Written by Katie Muecke
As I baked in the sun in the middle of a racetrack, securely nestled into my designated seat, I questioned this grand game we lovers of EDM are all playing. Making it to the day-fest known as Camp Nowhere, just in time for Chelsea Cutler (having sadly missed Robotaki), I stepped into a world entirely mysterious to me. You see, I am not a festival person. Rather, I am not a seat-occupying, ticket-holding, policy-abiding type of festival person. I gazed enviously at the small section reserved for the dedicated among us to stand and dance freely and, as the night progressed, a sense of dread set in. Dread at an Odesza performance? Only one thing could cause this: the terrifying void of discrepancy.
You see, before I bore witness to the most impressive live performance I have ever seen, courtesy of Odesza, I had an alarming out-of-body experience. The preceding sets – Chelsea Cutler, Gryffin, and ZHU, in that order – seemed to paint an allegorical picture of the state of EDM at this moment.
The first performance I saw illustrated the raw talent, personal drive, and passion that I have always associated with electronic music. Chelsea Cutler’s angelic but gritty voice fit seamlessly with her band, her lyrics and her vibe. This is undoubtedly a talented musician who I suspect has even bigger things ahead of her, even considering that she focuses entirely on the music and almost not at all on production value. Since her pop/rock/electronic hybrid isn’t to my particular taste, I took the time to soak in the music and focus on connecting with her words, and by the end of the set I felt myself becoming attracted to her stage presence, her command of the vocals, and overall, her. This was a great booking on Camp Nowhere’s part because it solidified the fest’s position firmly in the non-rave category and prepared the audience for the live-sets to come.
What came next, by way of Gryffin, was not a live set. But it wasn’t a DJ set, either. I’m not quite sure what to call it honestly, but low-effort is the term that feels most accurate. There were instruments involved, and Gryffin hit a drum occasionally, but besides that single drum and the tiniest amount of time mixing I have ever seen, his time was occupied primarily by being his own hype-man. This brings me to my out-of-body experience. I had just witnessed the gifted Chelsea Cutler deliver an energetic and soulful live set, as far as pop goes, and now was face-to-face with exactly the type of EDM that listeners of other genres love to hate. The stop-and-go of Gryffin’s set was a dance-killer, and was made worse by my prior knowledge of the artist as a great producer.
I don’t mean for this critique of Gryffin’s set to point a blaming finger at him. I’d rather point that finger at who is in charge of managing him, or the industry as a whole for making this kind of set the norm. It felt so disingenuous because I (baselessly, to be fair) assume this isn’t what he wants to be playing. I could almost feel his boredom.
After Gryffin came the set I personally was most excited for: ZHU. This set furthered the allegory, bringing us to an an act that has obvious talent, amazing stage presence, and unique, impactful stage production. ZHU did some clean mixing, played all the fan favorites, and included some badass surprises like a saxophone v. guitar solo battle. The set was entrancing, but still left me reflecting on the question: why are we here? Is it to be entertained, or to listen to great music that has equally-great flow? As I said, I’m more of a club-goer, so pondering this question brought a lot of uncertainty. Luckily, the final act of the day delivered clarity.
From the moment Odesza took the stage, it was non-stop energy, even with a low BPM and a decidedly not-EDM sound. If you have seen Odesza, you can attest to the tear-bringing, soul-fulfilling experience they bring to the stage. Visuals so beautiful you could watch them even in silence, lights and fireworks courtesy of Camp Nowhere… these rounded out the already striking music Odesza is known for. At that moment, all became clear: we are here because music makes us feel.
Fireworks or not, seated or standing, I felt something that day. So where is EDM today? Somewhere on a bell curve, I suppose. It’s a story I intend to keep reading as long as I live, and my experience at Camp Nowhere taught me that this book is a “choose your own adventure” story, and whatever the ending, it’s sure to be beautiful.