Last weekend, electronic dance music reigned in Chicago at the 6th installment of Spring Awakening Music Festival, mounted by promoter React Presents. Nearly 40,000 attendees raved under the intense summer sun at the sold-out festival, proving that the ‘bursting’ EDM bubble is “fake news”. As day turned into night, the festival earned its place as the Midwest’s sole EDM festival by offering the best of a festival going experience — impressive staging, video screens, lights, a booming sound system, and pyrotechnics. The headliners enjoyed the full use of these production elements, but even during the daytime sets in the various branded stages and tents, the atmosphere was all about partying to the music.
On Friday, we arrived to see the Bingo Players play at the Dancing Astronaut stage. Their mainstage, big room house was truly entertaining, and they hyped the crowd up, demanding them to jump along to the massive drops. Billy Kenny played the Body Language stage, introducing their music with a fun-filled set. Marshmello fans were out in full force, donning recreations of his signature helmet for his set. Galantis closed out the night on the main stage, delivering a remarkable set of their joyous, dance pop hits. Galantis know how to get the crowd going, waving Seafox banners, jumping, and building the drop. The videoscreens were utilized to full effect, with a 3D firebird soaring during ‘Firebird.’
Saturday was scorching hot but the crowd was ready to rave. Trance dominated the lineup across two stages, with sets by Armin van Buuren and Lane 8. The main stage featured Malaa and Krewella, who were followed by the enigmatic Zhu. He eschewed his hits in favour of mixing live performance features with his DJing, such as a bass and saxophone. News broke that Axwell & Ingrosso cancelled due to a burglary, but React quickly remedied the situation by arranging for Yellowclaw and Diplo to rule the main stage and close out the night. The crowd on Saturday night was the best, and Diplo’s set showed how he is a master in his own class. He played a blend of his own hits, including the iconic ‘Lean On’ but also some classics by other artists. He finished on ‘Final Song.’
Sunday was just as hot at Awakening, and so a trip to the Corona-branded tent was fitting, with water misters and fans. Elsewhere, Headhunterz played a selection of drop-heavy tracks, already getting the audience in a frenzy. Duke Dumont delivered his house and deep house with a set that was for us the highlight of the day. Bass Kitchen tent brought the basslines and heavy beats, while creativity and eccentricity came courtesy of Die Antwoord and Griz. On the main stage, superstars Alesso and Martin Garrix ended the festival on a high note, arguably saving the best for last.
Held at Addams-Meddill Park for the second year after moving from Soldier Field, the setting offered stunning views of the city’s iconic skyline from a selection of fairground rides like the Ferris wheel. The sprawling park was an ideal location, because the festival didn’t feel uncomfortably crowded if it had been in a smaller space; but Chicago proved itself to be the Windy City with random gusts of wind blowing dust in the air. The only negative were the hours-long lines for a mere two water refilling stations, something that in the excessive heat was a miscalculation. However, there were plenty of food and beverage tents, including Red Bull, Monaco cocktails, and of course, bottled water. People watching was just as entertaining, with rave and festival fashion on point, and amusing totems and flags flying above tens of thousands of people.
Music is intimate and universal, appreciated as an emotional catharsis through one’s headphones, but also as a communal extravaganza such as Spring Awakening Music Festival. Seeing people experience true joy while dancing with their close friends, signs and banners with positive social messages, and a delightful sense of humor in ravers’ outfits expressed how Chicago — which birthed house music in the safe havens of its underground minority scenes—is just as creative and welcoming now as it was then. Spring Awakening Music Festival was a testament to how peace, love, unity and respect are not hollow values worthy of Internet mockery by jaded fans, but real touchstones in the dance culture.