For three incredibly hot days in early June the city of Chicago was transformed into an EDM mecca for music fans from all corners of the globe. Spring Awakening 2017 brought tens of thousands to Addams/Medill Park, a just big enough piece of land situated only a few miles from the iconic downtown skyline. Shade was minimal and security was tight, but few in attendance seemed to care. For twenty-four hours the latest and greatest names in electronic music commanded five stages – including one place within an inflated, Corona-sponsored bubble – with a nonstop platter of bass and positivity that left everyone in attendance feeling better for having experienced such a high energy event.
This is all true. People who rarely go to music festivals tend to think every festival is the best one ever, but that is not the case when Substream is sent to cover an event. Myself and photographer Ben Howell had the time of our lives watching many of the best EDM artists in the world entertain the thousands in attendance, and we managed to do so without ingesting a drop of alcohol or any one of the numerous other party favors that one tends to find at these kind of events. It’s not that we didn’t consider it, but endless sun exposure and lack of signature Chicago wind made hydration a top priority. The only high found or needed was that we gained from the people around us, who buzzed with an energy and excitement that helped to calm the burning sensation every inch of our bodies not covered in clothing felt at essentially all times. Did I mention it was hot?
My biggest complaint with these events has little to do with the event itself and everything to with what it reveals about the artists paid top dollar to appear in front of these massive crowds. There is a clear division in electronic music between those who plan their sets in advance and those who create something from nothing in the moment that may never be more clear than at festivals. If you’ve never caught on to such things, allow me to give you a hint: If you hear the same song in more than two sets in a single day, most of those performers probably planned their set in advance. The true artists will take note of what is being played prior to their set and do whatever it takes to make themselves stand apart. Spring Awakening’s daytime acts played Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” no less than 10 times between Friday and Saturday alone. Total Kendrick drops for the both days broke 25 when other songs were added to the mix. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with a little Kendrick, even a little Kendrick on repeat, but 25 times is at least 15 too many.
When we were sitting in our hotel on Sunday ahead of the final performances photographer Ben Howell commented on just how much music we had been able to experience in the two days prior. By our count we saw no less than fifteen performers every day, and with hour-long sets we had more than enough time to feel like we were able to enjoy everyone we made an effort to see. In a perfect world there might be a bigger space, or even the ability to camp onsite instead of having to drive in from whatever low-star reviewed hotel your minimal income as a freelance writer can provide, but for bring an escape from the mundane Spring Awakening 2017 was everything is set out to be. As long as the genre bubble doesn’t burst we’re going to be going back again and again for years to come, and we hope those of you reading this now choose to join us.
Here are a few of our favorite moments from Spring Awakening 2017, as captured by photographer Ben Howell.