Outside Lands was a cold festival. Perhaps that shouldn’t have been a surprise; Although the event took place in August, it was August in San Francisco, where it’s always 54 degrees somewhere. Nevertheless, the fog that poured into Golden Gate Park and the frigid winds that propelled it caught many attendees off guard on the festival’s opening day, August 10. “We’re from Atlanta, and we were imagining warm summer vibes,” explained Washed Out‘s Ernest Greene. “We’re fucking freezing.”
However, there was one spot in Golden Gate Park where festivalgoers could escape the nippy climate: the Heineken DJ Dome. From the outside, the structure looked like a few inflatable igloos joined together, and from the inside it looked like a rock festival had teamed up with a beer company to design a makeshift nightclub. The place was lit with green lights and housed a bar in one igloo and a dance floor space in the adjoining dome, where at 1:30 p.m. scraggly DJs played squelchy dubstep remixes of Beatles songs (so San Francisco).
By mid-afternoon each day of the festival, the line for the designated EDM hangout was at least 40 people long, as the space itself probably only held a few hundred. Perhaps the festival had underestimated the audience’s interest in dance music, or the Dome’s staff hoped to curate a Berghain-like wait. Maybe everyone just wanted to escape the cold. In any case, the wait did seem disproportionate to the lineup Outsidelands had booked for its DJ Dome, which largely consisted of unknown artists whose identities remain as mysterious as their unfindable Soundcloud pages. The biggest exception to the Dome’s rule of anonymity was Bay Area beatmaker and Dirty Bird labelhead Justin Martin, who unfortunately couldn’t make it to the festival due to a cancelled flight.
Outside of the festival’s assigned DJ turf, some of EDM’s biggest names performed for swelling crowds. On Friday, huge-time dance music outfits MSTRKRFT and Justice squared off against far more acoustic acts on rival stages. I wish I could tell you how the performances went, but my friends just had to see Andrew Bird whistle and strum a banjo, and then I agreed to follow them to watch Neil Old—excuse me, Neil Young—hump his guitar into a speaker (which was probably hot back in the 70s).
The next day, rising talent Tigran Mimosa took over the same stage MSTRKRFT and Justice played the night before. Although his set took place in the middle of the afternoon, outdoors, and in front of a colossal audience—basically, the opposite of most clubs settings—Mimosa was able to command his crowd with his gregarious attitude in front of an audience. It’s easy to see why a DJ like Mimosa has made it into the festival circuit as opposed to veterans of the underground: simply put, Mimosa is a performer. His set probably offended every purist DJ sensibility, starting with the fact that he didn’t seem to be manually mixing records, but it was certainly entertaining in a way that a more traditional DJ set is not.
For instance, toward the end of his set, Mimosa informed the beach ball-throwing crowd that his mother was among them, and then instructed his onlookers to chant his name. Standing in front of the booth with his arms spread wide, Mimosa asked his audience, “What’s my motherfucking name?” Over the gravelly belches of comically bro’ed out dubstep (maybe it was Burning Man-type dubstep—some people insist there’s a difference), his audience responded “MIM-OH-SAH!” The track switched on a dime to the kind of plodding R&B that would make any fan of the Weeknd light a candle and put roses on his bedspread, and then Mimosa jumped into the crowd and was gone.
Mimosa’s skills as a performer may cheapen his act in the eyes of vinyl-rocking trainspotters and vicious anti-trap Tweeters (much of his set was composed of hip-hop bangers and Flosstradamus beats, which is like the definition of #tarp tbh), but it certainly worked on a large crowd. A set like Tame Impala‘s inspired the crowd to wiggle a little, but mostly smoke weed and chat happily with friends; Mimosa’s set had even the churro stand employees twerking—and I do mean, like, twerking. That definitely counts for something.
Although Mimosa’s set was indeed very crunk, it was tame compared to the gratuitous drops offered up by electro house facepalm Wolfgang Gartner. The best that can be said for Gartner’s entirely tasteless set was that it bordered on being classified as noise. That is, his straight-to-the-drops dubstep set was so over-the-top, jarring, arhythmic, and uniformly random that it sounded like a maximalist rendering of noise music. A song or two away from the end of his set, the booming sounds of Skrillex’s opening number seduced about half his audience to split for the bigger stage, where the half-shaved electro-dubstep king was starting to play to a crowd two or three times the size of Mimosa’s.
The thing about Skrillex’s set is that it wasn’t that bad. It’s Skrillex, which means there are a lot of metallic, grating Hoover synth sounds and inartful “rage face” drops into midrange bass messes in effect, and that’s never very fun. But does he have a really cool light show? Yes. Are the beats loud enough to give listeners something to rock to (as opposed to Gartner’s set, in which the beats were drowned out by the terrible dying baby-like synth noises)? For sure. Does Skrillex have a really cool onstage setup that looks like he’s twisting around in some huge neon-lit spaceship? Yeah, and it’s really cool!
While ravers performed finger light shows to Skrillex’s remix of Avicii’s “Levels,” the rest of the festivalgoers had gathered to sway and bop around to a feel-good set by Stevie Wonder. His encore was a sweet kiss-off to a San Francisco music festival—after all, what is more San Francisco than thousands of people singing Beatles songs?