This year’s edition of Electric Forest is now complete and as always, the festival shined in a way unlike any other in the world.
Another year, another Electric Forest in the books! The iconic Northern Michigan event was established as a jam festival in 2008 as Rothbury Music Festival and evolved into Electric Forest in 2011. For over ten years now, Double JJ Ranch & Resort has hosted one of the best and most unique festivals in the country. Every year, people from all over North America flock to a tiny town in Michigan to experience great music, incredible scenery, and amazing people.
What truly sets Electric Forest apart from everything else is the vibe and collective energy in the air. There simply isn’t anything like it. It was the first major destination festival I attended back in 2014, given that it’s less than a four-hour drive from Chicago. Although we were overwhelmed and unprepared that year and our campsite was quite sad, something about Forest stuck out and I knew it would be somewhere I’d return to for a long time.
Electric Forest is a place that has something for everyone, and every year the festival delivers with a variety of experiences and adventures for all to enjoy.
This year was different compared to the last few in that it returned to one weekend as opposed to two. I was never a fan of the decision to make it two weekends in 2017; not only was it harder to coordinate with my Forest Family, it always felt like a money grab to me. I can’t complain about the decreased crowds back when it was two weekends – it was noticeably emptier at times – but in hindsight, the collective energy and vibe suffered massively.
I was excited going into the weekend, knowing that a once again sold out Forest would provide endless opportunities to make this one of the best yet. And I was right, I think that overall it was my favorite since 2015.
We arrived early on Wednesday afternoon to settle in and catch Birthdayy Partyy and Wooli b2b Slander at the RVs. Unfortunately, a running theme from past years continued to this one: massive problems with disorganized staff and employees who could not be less helpful.
After arriving at the south box office and waiting in line for nearly half an hour, I was told to go on the other side of the festival to check in. But how was I supposed to get there since all traffic was flowing in and I couldn’t cut through the festival without a wristband? The employee simply shrugged and told me, “I don’t know”.
Like past editions of Forest, I knew that I would have to use my knowledge of this place and figure things out on my own.
It’s a common thing I’ve had to do over the years due to the huge and rather disorganized event staff. This was a theme that would carry on for others as well as there was a lack of signage and other issues that presented themselves for those coming to the festival the following day.
Luckily, I found an Axis Security employee that knew what she was talking about. After driving through forests, getting bad instructions from others, getting lost multiple times, and eventually just trusting my gut and driving down a rural road, I found a north entrance and was able to get in easily. I drove to my group camping spot and settled in for the weekend, just barely making it in time to set up before sunset.
On my way to the much-anticipated RV parties, I saw a major issue with the lack of staff in regards to traffic flow.
The entire flow of traffic from the south gate was merging into all the campers who were walking to the RV parties. It was dangerous, and it upset me to see something so disorganized. Since there was no one out there directing traffic, you could basically drive to wherever you wanted to go once you’re in the campgrounds. I really hope they hire an appropriate amount of traffic guards, security personnel, and event staff next year to fix these issues.
Although this was the first night I stopped by the Panky Rang, EVOL Chicago, and Jaenga Bus RV afters, it was far from the last. I called it an early night, anticipating an early wake up the next day to catch Hong Kong bass phenom Yako from 2:30-4pm.
Thursday morning came around, with beautiful weather and luckily no rain.
I got into the festival early, and my first impression was a great one: they FINALLY changed the production at Tripolee! After a unique design in 2014, this stage mainly stayed the same from 2015-2018. This was refreshing, as I feel that stages should be well produced and have something new every year. They also added a much needed second row of speakers.
Once Yako began, the energy in the place was instantly contagious. Playing 90 minutes of crazy edits and bass drops, this artist from overseas is doing something different than your typical bass artist. I hope he recorded this set and I hope to hear more from him soon, as he is truly a special talent.
One thing that really set this year’s Forest apart was the energy on Thursday.
Throughout the day, I mainly stayed at the Gud Vibrations hosted Tripolee Stage, the stage closest to the entrance that hosts electronic music throughout the weekend. Usually, I’ve always felt that people were tired and still mentally and physically warming up for the weekend on Thursdays. Not this year.
I’ll never forget walking into Forest in 2015 after waiting nearly ten hours in the camping line to see people dancing and smiling to Galantis to begin the day. It was amazing, and there was a similar feeling in the air all day at Tripolee. Some of my other favorites at this stage were LICK, Wavedash, Riot Ten, and Ekali.
Unfortunately, this first day was not without more problems.
The GA line to get in the festival was ridiculous, wrapping around the restaurants and shops on Main Street in the campgrounds and reaching much further back. Between a disorganized line, countless people cutting, and no one to direct attendees, it wasn’t uncommon for people to wait 4-5 hours in line on foot just trying to get in on Thursday.
Luckily, most everyone was able to make it in for ODESZA‘s headlining set at Ranch Arena. I’ve never quite understood their music like I did that night at the Forest. They gained a huge fan that day, and their set surprisingly made it into my top three acts for the weekend.
My Friday kicked off with Ayokay and Quinn XCII at Ranch Arena, two Detroit natives who bring a peaceful, happy vibe in their music which skews towards pop and hip-hop.
Seeing two childhood friends achieve their dreams at a festival they used to attend was incredibly special, and Quinn XCII had some of the best stage presence all weekend. Ranch Arena is a beautiful stage, set up comfortably towards the entrance of Sherwood Forest on one side and the walkway to vendors and Tripolee on the other.
That stage is great because you can stand close to the stage (pro tip: go left front), or find shade beneath the trees in the huge area in the back. It can get a little crowded when headliners like Bassnectar go on, but there is truly nothing like enjoying a set at Ranch Arena at Electric Forest.
Friday of Forest was also dominated by Bassrush at Tripolee, as the Insomniac owned brand brings in some of the best music for a bass party that lasts all day. The bass music scene is constantly changing, and experimental bass like Digital Ethos b2b Chee stole the show for me. Black Tiger Sex Machine delivered in their headlining slot, while I was expecting a bit more from Subtronics and 12th Planet. For me, the real fun came that night on the Jaenga Bus renegade stage.
This was my first day of the weekend staying up until sunrise, and far from the last.
I tell everyone that they need to stay up past 6am at least once during Forest weekend. Once the sun begins to rise, seeing passionate music fans still going hard all around you is just unforgettable. It’s insane: the campground streets are louder at 7am than they are at 11am! With sets from Chee and my new favorite, Mize, I began to explore a unique side of dub and bass this night that I never quite appreciated before.
That’s what the Forest is best for: getting out of your comfort zone, seeing some new artists, and coming home with new music and a new perspective on the scene.
Saturday morning came way too soon, and unfortunately, I missed Yoga with Hannah Muse at noon.
Yoga is something else I recommend all Foresters try! I then quickly made it into the Six in the Forest party with Paper Diamond from 2-4 PM at the Carousel Club. The Carousel Club is a stage hosted within The Hangar, which is located on the other side of the festival. The area hosts haircuts, scavenger hunts, a mini golf course, a temporary tattoo parlor, and much more all weekend.
The countless talented performance actors and Forest employees make The Hangar unique, as they never break character and add a ton to the experience. Plenty of people will skip multiple artists or get to the venue early just to see what The Hangar has to offer that day. It’s a major attraction for the less musically inclined Foresters as well. Their stage usually hosts fun, quirky acts like electro swing or disco, but also hosted some massive acts this weekend like Eli Brown and a surprise Louis the Child appearance too.
On the other side of the area, Jubilee hosted plenty of DJs, bands, rappers, and more. One of my favorite sets here came on Saturday when Jantsen played a heavy mid-day set. Unfortunately, with the way these stages are set up, they basically become saunas and get unbearably hot due to low airflow. It’s great to be in the shade, but I mostly steered clear of these stages for that reason.
Back over on the other side of the festival, Dr. Fresch, Wuki, and Jaenga were my highlights at Triploee on Saturday.
For me, this was Jaenga’s weekend, as his 75 minute set at Triploee was one of my favorites and he hosted one of the best RV parties. After realizing I would never find my group in the massive Bassnectar crowd at Ranch Arena that night, I enjoyed a really interesting set from Escapade (Walker & Royce vs. Ardalan) and made my way back to the campsite to recharge before another night at the RVs.
As I have more experiences at massive festival stages, I lean more and more towards the secret sets with an intimate vibe that you can’t find anywhere else.
Luckily at Forest, there are amazing groups of individuals in the RV lot that work their ass off and spend their money and time to make this a reality. Between renegade sets from Lick b2b Blanke and Aylen at Jaenga and b2b’s from Caspa and Ganja White Night and Minnesota and Buku at EVOL Chicago, this was definitely a night to remember.
Sunday came around, and somehow, it was already our last day in the Forest. Although Wednesday evening seemed like ages ago, I wasn’t ready to leave.
It was a lazy morning, and a perfect opportunity to explore Sherwood Forest. The main attraction for many: the big, lit up entrance to Sherwood is how Foresters know we’re finally back home. It’s extremely common for people to set up a hammock inside the Forest when gates open and keep it there for the rest of the day.
The main path through Sherwood directly connects Ranch Arena and the other massive main stage, Sherwood Court. However, if you veer off the main pathway and you’ll have some of the best sightseeing and people watching you could ever imagine.
There are groups of friends everywhere laughing and having the time of their lives, and there’s countless art installations, random activities, and side stages for everyone to enjoy. If you do it right, every time you walk through the Forest, you’ll discover something new. One of my favorites is the Ocular Organ, where random talented Foresters play piano for crowds gathered around them. Even Said the Sky got in on the fun there this weekend!
Although I personally stage hop at EF like I’m at EDC Las Vegas, it’s best enjoyed at a slow pace, allowing yourself to discover everything that the magical Sherwood Forest has to offer. One of the best things is walking around Sherwood late at night, not sure what direction you’re going in, and finding art, a giving tree, a new friend, or a weird performance that resonates with you.
Electric Forest is an EDM festival for some, a jam band festival for others, and an adult playground for everyone, regardless of age or music taste.
Throughout the last few years, the lineup on Sunday has been thin. After three days and a Bassnectar set, many people leave early, and others take it easy all day. I was in the festival early to enjoy some house from Born Dirty, Sacha Robotti, and an amazing, vibey set from Luttrell.
I refused to go to Ranch to see Hippie Sabotage, so I saw The Funk Hunters and King Henry, two artists I’m unfamiliar with. They both delivered great sets. This is one of my favorite parts of Forest: the lesser known acts at Tripolee. Corrupt is another one that comes to mind.
The Floozies played the last set at Sherwood Court, which is my favorite stage to meet Foresters and see some amazing flow artists. The main attraction, though, was obviously Zeds Dead headlining at Ranch Arena. I’ll never forget Zeds Dead on that stage in 2014; this is their first return to the Forest since. Most Zeds Dead fans left incredibly satisfied, as these guys don’t ever disappoint.
However, the real star for me on Sunday was Seven Lions at Tripolee.
Knowing he’d have to go hard to close the EDM stage at a multi-genre festival, this was the best set I had ever seen from him and takes the cake for my favorite of the weekend. His taste in dubstep and bass music help to keep the genre fresh, and his transitions between styles always work well. The powerful energy from the bass combined with the emotional tracks that Seven Lions is known for resulted in a simply amazing way to close the festival.
Afterward, it was off to the RV parties again this night, and the house set that Seven Lions played b2b Snails at EVOL Chicago will be a memory forever. The Jaenga Bus continued to shine, with awesome sets from Finggaz, Jaenga, and Lotemp.
Sadly, the police shut down the parties at 5am, but during my walk back to the campsite, a random Forester struck up a conversation with me and made the journey home a little brighter. He was telling me how much he loved Forest, and as we parted ways, he told me “Electric Forest: good to go, great to leave!” We agreed that we could finally go home and sleep!
Electric Forest is a place of powerful emotion and manifestation.
At Forest, you might see people dancing like you never have before, and discover things that you never knew existed. You might have some epiphanies or realizations if you tend to wander or fly solo like me. You’ll make lifelong memories with your group, regardless if it’s a massive squad, just you and a few friends…or even just you. Plenty of Foresters make the journey alone. It’s impossible not to make new friends here, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a stage or during a walk home at 6am.
It’s a place that welcomes all kinds of people: old, young, experienced, new, music lovers, party goers, etc. But one thing unites us all: and that’s Electric Forest.
So what exactly does this all mean to me? Well, in my six years of attending Electric Forest, I’ve always felt an overwhelming clarity in my life following this event. I come home with a new outlook on life, a fresh attitude towards things I’m struggling with, and always an increased love and appreciation for the scene.
Electric Forest is a place that makes us all feel lucky to be alive and shows us how powerful it can be to gather in a large group in the name of love.
It’s common to see Michigan State Police troopers trading kandi with Foresters, striking up a conversation with randoms, or just enjoying the scenery and energy like everyone else. It’s a place where the world stops for a little bit (you probably don’t have phone service anyway) and reminds us all to cherish every moment we have on Earth.
Oh, and it teaches us to take care of Earth, too! It feels wrong to litter at Electric Forest, and most of us keep our old gum wrappers and throw them away later instead of tossing trash on the ground. It’s a place to become one with nature and be yourself. Whether that means sitting in a hammock for hours on end or staying up to party and take in the sunrise is entirely up to you. You write your own story here.
No matter what you do or who you are, no one will judge you at EF.
The collective energy at big festivals around the country can vary, but Forest is one that will always have a welcoming spirit for everybody. Whether you’ve been attending for years or thinking about going for the first time, you’re guaranteed an amazing time at Electric Forest if you bring your positive energy. You’ll come home satisfied in a way that you haven’t quite felt from other festivals.
The adjustment back to the real world can be rough, but just remember: good to go, great to leave! We’re all so fortunate to have the experience we did. I always leave Forest with a new appreciation for it, and I can’t wait to keep attending for the rest of my life.