WEMF @ Madawaska, Ontario: August 12-14, 2011
Reviewed by Caelin Meredith
All Photos: Caelin Meredith
After a three-year absence, the 15th World Electronic Music Festival (WEMF) returned to South Algonquin, Ontario. Located on acres of beautiful farmland with a view of forests, fields and lakes, it was totally secluded but close enough to the town of Madawaska if you needed to get supplies, and organized to a “T” — Destiny Productions thought of everything, including providing shuttle buses to ferry weary partiers to and from the town and the beach so they wouldn’t need to move their cars.
Featuring a mixed bag of hard house, dubstep, drum-and-bass, tech house and, yes, even Rotterdam DJs, it was enough to satiate every musical taste, and succeeded in balancing two nights in terms of talent share. If you were lucky enough to be one of thousands who attended, then you were treated to heavyweights like Pendulum, Skrillex, Jack Beats, Friction, Flux Pavilion and Noisia to name a few.
The setup was awe-inspiring, and served to compliment and contrast the landscape. The spotlight was on the main stage or Tower of Destiny (pictured below) — a work that was commissioned especially for WEMF after the Destiny promoters met the stage designer at Burning Man last year. After seeing a few teasers on the Web site and a few posts with some footage of the stage, I worried that something so structurally epic might take away from the music and performances. I was sorely mistaken: it served only to enhance every act that played.
The two other stages were the Hard/Time stage and the Centre Stage, as well as a host of smaller community stages. One of them was called Jack’s House, after an Internet radio company from London that was broadcasting live and via Webcam 24 hours a day. The only ones not to take a break for the entire festival, they continued with DJs spinning for a full 48 hours. There were even some impromptu guerilla stages set up in Tent City and the RV lot, usually with something as barebones and minimal as a tarp, turntables and monitors.
Friday had several standout moments, the first from Skrillex, the Los Angeles native who’s conquered the world of dubstep, performing on the main stage in the Tower of Destiny. He had one of the largest crowds of the entire weekend, and received a hero’s welcome — not an easy feat considering the other acts that shared stage time with him. Calvin Harris (below) played a fierce set on the Time/Hard stage and dropped a killer remix of his own tune “Bounce” featuring Kelis. He even got on the mic and shouted “Hey guys, what’s up Toronto!” — to which the crowd, from all over Ontario, Western Quebec and the U.S., booed audibly. He wasn’t alone, either: other DJs who grabbed the microphone were at a loss when trying to pay respect to the geographic location of the night. Not to name names, but the worst was an artist on Saturday night who said “What’s up, Canada!” followed even more poorly by “You’re great, North America!”
Friday night also saw Infected Mushroom perform a live cover of Foo Fighters’ “The Pretender,” giving it their own spin. And like we’ve come to expect, Rusko headlined the main stage, dropping pure bass-infused dubstep and obviously having a ball, jumping up and down for his full 1.5-hour set.
In the smaller but no less devastating Moog Audio Tent, Donald Glaude (below) played to a smaller crowd after his wild main stage performance. He couldn’t get off the decks, and despite how tired I was, I — like so many others — just couldn’t leave. He was knocking everyone over with continuous bangers and enough bass to shake the foundations, keeping the crowd pumped and dancing until sunrise.
Saturday saw most people head off to the river or the beach, or hang and socialize outside their tents. People started to drift back to the music areas around 1 p.m., with the smaller stages leading the rhythms now. At Centre Stage, GRiMESKEE (below) dropped “Cracks” by Freestylers (Flux Pavilion Remix) whilst waiting for the audio to get sorted, and caught the attention of several passersby, who couldn’t resist and came in to get down. He was followed by an incredible old school jungle set mid-afternoon by Crash.
In the evening a wicked storm rolled through and everyone retreated to camps and RVs for a moment to chill out. The cooling effect seemed to have done some good, ’cause as soon as it stopped everyone appeared fresh-faced and ready, more than ever, for Round Two!
The old-school jungle continued with a great set from Doctor P on the main stage alongside the enigmatic Dynamite MC. He was joined later that evening on the Tower by D-and-B giant Andy C, who played to a large and very faithful crowd, losing none of his flock as the downpour started up again. The last of the big names was Dom B of Stanton Warriors, shackling everyone to the dance floor, despite it being 5 a.m., with guttural bass and wild ragga samples. On the Time/Hard stage at the same time that night were Digitalism (below) and Jack Beats making it hard not to be in two places at once.
Don, a.k.a Red Lion had the honor and privilege of closing the festival down from 7:30- 9:00 and controlling what we would be remembering on our respective drives home the next day. The musical experience this weekend was peaked with several remixes in different styles of Top 40. I don’t know that I’ll ever hear songs like Gyptian’s “Hold Yuh,” Olive‘s “You’re Not Alone” or the Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition” and not be able to think of WEMF 2011.
Aside from the rain (unpredictable) and the wait at the entrance (up to two-plus hours if you arrived Friday afternoon), music seemed to soothe whatever temporary discomfort one experienced, and everyone I met was having the time of their lives. I haven’t had the chance to speak with the guys from Destiny about future plans, although several status updates on Monday mentioned that planning for 2012 is already in the works.
This event was further proof that the Destiny brand is a major international player in concert production. WEMF is unlike a regular music festival, truly encapsulating what I would describe as the “Rave” culture, but perhaps even that term is dated and it’s time to re-define. There is a new generation of glowstick-toting, hard partiers who have genuinely embraced the spirit and are living out the philosophy of what it means to come together for the love of music.