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Wavefront Music Festival, Day One: Growing Pains

By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 6, 2013 8:00PM

In just one year, Wavefront Music Festival has grown from a humble house (music) party to an almost ubiquitous festival behemoth in Chicago thanks to a seemingly exhaustive marketing push and constant social media buzz. And we're happy for it. One day in, though, we're wondering if the actual logistics of the festival fell by the wayside of glossy flyers and Instagram pics.

Our day on Montrose Beach started with a bit of a disappointment when local disco whiz Kid Color announced his set had been rescheduled due to technical difficulties. If there was an overarching theme for the day, "technical difficulties" might have been it.

One of the biggest complaints about this festival last year was that sounds from the two main stages bled into each other—a problem that we didn't think was too tough to work around. That is, until we saw the set-up this year. Of the six stages at the festival, the four largest are packed into a space that held just two last summer. With all four hosting performers simultaneously, it made for a headache, unless you were able to perfectly place yourself front and center. You know when you're riding on the L and the person sitting next to you has their iPod turned up too loud, forcing you to kind of listen to whatever they're playing? It was kind of like that all day long.

But, regardless, we decided to forge ahead and catch Pat Mahoney's set on the DFA Stage, which hosted a handful of DFA Records artists. Mahoney, a veteran of the now defunct dance-punk act LCD Soundsystem, spent the majority of his set looking as though he missed the days when a DJ was in the background keeping the party going instead of performing. While he was anything but interactive, listening to his deep house beats with the lakeside breeze blowing against your back made for an enjoyable late afternoon.

Next we headed over to the aptly named The Cube Stage—it's one big cube—for Maya Jane Coles. In a genre that's heavily male dominated, we're always excited to catch a lady behind the decks. By 5 p.m. though, the festival's schedule was completely off its hinges. We didn't arrive at Wavefront until the afternoon but we were told by attendees and crew members that things had been running late since the gates opened at noon. Some performers were starting before their allotted set times. Others were starting 20 minutes late. It made it quite hard to plan the evening and catch acts we wanted to see.

We caught as much of Coles' set as we could—it relied heavily on robotic melodies landing somewhere between the realms of techno and house—but headed back to the DFA Records Stage for fear of missing the inevitable dance party Shit Robot would bring. Well, the Irish techno beatmaker started his 6-7:30 p.m. set a half hour late, so by the time we got back from an attempted bathroom break—we gave up on the standstill line for the port-a-potties after 20 minutes—he was packing it in at 7:10! Bummer.

Next up on the DFA Stage was the dance-y, synth-heavy collective Holy Ghost! from Brooklyn. The addition of a live band to Wavefront's lineup was something we were greatly anticipating, but after the sound crew struggled through a nearly 40-minute sound check for the band, Holy Ghost!'s start time came and went. By the time the five-piece band got underway 10 minutes late, the members were clearly frustrated. We're no strangers to high maintenance bands but, in this case, we can't help but feel that Holy Ghost!'s complaints throughout their set about not being able to hear themselves over the other stages were warranted.

Luckily, by the band's second song, "It's Not Over," a modest but attentive crowd had gathered and the band had finally caught its groove. Big cheers rang out when Holy Ghost! snapped into songs like "Say My Name" and "Do It Again" and the presence of a full band jamming in unison brought some much needed focus to the otherwise disjointed day. Finally, we were kicking up sand while dancing along—this is what this festival is supposed to be about.

Holy Ghost! ended their set just after 7:30 and it was scheduled to segue into DFA Records founder and former LCD frontman James Murphy's headlining set, but things came to a halt when Murphy refused to perform until he could hear himself in the stage's monitors over the surrounding stages. It wasn't a good scene, and by the time a visibly irritated Murphy cut his losses and decided to start his set, it inevitably lacked energy. Murphy's disco sets have become a much buzzed about spectacle on the dance music scene (he still uses real vinyl!) so we were disappointed when the mood didn't match the music. If you stuck around long enough though, Murphy started smiling and seemed to kick up the vibe.

We dipped away the hour and half set near the end and let whatever was happening at The Wave Stage distract us. A joint set from Chris Lake and TJR was closing down the festival's main stage. Lake was one of our favorite performers at Wavefront last year and had already brought a grimy, bass-heavy solo set to the stage earlier that day. The two DJs were joined onstage by neon-glowstick-covered "warriors" on stilts and barely clothed dancers shooting sparks off of their bodies. If nothing else, the producers behind Wavefront Music Festival are definitely ones for a production. The visuals were undeniably enjoyable, the beats were flowing and the crowd was loving it.

Things might have gotten off to a bit of a rocky start for this young festival but we're only a day in. We're still optimistic. If the vibe from The Wave Stage late last night spreads, things start running on time and the sound overlap situation somehow improves, Wavefront will be a-okay.