Recently, I was given the chance to attend the Shaky Beats Music Festival. I have never been very fond of electronic music, so when I got the opportunity to go I was apprehensive. But in spite of my initial caution, the idea of stepping into a world that I have never admired but have always been curious about tickled the soft underbelly of my adventurous spirit.
I decided to give it a fair chance. It was arrogant and unfair of me to assume the worst of something I had never fully experienced. In order to preserve my own safety, sanity and sense of purpose, I was accompanied by my fiancee, caretaker, colleague and sketch artist, Tristen Brookshire, a third-year motion media student.
On Friday we arrived around 3 p.m. and parked in a lot right next to the ferris wheel by the entrance. The front gate was oddly reminiscent of Disney. I think it was because of the safety announcements and glowing turnstiles.
All manner of strangely dressed, partially clothed, music enthusiasts bumped elbows with each other inside the fences of Centennial Olympic Park. The crowd was more diverse than almost any other concert I have ever attended.
The cooler aspect of this scene was how the convention-style atmosphere encouraged people to dress as wildly as possible in a way that referenced pop-culture and related it to the music. This separates the EDM crowd from other modern music scenes. Whether it is funk, rap, metal or pop, there is usually a small minority of die-hards who go all out as a way of honoring their favorite band, but none of these genres have that element embedded in their DNA like EDM fans do.
One of the first things I saw was a woman wearing a plaid shirt that said, “Life is a drug worth doing” on the back. Exposed butts, nipple pasties and onesie outfits were favorites among festival goers. I saw many bandanas and backpacks with built in water pouches. Two lanky gentleman with neon paint on their faces kissed by the alcohol vendors. There was glitter everywhere, especially on breasts. I even saw a glitter beard. Some of the women looked like neon-covered strip club rejects that got tossed into a wind tunnel.
My favorite experience of the festival happened early on. During one of the first performances, a person in front of me lifted a pineapple in the air and danced with it in their outstretched hand. Other people dragged flags around the festival grounds, one of which just said “Grilled Cheese.” Another had a smiley face on it. The infamous weed-leaf bucket hat made several appearances as well. There was even a pregnant woman standing under a leopard print umbrella. I got to see a few people discreetly take drugs in the crowd before dancing away and pretending like nothing happened. That was a treat.
Before heading home on the first night, my partner and I took a ride on the ferris wheel and watched the madness from the air. The aerial view gave us a better look at the amorphous blob of people moving and shifting around the park like the goo in a lava lamp.
On Saturday there were a handful of religious protestors hanging out in front of the park entrance shouting into a megaphone and waving signs in the air. Eventually, the cops forced them to cross the street and stop harassing people headed into the park. They went about their shouting across the road and drowned out a poor woman playing saxophone.
By the last night I was exhausted. I had seen enough strange behavior to satiate my cravings and now I was left with the music. No matter what, I feel that someone deserves credit if they are performing live, whether it be on instruments or vocally. I could give those artists the benefit of the doubt, but many others were underwhelming and lazy. Some had on-screen graphics that looked like they belonged on a pair of mud-flaps or the side of a truck, and much of the music consisted of repurposed buildups brought to an uninspired drop that would have been acceptable if I was as high as the dickens, but not sober and tired.
Once the Chainsmokers came out, the remaining people mulling about the park flooded towards the Peachtree Stage to see the final performance of the night. One of the things that stood out to me was that even the guy yelling into the mic onstage seemed discontent with himself. He trudged on anyway, shouting things like “I f***ing hate this song, but let’s go!” like a soulless, unfulfilled husk of a person.
After a bit, I had to leave. My tolerance had expired. I felt like the crowd was going to wall me in and I couldn’t risk being swallowed up. I had no choice but to peel out, ducking and weaving through the outer layer of bodies until I emerged at the edge and found a place on a fake ice cube by an abandoned, promotional Coke structure. Then, after a quick breather, I headed for the exit and didn’t look back.
I had my doubts and some preconceived notions about the world of EDM. Some of them were reinforced. But, I will admit, there was an intoxicating charm to the culture of electronic music. EDM is distinct in its weirdness and gives the audience an awesome opportunity to participate in the fun by dressing the part and going nuts. The bohemian tendencies tapped into a primal desire deep down in my gut.
Even if some of the music sounds like a dying giraffe vomiting through a megaphone into a burlap sack filled with jello, I still enjoyed myself. Some of the music was good, but most of it wasn’t for me. The same can be said about the crowd. Most fans of EDM are enthusiastic but brainless. Some people were clever and fun, and yet others were obnoxious slobs. I suppose one could examine this as an example of the whole of human behavior — some of it is great, but most of it sucks.
I am all for what EDM seems to stand for: excess and debauchery, drugs and sex appeal, and a sense of dangerous fun. Yet EDM falls short for me, because at its core it feels soulless and hollow. Shaky Beats was the kind of experience that gave me a story worth telling the next day, but it was not enough to take my curiosity and turn it into genuine admiration.