to admit, if there’s one thing Zedd does right, it’s the visuals that accompany his performance. Intricately designed videos make it feel as though you’re wandering down an endless pathway. Each song is intricately synchronized with its own imagery. This removes any questions about the possibility of improvisation, but that’s not particularly shocking at an EDM performance.
More importantly – his lasers are fucking sweet. I don’t care if you’re sober or crawling down a rabbit hole in a back alley; everyone loves lasers.
No Zedd show would be complete without “Clarity,“ “I Want You to Know,” and “Beautiful Now,” which, as predicted, cause a few emotional outbursts from the exhausted and overwhelmed festi-kids around me.
Covered in a thin film of sweat, dust, and spilled beer, I leave the festival and walked a block to Cobra Lounge for a nightcap. It is completely empty, a welcome change after three days of swarming festival goers.
North Coast Music Festival doesn’t just make you appreciate having the opportunity to see some of the Nation’s best acts in an intimate setting; it makes you appreciate the diversity of music and the harmony that it creates.