Stepping into Something Wicked Saturday afternoon felt familiar, as if the debacle last year had never happened. It felt, as it ideally should, like the festival it had always been. It still has impeccable theming, and even with the warmer temperatures, there was no mistaking that this was a Halloween festival. After all, how often are hay bales really appropriate at an EDM festival? I reckon not very often.
Having an identity, after the artist lineup, is the most important thing a festival can have, and I appreciate that Something Wicked embraces its identity with such gusto. No other festival in Houston could get away with a giant, flashing skeleton head above the stage, but Something Wicked can. It only makes the festive atmosphere better.
** There’s something distinctly weird about an EDM festival starting so early. It’s not that the crowds don’t get into it; it’s just things feel less massive under the sun, at least when your festival is mostly surrounded by parking lots and a toll road. Once the lights go down, though, it really does feel like things come alive; it helps that the bulk of the crowd shows up once dusk arrives.
That shift from light to dark was well served by both Slander and Hucci. The two acts might have been on different stages, but under the big bright lights and screens, they felt like superstars, and even at that relatively early part of the night, the crowd was already responding vocally to what was going on.
** A few shoutouts to some of the DJs who played earlier in the day Saturday; they might not have played to the big crowds, but the ones who were there were already in the moment. I was unfamiliar with Kill Them With Color, but the tunes that were being spun kept me coming back to take in more of the set as I got my bearing around the festival ground. Plus, it’s just an awesome name.
My big, new-to-me discovery this year was Lost Kings, who were pretty damn amazing in the late afternoon. They mixed in just enough hip-hop to keep things interesting — did you remember that “Champions” was a thing Kanye and friends released this year? — and did a good job pacing their set to keep the energy up. Sitting back a ways from the stage, it was fantastic to watch them build up to a drop and watch the crowds wandering by suddenly break into a dance because the music compelled them to. Well done, Kings.
** I’m sure there are economic reasons for it, but with a little TLC for that field they have the Sam Houston Race Park could become something truly special as an outdoor festival venue. They’ve got plenty of parking - although $20 a car per day is a bit nuts - and plenty of shade, and this year getting into the festival seemed a lot more seemless than it had in the past. That said, the field itself is kind of a mess, and it amazes me more people don’t tweak their knee or bust their ankle out there given some of the dips and drops in the landscape. Level it out a bit and I think it could be a nice home for a few more events during the year.
** I don’t really have anything to say about Marshmello as a performer at the present — would much rather save that for seeing a full club set from him — but I will say that he might be the smartest man in EDM. Listen, I like slightly generic but gorgeous-looking white European dudes as much as the next guy, but put their press photos next to each other and I couldn’t pick any of them out of a lineup. But Marshmello has the mask game on lock; not only does it look iconic, but easier for fans to replicate than the Deadmau5 head. There were a ton of Marshmellos wandering around at Something Wicked this year, so clearly the man is doing something right.
** This year Halloween fell on a weekend, and all the ghetto boys and girls of Houston were at Something Wicked. Well, maybe not ALL of them. With the plethora of block parties and bar crawls and the like happening in the city, the late-October EDM carnival was not as packed as previous years. I was able to get up close to the stage with ease on Sunday night, and the lines for food, drinks, and portapotties were minimal. After being rained out last year, I expected a strong comeback, but this was definitely a momentum-building year for the festival.
** I guess all the complaining from the neighbors over the last few years is what lead to the reduction of the volume from each of the stages. I normally wear earplugs when I shoot and review shows, but they were almost unnecessary this year, unless you were within 20 feet of the stage. I kinda enjoyed that actually, as the sound turned out to be crisp and clear from mostly all angles.
** Its been more than 12 hours and I'm still blowing black boogers out of my nose. And this cough is not very pleasant either. I definitely picked the wrong day to forget my bandanna to cover my nose/mouth. The big grassy field was more rock quarry that festival grounds. Walking back to my car, a blanket of dust covered the vehicles in a thick blanket of fine power that was kicked up by the EDM-shuffling masses. If this is what the cars look like, I'm scared for my lungs.
** The TxDOT sign that pointed you toward the direction of Sam Houston Race Park simply read:
"Wicked Festival ——>>>>"
I was pretty optimistic from that point on.
** The festival's new dome-like stages were a nice change in scenery. They reminded me of the Sahara Stage at Coachella or the Circuit Grounds at EDC Vegas. And of course, the production and lighting were top-notch, although a friend pointed out the lack of lasers, which I hadn't noticed. Still very cool, though, and visually stimulating.
** Had a few encounters with obviously drunk and drug-influenced people on Sunday. The most humorous by far was this scene played out by two friends near the Bass Crypt:
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"That was some of the strongest LSD I've ever taken in my life, bro!"
"Bro, are you rolling balls right now?!"
"Nah bro, I'm tripping balls! There's a difference!"
(epic high five)
** My discovery of the festival was NGHTMRE. A bio on Insomniac's website calls him "dance music's next multi-genre prodigy," and I would say that is a perfect description of what I heard on Sunday night. The dude bounced around from Kanye to Journey, then back to Kendrick and Rick Ross. It was heavy trap mixed with rock anthems and familiar hip-hop. I don't often stay at any one stage for too long, but I was compelled to listen to this dude's whole set.
** Desiigner's "Panda" is still very much a hit. Carnage, Zomboy and Hardwell all played their versions of this track, and as played out as the song may be, the crowd still dug it.
** Favorite totem/sign of the night: TITS OUT FOR HARAMBE!