Coming back to civilization was jarring. Unnatural. After being there, going home made everything we had experienced at Electric Forest like a dream. Surreal. As it was for Alice, who walked through the talking doors, no one, no matter how far their imagination stretched, could anticipate the wonders that awaited beyond the front gates. Rothbury’s best kept secret until recent past.
Truly understanding Electric Forest can really only be done by being there. So, make sure it’s on the list. What I CAN relay to you, however, is that from the moment you step foot through the gates to the early A.M. hours when you went back through, every portion of your senses had been stimulated by a world that could best be described to any avid festival goer by “It’s f@*#-ing Shangri-La.”
Never, have I experienced such a masterfully curated Interactive Art and Music festival as within Insomniac’s Electric Forest. (I still have yet to go the Burn In Black Rock.) Moment to moment, from the stage of Tripolee to Sherwood Court, sounds, sights, smells, sensations of all shapes and sizes, from over 8 stages and beyond, overwhelmed my subconscious. It was ALMOST to much.
My photographer and I arrived after a four and a half hour journey through rural roads along western Michigan. Even now, smells of thick pine and cedar continue to blend with memory; bringing me back to the canopy covered world of lights and love. In the wee dark hours of the morning from almost ten miles away you could see the Forest’s glow hovering over the tops of the trees. “Happy Forest!” being heard everywhere. Calling, all who came near like moths to an electric flame.
Turning from the off ramp onto the winding road and making our way to the front gates, we found it riddled with over 40,000 Forest Family members “struggle bussing” back to their temporary homes for those magical four days. Furry felines. Scantily clad fairies dripping with glitter dust and sweat. Neon Guys and Glowing Girls. Flow artists with swirling light orbiting them like meteors in rings; a literal army of “PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity, Respect) Warriors” crawling their way back to their tents after a full day of battle with artistic Giants.
I still shake my head with a smile as I try and wrap my mind around what happened. Let’s take a moment to reflect. We got to speak with a few of the artists camping there that weekend. Our first task on our journey was a sit down with Chicago Tropic House heavyweights, Autograf. (You can catch the interview here: ) They were just about to enter the artist food tent when I grabbed them for a quick interview. Edward Sharp and Magnetic Zeros were jamming from the Ranch Stage just a quarter mile away. It was hard to tear away from them but there was no way we were gonna turn down the opportunity to drop in on Autograf. I asked them about their take on E. Forest:
“We just keep hearing so many people talk about this festival and all the art. We are happy to be apart of it,” said Mike Wing (also a member of Midnight Conspiracy). Not surprising due to the reaction of the Forest Family to Autograf’s killer set.
“Well done boys. Inspirational.”
Jake Carpenter, one half of Autograf, mentioned how “The visual art here. That’s inspirational. I used to do mostly sculpture. One of my favorite artists is Javier Martin but that’s beside the point. Walking through the forest while it’s all lit up is peaceful.” Spiritual. You could see that playing E. Forest was a milestone of success for them…. “It’s really satisfying to hear feedback from our fans saying that we helped inspire them to create new work too. It’s a big win for us in our minds.”
With the immense explosions of art surrounding us I hesitated to ask but wanted to know where they were heading with the project. They replied with a proud smile,
“We have a full album finished. The initial inception of the project was to get back to our roots; the after hour basement dance parties. We’ll be putting out songs for the rest of the year. Officially we can’t announce whom we’re collaborating with, but the first single is set to drop next month [end of July.] It’s been cool. We’ve been playing them out during our concerts and since the audiences haven’t heard them yet it’s really interesting to see how they’ve been reacting to it. We are including live instrumentation. We are working with the concepts of trying to turn club sets into a live set and performance. We are also working on finding a visual concept to fit it,” said Wing, “As soon as we have the right rig you can expect to see Autograf become a very visual experience.”
Autograf had to run immediately after our sit down but made sure we were hip to a secret set happening later that evening on the grounds after everyone was escorted out of the gates. Not knowing how the night would favor us we decided to do what we could to take in the rest of the grounds and scope out the secret spot. Somewhere in the middle of ‘Sherwood Forest’ (a literal playground for the sober and psychotropic mind) amidst the immense collection of eye candy that laid before us we found ourselves almost instantly lost; thrown into a childlike state of wonder and awe.
Clock towers constructed from sacred geometrics, tents dedicated to gong baths, LED clouds mimicking a cage of electric rainbow fire, and hammocks as far as the eye can see filled this cornucopia of stimulations. But, it wasn’t until we were passing beneath the feet of a giant woman, The Electric Forest Goddess (she changed each year), a voluptuous figure reaching for the sky with a muted bronze glow shining beneath a shroud of vines and leaves that we would come across something that, for me, would fixate itself into my waking mind.
Imagine, tucked into an almost wonderfully hidden corner off the path through this neo-sacred ground lay 22 doors facing each other in a round. What first caught my attention was the slam of a wooden door being heard bouncing off the trees. I looked towards the sound and saw three individuals crossing the thresholds; two exited one entered. There was an odd glow permeating from out of the open doors. I could see and hear people laughing, and then silence as the doors shut again. It kept up like this for several moments, people entering and exiting, as I drew closer to inspect the odd structure. Every door was different; so simple, so basic, so quiet until they were opened to reveal the inner sanctum alive with laughter, music and scented air.
When I finally walked through my door I was greeted by a beautiful young raven haired woman dressed like a gypsy saying to me “Oh?! Which door did you come through? [she looks] The stars! Who are you not to shine?” then disappears through the portal I just came through. I turn to see that the door, which looked so decrepit on the outside, was lined with a stunning image of a woman’s nude body wrapped in blanket of stars. And the base read the word “STARS: Who are you not to shine?” Curiously I turned and surveyed the other doors and quickly realized that they were all line with powerful sacred images and symbols. Every door was lined with a newly represented images of the 22 most powerful cards in the Deck of Tarot. [Laura my photographer walked through the Hierophant] So mesmerizing were the black and white photographic images that I almost forgot that there were people in the room. People kept entering and exiting. There two pedestals with full page portfolios that gave the reading for each of the doors, as if you drew your fate card from the fortune tellers deck, but didn’t even know it until you read over the account of the door in which you entered.
Collecting ourselves we began to make an attempt to discern who to talk to, in order to understand what it was we were being surround by, and why it was so inexplicably moving. In that moment it dawned on me that with everyone walking in and out of the room through different doors, I couldn’t tell who was apart of the installation piece and who was an observer. The artists, who were present the whole time, were shrouded in anonymity and could stay that way until they decided to reveal themselves. So, seamless was the human shuffle that it began to make me feel uncomfortable; like I was being watched and I didn’t even know it. I walked around the room (my photographer snapping happily away) as light pierced my eyes through the holes in a spinning rusty oil bullet shot drum at the center of room. Looking away from the shine, my eyes drew down to meet those of woman sitting on the round bench beneath the drum. She was in all white lace, gold makeup and jewelry. Her blues eyes stared at me; studying me. She stood up carefully approached me and asked, “Which card did you first come through?”
She smiled. I realized who she was. I began to ask her questions left and right. “What is this? How did you make it? Why does it feel so odd and gripping? Where did this idea come from? Who are you?”
She spoke sweetly as another beautiful slightly more eagle eyed woman came near to us, “My name is Jill and this is my counterpart Anne ,” the artists of this room called the Wheel of Fortune.
They went on to tell me how the idea spawned. They are photographic muralists that originally wanted to create the entire deck of 78 images. But, after their consultation with a friend and Tarot reader they felt that it would be more feasible to focus on the 22 trump cards. What they couldn’t have realized at that point was how poignant this decision would become. Each image separately/simultaneously photographed at different exposures(no digital alteration) then layered to make up each of the cards, would become the doors to this gravitationally charged room. (A fully manifested metaphor for ancient universal mysteries & truths, if you ask me.) So, detailed and thought out was this project that once you introduced the human element the movement of the room was completely organic. Taking on a life of it’s own. People kept coming and going. Most noticeable were the ones who were coming in, as those who were leaving some how felt like they never left, leaving their presence behind. With every new body that entered the room you could feel the shift in energy grow, but some how never felt as if it shrank.
“What is that?” I asked. A silent shrug from Jill Sutherland and Anne Staveley, who had been trying to document the phenomenon themselves They just pointed out a GoPro attached to the cast iron chandelier fixed at the center of the room.
“It’s like a living organism. This project has been growing since we’ve begun. Last year we were rewarded for our efforts with being named one of Burning Man’s 2014 Honorarium Grant Recipients. (http://burners.me/2014/06/02/2014-art-grant-winners-announced) (Now we are taking the piece on tour. Hopefully soon to Europe” (Follow them Here: http://livinlargephoto.com/)
As hard as it was I had to leave these wonderful artists and continue on our musical mission. We exited the Wheel of Fortune back into the Forest amongst a sea of hammocks and Phantogram playing through the trees that were now lit up like neon pillars. Wandering from stage to stage we were enveloped by a massive speak easy pumping out Electro Swing music like it was 1929. Vorteque, yet another Chicago producer/DJ/circus freak brought an unparalleled vaudevillian performance each night that warped everyone into the future past, at the Hangar Stage. It was a steam punkers dream.
At the end of the night (morning really) staff were escorting everyone off of the grounds to prepare for the next day. (Big job. Big forest.) We still hadn’t found the secret stage so we were reluctant to follow the crowd. In the air we heard an engaging pianist soloing behind a wall on a darkened secluded stage. Curiously we went in. A random festival attendee, Kelly Costello I think her name was, had been wailing on the keys like she was pouring her heart out into a soul driven ragtime. Egged on by one of the artists, Yeshua Quinn, that dressed the Goddess of the Forest we stood and watched this girl poor her heart out. Unsolicited and unbeknownst to us, a crowd slowly gathered and silently listened to this beauty grasping for the last moments before we all had to go. She drew to finish with a flourish. The crowd cheered. Then out of nowhere the stage lights suddenly turned on and blared back at us. Costello walked down stunned while MR. CARMAK walked up to an already set up DJ rig and commenced to blow our minds.
Without even thinking about it we had found ourselves drawn into the afterhours party that we were searching for the whole time. Jpod, Autograf, Macy Grey and several of the major invited artists were dancing all around us. A celebration of the entire festival and the joy they were all bringing to the Forest Family and each other. NO WAY! I couldn’t believe our dumb luck. Needless to say the party went well into the morning as is the tradition of a true after party.
By the time we left, the Sun was already up and the grounds were cleaned; prepping for Sunday’s revelry. We said, “Jam! Let’s walk out the front gates back to our tent and get some food.” As we crossed the massive field before the stage of Tripolee we saw three hot air balloons lifting off into the sky; (our camera dead) slowly rising with my reflective thoughts. This place was truly magic. A place manifested by the sheer creative will and pure loving intention of a community that longed for something more. I will never forget the smell of pine and cedar blending into the morning mist. A true experience that has dug into my memory leaving it’s everlasting….