Sunday School: An Intimate Musical Experience At A Not-So-Intimate Festival

The Main Stage @ Mysteryland USA

The Main Stage @ Mysteryland USA

Memorial Day Weekend has taken on a completely different meaning to the lovers of live music, and it would seem everyone got their own little piece of heaven this weekend, especially the techno junkies (guilty). From the furthest depths of the underground to big stage DJ’s, everyone got their fix as hundreds of performers from around the world shared bills at multiple festivals across the country last weekend. Detroit celebrated the annual Movement Electronic Festival with a seemingly endless bill of top-notch producers. Once again, Insomniac took over New York City with this year’s initial Electric Daisy Carnival. Then there was the Mysteryland Electronic Music Festival held in Bethel, NY which made history both with it’s first US appearance, and as the first camping event on the original Woodstock grounds since 1969! While it is true that the title slightly reminisces some pop star’s mansion that you’d never let your kids near, this fest actually proved to be really unique.

BigTop1I’m well aware that the web is crawling with articles related to this festival, but I wanted to set the record straight from a fan’s perspective. I was able to go down a week prior to it’s commencement and lend a hand with the art department. This festival had a very intimate feel despite being put on by the not-so-intimate SFX and ID&T entertainment moguls. During my time working there I couldn’t believe how independent the artist contributions actually were. Every sign, sculpture, and painting was done by people just like you or me. The presence of the big-business corporations involved was looming, but more in a sense that you had to do your job or go home. What I saw was a great team of unique individuals working together to put on a greatly unique concert experience, and for it’s first time on US soil no less. Fast forward to the actual event and that intimacy remained, somehow. The production value was nothing short of insane, abundant with crazy stage props, fireworks, outrageous light shows, the works people. Each tent and stage was equipped with massive Funktion-One sound systems to present one of the purest listening experiences possible. Still, the festival organizers recorded about 20,000 attendees, split up over 2 days. That’s not that large compared a lot of other festivals of that nature. Everything felt so personal.

Dubfire Live in the Big Top Tent

Dubfire Live in the Big Top Tent

Now, let’s get to the good stuff shall we? The point of all this dribble is the music. The theatrics, no matter how intense (and they really were), are merely a bonus in the end. Most of the gimmicks were reserved for main stage anyway, and that just made the following all the more intimate. Made Event really got it right with the Sunday School Mini Fest. Three different tents and stages, each with their own varying size and theme were spread across the hills to the left of main stage. The bill was insatiable. Over 20 years worth of techno and house music’s progressive evolution was narrowed down to 40 back-to-back acts. Old school 90’s era legends like Dubfire (formerly of Deep Dish), Chris Liebing, and even the man himself Pete Tong played. The future intertwined with the past as contemporary heavy hitters like Booka Shade, Pan Pot, and Scuba shared the lineup. That being said, “tip of the iceberg” is a criminal understatement my friends. Many of the artists mutually represented some of the finest record labels in underground electronic, including Poker Flat Recordings, Get Physical Music, and Hot Creations. On Saturday, the infamously talented Seth Troxler brought the entire Visionquest Records crew for the only performance featuring all four artists together this year. Now that is pretty special. There was this unmistakable vitality in the air at this place. DJ Fehrplay even signed a deal with Ultra Records DURING his performance with Jeremy Olander in the Big Top Tent! Perhaps it’s because it was the first time this event was hosted in the US, or maybe it was just the sheer beauty of the venue, but these guys and gals seemed to be giving it everything they had.

A lot of these artists are not only true bred DJ’s and genuine producers, but there were a substantial amount of fully LIVE performances too. Gaiser destroyed the Big Top with an ethereal minimal-tech set that quite simply blew me away. This artist adds a characteristic texture and definition to the Detroit roots he’s firmly planted in. His style is so classic but futuristic, it’s incredible. The nostalgic punch takes you back to the late 90’s, but he only made his first label appearance about 10 years ago. Those traits combine to form a revitalizing twist on a decades-old genre. It doesn’t stop there. Just across the hill, Made Event showed us all how much they really loved their fans with Sunday School’s Vinyl-Only stage! In a world where countless hacks are getting away with musical homicide in the electronic scene, what better format to test a DJ’s alleged skills than an old-school throw down? Lee Foss knocked it out of the park with a full set of interstellar floor bangers. In the past few years he’s proven himself to be a top-level performer in his class, and his triumph at Mysteryland only makes sense. If Jamie Jones is the king of Hot Creations, then Foss is definitely the prince. He had the crowd eating out of his hand. The mash-ups and transitions were beyond impressive considering it was his first exclusively vinyl gig in 8 years (that’s right). There’s deep house, and then there is this guy. That non-stop, tough-love style of house could perfectly sum up my romance with this culture. One moment he’s bringing down the hammer and nailing you to the floor, the next he’s gently caressing you through the motions.  It’s equally apparent on stage as it is in his interviews; the man sincerely loves what he does. The enthusiastic personality he conveys on and off the decks translates directly to  his music. He was having just as much fun as we were.

Knowing the whole thing was specially improvised for that one night is priceless. During his set the needle actually skipped, and you knew you were involved in something authentic. That slight glitch is just a raw testament to the real work being done directly in front of you, rather than a glorified playlist being spun in a massive arena. This stage had the most personal atmosphere in the whole festival, and we’re talking about sets from some legendary performers like Steve Bug, Carl Craig, Soul Clap, and even more. My only regret is that I couldn’t see more while I was there. The great thing about these bigger DJ events is that they tend to be recorded, so hopefully some universal force will act in our favor and we’ll see some sporadic video and mixes released in the coming weeks.

mysteryland-2-650-430Alan Gerry, the founder of the Bethel Woods Performing Arts Center, stated before the festival began that his staff was very nervous about “overdosing ravers”. Such fears aren’t out of the realm of likelihood when considering other fests that NY State accommodates, like Camp Bisco or the infamous Electric Zoo incident last summer. The 21+ stipulation for attendees was a huge factor in successfully avoiding such tragedy (sorry kids). During the entire time I worked this event, paramedics spent more time listening to music and talking about their daily lives than assisting malnourished drug users. Was there calamity folks? Does Steve Aoki like cake? Bet on it. However, such chaos was dealt with efficiently and most of all, discretely. The experience of these European festival organizers vs the occasionally sloppy American methods could be another reason for it’s general success. Apparently Gerry and the rest of the town were pleased with the execution of the event, Mysteryland has just been booked for a 3-year contract at Bethel Woods. I was quite surprised to find how smooth and versatile this event truly was. Everyone had their own section of the festival. If you’re into the big room names like Flosstradamus or Kaskade, you had plenty of options and a pretty insane main stage to watch them press play on. We really must give credit to Made Event for putting on such an amazing time, and booking so many great and unique artists. Everyone in attendance really found what they were looking for (at least I hope) last weekend. The atmosphere, the overall vibe itself belonged to the fans that weekend. I like to imagine that Michael Lang was dancing in his grave last weekend.



Posted on June 1, 2014, in Festivals, Show Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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