Electric Forest Music Festival 6.28.12

Double JJ Ranch
Rothbury, MI

Words & Photos By Greg Molitor (
ReMIND Photography)

syn·the·sis  (snth-ss)
n. pl. syn·the·ses (-sz)
1. a. The combining of separate elements or substances to form a coherent whole.

Improvisational rock and electronic dance music. When stripping them down and strictly looking at how each is produced musically, their ideologies couldn’t be farther apart. Jam bands and DJs are located on exact opposites of the live music spectrum - yet here we are – days after Electric Forest 2012, a place where the jammers and ravers joined to create one of the most unique live concert experiences on the planet for four days. A festival that focuses on bluegrass and dubstep? Leave it to forward-thinking jam pioneers The String Incident to conceptualize such a crazy notion, one that succeeded on all accounts for the second straight year. As opposite as EDM and jam rock might seem to be on the surface, the cultures supporting the scenes are more similar than different, both professing an idea that could bring us all together some day, if we let it into our hearts…

Day 1: Thursday

After working my 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM breadwinner, good friends Duwe, Anthony and I loaded up the car and breezed our way to Electric Forest. Excitement surrounded us as we arrived. With heads on a swivel, the sights and sounds were everything you’d hope to see while waiting in line for your car to enter. The party had clearly begun and we were beyond stoked to dive straight into the mischief and hobnobbery.

The security check at the festival ground’s edge took very little time as did receiving our bracelets for the event. Implanted with RFID computers, “smart” festival bracelets, used for scanning attendees in and out of the concert grounds, have become commonplace in 2012. Other festivals such as Bonnaroo and Summer Camp utilized them in hopes to prevent patrons from sneaking into the festival for free – a noble but expensive plan. Perhaps some folks were deterred from attempting to score a weekend’s free ride, but from the stories I heard once inside, I have serious doubts whether these chip implanted bracelets serve their purpose.

Once parked, we made the decision to not camp by our car. The thought of walking between fifteen to twenty minutes from our site to the entrance checkpoint inspired us to find closer camping. Through utilization of advanced ninja techniques, we found open ground along the tree line near the glow disc golf course. Our eventual home for the weekend was not only closer but provided the only shade available in the camping grounds. This marked the first of a string of brilliant decisions made by the crew throughout the weekend. Things had gone well – time to celebrate.

Neighbors greeted us as Duwe, Anthony, and I set up, genuinely introducing themselves and wanting to know how the hell we had been, as if we were old friends merely separated by time apart and distance. This type of communal fellowship always creates a beautiful foundation for the weekend. Propelling us into the concert grounds with our heads held high, we took the positive vibes in stride as we walked towards the stages for the first night of music.

I said my goodbyes and separated from the crew. Working media at festivals is a solo gig, but I’m fortunate to run into so many amazing people any direction I head. There’s a built-in level of excitement when walking around because I never know who I might run into next – although I worked alone, I was far from lonely at Electric Forest.

The Funk Ark’s smooth R & B, funk, and Latin sound drew me towards the Tripolee Dome, the festival’s third largest stage which stood adjacent to the Ferris wheel a few steps inside the concert entrance. Guest vocalist Frank Mitchell Jr. led the horn-centric group through a handful of insightful soul tunes during my time at the stage. Leaving after a few minutes in order to catch the majority of Conspirator, I walked away impressed with not only the music but the stage’s LED lighting rig as well. If the festival coordinators had taken this much time and effort to invest in the third stage’s visualization, I thought, this weekend was destined to be a special one.

The journey to Sherwood Court, Electric Forest’s second largest stage, brought me to my first walk through Sherwood Forest. Filled with lasers, lights, hammocks, stages, bars, and art installations, I haven’t experienced anything that compares to Sherwood in terms of an environment psychedelically tuned for solely that purpose. It’s a dream world where your imagination can run wild, and that’s the idea. I planned to relax, photograph, and soak in the Forest later in the weekend, but simply walking through is a deeply emotional experience each time you step inside the wooded playground. The Forest’s visual design was very similar to Electric Forest’s 2011 Sherwood, and why not? It’s best to not mess with a good thing, right? In the heart stood a giant illuminated tower representing the halfway point of the Forest trail – so intriguing you could spend an entire evening gazing at the majesty of it all.

From the edge of the woods I could hear the trance grooves of Conspirator and exiting the Forest, I descended upon the weekend’s first massive crowd. The surrounding festival atmosphere reached a boiling point at Sherwood Court as the sun began to set – fans were dancing with smiles abound, whimsical and freely expressing their own style.

Conspirator impressed. A Disco Biscuits’ side project that tours more than that Biscuits themselves recently, the group’s earned a reputation for being extremely talented yet unreliable at times. Energy radiated from the stage during this particular show, the best I’d seen yet from the four-piece. Trance-focused live electronica has the tendency to become monotonous at points, but Conspirator dug deep and injected interesting ideas each time a section was on the brink of repetitive drag. Much of the spectacle revolved around Chris Michetti’s lightning fast guitar work. His skill set allowed the band to find the next level on numerous occasions and maintain the level of musical intensity that jam fans gush about after the show’s over.

After another walk through the Forest, I arrived to the main stage, The Ranch Arena, where Wolfgang Gartner’s brand of electro house wasn’t speaking to me like good music should. You’re bound to run into unimpressive sets at large festivals, and the best option is to ignore what you dislike and move along. It’s actually a privilege to be offered so many musical options at an event such as Electric Forest – instead of seeking another show, I watched the final few minutes of Gartner while holding out for the main stage’s next act, Ghostland Observatory.

Ghostland Observatory was by far the most difficult act to photograph since I’ve learned the craft. The stage show featured fog machines, lasers, and literally no front lighting. In other words, I was shooting into foggy darkness and a silhouette at times if I was lucky. With that said, this duo was mind-blowingly phenomenal live. Hardly believing there were only two people producing sound onstage, I stood speechless as their electro rock filled the air with raw, aggressive thickness that snarled at every turn. It’s the type of music that’s polarizing, understandably so considering vocalist Aaron Behrens’ in-your-face, take-it-or-leave-it style. Those dancing around me and I were gobbling up every second of the set, the weekend’s most pleasant surprise.

After the sharp, on-point dirtiness of Ghost Observatory, Beats Antique at Sherwood Court provided an organic breath of fresh air, capping the evening with a perfect contrast of sound. Beats Antique’s daytime set at Electric Forest 2011 left a bit to be desired - apparently they’re creatures of the night, because this set proved to me why they’ve garnered such respect within the jam circuit. Middle Eastern melodies wove their way between deeply resonating bass through the show’s duration, again just two members onstage producing a full sound that would make any naysayer believe in the power of electronic music. As the set drew to its close, my exhausted body and I made our way through the Forest to call it a night, or at least that was the plan…

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