The inaugural Electric Zoo electronic music festival — which took over Randall’s Island over Labor Day weekend — was an unmitigated success. Not that the gorgeous weather didn’t do its part, but Made Event should be commended for putting on a large-scale festival that still felt intimate and for curating a diverse line-up of artists that didn’t feel schizophrenic. Perhaps there was no greater measure of the festival’s success than seeing fun fur-clad hoop dancers, shirtless frat boys, Wayfarer-wearing hipsters, and former club kids all getting down with equal abandon to James Murphy and Pat Mahoney’s closing night Special Disco Version set. Something had to be right if that mixed of a crowd was losing it to a Paul McCartney disco one-off at the same time that David Guetta was pounding the main stage with his arena-sized Sexy French House.
Sets were staggered across the four stages (three of which were mercifully covered) so that you could at least catch half an hour of one DJ before moving on to another. But with a lineup this large, it wasn’t surprising that some of the Zoo’s best offerings were earlier in the afternoon. This was especially true on Saturday, when Mark Ernestus — half of digital dub duo Rhythm and Sound, and formerly of Basic Channel fame — made a rare stateside appearance and took the main stage early, with former Wackies member Milton Henry toasting over dubbed out versions of old Studio One instrumentals.
Far more frenetic was the electro-mash-up revival going on in the Zoo’s smallest stage, the Respect Grove, led by Ed Banger’s DJ Mehdi and Busy P, who traded off sweat-inducing reps to a packed crowd of DayGlo-clad acolytes. Paco Osuna, Holy Ghost!, Francois K, and Ben Watt also delivered excellent sets before sundown. Watt’ dropping an “All Is Full of Love” remix as the sky above Harlem turned pink was a particularly lovely coincidence of timing.
Sunday provided just as many tough choices (Al Doyle of Hot Chip versus Steve Bug, and Junior Boys versus Chateau Flight, for instance), but for the house music faithful Frankie Knuckles, who shared the decks with Hercules and Love Affair’s Andy Butler, was it. Going from Knuckles and Butler’s deep and soulful selections to Audion‘s five-car-alarms-going-off-at-once late afternoon rave made for one of many of the weekend’s pleasantly jarring juxtapositions. But being able to slide between extremes (say, James Holden‘s near baroque, dark trance work out as opposed to Richie Hawtin‘s Le Corbusier chair of a minimal set) without missing a beat was what Electric Zoo was all about.
Here’s hoping that next year’s event permits have already been submitted for approval.