For the seasoned electronic music festivalgoer, TomorrowWorld 2014 in Chattahoochee Hills, GA wasn’t amazing, but that doesn’t mean it was a flop. On the surface, the festival was just kind of… there. Same music, different day, unless you were brave enough—or bored enough—to venture away from the lure of the giant volcano and confettigasms that the main stage was built around.
There were more than just dirty beats at TomorrowWorld, there was actual dirt. It was a dustbowl, and I ended up wearing a bandanna on my face, which I never do, in fear that everyone would think it was slathered in Vicks VapoRub.
Venturing away from the grandiose EDM spectacle, I initially found like-minded music fans on Friday at the Anjunadeep stage, nestled in some trees with a ferocious sound bleed from both the main stage and the Q-Dance stage. The evening’s highlight: Jody Wisternoff from Way Out West owned his set, but the stage was so small it was almost disrespectful to the Anjunadeep brand.
Also notable was A-Trak, who I have to take a quick moment to thank for cleverly working bits of the Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell “more cowbell!” Saturday Night Live sketch into his set. I’ve always had a ton of respect for his turntablist skills.
As if there were any doubt, John Digweed didn’t disappoint. Compared to his set at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas in June, the crowd was twice as large for the Bedrock Records boss. Perhaps the rest of the country has a more refined palette, the audience was more international, or people are finally digging a bit deeper. BBC Radio 1 sound selector Pete Tong followed, wowing everyone and reminding people that the veteran tastemaker has still got it.
Yet for all the greatness found tucked away in these smaller stages, here’s the rub for the festival that originated in Belgium 10 years ago and, unfortunately, reflects a prevailing trend in electronic music: the main stage at TomorrowWorld 2014 was primarily a tragic example of pure laziness in EDM.
With the masses drinking the overhyped EDM Kool-Aid and spending copious amounts of cash getting wasted and searching everywhere for “molly” (because numerous tracks tell us that’s cool), no one seems to care that they are now part of this great big marketing machine. As demonstrated at the other stages, there’s a whole plethora of amazing music out there; you just have to scratch the surface and find it on your own.
If people are going to travel across the country to the middle of nowhere in Georgia, headliners shouldn’t play tracks the DJ right before them played. Is it too hard to show up an hour early to check in and do a little research?
DJ sets used to be about breaking records and educating the audience, not regurgitating the same thing over and over again. Festivals were a breeding ground to introduce the crowd to a series of never-before-heard beats, while throwing in the classics to hold it together, sometimes with a sweet new take on the familiar. Today, we hear the same remixes of the same songs repeatedly, not so different from a programmed pop radio playlist. Sure, it’s easy, comfortable, and a great way for DJs to collect a massive paycheck, but something has to change.
Take Morgan Page’s set, for example. I used to be a fan, I had “The Longest Road” in heavy rotation. I don’t mean to single Page out; what I’m about to say can be applied to almost any DJ/producer that now has their face pasted up on billboards. At this point, the majority of seasoned clubbers get that DJs in the major metropolitan megaclubs have to cheese it up for the bottle buyers (because they’re the ones bringing in upwards of six figures a night), but this is a festival. A main stage headliner can pretty much do whatever they want, and the kids with their cell phones held high will eat it up. They could probably play some Bach with a bass line, and people would go crazy (I’d prefer that, actually). So why did Page bang out just another predictable build-and-drop set at 4 in the afternoon? If his name weren’t on the big screen, I wouldn’t have believed he was the one I was hearing. He used to make beautiful tracks; I just about lost it when he threw in some trap and formulaic remixes of his classics. Mr. Page, I feel like I don’t know you anymore.
I didn’t see many main stage sets, mostly because every time friends tried to make me go over there to kick it on the LIV Skyloft deck or hang out in VIP, the purist in me forced my legs to run away. From Nervo to Deorro, Tommy Trash to Showtek, The Chainsmokers to Carnage, everyone could have played the same hour-long tracklist, and I bet not many would have noticed. To me, it was a torturous audio assault. And honestly, it’s rather insulting if they believe no one will care. The only saving grace was Kygo for not only understanding that he was playing while the sun was out and didn’t need to go mental, but actually creating a mood and vibe. Bonus points for throwing his own remix of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.”
Sunday was whereTomorrowWorld really shined, despite the overcast skies. Wandering aimlessly without looking at the schedule, I noticed two DJs going back-to-back in the distance at the Full On tent. The closer I got, the more I realized it was Ferry Corsten—yes, at 3 p.m. no less—smiling his face off and mixing things up with Jacob van Hage. It turned out that Ferry would be going back-to-back with every artist that day. And every time I checked in, from Adrian Lux to Andrew Rayel, there would be Ferry at the end of their sets, all smiles, spinning alongside them, and having the time of his life.
When I would make my way over to the Minus stage, I kept having a hard time leaving. As soon as Paco Osuna came on, I was in it for the long haul. This was what I had been seeking. I was finally also able to cross Maceo Plex off my must-see-DJ bucket list, especially since his DJ-Kicks mix was a staple in my car’s CD player for a good two months. Then the ultimate techno god himself, Richie Hawtin, took control. I was right there, hanging on to every transition of not a single track I could name (which is how I like my techno, knowing I could always look it up on his Twitter later). Perfection.
Would I go again next year? It depends on who isn’t headlining. I can tell you this: while some may be entranced by the lasers and pyro, sometimes the best show is somewhere off in the distance where all the people are dancing with each other, getting into a groove. They’re the ones getting the full experience.
Originally published on Medium.