A thick cloud of uncertainty loomed over the months leading up to the 2019 iteration of Spring Awakening Music Festival. A venue change for any festival leaves a precarious taste on a prospective attendee’s tongue. With one location swap already in recent memory (the move from its iconic Soldier Field footing to Addams Medill Park in 2016), organizers of the Midwest’s largest strictly electronic music festival had plenty of work ahead them following the announcement that Spring Awakening would not only be on the move again, but would be altogether leaving Chicago: its longtime, hallowed home. The somewhat nebulous news of the upcoming edition landing about an hour outside of Chicago, in Hoffman Estates, was at first daunting, as seen in the discordant social media reactions from repeat patrons of the festival. There were quite a few qualms to assuage—indeed.
Though, with the latest chapter of Spring Awakening, React Presents proved that its hallmark event has deservedly endured the treacherous festival front, where so many promising productions have folded in recent years.
The most apparent ingredient in the June affair’s success was a lineup that obviously spoke to its audience. Trend-setting talent from the bass-centric house domain came in droves, compliments of quintessential electronic curator, Gary Richards, and his All My Friends stage takeover, while deeper, melodic appetites found plenty of fuel from a long length of Anjunabeats‘ renowned repertoire. All the while, scene staples like REZZ, Chris Lake, Rusko, Illenium, and last-minute addition to replace an injured Martin Garrix, Kaskade, made the 2019 ticket all-the-more difficult to turn down. In its aftermath, the bygone roster of this year’s Spring Awakening echoes the famed Field of Dreams adage: “If you build it, they will come.”
But besides a robust, wide-reaching lineup, Spring Awakening saw its 27-acre Poplar Creek festival grounds succeed in rectifying much of the sound-bleeding issues it’s experienced in past years. Some traffic stoppages at the entrance and exits (mostly confined to the event’s first day), and a smattering of mud (mitigated partially by organizers as the festival stretched on) throughout the venue proved to be the primary, isolated complaints from the 26-30,000 attendees the festival amassed each day of its three-day run.
This year, Dancing Astronaut sought to get the artists’ perspectives on not only the newest chapter of Spring Awakening, but its legacy in the national and Chicago event spaces. We sat down with both first-time performers at the fest and well-oiled veterans, rounding up talent from different ends of the map, including native Chicagoans (Porn and Chicken), Aussies (Dom Dolla and What So Not), even a Frenchman (Shiba San) for good measure. Here are their takes:
Nora En Pure
Real name, Daniela Di Lillo, En Pure has traversed the Chicago club scene quite extensively over the years, though 2019 was the South African-Swiss artist’s first Spring Awakening. The “Come With Me” producer has been a revered name in the deep/melodic four-by-four realm for years, touting a length of accolades for her mixing proficiency, ever-apparent in her radio show/event series, Purified.
I love playing Chicago. It’s a great city for me to play: very music-driven. It’s very rewarding. You can play more elaborately and really try things.
Of the 2019 lineup:
…very diverse, I like that there are not too many similar acts to me, so I can play my sound and people can appreciate it. It’s a mix between that really uplifting stuff and deeper stuff… sticking to the melody.
All My Friends label head and taste-making guru, Destructo (Gary Richards) returned to Spring Awakening this past year, with a trove of on-the-rise talent in hand. As one of the first festival organizers to book acts like Diplo and Skrillex at his Southern Californian and now-ubiquitous brainchild, HARD Events, Richards is certainly no stranger to simply figuring out what’s cool from the underground, and feeding it to the masses.
My parent company, LiveStyle, owns the festival. It was a natural fit to bring an All My Friends stage here. But also too I feel like every one of our festivals we do needs that bass-house lane. It was fortunate enough that we got our hand in Spring Awakening. It’s just really worked out. I think it’s important for the scene as a whole to make sure this festival stays healthy.
On what goes into curating a stage takeover:
Finding the new breed of producers, trying to showcase new talent and bring up new people. Dance music’s all about the new. I think the masses only know the tried-and-true names, and I’m trying to break through new people to keep it fresh, but also to help those young producers really shine.
What So Not
One of the most omnipresent talents in the electronic ether, Australian-born What So Not was another familiar face at the most recent Spring Awakening effort, having played the fest in 2017. A driving source of innovation not just in his cross-genre niche, but the scene at large, What So Not’s most prominent cuts — like “Gemini” and his “Innerbloom” remix — continue to resound throughout festival grounds across the globe.
It’s a great festival to come out for. Last time I played, I think it was at 3 pm; really hot. They were struggling to move—staring into the sun. I remember being like, ‘Come on guys, let’s dance.’ They all just kind of laughed like ‘We’re trying!’ I’ve got some friends coming on a little bit later I’m really excited to catch, like [DJ] Snake. The Bass Tent looks like it’s going crazy. I want to go in there, put on a hoodie, and go get sweaty.
A Dirtybird crown jewel and more-than-seasoned purveyor of infectiously animated deep and tech-house, Shiba San returns to Spring Awakening as one of the lineup’s most coveted acts. Having established his very own label, Basement Leak, along with several acclaimed EP releases, the Parisian producer has certainly been busy since his last Spring Awakening stop.
Spring Awakening was one of the first festivals I played in the US, around the time I played HARD. It was so packed, and very special. I started my house music with the ’80s house music of Chicago. Each time I play in Chicago, I remember where house music came from. Chicago is house music. I’ve been waiting on an offer to play Spring Awakening again for a while.
I think they do a good job of placing up-and-coming artists at good times and fair stages. It can be hard for smaller artist to play a big stage at 2 PM, and then no one shows up.
Another Aussie, by the name of Dom Dolla, made his Spring Awakening debut this year. The “Take It” artist is quickly proving himself one of the most enticing propagators of the forward-thinking tech-house sound that’s taken American festival stages for ransom of late.
American audiences are super excited: house music is evolving so fast for them. Australia has quite a few established cultures. We’ve got our tech-house scene, a bass-house scene, a progressive/melodic scene, and all these established artists who tour within them. But dance music really only started to hit America in a commercial sense a few years ago. It’s been a really interesting tipping point observing what I can get away with in a set.
I’m performing a lot tech-ier here than I was a few years ago. I think the focus [at Spring Awakening] is very much on dubstep, trap, and that EDM sound, but I think they’ve picked their house artists really well, Shiba San, Chris Lake. It’s a distinctly American house sound, that Blackbook Records, Dirtybird sound, which I love.
Porn and Chicken
Having played the festival every year since its inception, Porn and Chicken are the invariable authorities on all things Spring Awakening. Known for their outlandish and voraciously attended event series (of which, unsurprisingly, visuals of porn and chicken are a cornerstone), the Chicago-based “dubstep-rock” crossover outfit has had one the most intimate vantage points of Spring Awakening’s progression.
We first played the festival on the Red Bull truck, which is no longer here. The stages are 10 times the size. This festival has grown as much as we have over the years. I feel like we were babies when we first played it. It’s been very interesting to see how the festival has matured, as we have as performers over the years. The festival’s identity is almost parallel to ours. [Spring Awakening has] faced so many challenges… But it’s bigger than it’s ever been.
The curation of the festival has always been electronic dance music, but throughout the years I think the sub-genres have been represented equally. You can find dubstep, you can find techno, you can find house, and everything else in between. It brings together all the best the world of dance music has to offer. I remember one of the first years we played: You could walk over and see Green Velvet on one stage and see Skrillex just across the way.
From the local level to the headliners, the festival takes care of you. They make sure that the local artists get a chance to shine.
Featured Photo: Rob Mondo