The Woodstock site of 2016 is far different from what it was in 1969. Trading political folk ballads for top 40 trap and breakbeat, Mysteryland brought a whole new type of atmosphere for its third outing in the United States. Mysteryland is its own historical precedent- the longest running electronic music festival. And just like any great festival, the culture and the arts are infused with the music for a pure candy-coated concoction of creativity.
What was on the menu? Mysteryland is slightly unique in that it places a relatively even emphasis on music and other forms of art. So, even as the people there jumped about the many (an insane amount) of smaller stages lining the fields, it was the culture as a whole that brought them in the gates. In that sense, the music is only the soundtrack to a great film about life. You could feel that energy- a love for the culture that brought these bands to popularity.
The music, as it was, remained intrepidly rhythmic and inflated in every sense of the word. One of the most appealing parts of electronic music in almost any form is the scale. The artists on stage could create alien-like sounds that seemed to supersede all others. In other words, the fans preferred it big and beautiful.
One of three headliners capped each evening of the festival. Skrillex has become the posterboy of dubstep. But, even the biggest Skrillex detractors admit that he is a showman first, and his dubstep elements are blown out of proportion. Skrillex can entertain the crowd, and his palette is large enough to accommodate. Skrillex’s crowd was, by far, the largest, proving once again, (despite claims of the contrary) that even casual listeners go to Mysteryland. His recent collaboration with Diplo, AlunaGeorge and Justin Beiber also don’t hurt.
Odesza is the second headliner, and the duo has come out of nowhere. Having only appeared at festivals since 2014, their skyrocketing success and crowd size at Mysteryland is a testament to their purely accessible dancetronica. The indie rock sensibilities of Odesza help act as a nice balancing act to Skrillex’s purer electronica, and their set made use of it. Recalling moments of Purity Ring or Holy Ghost, Odesza made a splash bigger than what most would expect.
Bassnectar exemplifies crossover appeal. He originally came from a background of metal and rock, touting Metallica and Nirvana as key influences. It makes sense, considering Bassnectar’s grandiosity and gritty sound that almost enforced moshing in the crowds. He is the ying to Skrillex’s yang- the dirtier and brattier older brother. Bassnectar seems to define a major part of the scene, falling into it based on sincerity. He has also been in it the longest out of almost all the acts on stage at Mysteryland.
The List Goes On
The three headliners seem to define certain parts of the electronic music culture. Skrillex is the leader, rappelling down from the columns with features galore. Odesza is the indie rock leftovers, a remaining champ from a sound that has largely dwindled based on the pure weight of the sound. Bassnectar is the veteran, keying in on his sound of glitch bass-oriented rhythms. But, there are 100 other artists deserving of a moment’s attention at the very least. I missed a lot of acts by necessity, but managed to find some new jams and to catch some at-home favorites that brought an intoxicating sense of style to the stage.
The Chainsmokers have a huge single now, and seem to be ripe for a “once and gone” career, similar to TJR’s ever-forgotten “Turn the Bass Up” or Rita Ora’s “I Will Never Let You Down.” I don’t know if the group’s equally forgettably-titled jam, “Don’t Let Me Down,” is the beginning of a long career or the end of a very short one, but I do know it works better live. The group took advantage of their surprisingly short set by expanding the song- making it bigger and more memorable at the same time.
Black Tiger Sex Machine’s bizarre sound is the sonic friend of Grimes wacky playfulness and dexterity. The trio’s set impressed, and was a nice darkly aggressive counterpart to the many clean electronic acts parading the stages. Go see their set, followed by Mija or Deep Jesus to really appreciate the range of the genre.
And that doesn’t even touch on Emancipator. Arguably one of the most talented young DJ’s at the festival, Emancipator has a palette richly painted for mountaintop viewing. For dancing, jamming, and waving neon tubes over a dash of some imaginatively named drug, watch Zed’s Dead. For a smoke session and contemplation, listen to Emancipator. He is one of the best trip-hop artists working today.
The festival did have a few far more subdued acts with a roster of R&B influenced backbeats. XXYYXX takes a card right from the Flying Lotus handbook, except you get the impression he is legitimately depressed. XXYYXX may be more familiar as an artist “popularly remixed by dance artists,” so his borderline experimental sound could have been more well-received in a small club, in almost complete darkness, over expensive cocktails.
Hip-hop was never far from electronica, and Mysteryland made sure to display a taste of hip-hop’s upcoming mini-giants. Young Thug played a set opposite Griz, which made for a weird jump between saxophone-led funk and modernized gangster rap. Hudson Mohawke came from the school of Kanye West, and the attachment will be hard to shake. He isn’t a hip-hop artist in the classic sense, but his bass-focused percussive beats are undeniably hip-hop. They are beats Ty Dolla $ign would fit right into. Speaking of the hip-hop newcomer, his presence is underappreciated in modern music, and his appearance at Mysteryland should raise his star just a bit.
The Culture of Neon
The music is a proxy. The fans obviously followed many of the artists. But, Mysteryland is more an embrace of the whole culture. A mixed martial arts session caught passersby on their way to see Gramatik. A Healing Garden merged spirituality with holistic medicine for what was hopefully a nice new introduction for those only familiar with the unnatural. Geurilla Science was a fantastic idea in a bad venue- ironically missing that the science was accentuated mostly because the onlookers were on ecstasy.
Ironic neon-plaid designs were common. Bespeckled jewels glued under the eyes were nearly the same as the black metal shirt at an Iron Maiden show. It’s a whole culture. And while the fans enjoyed the music, they really came to be part of the 21st century’s equivalent of Bob Dylan plugging in a guitar.
Ryan Merkel is a cool writer guy and contributor all over the internet, from blogs on music to magazines about music to sites about playing music. He is currently founder of SunState Investing and is head editor of the music entertainment magazine, CultureTease. He has written two novels, and is currently working on a third full-length novel, surprisingly, not about music. His novel “Splatter the Noise” earned accolades for independent publishing. Be sure to check out: www.sunstateinvesting.com
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