There were moments during Saturday's second day of activities at the Electric Zoo Festival that would lead you to believe that at any point the sound waves from the sets being played could have easily ripped apart the grounds at Randall's Island Park. Yes, kids seemed more turnt up than on Friday and even possibly a bit more "altered" and weird, but few were out of control. Saturday's big story this year was that the afternoon and evening were a celebration of the most out-sized of American dance's influences, basically a not-so-fractious conversation between "loud and hard" impulses versus "broad and deep" styles. Who won? Well, nobody really. Crowds debating "first-world" concerns like, "do we stay for Armin or head to hear Knife Party" likely finally realized at that point just how spoiled by diversity and excellence American dance fans truly are at this moment in time.
For dance fans in America who pre-date "EDM," there were the likes of trance legends Armin van Buuren and Paul van Dyk, techno and tribal house DJ maestro Danny Tenaglia, global radio legend Pete Tong, hard house icons Benny Benassi and Laidback Luke, plus more. For those obsessed with flipping on the radio and potentially hearing the same songs they hear in the midst of their favorite big-room locale, Zedd (he of producing dance-driven and chart-topping Billboard hits in the past two years) was there. As well, if just falling in love with EDM because you're an over-stimulated web fanatic, Knife Party played your favorite track "Internet Friends" (as well as material from their forthcoming album), wherein the hook "ominously" states, "You blocked me on Facebook, prepare to die!"
The day was a story best told by iconic styles and now perpetual influences, too. Scandinavian duo Pegboard Nerds' mid-afternoon Hilltop Arena tent sent bore strong influences of Skrillex's razor-edged dubstep, whereas Oliver Heldens' brighter, yet more deep house-driven take on everything from rhythm and blues records to enormous EDM tracks that gave him a throwback pop-techno feel that in being replicated in the 21st century could now easily be called timeless. Notable, too, was the gargantuan set delivered by Los Angeles' MAKJ, who seamlessly slipped between his own hard electro smashers and everything from Bell Biv Devoe's '90s New Jack Swing hit "Poison," to Papa Roach's rap/metal-era classic "Last Resort," Dr. Dre's "Still D.R.E.," and more. If there was a next-level pop superstar-making set to take home from Saturday's proceedings, that was it. Controlling the Main Stage West crowd like puppets on strings, it was an epic occurrence.
Speaking of pop superstars, Nervo played Main Stage East, and between still "not [caring]" that "[they] crashed [their] car into a bridge," and getting an ecstatic throng to "jump around," the Australian sister duo still have pop-star charisma and best embody the look, style and sound of idealized EDM.
On the other hand, what Pete Tong, Josh Wink, Sasha, and Danny Tenaglia did at Sunday School Grove took "pop star" to a whole other level. In 1956, country-fried proto-rock era giants Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley gathered at Memphis, Tennessee's Sun Studios to record music as a tandem now famously known in rock circles as the "Million Dollar Quartet." No, there were not rare techno classics recorded at Electric Zoo yesterday by that foursome. However, these four icons did likely service what felt like one million fans in the small circus-style tent. Things got so crowded that from Tong's set onward, security guards were posted at the tent's entrance monitoring fans coming in and out. On a day where Zedd drops "Clarity" to literal tens of thousands and what looks like a laser-made technicolor force field shoots forth from the mainstage, the idea that four guys with 150 years of playing dance music between them hold court for six hours to what is basically a crammed to capacity bandbox is telling. Just as much as top 40 is cool, dance's classic style still has timeless appeal.
Ahh, yes, Zedd. He's one of dance-as-pop's most enormous names, and in being placed between Benny Benassi and Armin van Buuren allows for an intriguing moment for realization and contemplation. For many American dance fans (author included), one of our favorite initial forays into dance music came through the global pop breakout of Benny Benassi's 2002 single "Satisfaction." Throbbing, heavy, and deep with an insistent vocal, it's a little bit of everything we've eventually come to love about everything that's existed after its release. As well, there's Armin van Buuren, who for global dance fans is an absolute superstar beyond compare whose best tracks oftentimes feature plaintive female vocals over expansive, soothing melodies.
Zedd's a happy medium between Benassi and van Buuren. "Clarity" and "Stay The Night" are his enormous pop singles, and placed in this context bridge the gaps between the two iconic dance names and truly provides a sense of the future. Foxes' vocal on "Clarity" could easily have found a home on any of the productions on van Buuren's latest album Intense. As well, "Stay The Night" has a pacing and intensity that owes a debt of gratitude to Benassi's production style and "Satisfaction"'s legacy. Thus, in taking in the entirety of Zedd's set in full, it was the best of everything dance has been, and ideally a showcase of what pop-trending dance has become. Freeze that snapshot of the fireworks, lazers, super-intense LED show and Zedd with both hands held aloft in victory. It was proof that dance in America has resurrected itself and won. Insofar as the future, day three headliners Skrillex and Diplo have a Jack U set-as-story yet to be told.