Written by Rebecca Hollman
Photos courtesy of ARC Music Festival / KURZA
Only in its second year of existence, ARC Music Festival doesn’t act like it. This is a festival that feels like its been around forever, and its because they know what they are doing and how to throw an epic party. Taking place over Labor Day Weekend in Chicago, ARC brings in top-tier techno and house talent from around the globe – even artists that almost never tour in the US. This is the global “best of the best” in house and techno acts all in one spot for an epic weekend that packs a punch.
First things first. You just cannot beat a lineup like this. This is pretty much all of the current (and some old school) top names in techno and house. From tech house like Chris Lake, Gene Ferris, Gorgon City, Get Real and Justin Martin, to deep house like Lane 8, Ben Böhmer and Nora en Pure, to minimal techno like Carl Cox and DJ Tennis to hard hitting and aggressive techno like ANNA, Adam Beyer b2b Cirez D, and Charlotte de Witte – ARC had just about every subgenre covered. All of these artists split across three days made sure that every attendee could get a little taste of just about everything.
ARC had four stages for the weekend – the main stage called “The Grid“, the Elrow Experience tent, “Expansions“, and the “ARC Car.” The Grid featured a multi-panel setup of LED screens radiating out from the side of the stage to create a huge structure. The stage was set up in a circle, with the stage setup at the front, drink vendors wrapping around the sides and VIP sections and bleachers towards the back. The amount of space inside the circle was massive – and the crowds of people filled it up easily. The sound quality and light/laser production were top-notch and the lasers in combination with the multitude of LED panels made for great visuals.
Behind the Grid was a section of food vendors, as well as sitting areas and some art installations. Back in this area was where the Elrow tent was located. Let me tell you, this tent was pure madness. There were 40+ stilt performers in crazy costumes wandering around the crowd at all times, confetti cannons popping off confetti every 10 seconds, balloons and giant beach balls being tossed through the air, and just general all-around madness. This stage was inside a tent to prevent sound bleed and the only stage on asphalt. The downsides of this stage were that (1) it was an oven inside the tent and (2) the crowds here were bigger than the tent could hold so people were spilling out the back of the tent where the noise quality was noticeably worse.
The Expansions stage was on the other side of the Grid and featured a smaller semi-circle stage made of scaffolding. This stage was surrounded by lots of trees and foliage to create a little bubble that isolated it from the rest of the noise of the festival. At the top of the scaffolding semi circle was the craziest laser I’ve ever seen. It seemed like it was an octagon laser that could put out lights in 8 different directions at once and in all different colors. This was definitely some cutting-edge laser technology we were witnessing here. The only downside of the Expansions stage was the dust that got kicked up from the dirt dance floor.
Last but not least was the ARC Car, located smack dab in the middle of the festival. This smaller stage was home to all of the up and coming and local acts on the lineup. The stage was backed by multi-colored plastic panels and a big painted school bus was parked on the opposite side of the stage to create the barrier for the crowd. This stage had astro turf to stand on and somehow managed to have absolutely no noise pollution from the other stages even though it was pretty much on top of the Grid. This was a great stage to stop by on your way from one stage to another and get to learn about artists you didn’t know yet.
This is the real reason that ARC is so amazing. The people that come to ARC are hardcore house and techno lovers, more mature, have been around the block to many festivals and events, and definitely still know how to party. This also isn’t your techno snob crowd either – people were warm, inviting and generally positive. I had great interactions with people all weekend and was surprised at the range and variety of different types of people there. One of the coolest things about ARC is that it was so amazing in its first year, word spread to anyone who goes to festivals at all. All year long I had friends ask me “did you go to ARC last year??? Man it was amazing, I’m definitely going back.” It’s not often you hear over and over about a festival from all sorts of people months after its over. At ARC, I ran into people I had met at festivals from all corners of the globe over a 10 year span. Many people I never thought I would see again because I met them at Shambhala or Envision 5+ years ago. But that speaks to ARC’s appeal – bringing in attendees from different countries and from every corner of the United States because of its amazing lineup and the buzz it created from being so successful in 2021.
Because the festival was in downtown Chicago, city noise ordinances required that the music end at 10PM every night. ARC made sure that there was a plethora of after party options at venues around the city to make sure that everyone could keep going after 10PM if they wanted. Thursday night saw a Pan-Pot pre-party at Spybar to kick off the weekend’s festivities. Friday saw Boris Brejcha at Radius (after a mind-bending psy-influenced headlining set at ARC), ANNA and Sama’ Abdulhadi at Cermak Hall, Cloonee and Miane at Concord, Nora en Pure at Prysm, and Skream and Eats Everything at Spybar. Saturday choices included Green Velvet and Claude vonStroke at Radius, Derrick Carter and Ricardo Villalobos at Cermak Hall, Joseph Capriati at Prysm, Seth Troxler and Carl Craig at Spybar, Honey Dijon at Smartbar and Mike Dunn and Mark Farina at Primary. Sunday rounded off the weekend with a packed Eric Prydz and Adam Beyer after party at Radius, Gorgon City at Cermak Hall, Ben Böhmer at Concord, Vintage Culture at Prysm, Gioli & Assia at Spybar, Acid Pauli at Primary and DJ Three and Öona Dahl at No9. To really finish off the whole weekend experience, Justin Martin headlined a yacht party on the river on Monday night.
Overall, ARC is one of the best festivals in the US. It has top quality house and techno talent from all over the world, it has amazing sound and light production and quality, it has a lovely, welcoming, respectful crowd, and it is very smoothly run logistics-wise. It is only in its second year and that means its only going to get better and better from here. If you haven’t been to ARC yet, you do not want to miss out on this festival and if you have, then you already know that you’re going back next year.