I get to CounterPoint Music Festival Friday afternoon just as a storm has passed. Lightning tore up the sky, and someone tells me later that M83’s equipment was damaged so badly that the band couldn’t play. There’s plenty more havoc where that came from: One editor says that her reporter suffered a severe concussion. A college student from India, who goes by Fridge Organic, tells me that his tent and possessions were ruined.
I do not pitch a tent. This is for the simple reason that I would definitely die in the wild, probably on the first day, and I have a nice car. After setting up my campsite (which is to say, parking), I walk down the graveled path to the festival grounds.
Atmosphere is the first set I catch, and he plays a roster of heartfelt songs including “Godlovesugly” off the 2002 album of that name and “Dear Jake” from his 2005 album You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having. Sean Daley’s voice is clear and strong enough to carry through the open air and crowd.
Crystal Castles goes on next. There are two stages right next to each other, so that the sets can start one after the other. Alice Glass has dyed her hair silver purple, and otherwise wears black. Producer Ethan Kath plays the keyboard with his whole body. Glass crowd-surfs during “Alice Practice.” I notice a couple dozen helium balloons along with skulls, Pokemons, and related toys on sticks, suspended above the crowd. This will go on all weekend. Bubbles and beach balls and weed smoke float into the air during the drop of “Celestica.” They end the set with their cover of Robert Smith’s “Not in Love.”
I move with the crowd from the main stage area to the Beat Tent and Backbeat Tent — two stages that mostly showcase dubstep. Just between these two areas spins a Ferris wheel, which lights up at night like a beacon. Next to the Ferris wheel lies a huge expanse of mud that you have to walk through. Many people’s feet are covered in mud. Some have ditched their shoes altogether. One guy comes out of a Port-a-Potty in his bare feet.
Feed Me plays grimy dubstep and drum and bass inside the tent to an audience that is way more energetic and packed together than Crystal Castles’ set. Hands go into the air and bodies rock almost like metal heads. The crowd goes particularly nuts during a “Slim Shady” sample. Flags, theater masks, and Burning Man-style creations on sticks bounce in the air.
The up-and-coming Brooklyn rapper Theophilus London takes the main stage in place of M83. There are tons more people here than in the tent, but the energy feels diffused — there is less dancing, less cheering, and more chattering. He samples “Pinky and the Brain” from the cartoon series Animaniacs, then covers Missy Elliot’s “Oops.” Yes, it is funny to hear a guy sing, “There goes my shirt up over my head.” He closes with a house remix of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
Avicii goes on next. Throngs of people form a natural arena, either packing themselves on the plot in front of the stage, or sitting on the hill and other outlying areas. Some use his set as background music as they play in a pond, give each other glow stick light shows, or twirl LED hula-hoops around their hips. I have never seen so many LED hula-hoops in my life, nor have I ever seen such a concentration of glowing earrings, body paint, glasses, toys, balls, jewelry, and hats. The night seems alive with an alien glow. The masses sing along to Avicii’s “Fade Into Darkness” and “Levels,” with convulsions of glow sticks flying into the air at each dramatic drop.
I don’t stay for all of Avicii’s set because I want to see what is happening with the dubstep DJ Excision. I hurry to the tents, passing couples smoking in hammocks, girls in tutus, and a guy who eats face when he falls flat in the dark mud, which is only vaguely illuminated by the glowing Ferris wheel. My sequined flats go all the way into the sludge, up to my ankles. Someone stops me to sign his white tee with a sharpie, covered in signatures. “Molly had nothing to do with this,” he says.
Excision has turned the tent into a sweaty orgy of adrenaline. It’s almost strange to see so many young white people dancing with that kind of intensity. It’s also interesting to see how electronic music has divided into two camps — the “mainstream” house fans and the “hardcore” dubstep fans, the latter of which would have been drum and bass die-hards during the rave culture that died out a decade ago.
Strobe lights cut without relief into the room. Roars rise up from the dancers, who move in an angular, tribal style. Shirts are coming off. It doesn’t seem gender specific. “Headbanga” gets complete attention from the crowd, with everyone screaming, “I’m a fucking headbanger,” in unison.
We move en masse to the main stage. Some run and others walk, dance, gallop, or ride on shoulders. CounterPoint organizers expected a turnout of close to 20,000 people, according to the AJC. Scanning the audience, which spreads well beyond my field of vision, that feels sounds about right. It seems like everyone in the festival is now poised for Bassnectar. Lorin Ashton is on the stage with his signature long hair, backed by a towering screen of colored light. The crowd is now so heavy with objects on sticks that they seem to form a second layer of audience members. A UFO shines brightly in the sky, its red lasers shooting down. The moon is full.
I feel the bass in my feet through the ground. Ashton pulls Ellie Goulding, Dr. Dre, and Wu-Tang into the mix. His timing feels strange. The glow stick showers keep happening in a silent moment when you think the drop is coming. A photojournalist tells me the next day that he likes this about Bassnectar because it reminds him of those awkward silences when you sing the wrong words of a song. There is a certain dissonance about the music, a dark and growling undercurrent that almost amplifies the frenzy.
After his set, I wander around long enough to see how the party will continue. Costumes are everywhere, including a guy in a creepy Gumby outfit that covers his face, big stuffed animal suits, and several girls wearing stripper gear with ironic money tucked into the strings. There’s enough energy to keep the party going for hours. Glow sticks litter the ground wherever I walk. I go back to my car, which pulsates with bass from the festival, and pass out.
I start out Saturday in the media tent. It is 10:22 a.m. The grounds are still empty. I’m dirty, hot, and covered in flies. A security person tells me that a lot of people are accidentally buying bath salts instead of MDMA. I’m not sure if I believe her or not. I wander to the food vendor area, where about 20 people are on the grass eating breakfast burritos from Atlanta’s Mobile Marlay food truck. The burritos contain tater tots and taste divine. I take a shower in the VIP camping area, peeling off my pants like a banana. They are glued to me with sweat. The temp. must be in the high 80’s. I get out to my first show.
Zoogma is an electro-rock band consisting of three electric guitar players, one of whom also plays the keyboard, plus a drummer and a laptop. An Ellie Goulding “Starry Eyed” remix stands out — the guitars go well with the dubstep beat and her voice. The crowd isn’t huge yet, but they’re into it. Tie-dye is everywhere, along with other neo-hippie styling: Grateful Dead, Phish, and Sound Tribe shirts abound. Ashanti “The Mad Violinist” joins the set. He jams so hard that his strings break.
The vibe is pretty mellow, with Frisbees and softballs and dogs making the festival feel more like campus grounds or a park. I notice some funny t-shirts, some more lewd than others — “Come at Me Bro,” reads one; another advertises “Free Fucking”; and of course, “I fingered Molly.”
Reptar continues the mellow vibe. The poppy, energetic group is more indie rock than electro, and echoes Broken Social Scene with its slow, jammy style. My new friend Fridge says the same thing I’m thinking: It’s weird to hear an actual band play after all the electronic music.
We go back to the Beat Tent to watch DJ Mel. More dubstep ensues. We sit in the grass outside the tent and watch. People are playing with dogs, and a few guys shoot lasers from toy guns. Kids sprawl in hammocks hung from the tent’s beams. One guy yields an epic machine that spews a cavalcade of bubbles into the sky. DJ Mel plays some pop songs, including Zedd’s “Stars Come Out.” Some house elements come into the set, such as the neurotic synth loops that epitomize the genre. A self-described bass head I meet later, Adam Maslamani, says that a lot of dubstep DJ’s are adding house and pop elements to draw in a bigger audience.
Polica plays at the main stage next. It’s an actual band with a strong electro influence and a lead singer whose voice, a husky alto, reminds me of Beth Orton. Toro Y Moi keep things chill with a set that peaks with “I Can Get Love.”
Emancipator consists of producer Douglas Appling and violinist Ilya Goldberg. The crowd sways to their downtempo set. Mellow purple beams push out as deep blue and green lights bathe the stage during “When I’m Gone,” which much of the audience knows by heart.
Zed’s Dead is the first dubstep heavyweight of the day. He plays tribal house beats as well as dubstep. Someone’s monkey-on-a-stick acts like a puppet MC as he lets out Blur’s “Woo Hoo.” Every single person around me is dancing as the tent blows up with fluorescent light. I go out back to the grass and join a group of people. One of them, Laura Levine, drove down from Washington D.C. for the festival. She says she doesn’t think they sound like Zed’s Dead, that they are trying to sound more like Tiesto. Then the set gets really grimy and thick with that whomp-whomp-whomp-whomp bass effect, and she runs off to dance.
Skrillex is the first headlining act of the night. Throughout the set, yellow lights cut through smoke for a dirty yet soothing effect. He tells everyone to put their lights in the sky for the aliens, to whom he dedicates a heartfelt “Cinema.” The spacecraft from last night is back. Fireworks go off during “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” Then a giant 5:00-minute countdown is projected onto the screen.
He finishes his set. Pretty Lights goes onto the stage just as the clock reaches ten seconds. A countdown ensues. He opens at 0:00 with an organ solo from The Phantom of the Opera — the part where the phantom reveals himself to the prima donna. His epic light show flashes from cityscapes to red constellations and back again as he plays “Solamente,” followed by a new, unreleased song that sounds like it samples Dinah Washington, and later, a song that cuts in Lil Wayne. Cinema 4D lasers slice up the air.
Pretty Lights drops “Finally Moving” near the end of his set. He told me in an interview last week that he didn’t play the song for a while because he was irritated about everyone thinking that he is remixing Avicii and Flo Rida, when really he was the first person to use the Etta James sample. He said that he’s playing the song again, though. As her voice sings from beyond the grave, “Oh, sometimes, I get a good feeling,” the festival seems to have reached its final takeoff. This is fully realized right at midnight with the end of his set as fireworks explode for a full five minutes, illuminating the sky in gorgeous light.
I stumble back to my car, high on the pleasant two-day assault of lights and music. Back at the campsite, I look down at my muddy sequined flats, happy that it’s too dark to survey the filthy interior of my car. I’d be surprised if CounterPoint doesn’t happen again after this year’s launch. And when it does, I’ll be back next year — in hiking boots.
Check out the full CounterPoint Music Fest photo gallery.
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