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Inaugural Mamby On The Beach Hints There May Be A Future For Waterfront Fests

By Chicagoist in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 13, 2015 9:45PM

Mamby on the Beach succeeded in bringing a beachfront electronic music festival to the shores of Lake Michigan this past weekend where other festivals have tried and failed.

From its spot on Oakwood Beach, Mamby picked up where previous attempts such as Wavefront Music Fest and Riverwest left off in filling the city's want for a beachfront EDM festival where people can live out their romanticized “weekend in Ibiza” fantasies. From what we saw, they did a solid job. We’re still not quite sure what a "Mamby" is, though.

The aesthetic of the festival grounds was very pseudo-tribal and "exotic." The feeling evoked when walking around was that you’re on a the beach of a stereotypically, vaguely "ethnic" island, experiencing cultures that most of the audience did not belong to. A white woman with thick dreadlocks and freshly-pressed henna tattoos took a selfie while posing with a statue of an Asian deity while a group of people participated in silent disco yoga a few feet away under several rows of fluorescent Chinese paper lanterns that swayed in the wind. This prompts the question, where is the line between a love letter and appropriation?

Tucked away towards the end of the beach and near the edge of the water, crisp bass vibrated the vinyl of the massive, cathedral-like tent which housed the festival’s well-curated DJ sets. A rogue beach volleyball almost knocked me in the face at some point during Chicago House legend Farley Jackmaster Funk’s set. After spending a decent amount of time pandering to the EDM kids, he started to repeatedly ask in an almost mocking dare "Y'all ready for that beat to drop?" Funk suddenly switched his set to a testament of classic house music screaming into the crowd “It's that time again where it's time to rejoice and dance!” befitting the cathedral-like setting we were in. Felix Da Housecat was up next and continued to treat this tent as if it were a church of Chicago house as the crowd danced to remixes of Frankie Knuckles.

Cashmere Cat photo via the Mamby On The Beach Facebook page
We noticed a large amount of party yachts had docked themselves near the beach as Cashmere Cat went on the main stage. Since we saw him last year at North Coast, he seemed to have grown more confident as he used his championship-level DJ skills to take his original productions into excitingly new directions. His set is still heavily based around his Wedding Bells EP which came out last year, but his work has become a bit more spacious and menacing, creating a contagious, hazy fog of hedonism. It makes sense that he'd play a drugged out remix of the Spice Girls telling you what they really really want as Nicki Minaj demands a climax.

Röyksopp was next on the main stage and they played a lot of tracks from their latest album, The Inevitable End, as well as their collaborative album with Robyn, Do It Again. Robyn wasn’t there, so they had a woman who kind of looks and sounds like her do the vocal parts live of those songs. It was really fun, but ultimately it left an approximation of sorts as Röyksopp sans Robyn performed songs like “Monument” and “Sayit.” The crowd was totally into it though, which is ultimately what matters.

React provided transportation options to get to and from Mamby. We very much appreciated that. One word of advice for the organizers, though; make sure the drivers you hire if you do this again know where they’re going. The bus we took to leave the festival dropped everyone off in the middle of a parking lot at McCormick Place. When we asked, “I thought you were supposed to drop us off near the Chinatown Red Line station?” the driver said something that none of us could understand, shrugged and left us stranded. We were kind of annoyed that we had to spend the rest of our Saturday evening walking through the massive tunnels that make up McCormick Place and take a bus to the get to the Chinatown station. We did accidentally crash an agribusiness conference after party while wandering the building trying to find the McCormick Place bus stop. That was slightly amusing. Seriously though, uncool. Fix your transportation if you do this again, Mamby. — Justin Freeman

Thankfully I didn't have the same transportation issues as Justin, and on Sunday was able to take the buses to Oakwood Beach without crashing any conferences. After navigating through the festival entrance, which included a hair-braiding station and space for yoga, we made our way to the Main Stage to catch Tanlines' set. The band seemed to have fun playing a variety of songs that fit the festival's beachy vibe. They were one of the more guitar driven acts of the day in a fest filled with EDM heavy hitters, so they were a change of pace for many and kept the crowd entertained and moving.

We then made our way to the Tent Stage to check out a few DJ acts for the day. The Tent Stage was a massive structure that seemed to have endless rows of dancing fans in tank tops and wayfarers digging every beat from each DJ set. We caught some of J. Philip and Route 94 sets, which were energetic throughout. For both days of the festival the Tent Stage never stopped, instantly transitioning from one act to the other in true House set fashion. This meant the Tent was constantly packed and it seemed like many spent the bulk of their time at that stage enjoying the endless stream of EDM music.

We then headed back over to the Main Stage to catch festival headliners Phantogram and Passion Pit close out the weekend. Phatomgram played a confident, tight set as the sun went down. They clearly had a lot of love for the crowd and kept saying how happy they were to be back in Chicago. They also hinted at their upcoming collaboration with Big Boi and said they were in the studio making new tracks they hope to share soon.

As the sun fully set, a huge crowd formed for Passion Pit. Arguably the festival's biggest, most recognized act, they clearly had a large following of fans present at the fest. They moved through songs new and old covering everything from their first hits off of 2009's Manners and playing many new tracks off of this year's Kindred to a crowd that sang along to almost every lyric. The festival then ended with a huge firework show on the beach, closing out an extremely pleasant festival that for its first year was well organized and without any major glitches. The location, while a bit far off the beaten path, was a perfect summery setting for a dance-focused lineup. Many festival goers were happy with the lineup and stage set up, and the ones we spoke to commented that they hope it will return next year to the same beachfront. We have to agree that even though Chicago has no shortage of music festivals between May and September, we hope Mamby will be back on Oakwood Beach next July. — Gina Provenzano