Review: Sunset Music Festival brings Hardwell, Galantis and a sea of candy-colored ravers to Tampa's Raymond James Stadium
You really hope Unicorn Girl caught up with Leprechaun Boy.
Deadpool, Harley Quinn and every last Wonder Woman, too.
And we can only pray the bro in the "Feel the Bern" tee at some point locked eyes with the dude repping "Reagan/Bush '84."
They all had so much in common, these motley costumed characters dotting the grounds of Raymond James Stadium like squiggles of neon confetti. More than anything, every last one of them was out to go harder than a mother on Day 1 of the fifth annual Sunset Music Festival.
It’s become a ritual for ravers in the Sunshine State and far beyond, this weekend of freak-flag festoonery soundtracked by some of the world's top DJs, and with an estimated 30,000 fans in attendance on Day 1, it shows no sign of slowing down.
This has been a spring of upheaval in Tampa's EDM community, following an April fire that destroyed Ybor City's Amphitheare nightclub, which is owned by Sunset founder John Santoro. The loss of the club, followed by Santoro and company's subsequent takeover of the Ritz Ybor as their new base of bass, has temporarily upended Tampa Bay’s rave scene. For locals, a release like Sunset couldn’t have come at a better time.
And for the first time since 2013, Sunset wasn’t marred by weather (unless you count the sizzling heat). Despite a few silver clouds lurking overhead, there were no thunderstorms forcing an evacuation into Raymond James Stadium -- a recent tradition organizers were all too happy to abandon.
Saturday’s bill was topped by perpetual party-starter Hardwell, the Dutch DJ and producer regularly voted one of the top two or three DJs in the world. Hardwell also headlined Sunset ’14, which made this repeat booking feel a tad underwhelming, especially with so many big names (Skrillex, Diplo, the Chainsmokers) on deck for Sunday. But it was still a set of effortless, nonstop efficiency, punctuated with fireworks and relying far less on third-party pop hits than others’.
More interesting was the high-motor Swedish duo Galantis, featuring Miike Snow’s Christian Karlsson. Boosted by some rare live drumming and a firestorm of pyro – including a squad of fire dancers down by the pit – they kept the pit moving with their relentless energy, twice spinning their latest single No Money and closing with their hit Runaway (U & I).
The rest of the main stage action was all about electro-house anthems mixed with pop and rock chart-toppers by the likes of the Weeknd, Justin Bieber or G-Eazy. There were no show-stopping guest stars, like Juanes and Hulk Hogan last year, but euphoric rave-by-numbers anthems Audien, Borgeous and 3LAU -- aided by aerialists , dancers and blasts of smoke and flame – satisfied fans nonetheless.
One main stage DJ who stood out from the pack: NGHTMRE, who in the late afternoon lived up to his moniker by flooding a huge crowd with thudding, squelchy mixes of Skrillex, Nero, Krewella and Zomboy, satisfying the vicious bass-thirsty masses.
(One notable and unexpected trend on the main stage: Shots of classic and alternative rock spliced into all the pop and EDM. Audien mixed Van Halen's Jump into Twenty One Pilots' Stressed Out; Borgeous dropped in the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Under the Bridge and Jefferson Airplane's Somebody to Love; and 3LAU spun the Killers' When You Were Young and Fall Out Boy's The Take Over, the Breaks Over. Even Hardwell threw in Linkin Park’s In the End, while Galantis dropped the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army.)
Away from the main stage, the music strayed farther from the mainstream.
With its clawlike arches reaching from the riser, the ambitiously designed Horizon Stage was thick with trance acts like Ferry Corsten, Seven Lions and Tritonal (who blessed SMF with a brand-new single, Getaway; "We're gonna put your f---in' asses on Snapchat!" warned Tritonal's Chad Cisneros).
The most intimate of the three stages, Eclipse, showcased more underground house artists like Claude VonStroke and Justin Martin, who dished out sleeker house grooves laced with trippy, repetitive swirls of sound.
But as always, nothing was more entertaining than the ravers themselves, weighed down by kandi beads and meme-able totems (Crying Jordan, Left Shark and Dat Boi all soared high), but otherwise unencumbered by much clothing. Sleeves were for losers, and in some cases, so were tops altogether (a hot trend at SMF '16: Janet Jackson-style nipple pasties in lieu of a bra or bikini top). American flags, Native headdresses and gold body decals were in abundance, as were gleeful send-ups of Donald Trump, odes to Hodor (RIP), Rick and Morty references and anything with a picture of a cat.
It was post-millennial heaven: Everything was lit, everyone was bae and everyone, in the words of some $20 caps in the merch tent, wanted to Make America Rave Again. They'll have their chance on Sunday. Costumed or not, it'll be hard to keep these colorful characters from meeting up on Day 2.
-- Jay Cridlin