Contributed by Evan Cudworth
Determined to dance off five days of post-Christmas cookie gorging, I nevertheless approached REACTION NYE with low expectations. And rightly so—this event had almost insurmountable factors working against it:
- Held in a convention center
- In the Chicago suburbs
- Night before NYE
- Mainstream-ish headliners
However, credit where credit is due: this was an impressively produced event. It’s difficult to imagine a successful party on this scale without catering to a wide audience, but organizers transformed a 580,000 square-foot convention center into an expansive warehouse that managed to exude “festival” vibes in the depths of a Midwestern December, while still capturing strong elements of the contemporary Euro/NYC rave scene.
CAVEAT: This was a two day event, and I was only able to attend Wednesday (the 30th). However, every report I received from friends who attended on the 31st (New Years Eve) confirmed and built upon the vibes I’ll report in this review.
How did they pull it off? Let’s dive in.
Transportation / Entrance / Ambience
REACTION took place in Rosemont, ~20 minutes northwest of downtown Chicago, near O’Hare airport. Shuttles were provided, and public trans El train stop closeby. I drove from the suburbs and found cheap parking easily.
Clad in my Brooklyn blacks and (at 29) prepared represent the “elders,” I nevertheless chugged a few beers on my walk to the venue. Unwilling to relinquish my coat, I forged the frozen river of (predominantly) college-aged revelers and zipped through security. Best I could tell, lines moved smoothly and the expansive coat-check was well staffed. Lockers and phone charging stations were also available (although I’d argue if you can’t keep your phone charged for a 7 hour event, you’re doing this wrong). Walking into the space, I immediately breathed a sigh of relief. It was massive, dark, and incredibly clean. Select other highlights:
- Small “rave merch” section upfront for last-minute LEDs
- Full-scale sound that reverberated confidently & cleanly through the space
- Indoor skate “demo” park (wish I would have spent more time here—genius addition)
- Healthy abundance of bathrooms (portables and native)
- Drink lines were moderately long—staff seemed poorly trained. But mixed cocktails were pleasantly strong for $10.
Most of all, I knew that no matter what else happened, I would have plenty of room to dance. And dance I did.
Music to Dance To
While it’s been disappointing to watch Chicago’s fading influence on “the underground” music scene—REACT certainly knows how curate a solid block of headliners. I’ve attended both of REACT’s summer festivals in the past (North Coast and Spring Awakening) and they’ve always managed to keep EDMers happy, while throwing in some reputable house/indie gems down the bill.
Trying to maximize my dance experience, I split time fairly evenly between the two “main” stages, where I was able to catch most of the following sets:
- CHERUB – After being blown away by their energy at a Lower East Side dive bar, every time I’ve seen Cherub since they’ve failed to deliver anything but fatigued debauchery. The crowd—clearly craving both doses and mimosas—seemed to share my sentiments.
- JAMIE JONES – By far the highlight of my night. Deep, housey vibes. One of the only sets to feature spontaneous dance circles. Smiles all around. It was a crime his set was only an hour, the last 15 minutes felt rushed as we clung to the tophat riff from Filthy Rich – Rendezvous (Nathan Barato Remix), craving a longer build.
- CHVRCHES – I was worried because their brand of electropop in this kind of venue could have been a train wreck, but they’re consistently beautiful live. Kudos to the REACT lighting and sound team. I found a cozy spot up front and sang along to every word, much to the surprise of the 15 self-identified ‘basic bros’ behind me.
- DEADMAU5 – I’m lukewarm on Joel Zimmerman. Certainly feel for the guy, who obviously cares deeply about his art, but also snarkily fulfills his cultural obligation as a “certain type” of popular DJ. This wasn’t a particularly surprising set—we heard “Avaritia” and “Strobe”—but shuffling to Big Room in such a big room was certainly a fun experience.
But… Should You Go?
Despite above “insurmountable factors,” REACTION NYE is a welcome addition to the Chicago-area festival circuit, and if you’re looking for the warmth of a massive-scale party in the frozen Midwest you can’t do much better. My friends and I found plenty of reasons to shimmy, and by the time I looked at my fitness tracker I had danced over 19 miles (and burned off at least a few of those Christmas cookies). Thanks REACTION!
PS: If you’re looking for deeper, more underground vibes and one-off events (with less of a college vibe)—check out Paradigm.
Evan Cudworth is live music veteran who has attended ~1500 shows and 50+ festivals.