Festival season is upon us once again and what better way to kick it off than to travel 807 miles to the magical place of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida. With over 5,000 music lovers in attendance, the 6th installment of AURA Music Festival was one for the books.
The trip was off to a rocky start as our 12 hour drive was delayed three hours in due to inclimate weather conditions in Tennessee, but we weren’t giving up that easily. As our journey continued, we made it just in time for the last act of Thursday night’s pre-party. Once we got there, however, the car ride quickly became a distant memory. The weekend was nothing short of a good time full of lights, live art, and music.
Kudos to Daryl Wolff and Cameron Ferguson, the creators of the festival, for making such a pleasant atmosphere and providing one helluva a light show. AURA was just big enough to escape yet, small enough to find friends and make new ones. Warm feelings emerged throughout the weekend as friends and families greeted each other with embracing hugs and kisses.
The chilly weather brought people closer together as it dipped into the low 40’s. Fires ignited and groups were found gathered around them making a ruckus throughout the grounds. Yoga was offered each morning to prepare weary bodies for the day ahead, and classes continued throughout the day. For anyone who needed to take a break, hammocks donated by ENO (Eagles Nest Outfitters) could be found pre-installed throughout the campgrounds.
With this being the 6th edition of AURA what better way to give you a glimpse into this magical experience than to countdown the top 6 acts.
Local to the area and the only bluegrass band of the weekend, Uproot Hootenanny took the stage Sunday morning. There was no better way to spend the last day of the music festival than with whiskey and bluegrass. A banjo, stand-up bass, and fiddle were exactly the change up the festival needed. With high energy beaming from the band, waking up became a pleasant experience. As their tunes filled the campgrounds, I wasn’t the only one rushing to the stage for some toe-stomping jams.
5. Turbo Suit
Turbo Suit was in the Music Hall Saturday evening getting the place hot and steamy. Turbo Suit’s unique approach to live electronic music is one you can’t help but groove to. Everyone was enjoying a break from the cold weather by getting down on the dance floor with songs like “Open Mouth Kiss” and their own interpretation of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.”
This funky foursome played at the Amphitheater Stage (Main Stage) Sunday afternoon. It was their second set of the weekend and while I heard their true top performance was Saturday night in the Music Hall between Disco Biscuits sets, they still blew me away on Sunday. Jamming from beginning to end with an all instrumental set, they covered the Beatles “I Want You” and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” – the perfect way to relax on the hottest day of the festival (which was only in the low 80’s).
Dopapod played one of the first sets of the weekend at the Thursday night pre-party. For the last song, all six members of The Motet joined the band on stage for an impromptu performance. As the last cord was strummed, Dopapod’s guitarist Rob Compa turned to the other band members and shrugged as if to say, “Meh, we tried,” as if it wasn’t one of the better collaborations of the weekend.
But the real Dopapod highlight was Saturday night after the Turbo Suit set. They were laying it on thick with songs like “Trapper Keeper” when Compa channeled his inner Gwen Stefani for a No Doubt cover of “I’m just a Girl” leaving the nostalgic crowd hungry for more.
The Biscuits took the stage beginning their set with “The World is Spinning.” As the band played and the light show truly began, the crowd gasped in awe as a fan of colorful lasers covered the night sky. At the start of “Helicopters” a giant Halloween spider web stretched overhead across the crowd, reaching from the front of the stage all the way to the back.
The second set they really brought the heat with a flawless segue into “Crix.” You could feel the crowd’s disappointment as band ended without an encore. Little did anyone know, they would make an appearance at American Babies’ late night set in the Music Hall, joining them on stage for a cover of the Greatful Dead’s “Shakedown Street.”
The Squeeze played on The Porch Stage Saturday evening. As the band played off each other, building in anticipation, lead singer Corey Frye took a long pause before busting into a cover of R Kelley’s “I Believe I Can Fly.”
The band took the stage a second time, Sunday afternoon, for a tribute to Michael Jackson set. Strategically planned out by the group, 20 of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits were packed into an hour and half set. From Black Or White > Beat It > Thriller > Billie Jean > Smooth Criminal it was hands down one of the best performances of the weekend.
While 2015 was one for the books the countdown for AURA 2016 begins…
Want to get the full experience, check out the link below to view images from the whole weekend.
Photos by: Keith Griner
North Coast’s lineup is always top of the game and they always offer some of the most-wanted headliners in electronic, hip-hop and jam scenes. North Coast was the only recent Midwest event to headline popular jamtronic East coast band, the Disco Biscuits. They also are the only recent Midwest event that has brought together all members of Wutang.
The cityscape decorates the background of the main stage area. The Dos Equis stage offers a rare sight in the concrete paradise of Chicago, green grass. The trees are ornamented with art installations that reflect the stage lights.
There was a slight overlap of noise between the stages, but festival designers filled these areas with vendors and enough port-a-potties that you didn’t have to wait in line more than 10 minutes.
Friday was shut down early then resumed at 8 p.m. with a revised schedule. I caught some of Paper Diamond, then explored the festival and watched part of Mac Miller, whose live performance was better than I had expected. The Disco Biscuits headlined the Last Stand stage with a psychedelic laser show that beamed shapes into the fog above the crowd and through the trees.
Saturday, I wandered vendors and ate a deluxe grilled cheese loaded with mac and cheese, smothered in garlic and delicious enough to make me crave another right now. I liked the vendor selection; I even met a hula-hoop vendor fairy who trimmed rough edges from the carelessly made hoop I had purchased online.
I stayed at the North and Coast stages all day watching Future Rock to Gramatik to Nas and finally Big Gigantic. Gramatik and Big Gigantic are the two main reasons I wanted to go to North Coast and being two of my favorite DJs, Saturday was my most anticipated day.
Sunday’s schedule allowed me to sleep in. Starting at 4:30 p.m., I was kept busy running between stages. I went from a heavy-trance set by Emancipator, crunchy dubstep by Datsik, a dance party by A-trak, and reggae rock by Rebelution.
The first time all weekend that I went to the Dos Equis Stage for my one of my favorite up-and-coming electronic pop bands, Cherub. This was the third time I had seen them all summer and their North Coast set was more DJ-mixer style, adding new sounds, rather than just the same songs from their one album.
Then I got to see Purity Ring live for my first time and into Wutang. I watched Wutang rally the crowd for a while then walked to the Last Stang Stage to see Lotus, only to be interrupted by an announcement of evacuation of the venue. Strong winds swept leaves through the streets of the city, but nothing stronger than a few minutes of sprinkles ever dropped from the sky.
Sunday night was packed with after-party options and I was grateful one of those was Future Rock and Lotus at Concord Music Hall. Even though it was a sold out show, my friends without tickets were able to find extras and we were able to get close to the stage with enough elbowroom to dance.
The venue felt like a sauna but Lotus’s set was my favorite act all weekend. Their rhythms spell my mind with bliss, forgetting the heat, arms in the air with a wide smile on my face. Their music evokes emotions but allows you to make your own interpretation without lyrics.
The new Concord Music Hall seems to be the new Congress Theater, which was shut down earlier this summer due to building violations. They don’t have strict rules for light up gloves and hula-hoops, but it doesn’t hold as many people. If you can get a balcony spot, you can watch over the entire show with an easily accessed bar behind you.
Saturday at the Concord, I watched over Disco Biscuit’s picturesque lasers from the balcony. But Sunday for Lotus, I had to be in the lights, and watching Lotus I felt like they saved the best for last to close out North Coast weekend.
Comparing North Coast to the other Chicago music festivals, I was reminded why North Coast is my favorite one. There are a lot of people, but it isn’t overcrowded. You can actually dance around with your friends, hula-hoop, spin poi, nap on a blanket, trade kandi bracelets and whatever else the festie kids do. It’s a melting pot of rave kids wearing their neon and heady kids with pins on their hats.
Currently, Conspirator is booked solid leading up to a 4/20 show in Amherst, MA. After that, they’ll rest for a short while before kicking it in to festival mode (including at stop in Manchester, TN for Bonnaroo, which was just announced yesterday). This Sunday, they’ll end your weekend on a high note at The Vogue when Conspirator and Break Science touch down in Indianapolis.
I recently caught up with Aron Magner, keyboardist for Conspirator and The Disco Biscuits- the latter of which just completed a series of revered shows in Colorado right before the former kicked off their current tour. Below, Magner talks about Conspirator’s tipping point, shares his pseudo-predictions for Gigantic Underground Conspiracy, explains how touring gives shape to new tracks, and comments on the current state of EDM.
MOJO: Conspirator only recently solidified the band’s roster and for the longest time you and Marc (Brownstein) were the mainstays while there was this revolving cast of guitarists and drummers. How did that affect the cohesiveness of the group?
MAGNER: It was kind of like the natural evolution of a band. We didn’t really know what we were setting out to do, until we found it. 2011 and 2012 were kind of like seminal years for what Conspirator definitively is now. So when you’re reading about a rotating cast- including Darren Shearer [of The New Deal] and Mike Greenfield [of Lotus] and Jake [Cinninger] from Umphreys McGee- it just was what it was. It didn’t really from into the band that it is now until a year and a half ago.
MOJO: When or what was the tipping point that turned Conspirator into the band that it is now?
MAGNER: I think the tipping point was really the songs that we started creating. Conspirator is all about production and pre-production in the studio. The physical playing of it is a different entity. So the tipping point was really us refining our skills and getting together to produce some banging tracks that we then figured out how to play live as a band, which is kind of our niche in the EDM world.
MOJO: Conspirator guitarist Chris Michetti did an interview with Headstash back in July of 2011 where he talks about how he believed Conspirator would eventually become its own thing, instead of just being “the Disco Biscuits’ side project”, so long as the group kept making original music and doing their own thing. A year and a half later, would you agree that his prediction has become reality?
MAGNER: Oh for sure. It’s 100% is its own, very unique thing. It’s very different from any of our other projects. It stands on its own two legs and is almost immersed in a completely different world.
MOJO: I would agree. In the beginning did you get compared to The Disco Biscuits a lot?
MAGNER: Yea. I mean, only in the sense that whenever you play in a different project, it’s like dating a different girl or something. You’re no longer the couple that people remember. It’s not an evolution, it’s just a different thing, you know? It’s great to be able to switch gears- playing some incredibly fucking rowdy shows in Colorado last week [with the Disco Biscuits] and then switching gears and getting back into the Conspirator world.
MOJO: So, what does Kyle Ober think of Conspirator?
MAGNER: *pauses* FUCK KYLE OBER!
MOJO: Are there any more shows in the works for Gigantic Underground Conspiracy?
MAGNER: I would fucking love to do some more Gigantic Underground Conspiracy. I think we should make that happen. What a fun fucking project that is. We’re always trying to cultivate “the hang” and play with our homies.
MOJO: Let’s talk about the current tour for a second. Is there anything the fans should be excited about to see on this particular round of shows?
MAGNER: We have the album, Unleashed, that just came out which we’re really proud of. So you’ll definitely be hearing all the songs off of unleashed. We got together a few weeks ago for another writing session and already debuted a new song last night. It’s always cool to see how songs progress over the course of a tour. Whatever you play the first time- you’re kind of walking on thin ice and you don’t necessarily play your line definitively and purposely. Then the next time you play it you get more comfortable and over the course of a couple of weeks you start to become the song, or the song starts to become you, or whatever it is. But hearing the evolution of the song is really cool to me. And we have a handful of [new songs] as well so it’s great to go out on tour promoting a new album with completely new content on top of the new album.
MOJO: After the tour, is it already time to start thinking about festival season? Do you ever get tired of festivals?
MAGNER: *laughs* No way! Never get tired of festivals. Come on. They’re fucking awesome. What are you talking about? Each one is like snowflakes or nipples: unique and separate and different and awesome in their own way.
MOJO: What’s your sense for the state of EDM right now- with its rapid growth and increasing popularity?
MAGNER: The state of EDM? It is what it is. EDM is as much pop music as it is experimental at this point. That’s the coolest part. Everybody is finally pushing the boundaries of what EDM is.
EDM used to just be house music and now it includes all forms of electronic music. What’s great is that six or seven years ago there were some great electronic producers out there but you had to weed through everybody. Now there’s just a fucking slew of incredibly talented and young producers. Having that type of pool of thought- where everybody is trading ideas and production secrets, collaborating and listening to what kind of tones people are creating- breeds this new crop of electronic producers. The entire genre is becoming much more interesting.
MOJO: Sometimes it feels saturated, don’t you think? There’s just so much out there.
MAGNER: You only feel that it’s over-saturated because you see it everywhere and you hear it everywhere. That’s just kind of the nature of the beast. Maybe it’s over-saturated because you can walk into any local club and some DJ is playing “LE7ELS”, which you’ve heard 50 thousand times at this point three summers later.
MOJO: It’s not even that. You can walk into the grocery store and hear it on the speakers.
MAGNER: Like I said, it’s the nature of the beast. It is what it is. Electronic music is the pop music of today. And I don’t necessarily think it’s going away. I think it’s going to morph into something else. Everything comes in fads. So maybe the fad of “the DJ” will fade itself back to the fad of shredding guitars. Or, it could morph into what Conspirator is- which is an amelioration of reproduced, hard-hitting electronic music coupled with musicianship.
See Conspirator’s “hard-hitting electronic music” live this Sunday as IndyMojo Presents: CONSPIRATOR & BREAK SCIENCE @ The Vogue (Win Tickets!) and stream their latest body of original work, Unleashed, below.