September 1, 2015

Spend Labor Day weekend dancing with Chicago's final summer festival

North Coast Music Festival, which runs from September 4–6 in Chicago’s Union Park, is billed with the tagline “Summer’s Last Stand.” In other words: School is around the corner, here’s a festival with enough EDM that you won’t remember your own birthday, let alone school, come Monday morning. For all of its six-year history, NCMF has been a raver’s paradise—past headliners include Bassnectar, David Guetta, Moby, and Afrojack, and 2015’s lineup features Knife Party, Steve Aoki, The Glitch Mob, and RAC. But electronic dance music alone does not a sell-out festival make. Each year, the bookers carefully mobilize a counter-force to the big-name DJs. This year, Widespread Panic, D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Portugal. The Man, The Roots, and Wale are the biggest non-EDM names.

Widespread Panic is one of the weirdest headliners of this festival season. Last year in California, I drove by The Fox Theater—one of the bigger local venues—at around noon. There were ten or fifteen people, all with gray hair, sitting on lawn chairs outside of the theater. I looked at the bill and saw “Widespread Panic” in big black letters, and the scene clicked. Although they came on the scene 20 years after the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic are the same sort of thing: hard-touring jam-rockers who have an obscenely devoted fanbase. In short, Widespread Panic are the niche-iest of niche headliners. Booking them ensures Widespread Panic fans will come to NCMF in hordes, perhaps regardless of the other bands.

D’Angelo and the Vanguard, conversely, is an act that everybody loves. Their funk and jazz flavored R&B is just the thing to groove to after a hard day of festival-going, as I found out after seeing them at FYF Fest in Los Angeles. D’Angelo’s onstage charisma could’ve persuaded even ol’ Ebenezer Scrooge to do a little hip-wiggling. Besides being relentlessly charming, D’Angelo has the rawest voice: His screams during the last number at FYF, “Sugah Daddy,” gave Tina Turner a run for her money. (He also pulled off the classic mic stand whip at the same time, which is nothing short of incredible). And although D’Angelo is indisputably a star, The Vanguard deserves a lot of credit; they’re super tight for a band with at least ten members.

The final name at the top, The Chemical Brothers, is not new to NCMF. They headlined the festival’s first incarnation in 2010. The Chemical Brothers is one of the few British electronic acts to emerge from the 90s unscathed—big-beat peers like Basement Jaxx and Orbital have not been as fortunate. Wildly enough, their longevity derives from their ability to still make vital albums: This year’s release, Born in the Echoes, features indie rock heroes St. Vincent and Beck. The Chemical Brothers are a worthy EDM act to top a bill full of EDM acts.

Aside from the headliners, there are a few solid names in small print. Ne-Hi, to start, is one of Chicago’s buzziest guitar bands acts. After a year of opening for touring indie acts, they’re just starting to get their own headlining shows at Chicago clubs. The O’My’s are another up-and-coming Chicago band - they’ll bring a brassy mix of funk and rock to NCMF. Until The Ribbon Breaks is a Welsh collective who bite their thumb at genre; their Soundcloud has both original music and dreamy remixes of Years & Years and The Weeknd, among others.

Taken as a whole, NCMF’s lineup isn’t exactly diverse. If Pitchfork Festival is a genre smoothie, NCMF is closer to a stew. EDM dominates the lineup, with only a few morsels of rock and rap thrown in. Still, with the prospect of another school year looming, NCMF is better than a poke in the eye; and if you’re an EDM connoisseur, you’ll be sure to stagger home Monday morning with enough beats in your head to last you through O-Week.

North Coast Music Festival will be held at Union Park from September 4–6. Three-day tickets are sold out, but single-day general admission and VIP tickets can be found here. Click here for more information about North Coast Music Festival.