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How Electric Forest Quietly Became One of the Most Beloved Festivals in America

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This year we’re covering Electric Forest for the first time. Why? Because it’s quietly become the most beloved electronic-music festival in the country, that’s why. Starting on Thursday and running through Sunday, the fest is relatively small and off the beaten path, located in a little-known part of the country called the Midwest. It features a populist lineup — this year’s headliners include Bassnectar, Flume and Skrillex — but it’s the environment that draws people more than anything. Think of Electric Forest as the anti-EDC.

Electronic dance music’s just-finished marquee event hosts more than 100,000 people per night, with interminable traffic backups, in a setting (Las Vegas) that is almost entirely devoid of moisture. EDC is about going hard.

Electric Forest, on the other hand, is about becoming one with nature and the cosmos and shit. It’s held in Michigan’s Manistee National Forest, across Lake Michigan from Milwaukee. Thirty-five thousand friends-for-a-weekend camp beneath canopy trees, and there’s dew on the grass at sunrise. The main stages are in an area called the Sherwood Forest. It’s intimate and earthy. This year, the festival is trying to break the record for the world’s largest group hug.

Yes, both EDC and Electric Forest are put on by mega-rave conglomerate Insomniac (although the company co-produces Electric Forest with Madison House Presents) , and both have seen their share of disasters. But while EDC has been mired in controversy since it moved to Las Vegas from L.A. following the death of a fifteen-year-old girl in 2010 (there was another fatality this year), the most controversial thing about Electric Forest this year is the new policy concerning hammocks. (“Hammock stacking” will no longer be allowed. This means you!)
Electric Forest also draws more than just EDM fans. Colorado’s String Cheese Incident returns as a co-headliner this year, but the twist is that the band will be jamming for three nights. Also featured: scruffy rock acts (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Delta Spirit), Bayou groups playing brass instruments (Galactic, Preservation Hall Jazz Band), soulful showmen (Seun Kuti, Charles Bradley) and even a little hip-hop, by way of Jurassic 5 alum Chali 2na and sardonic Bay Area underground sensation G-Eazy.

There’s diversity among the electronic acts, as well, from beloved first-wave DJs (Pete Tong, John Digweed, Paul Oakenfold) to progressive critics’ faves (Claude VonStroke) to hot up-and-comers (Alison Wonderland, Odesza).

And while there are bound to be heated debates between the ravers and the hippies about the merits of, say, synthetic drugs vs. natural ones, it’s likely that once everyone gets cozy in their hammocks, there will be nothing but good vibes in the air. So we’ll see you in the forest! And if you can’t make it, stay tuned for our coverage, which starts on Saturday.

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