ARC Music Festival brought house and techno fans together from everywhere to party in the birthplace of house music over Labor Day Weekend.
Smack dab in the middle of Westside Chicago sits the small, but ever-so-popular Union Park, which has become a home to festivals such as Summer Smash, Pitchfork, and now ARC Music Festival. This brand new festival by Auris Presents is a gleaming representation of everything the Windy City has to offer including food, artistry, and creativity, along with a plethora of talented house and techno artists, of course.
It’s always special when a festival makes its debut and to say I was “excited” would have been the understatement of the year. Not only would I be partying with my friends at ARC Music Festival, but the lineup that featured everyone from Derrick Carter and Seth Troxler to Eric Prydz and Deborah De Luca on the lineup only further propelled the buzzing sensation. Simply put, I was ecstatic to celebrate house music within its birthplace and I just couldn’t wait to finally pass through the gates.
The convenience of this venue is undoubtedly part of its charm. Traffic was surprisingly light getting to the venue as I approached the pentagon-shaped park nestled tightly in between five major streets (Lake St, Ogden Ave, Randolph Ave, Ashland Ave, and Washington Ave). Countless attendees also took the green or pink line to make their way to the festival to ease up on congestion as well. Although the nearly 13.5-acre park is actually on the smaller side, especially for a four-stage festival, the location is prime and thumps of bass could be heard from a mile away.
The COVID-19 anxiety really started to set in for me when walking into the festival.
Although I was fully aware I was attending my first full-on music festival since COVID-19, seeing so many people in one place even as I’m getting in line was a bit nerve-wracking. The staff remained unmasked, and masks were not required to get into the venue, although ID checks along with a COVID-19 vaccination card/proof of negative test as of 72 hours were required.
I got in line to get my identification checked, the security member patted me down and matched my vaccination card with my ID. According to some friends, some security members missed checking the vaccination card and never asked for negative test results. It’s understandable that COVID vaccination/test result checks are new, but with the Delta variant numbers climbing higher and higher, this should have been more of a priority – so I hope those were just rumors and that they did actually see the results.
The mobility between stage to stage was phenomenal, especially considering the art pieces put in place to line the way.
There are three different statuses of tickets you can buy: General Admission, Global, and Icon. The Global and Icon entrances are on the other side of the festival than General Admission as they are considered VIP and VIP+ tickets. Walking into General Admission, directly to your right is the Expansions stage, keep going straight and you’ll see the Elrow and ARC Car stages, and turning left will lead you to the main stage, The Grid.
In between these stages are nifty art installations that guide you from one stage to the next. Installations like raised metal winged lions that take you to the main stage, the “ARC” statue that sits by the ARC Car, and the light-up bush with square leaves that leads you to Expansions.
Although the stages were just steps away from each other, the sound bleed wasn’t too bad. In this case, only at certain points would attendees’ attention be broken by the sound of another stage. During Eric Prydz’s last performance, for instance, there were definitely breakdowns where the Elrow and Arc Car stage could be heard. But if you were in the middle of the crowd at any stage, sounds from other stages were rarely heard throughout the weekend.
Every stage had a unique experience and artistic touch to it, from the wackiness of the Elrow stage to the dark mysteriousness of Expansions.
The Grid was the main stage and the first one I saw once I strolled into the venue. Huge LED screens surrounded the DJ decks with light fixtures all around. The screens were held up by repurposed colorful train trailers to give it a super fun feel. The space provided for the crowd was massive – plenty of room to dance. The euphoric sounds of Luttrell immediately caught my ear and decided to stay a bit.
After exiting the stage, my attention was drawn by the super catchy housey beats of Mason Maynard playing underneath a hanger with all these super colorful decorations all around. It’d occurred to me that I’d stumbled upon the illustrious Elrow stage. As expected, the production of the stage was super over the top, silly, and outright fun. It felt like a huge party actually separate from the rest of the festival – as if the stage in itself was its own festival!
Every time I went to the Elrow I noticed something different from the performers to the art, and of course plenty of confetti being blasted out. To my surprise, I realized the stage was actually was evolving over the weekend! A new silly prop here, a blow-up animal there, a new psychedelic addition to the stage. They even gave out gifts to attendees like wobbly-eyed headbands, silly-looking toy ducks, and even angry inflatable chicken legs. The stage was an absolute rager no matter when you got there to party.
I then mozied over to catch Deborah De Luca at The Expansions stage, which was by far my favorite stage for a number of reasons.
Not only was the stage design phenomenal, but the sound was incredible – better than The Grid actually. The crowd danced and clapped with trees surrounding them. The stage looked like it’s been carved out of a massive piece of wood while an overwatching eye at the top oversees the crowd. The shade provided an extra amount of darkness at this techno stage. People like Layton Giordani, Luciano, and Eric Prydz’s techno alias Cirez D blessed the stage with their dark sounds to fill the hearts of techno fans. Oddly designed lanterns hang overhead strung from tree to tree above the crowd. At the back right side, two large wooden pillars stood, curving at the top, almost touching each other creating an unfinished arc.
It wasn’t until after Cirez D’s set when I realized I hadn’t visited one more stage – The ARC Car stage. The map had told me where it was, but being smack dab in between Elrow and The Grid, The ARC Car could easily be missed if you blinked. Finally, I got to the stage, and it was a much-needed laid-back feel after running around catching sets all day. Cinna was playing and I decided to take a breather on a bench in the back, admiring people’s skills on the dancefloor. The solid platform and plenty of space to dance made it so that shufflers flocked to this stage to strut their stuff.
Although the dancefloor was much smaller than the other stages, the sound was just as big. You could clearly see The Grid stage right behind the ARC Car, but you could only hear the music coming from ARC Car. Huge speakers surrounding the dancefloor really helped with that. The decorated school bus, dubbed The GoodBus by Chicago’s own DJ group GoodSex, overlooked the crowd giving it a campground RV party sorta feel. DJs really seemed to have a blast up there watching everyone enjoy themselves – I know I did when I went there to check it out.
Though the stages were impressive, I felt that the food and drink options left much to be desired.
After spending so much energy dancing, food and drinks were much much needed to keep me going. When I first got there, one of the perks of VIP is the complimentary cocktail they give you when you walk in. The first day, the drink I received seemed to have barely any alcohol in it, mostly just juice, but this was fixed on the second day.
This free cocktail was a blessing because the prices were pretty high at the bar and the options were fairly limited. Festival pricing for drinks is always seemingly on the expensive side and ARC Music Festival was no exception. One High Noon seltzer was $13, while either vodka or tequila with Redbull was $18 and tallboys of beer ran $12. The biggest surprise was how expensive water was at $7 a bottle, but they did offer free water as well for attendees if you wanted to make the trek away from a stage.
The food options also were nothing to really write home about either. Although the prices were pretty standard for a festival, the quality of food was a bit lacking, and very few choices for vegetarian or vegan eaters. My personal favorite was the Tandoor Char House truck having a menu Indian-Mexican fusion cuisine to choose from. The fries and tacos were tasty, but not sure if they lived up to the price tag. Honestly, I was wanting something a bit healthier to choose from but was disappointed when it turned out the food trucks did not offer anything up that alley.
Every festival’s first year has some improvements to make, but the music and the vibe of ARC Music Festival’s debut was flawless.
From the time you stepped into the festival to the moment you exited, you heard nothing but the greatest music house and techno had to offer. My first day consisted of Lutrell, Layton Giordani, Mason Maynard, Deborah De Luca, Bob Moses, Cirez D, Cinna, Zhu, and Fisher. And on the second I caught Channel Tres, Camelphat, The Martinez Brothers, Hot Since 82, and Eric Prydz.
Eric Prydz, The Martinez Brothers, and Deborah De Luca were the standout sets for me. Deborah De Luca was super dark and relentless with her techno. The Martinez Brothers played Sunday, and the Miami vibes were felt strongly throughout their set from beginning to end. Eric Prydz played one of the best sets I’d ever seen from him to close out the festival with an absolutely packed crowd at The Grid.
The overall vibe was also tangible from day one. Smiling faces could be seen throughout the days on both the attendees and the staff. Talking to people throughout the festival was a joy, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. People were energetic and silly at the Elrow stage, excited about the music at The Grid, dancing their hearts out at ARC Car, and vibing to the dar music played at Expansions. You could tell that throughout the weekend people were just having the time of their lives and they had ARC Music Festival to thank for it all.
ARC Music Festival sought out to embody the rich history that Chicago holds and that’s exactly what the accomplished.
ARC Music Festival showed everyone what Chicago really is about and what house music means to the city. People came from all over to attend the debut and it seemed they were completely stunned by how radiant the city actually was. Whether it was because it’s one of the first festivals to go on since COVID-19 lockdown or the fact that a brand new festival popped up making significant waves amongst house and techno fans, everyone seemed in an absolutely ecstatic mood all weekend – and we can’t wait for the next edition.