New York’s premier electronic music festival Electric Zoo celebrated its 12th year over Labor Day weekend.
It’s rare for a festival to call a venue home for over 12 years.
But barring the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Electric Zoo has returned to Randall’s Island Park in New York every year since its first edition in 2009. It’s grown from a modest 66-person event to a sprawling, 100,000-person festival, earning the title of New York’s premier electronic music festival.
As always, taking place on Labor Day Weekend, the festival underscores a transition from summer to fall. One last hurrah before the autumn leaves blossom and the summer sun makes way for cool winds and overcast skies.
“This may be the end of summer but it is the beginning of our comeback to the greatest city in the world,” said Michael Julian, Chief of Marketing for Electric Zoo.
Electric Zoo’s hurdles to the finish line
Considering its infamous distinction as the stateside epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York has made a careful, calculated return to dense gatherings like live music events. Accordingly, Electric Zoo enacted sweeping safety protocols for this year’s fest. Apart from entry requirements and cleaning procedures, which many festivals are putting in place, Electric Zoo ensured the entire festival grounds were open-air (Electric Zoo typically has at least two tented stages), drastically increasing airflow and creating over 1,000,000 square feet of space to dance.
Electric Zoo also came close to the brink of collapse when Hurricane Ida stormed through New York City two days before the first day of the festival, wreaking havoc on New York’s infrastructure, crippling the city’s public transportation system, and destroying the homes of many New Yorkers. The festival has been barraged by dust storms, hurricanes, and heavy rain in past years—even having to cancel the third day of its 2014 edition due to severe weather—but Randall Island’s new drainage system saved the day this time around, protecting the grounds from decimation by sludge.
Surmounting a pandemic and a hurricane, Electric Zoo opened its gates on Friday at 3PM, welcoming beaming attendees to a lush, mud-free Randall’s Island. Splendid weather and fast-moving lines added to high spirits.
Thoughts from the crowd
EDM.com took to the crowd to hear directly from folks over the weekend about their experience at Electric Zoo.
For Gabby from New Jersey, Electric Zoo was an unplanned joy. “I was supposed to be at Bonnaroo but it got canceled [at the last minute],” she told EDM.com. “The stages are really nice here, they’re different, and I like the setting,” Gabby explained, describing the supernatural-themed stages and the striking atmosphere of Randall’s Island.
While some festivals are hosted in secluded locations, being in The City That Never Sleeps for Electric Zoo was a reward in itself. “I just like a lot of the artists out here and I’ve never been to New York so it’s kind of like a whole thing, go to New York and listen to a bunch of cool music!” Lex from Colorado said.
From theatres and museums to culinary delights and multi-cultural explorations, there are many reasons why New York is the most visited city in the U.S.—welcoming 59.7 visitors in the year 2016 alone according to WorldAtlas—and Electric Zoo is just one of the many attractions over Labor Day Weekend.
Not to mention, you can avoid all the headaches of hours-long traffic and public transit delays when getting to Electric Zoo by opting to take a ferry over the East River. And that’s exactly what stood out to Brandon from Baltimore. “I love the ferry aspect, getting a nice view of the city over the water,” he shared.
For some, Electric Zoo might have truly been the best weekend of their lives. “I got caked by Steve Aoki!” Vic from Westchester told EDM.com. “He threw it from 20 feet in the air, I couldn’t see, it was in my nose and eyes. Oh my God, I was in shock! Best day of my life!”
Electric Zoo’s “supernatural” stages
Elephants, snakes, octopuses, and phoenixes are a few of the wild creatures Electric Zoo has modeled past stages on. Though this year’s supernatural-themed stages weren’t designed to look like animals, they were a treat in their own right.
By the East River sat The Gateway, a simple but striking construct of sharp edges and twisting visuals.
Melodic bass and trance dominated The Gateway on the first day of the festival with sets from Alpha 9, Cosmic Gate, Gardenstate, Mitis, and Crystal Skies.
Wakaan took over the stage on day two, with bass-driven performances by label favorites like Dirty Monkey, LSDREAM, TYNAN, and of course, the label’s head honcho himself, Liquid Stranger. There was a strong sense of community in the crowd who you could tell was out in full force for Wakaan.
The final day at The Gateway was filled with more bass music, swapping the wobbles and warps of Wakaan for screeches and growls of He$h, Hekler, Riot Ten, and a special closing back-to-back performance between Ghastly and Eptic.
Nestled under tall, vibrant trees in a tucked-away corner of the festival grounds lay The Den. The immersive, four-point sound system stole the show, arguably the best of all four stages at the festival.
LA’s hottest dance music event organizers Brownies & Lemonade brought a concoction of trap, future bass, moombahton, and bass house to the stage on day one. Valentino Khan, k?d, Moski, JSTJR, and one of EDM’s brightest young stars, 16-year-old Moore Kismet, were on the bill.
For the latter two days, Electric Zoo’s staple house and techno brand Sunday School curated lineups at The Den. From piano-laden house to thumping tech-house, artists like Claptone, Duke Dumont, Sonny Fodera, Dom Dolla, Chris Lorenzo, and John Summit took the stage.
A spiraling, hypnotic structure, The Teleporter was a visual spectacle with panels and lights angled perfectly against each other. On day one, it was home to Deadbeats. The label takeover featured dubstep-focused sets from artists like Blanke, Peekaboo, Subtronics, and of course, Zeds Dead.
Day two was all about techno with Rinzen, Artbat, and deadmau5’s techno alias TESTPILOT stealing the show.
Aside from a three-way hardstyle closing set from Lady Faith, Darksiderz, and Rob Gee, the final day was another celebration of bass music. Black Tiger Sex Machine, CharlestheFirst, Kai Wachi, and a rollicking back-to-back set between Minnesota and Buku closed the curtain on The Teleporter.
The crown jewel of Electric Zoo was The Hive. Lined with thousands of LED panels, dazzling light fixtures, and plenty of pyro, the main stage towered high above all the other stages, hosting some of the biggest names in EDM throughout the weekend. Fisher, Alesso, Rezz, Tiësto, Kaskade, and ILLENIUM had some of the stand-out performances of the weekend at The Hive.
The flip side of the festival
Unfortunately, no festival is perfect, and Electric Zoo wasn’t without its faults.
“I just wish these stages were separated more,” Lex said. With little distance between stages, sound bleeding prevailed unless you were deep within the crowd.
“They could have had more water stations and bathrooms,” Cameron added.
Due to intermittent issues with the website to load wristbands, the cashless top-up lines were quite long, which was agitating for some attendees as the food and drink stands did not accept cash or credit cards.
Also, the amplification of the “zoo” theme of the festival with art installations and animal-themed stages—a central part of past years—was missed.
However, these issues weren’t make-or-break. Sound bleeding can be avoided by getting closer to the stage, long lines tend to crop up at any event with thousands of people, and Electric Zoo actively encouraged attendees to pre-load money onto their wristbands before the festival.
All things considered, Electric Zoo made a welcome return to New York’s live music scene. A well-rounded lineup, scenic venue, and gorgeous weather were the perfect ingredients for a stellar celebration of electronic music.
Relive the festival with EDM.com’s exclusive gallery from Electric Zoo below, by BRPHOTO.CO.