Digital Dreams music festival report


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Jul 5, 2012

Canada Day long weekend marked the beginning of a series of electronic music festivals scheduled in Toronto over a two-month span that covers the dog days of summer. Some are one-day affairs, others perennial classics, and yet others are multi-day brand spankin’ new fests that have yet to prove themselves in the arena.

The Dreams Stage on the inaugural day of the Digital Dreams festival

Digital Dreams Festival falls into the latter category; a first-year, two-day festival held on The Flats at Ontario Place. The lineup appeared solid and the venue seemed interesting, which, of course, are the backbones of any festival worth its salt.

The Echo Beach stage at Digital Dreams was a particularly nice setting, with real sand, wood decks next to the water, and beach volleyball.

However, as with any first year event, there is bound to be some trial and error involved with organization and planning, either from mishap, miscommunication, freak incident, or some combination of the three.

Digital Dreams Day One

The first day of Digital Dreams Fest was a scorcher (the second hotter still) and many attendees soaked in the rays while slowly trickling into the grounds to catch sets by Torro Torro, BT, and A-Trak, just to name a few.

Unfortunately, due to only a few gates letting in attendees at a time, unless one showed up early it was hard to catch some of the afternoon sets; many got in just in time to check out Chuckie and R3hab on the main stage or get their feet sandy while enjoying the Hed Kandi sets on the Echo Beach stage.

Most of the early festival-goers crowded the main stage for Chuckie’s impressively mixed, uptempo, edit-filled mid-day DJ set at Digital Dreams.

Chuckie was the most engaging performer of the day. He used plenty of mic-hype action to pump the crowd up, and had hands in the air throughout his performance.

R3hab played a set full of hands-up tunes across the house and electro spectrum.

The addition of stage dancers to R3hab’s visual performance was a great touch, and really excited the crowd.

Complications associated with artists arriving on time forced the Main Stage into a state of disarray for most of the evening; although R3hab covered with an extended set, Afrojack did not arrive in time to play his 10:30 slot, which was instead covered by local JELO, and with a bombastic disco house set from Duck Sauce. The latter performance brought the atmosphere back up to par and salvaged what seemed to be a very stressful night for organizers and concert-goers alike.

Duck Sauce played a set of disco, starting with downtempo non-vocal tunes to match the crowd’s mood, which was suppressed by a missing headliner and long periods of silence between sets.

After just 20 minutes of playing, Duck Sauce had the Digital Dreams crowd back at full energy.

Over on Echo Beach Richie Hawtin delivered techno while bathed in shadow, letting the LED-clothed dancers and stage production illuminate and dazzle the crowds. Nearby, spectators took a break on the grass, played beach volleyball, and watched performers juggle fire while enjoying panoramic views of the Toronto skyline. It’s still strange to me that the main stage was not better placed to take advantage of the surroundings that were offered.

A fire juggler in the fore, on Echo Beach, entertains onlookers as Richie Hawtin plays in the background.

Richie Hawtin played on the Echo Beach stage during the Digital Dreams festival

Digital Dreams Day Two

Canada Day at Digital Dreams Fest seemed to hold a palpable sense of excitement in the air; Toronto was absolutely ready to party in style. And in response to the day prior, more entry gates were opened, ensuring that ticket holders didn’t have to stand outside the festival for upwards of two hours before gaining entry.

Canada flags were littered throughout the crowd on Sunday, and spirits were high early on in the day.

Cal and I arrived in time to absorb Art Department and Autoerotique on the Echo Beach and Dreams stages, respectively; each offered their own brand of deep house and electro that didn’t fail to please.

Art Department in the mix at Digital Dreams

Art Department played on day two of Digital Dreams on the Echo Beach stage.

With the return of Afrojack to the main Dreams stage, we took the time to cross over to the Bass Stage, which was unfortunately placed out of the way of the festival proper, and had the most scalding temperatures of any one area. Despite being relegated to the side-stage, Terravita, Nu:Tone, and London Elektricity tore up true bass lovers with sets that went, in my opinion, largely (and disappointingly) unnoticed.

Autoerotique performed a high energy electro set early on the second day of Digital Dreams.

Terravita played on the Bass Stage at Digital Dreams.

Some will say it’s due to the specialized, side-room nature of Drum and Bass, some will say it’s due to poor stage placement and planning. I myself fall into the latter category. Things being as they were, it was a welcome alternative to the business of the main stages. Afterwards we got a chance to catch up with the guys from Terravita, (look out for our forthcoming interview) and an hour of narrowly-avoided nerd-talk later it was time for Major Lazer to take the main stage.

Major Lazer’s Sunday performance was a highlight of the festival.

There is no doubt in my mind that Major Lazer offered the most hyperactive, flat-out fun set of the entire festival. Darting between three-piece suits and ubiquitous Get Free tank tops, Diplo, Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire showed how to throw a party, Dancehall-style.

Diplo at the decks during Major Lazer’s Canada Day performance at Digital Dreams

Jillionaire preparing to rock the Digital Dreams crowd

Confetti cannons, lap dances, stage parties, inflatable crowd-surfing balls, and two girls (who were my personal heroes of the night) climbing up the scaffolding, daggering into the photography pit, and generally being woman warriors of the highest calibre; you name it, they had it, and between all of this they just managed to sneak in an entire concert.

Diplo fires a confetti cannon over the Digital Dreams crowd on Canada Day.

The Major Lazer dancers added a great deal of energy and visual appeal to the party

Diplo xorb’ing over the crowd during the Major Lazer set at Digital Dreams, Canada Day

Perhaps the most interesting moment of the night was how the set concluded, with a drum and bass rework of their recent single Get Free and some Roots Reggae tracks. It was a daring move for the main stage of the music festival, but the crowd ended up begging for more by the time it was through. It was a strange way to lead into Alesso and Kaskade who would play the next two sets, but surely provided a tough act to follow.

Yes, I Expressed Myself.

@SydneyJones #expressyourself

As a festival, Digital Dreams has a long way to go before it can be considered a world-class event. Yes, it had many great performers featured, but there were many problems with the festival caused by faults in logistics and management that even the most wonderful set in the world couldn’t fix on its own.

First and foremost, the layout of the festival left much to be desired. Attendees were encouraged to pass directly by the Canada Stage (Which featured many great local artists, leaving them largely ignored) in favour of the larger main stages located directly behind it. The Bass Stage was shepherded to a side arena, not included in the main ‘flow’ of foot traffic, and placed on one of the hottest godforsaken slabs of pavement I have ever stood on in my entire life.

As for the two main stages: yes, they had enough area and were placed to follow the natural flow of attendees to guarantee attendance. However, the festival chose to completely forego the natural surroundings of the venue (i.e., the skyline and the oh, I don’t know, abundance of lakefront property) and place the stages in such a manner that at no point could one get a sense of Toronto with their festival. For a weekend fest held on Canada day and predominantly featuring the maple leaf in all of their promotional materials there sure wasn’t much of a sense of national pride.

Although simply being at the festival was fun, there were some large logistical errors made which disappointed fans both young and old. The mismanagement of the main gates was a major let-down, as well as the disorganization of first-day VIP areas. Several acts were re-arranged with revised schedules only posted on an ElectronicNation Facebook post instead of the main Digital Dreams website, leading to confusion about who was playing the main stage and when.

Cal and I also noticed a few volume issues that varied from stage to stage: some sets being quieter than others on the Dreams stage, microphones of MCs almost completely drowned out by the music on the Bass Stage, and several minutes of silence between almost every performance.

Most importantly, on the Saturday afternoon patrons and food vendors complained about running out of water (editors note, Jul 5 2012 14:42 EST: this has been redacted for accuracy, from “…Saturday the festival simply ran out of water.”) For a festival operating on one of the hottest days of the year with a heat warning in effect, it’s simply unacceptable to run out of fluids during a summer music festival.

Overall, Digital Dreams fest was exactly what it says on the tin (if anyone took the time to really read the label): a first year electronic festival, run by people who decided that it was supposed to be a rock concert with a bunch of different stages running simultaneously instead. It’s a common problem for first year events with a lot of money and names behind them to try to be too ambitious and strive for too much too soon in the game.

Digital Dreams Fest probably would have been better off as a one-day affair, akin to Identity Fest or the upcoming Full Flex tour; smaller in scale but more easily managed. With the promise of the festival returning next year, hopefully Electronic Nation can learn from the mistakes made the first year and deliver a great festival that goes above and beyond the expectations of a somophoric event, and help give Toronto the festival it deserves.

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