So you’ve decided (or been persuaded by your wild-child friends) to go to Electric Zoo New York – congratulations! You’re about to embark on an unforgettable trip (no pun intended). When people ask you what your weekend plans are and you tell them you’re going to E-Zoo, responses will range from “OMG YES SO JEALOUS,” to “Oh God why?”, “YOU are going to a RAVE?”, and “Isn’t that that festival where somebody died last year?”
True story of things that were said me to this year as I told people I would be joining the rest of the ravers on Randall’s Island for my second year in a row. Having been to E-Zoo NYC twice, I can now say that at one point or another during both festivals I have fully felt, and identified with, the emotion behind each of the above responses.
For those of you totally uninitiated in the EDM scene, Electric Zoo NY is one of the biggest international electronic dance music festivals of the year. People come from around the world every Labor Day weekend for three days of nonstop party. While no one would describe me as a hardcore EDM fan, and you won’t catch me becoming a rave baby regular anytime soon, E-Zoo is one of my favorite events of the summer. Even if you’re not super into EDM (give me Kanye or Jay-Z any day), the cool thing about E-Zoo is that there’s a little bit of something for everybody – food, creative clothing, dancing, amazing views, killer sunsets, and the best people watching on this side of Manhattan. Swap out the guitar and drums for DJ remixes and a light show, and it’s the millenial’s equivalent of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Spread out on the green lawn of Randall’s Island, a small outpost of land between Queens and Manhattan in the middle of the East River, Electric Zoo is accessible via a footbridge from 103rd Street in Harlem, a shuttle bus at 125th street, a riverboat ferry, or via taxi/Uber for those willing to shell out anywhere from $50-100 for private transportation. This year, we opted for the footbridge, which I would definitely recommend. Your cheapest and fastest option by far, the Randall’s Island footbridge is a quick jaunt away from the nearby 6 train. It’s easy to find and offers beautiful, scenic views of the city as you make your way through Randall’s Island Park. Plus, you don’t have to wait or pay for the ferries and shuttle – you can come and go as you please!
Once you arrive at the island, show your 21+ ID, and survive the insanity that is will call wristband pickup (where the signs don’t mean what they say they mean, and nobody seems to even know what day it is, let alone how to direct a festival), you’ll have to go through an intense security line and a pat down that would make even the TSA cringe. If you can make it through all of that, you get to level up to the main event. Here, you’ll enter the expansive green space to find three different stages of music and dozens of different food vendors pumping out festival favorites. You’ll also finally catch up to that bass that you’ve been hearing since you started crossing the footbridge. It’s an absolute sensory overload of lights and smells and sounds – and I haven’t even mentioned the assemblage of characters dressed in their bedazzled festival accouterments.
If you are one of those people who often gushes about how you “just loooove people watching,” you might meet your voyeuristic match at E-Zoo. My first time going I thought, “I’ll just throw on some neon – that should do the trick” – only to find, to my dismay, that my rather straight-laced closet didn’t have a lick of neon in it. So out to the store I went to find the brightest colored tank tops I could find. “No one will suspect me as an imposter – I’ll fit right in!” I thought, as I proudly donned my bright orange tank over a hot pink crop top and black shorts. HA! What a joke; I was amateur hour, and my glo-stick inspired threads didn’t hold a candle to the costumed ravers parading their way onto Randall’s Island. Outfits ranged from barely clothed to full-on giant animal suits, shorts and crop tops, neon fishnets, body paint and glitter, bathing suits, flower crowns, and platform shoes. It was like Halloween on the Island of Misfit Toys.
So why do I love E-Zoo so much if I’m not into EDM or drugs, have never been known for my crazy clothing choices/dance moves, and generally believe that nothing good happens after 2am?
It’s the summation of it all that is truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. The DJ’s are fun and the music is all about the relationship between the artist and the spectator – there’s a tangible energy as the line between performer and audience begins to blur. Accompanied by lights and sound effects and the energy of the people around you, who are so clearly into the experience, the music just gets inside of you in a way that makes even the most anti-EDM person pause after an intense set and say, “That was really…good.”
It’s the conversion power of the live experience – people dancing freely on the lawn, sipping on beer and wine and meandering, unhurried, from stage to stage to listen to the different sets and admire the lights. Hungry? Grab a slice of pizza, an ice cream cone, or a ramen burger. Spread a picnic blanket out on the lawn and crack open a Heineken. Watch the sun begin to set and laugh at the crazy antics of everyone else around you. Pack up and head over to the next stage to hear one of the headliners. Before you know it, a few hours have passed and you’ve hardly noticed it.
Beyond the obvious music and festival revelry, though, there is something about Electric Zoo – and music festivals in general, I suspect – that simply erases time and space and social boundaries. Everyone is friendly and, by extension, friends for a day. It’s like a three day pass to be whoever you want to be and nobody will judge you. Try a dance move or two – it doesn’t matter if you look ridiculous because everyone looks ridiculous and you’re all having fun. You can dress how you like, dance how you like – anything and everything is acceptable. Everyone is authentic and free.
Electric Zoo NY is definitely not for the faint of heart. After a while, the music can be too much and even – gasp! – start to sound the same (I know, I know – blasphemy to any hardcore DJ fans). As the night goes on, it starts to get a little less flower-child and a little more party-hardy. It can be disheartening to see so many young people hopped up on god knows what when the festival itself is stimulating enough to have a good time without all of the added craziness. It gets annoying to pay $12 for a mediocre slice of pizza, and by the end of the night, I’ve usually got a bit of a headache from all the noise, smoke, and lines for food and bathroom. If you go in knowing what to expect though, it makes for an all-around better experience – the best offense is a good defense.
If you are an EDM music festival newbie and you decide to check out Electric Zoo NY 2018 next Labor Day, here are some tips and pointers from a recently-initiated festival fan~
- If you plan on going for the whole day, plan accordingly. A small backpack with a sweatshirt (because it will get cool at night) and a picnic blanket (because there is nowhere to sit) is a great idea. Lather on the sunscreen before you leave your house – and don’t forget about the sunglasses, too.
- Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be on your feet/walking/dancing a lot. Converse or Toms are solid choices. Light up sneakers would be better, of course.
- Definitely show up with some kind of festival gear or you will feel out of place! It doesn’t have to be crazy, but you might feel awkward if you show up in a bright pink sundress like I did at my very first music festival (*face palm*). I just barely passed by in my neon last year; this year, I wore my souvenir tank top from the year prior, but topped it off with my own lei and flower crown. Super easy, more fun that way, and it definitely helps you get into the spirit!
- If you’re bringing a purse/bag, don’t bring anything that is too big and make sure to empty it of like…everything except your subway pass, debit card, and your ID. They made me throw away my chapstick at security because it might be “dangerous,” to which I’m pretty sure I responded with the biggest eye roll ever. Seriously? You’ think I’m the one you need to worry about when you just let through Danny Degenerate, who was popping molly before he even picked up his wrist band? Sigh.
- Know beforehand which sets you really want to see so you don’t lose track of time and miss out if there is someone in particular you are there for. We made sure to stick around for Dada Life (video above) and Galantis (video below).
- Don’t feel pressured to stay the whole time – enjoy it while you can, and once it’s no longer enjoyable – that’s your cue to leave. Last year, I stayed super late each night and went for two of the three days. By the end of it, I was exhausted and couldn’t have imagined going for a third day in a row. This year, I know myself and my stamina – one full day did the trick for me.
- Have fun! Relax. Be yourself. Go with the flow. It can be as crazy or as chill as you want it to be – it’s what you make of it.