Fresh out of the car from Boston, I jumped in line at Output in Brooklyn and waited impatiently to start my weekend at the sixth annual Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival with the Skreamizm kick-off party. With three nights plus the Thursday pre-party featuring an intriguing lineup of underground artists at six of Williamsburg’s favorite music venues, you could say I was pretty excited.
The pre-party at Output was one of my most anticipated events of the festival. I’d heard about Output’s impeccable Funktion-One soundsystem, and I couldn’t wait to hear the artists put it to use. I was especially interested to see Skream pull off the switch from dubstep to disco and house, and I was dying to see Rinse FM mainstay and UK garage authority Oneman. Skream’s idea behind his Skreamizm party is to return to his roots and throw a “proper rave”: long sets in intimate, dark clubs where people focus more on the music than the artist.
Skream succeeded on some, but not all, of these points. Output was very dark, very foggy, and very crowded. While I avidly support his music-focused ethos, I struggled to lose myself in his show at Output. The dense crowd of intoxicated club-goers was distracting, and his set felt unfocused, but it did sound superior on the club’s sound system. I wish I could comment on Oneman, but I missed most of his set thanks to my own tardiness and the line to get in.
Optimism still high for the rest of the weekend, I started off Friday evening with a heavy dose of hip hop at the LuckyMe stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The UK-based record label has made a formidable name for itself in the beats-oriented realm of electronic music with releases from Hudson Mohawke, Machinedrum, TNGHT, and Obey City, among others. I caught S-Type, Evian Christ, rapper Rockie Fresh, and headliner Lunice (one half of TNGHT with HudMo). Though the audience seemed to enjoy the superfluous trap and Kanye hits, a show so heavy on the hip hop felt a bit out of place at an electronic music festival.
Erika at 285 Kent (Photo: @199ds)
After much-needed $3 falafel fuel, I headed to 285 Kent to catch Erika, who represented the long-running Brooklyn party The Bunker–surprisingly one of the few local acts on the BEMF roster. While impressed by her live analog techno set, I was in the mood for something more rowdy, so I headed next door to Glasslands for Nick Hook. Rowdy is exactly what I got–Hook was a guest on the #THREAD stage, a showcase for the Jersey club party in Newark with DJ Sliink, Ezrakh, Nadus, and DJ Reck, whose earlier sets I had regrettably missed. Hook dropped a variety of Jersey club, hip hop, and house hits, confidently leading the party as a group of raucous audience members jumped around the DJ booth on stage. It proved to be a satisfying way to burn off the rest of my energy for the night.
Friday night began with a giant meal that left me questioning how I would manage to stand, let alone side-shuffle, on the dancefloor for the next few hours. My innards in staunch protest, I hobbled over to the Music Hall of Williamsburg to see Sinden. Unlike the other venues in that it’s more of a music venue than a club, the Music Hall was still quite empty for the early evening hour. It would not be for long–Pete Tong was scheduled to headline later in the night, preceded by Nadastrom, and some of their more EDM-oriented fans were beginning to trickle in with light gloves and furry animal hats. While Sinden displayed impressive DJ chops, his heavy-hitting house felt out of place at such an early set time with an unfortunately sparse audience.
MANIK at Villain (Photo: BEMF)
The next stop was Villian, a bare-bones warehouse loft space that oozed Williamsburg cool. MANIK was up, and somehow his impeccable selection of underground favorites and deep house cuts inspired me to dance–and hard–despite being painfully overstuffed. This miraculous success earns him recognition as one of my favorites of the weekend. By the time headliner The Magician took the stage, the show was sold out and Villian was packed. The crowd danced ecstatically, and The Magician grinned from behind his profound beard as he delivered an enjoyable set of cheerful disco.
Three consecutive 3-to-4am nights had taken their toll by the time Sunday arrived, and my entire body was sore despite having each day to rest up until the evening events. Luckily, Kaytranada and the Sci-Fi & Fantasy showcase were enough to quiet my whining muscles for just enough time to head back to Williamsburg for a last hurrah.
Kaytranada at Glasslands (Photo: @199ds)
The first stop was Glasslands. I had sadly missed Jerome LOL and Groundislava thanks to my exhaustion, but Kaytranada was a fair consolation. His blend of hip hop, R&B, and house set off such an energetic dance party that it made me wonder if no one else had attended all three previous days of the festival.
Max McFerren at Cameo (Photo: BEMF)
Once Kaytranada had restored my energy levels, I walked the few blocks to Cameo for the up-and-coming NYC label Sci-Fi & Fantasy showcase. Both Max McFerren and Sci-Fi guest xxxy fulfilled my high expectations and treated me to the two best sets of the long weekend. Max McFerren’s engrossing techno had me digging into latent energy stores so I could dance harder than I had in the previous three days combined. xxxy’s set was equally as stimulating. His mix of old and new school garage, house, and techno fit my own taste in music so closely that it was nearly a dream DJ set. I left Cameo that night glowing, happy that the weekend ended on such a perfect note–and so, so ready for bed.
xxxy at Cameo (Photo: BEMF)
While I did enjoy several memorable sets, overall the festival was underwhelming. There were many other artists I had wanted to see but just didn’t get to, whether it was because of timing conflicts, my tired legs causing me to miss the early acts, or the bitter cold keeping me comfortably planted at one venue. BEMF seemed to suffer from a lack of cohesion; each show felt like its own separate event, and the only notable indication that they were part of an overarching fete were the silver balloon orbs that hovered overhead at each venue (which were admittedly really fascinating after a few vodka sodas). I imagine that creating a sense of unity at a festival scattered across multiple venues with their own unique vibes is a challenging undertaking, and BEMF didn’t quite hit the target. Perhaps next year, organizers should consider lowering the three-day pass price or including additional incentives like skip-the-line access so attendees are more inclined to invest in a wristband rather than individual show tickets, which would encourage more event-hopping.
On the bright side, BEMF provided me with a solid tour of the Brooklyn electronic music scene. I was able to check out more venues than I would on a normal weekend in the city. The audience was mostly typical of a Williamsburg show: young and trendy, dressed in all black or quirky thrift finds. While there could have been more New York-based artists on the bill, it was a decent peek into the realm of alternative electronic music with enough varied genres to maintain my interest (aside from trap, which seems too played out to be featured prominently at an underground music festival). I ended the weekend not wanting to return to my smaller, quieter home city, exhausted but completely charmed by the borough and already plotting my next plunge into its vibrant music scene.