Due to some prior commitments over Labor Day weekend, I wasn't able to make it to one minute of the second Sun City Music Festival, which was held Saturday and Sunday at Ascarate Park. Fortunately, I had asked one of our freelance contributors, Cryti Couture, to check it out, even though she'd done some freelance writing for the festival's website. She's a fan of the music and was in a position to spend a lot of time there. Here's her report:
The Sun City Music Festival celebrated its second year over the Labor Day weekend at the once vacant lot where Western Playland used to operate inside Ascarate Park. To say it was a musical success would be an understatement. What it did to my aching body, well, that's another thing, but a good thing.
The two-day festival, coordinated by SMG Events and Disco Donnie Presents, brought in over 30 world-renowned DJs and producers and gave some local DJs the opportunity to perform in front of thousands of fans, not only from El Paso but all over the world.
The venue change was a direct result of a scheduling conflict between Cohen Stadium's baseball schedule and SMG's determination to hold SCMF on Labor Day weekend, the symbolic end of summer.
"The whole idea of the Sun City Music Festival is to make El Paso a must-see destination. People come for the weekend, spend money and boost the economy and make a positive financial impact,"' explains Adam Lucero of SMG. "We need to take advantage of this three-day weekend, because people are more likely to travel; they have that initiative to get out of town."
Last year’s Sun City Music Festival attendance was just under 15,000 and Lucero expected over 20,000 attendees this year (no official figure has been announced). On Saturday, the entrance lines were long well before the 5 p.m. opening. Sunday wasn't quite as packed early, but the festival seemed to fill up more quickly by the time the main performers started their sets at 7 p.m.
The Electro Cactus stage was placed directly in front of the entrance, with the Sun City main stage to the right (north) and the Bass Dunes stage to the left (south), past the concession stands. The smart stage placement took advantage of the larger land area this year. Each performer could be enjoyed without feedback from another stage. My mobile service? Not so good.
The change in location worked well for the most part. It really gave the weekend a more festive atmosphere, rather than the mega-concert feel it had at Cohen. The downside was all the dust — foot-stomping, jumping fist-pumpers quickly created thick dust clouds in each stage area, which made it hard to breathe. On the second day, several returning revelers brought in bandanas and surgical masks to help repel dust-induced dry coughs.
Concessions catered to the local culture by offering Hispanic comfort foods and drinks like tortas, tripitas (fried beef or pork intestine), aguas frescas and papas locas, a traditional fried potato chips doused in soy sauce, hot sauce and lime juice. Beer and cocktails were offered for $7 to $8.
Other merchants at the festival sold brightly colored glow sticks, glow gloves, watches and light up shutter shades. SCMF had its own merch booth, offering t-shirts and tank tops that said things like 'It's Okay, I know Disco Donnie' and 'Zedd's Not Dead!' Zedd, a producer from Kaiserslautern, Germany, performed Saturday on the Sun City stage.
The promoters of the festival made the VIP experience truly worth the extra $40 or so over the general admission price. Each stage area had a VIP platform on either side, offering a unique view of the stage grounds without actually being packed tightly along with the general admission throngs to the front of the stage. Each platform had its own bar, though towards the end of each evening, the VIP bars were packed to the brim and it was much more efficient to grab a drink from one of the concession stands on the festival grounds.
If being so close that you can see the sweat beads on an artist’s face is your thing, which, for me, it is, each stage area also offered a gated access VIP section that allowed for that up-close experience without becoming a sweaty, dirty sardine. I enjoyed this feature the most, since there was more room to dance and really enjoy the music without having to worry about having an armpit in my face or a random punch to the head from an overexcited fist-pumper.
The crowd was a spectrum of different types of people, from early teens to early thirtysomethings. It was fun to people-watch and see the display of different raver fashions reminiscent of the early days of rave in the 1990s. The crowd was sprinkled with ravers dressed in attention-grabbing spandex costumes, character masks, candy-colored hairstyles and cyber raver girls wearing barely-there tutus and fluffy boots. In general the crowd was very jovial. I didn't see a single fight.
Another interesting detail: go-go dancers who circulated around the festival stages. Their outfits ranged from Las Vegas showgirl-inspired costumes, complete with feathered headdresses, leopard leotards with flamboyant blond fauxhawks and sequined suits. Other visual performers included a duo of robot-dancing gentlemen painted in silver, wearing silver suits and bolo hats; a woman dressed as a butterfly on stilts; a man on spring stilts; and an installation of six "human-powered puppets," specifically butterflies and bat bicycles provided by the Austin Bike Zoo.
The local DJs who performed were determined by the results of an online poll that relied on fan votes. Winners: 104.3 radio personality Johnny Kage; Andrew Parson from Austin; Luistd6v; Las Cruces favorite Amer Jandali; DJ Panda, Brandon Jay and Curtis Dust from Albuquerque; Cesar Acosta; Gabriel I, Juarez DJ and producer Infernyk; Rob Bass & System Addicts; Monoparty; and Rich.
Kage was the first of the regional DJs to perform, starting his hour-long set by playing Nero's "Promises." As his set progressed, he moved towards a decidedly more hip-hop sound and even brought local rapper Metafisix on stage to perform on a few songs.
When asked about the experience of performing in front of so many people, Metafisix said: "It was surreal. These people are very receptive to the music and it's definitely one of the best experiences I've had." Kage drew a fairly large crowd that was much more voluminous than the other local performers in the same time slot.
Once Kevin Focus, DJ/producer from Charlotte, N.C., came on stage at 7, the crowd at the Sun City stage extended well into the middle of the festival grounds. Audrey Napoleon started her set on the Electro Cactus stage and Revolvr began at the Bass Dunes stage. During the first day of performances, I made myself a detailed itinerary to visit each set for at least half an hour, but this proved to be difficult simply because some performers were more charismatic or had greater stage presence.
Once Zedd came on the Sun City stage at 8:15, it was hard to peel myself away. He seemed to attract people like a magnet with his music and in the aftermath, many attendees on social networks seemed to agree that Zedd had a very energetic and memorable set.
Later that Saturday evening, headlining French producer David Guetta came on at about 10:45 pm and started his set with his most recent hit "Titanium," featuring the singer Sia. Across the crowd, it seemed like nearly every hand held a cell phone or digital camera up in the air to capture the performance.
Guetta performed several new, unreleased songs, including "Just One Last Time," featuring Taped Rai, which he mentioned he was playing for the very first time in the United States. I left his set around 11:15 to check out English producer Flux Pavilion on the Bass Dunes stage. He played a medley of dubstep, the popular subgenre of electro music known for its wobbly, yet heavy bass lines.
I returned to check out Guetta's finale, by which time he had amassed a much larger crowd than before, having filled up all VIP areas to capacity and the floor crowd had extended well past the concessions.
His music has been influential over the years in the sense that he made house music more mainstream and commercial. This is met with both praise and disdain. Supporters say that having house music become a part of the mainstream is good for the electro culture. Naysayers believe that commercialization takes away from the purity of the experience.
Either way, Guetta engaged his audience with commands to jump or throw their hands in the air. The crowd gladly obliged.
Knife Party closed out the Sun City stage on Saturday. Following Guetta's energetic performance was a daunting task, yet the Australian and British duo managed to keep the crowd lively by playing fan favorite "Internet Friends" and mixing a little reggae into their signature dubstep production style.
Getting out of the park was frustrating. The only way out of Ascarate Park by car is a one lane, narrow road leading to Delta, near Alameda. With the amount of people in attendance, getting out easily was a near impossibility.
I waited in line patiently for about an hour until I succumbed to my body's urge to rest after eight full hours of jumping and 'raging.' I drove my car back into the parking lot and fell asleep. A few hours later, at around 3 a.m., the parking lot was desolate and I was able to drive out in peace.
The next day, I came back for another round of electro, considerably less spritely than I was Saturday. I made plans to leave early. I saw Lucky Date, Dirtyphonics, John Dahlback and Morgan Page before I left, although the most memorable set of the early evening was a stellar performance by Albuquerque DJ Curtis Dirt. Of all the regional DJs, I felt his set was very strong and had the makings of a much more established nationally known DJ.
The impetus of the Sun City Music Festival is a desire to encourage fans and those unfamiliar with EDM (electronic dance music) to not just listen to the music but make it a full-body experience. The combination of pulsating lights, reverberating bass and body-moving beats make for a unique orgy of the senses that can't be sufficiently explained in words.
Lucero's favorite part of the Sun City Music festival is "that split second when everybody comes together, that sense of unity where thousands of people are smiling with their hands in the air, a euphoric sense of bliss." The experience of feeling the collective rush of energy around me, making me want to continue dancing even when my mind told me I was done, was a experience like no other.
This music is certainly a catalyst for positive change. It encourages people to enjoy the scene for the music. There is no class status, no political agenda. It's just music in its rawest form, designed to captivate the senses and keep the body moving. Fans and newcomers alike are no doubt looking forward to what SMG Events and Disco Donnie have in store for the Sun City Music Festival 2013.