A Brand New North Coast Ten Years Later

Co-written by Natasha Lenart
Featured photo by Breton Spiller

Over the last 10 years, North Coast Music Festival has created an identity on the basis of not having one – the lineup has always been eclectic and vastly talented, from electronic artists like Bassnectar and ODESZA, to R&B/hip-hop legends D’Angelo and Snoop Dogg, to unbelievable catches like Jamiroquai, returning to play in America for the first time in 13 years at last year’s fest. The lineup has never followed any guidelines, and the mix had a way of joining people together who may not have been in the same space otherwise. No matter what, North Coast was guaranteed to provide something new for you to experience.

Photo by Josh Skol

This year, North Coast Music Festival faced quite a few challenges. With the original host, Silver Wrapper, shutting their doors last year, the status of the festival was unknown. However, no one was about to let one of the best music festivals in Chicago be cancelled, and especially not on its 10-year anniversary. Under new management, the festival was given a whole new look and feel, which ultimately led to a completely different experience than Coasties are accustomed to. The fest dropped its usual ambiguous, free-loving attitude to embrace a fully electronic set list over two days in a more upscale venue at Northerly Island, compared to its humble origins at Union Park. The fest apparently set out to make a statement for its 10th installment, but what it did was create an entirely new fest with a blurred connection to its former prime.

Luckily, a Chicago festival has never failed to attract good music. Although the fest lost its spontaneous identity, the artists on the bill were still heavily talented, dipping in to all the diverse facets that EDM has to offer.

Photo by Aaron Bradley

A very sunny Friday saw some of the best late-summer weather Chicago has ever seen. A cool breeze off the lake wafted over the turf-covered expanse of a pseudo-grassy lawn spreading north of a large tent dubbed ‘The Hangar’ on the far end of the park. Wandering off toward the lake meant wandering past the GoodBus – a bus-turned-stage owned by DJ duo GoodSex that has brought its stage to Spring Awakening, Summer Camp, Electric Forest, Lost Lands and beyond for smaller artists and renegades to throw down on. The grounds spread all the way to Northerly Island’s permanent pavilion as mainstage, but not everyone could get there…

The tickets were tiered in two. This was not your average GA vs. VIP – North Coast offered a “Lawn” ticket, which got you access to food vendors, the silent disco, the GoodBus, volleyball nets, some art installments and a view of the Pavilion stage from outside a fence. If you had the lawn tickets, your view was not the best: patrons started lining up at the gate outside of the pavilion entrance as if they were riding the rail, and a crowd formed some 100 feet out from the other.

Photo by Aaron Bradley

If you had a “Floor” ticket, you got all this plus access to the Pavilion floor and grandstand seating. A small Floor-only area contained the same food vendors and flushable trailer bathrooms, but otherwise, there was not much difference between the Floor and Lawn tickets aside from a better view.

But, with a $13 Bud Light or $17 IPA in hand, maybe the Lawn ticket holders had the smart idea to save some money. Chicago is not known for being affordable, but the prices at NCMF soared over all other events, even Lollapalooza.

Chicago locals Elevatd opened up the Hangar stage on Friday afternoon. These dudes are everywhere in the Chicago scene, marking off another performance in their long list of summer festival spots with catchy dance grooves to warm up the crowd.

Photo by Aaron Bradley

Later, the Pavilion drew all the attention for Yung Bae and Big Wild. Both sets seemed to blend effortlessly with a mix of energetic pop and dreamy synths. The sun lowered in burning orange over the glistening skyline as Big Wild was coming to a close, and the nightfall set the perfect stage for Jai Wolf to mellow out on beautiful melodies. On Friday, it was almost impossible to break away from the Pavilion.

But if you did, it was probably to see Flux Pavilion throw down in the Hangar. His set ended at exactly the same time as Bassnectar’s began, giving bassheads all the freedom to explore a little before Lorin came out in a burst of fire.

Photo by Aaron Bradley

As far as Bassnectar crowds go, the floor crowd seemed a little small (even considering that half the crowd was trapped behind a second barricade). Anyone could have easily walked up to the front of the stage on either side where people sat on inflata-couches and got weird with their flow toys in all the extra space. But at a Bassnectar show, size doesn’t matter, and the energy was unmatched for any other artist in the day. The front of the stage was lined with pyrotechnics, shooting towering flames just a few feet in front of the front row whenever Loren hit a nasty drop.

But even with a mostly electronic lineup, day two brought out a whole new side of the fest.

Photo by Aaron Bradley

Saturday started off with yet another fantastic set by hometown heroes Birthdayy Partyy at The Hangar. After the boys’ performance, Kyle Walker took the stage. I hadn’t heard his music before, but he absolutely slayed the decks. Recently signed on to JAUZ’s record label, Bite This!, Walker impressed the crowd with his ear for groovy house tunes. Following Kyle Walker was mau5trap artist i_o. He’s made quite a name for himself as a “techno” artist. Although I’d agree his sound is inspired by techno, I still can’t quite put my finger on the genre of music he makes. It reminds me of a more palpable, big room type of techno. Regardless, he absolutely killed it, and you could tell his audience agreed.

Photo by Aaron Bradley

Later, the silent disco was bumping. The Be Nice Collective takeover was in full swing and Chicago locals AYOO were getting everyone up and off their feet. After listening to house music all day long, we weren’t ready to end there. Tchami threw down an awesome set in the pouring rain. And finally, JAUZ closed the weekend, throwing us all off the deep end.

One of the best perks of a two-day fest on a four-day holiday weekend is the extra recovery time and plenty of daydreaming of what next year’s North Coast might bring. With a bittersweet goodbye, “Summer’s Last Stand” is over for 2019.

Photo by Aaron Bradley

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