MIDDELANDS (TODD MISSION, TEX.)
THURSDAY, MAY 4
I arrived in Houston early Monday morning from Fort Worth after taking a Megabus. I spent a few days there at my sister’s house with her family and my mom. The last time I saw them was after SXSW last year, and I got to meet my niece and nephew for the first time. Now there’s a new baby and it was fun getting to spend time with them for a few days, which included a trip to Minute Maid Park for an Astros game.
If you’re flying to a festival where you are camping, here is a hack I picked up the past few years: Go to a place like Target or Wal-Mart, buy a tent, use it, then return it before you fly back. As long as you keep it in the condition you bought it in, you’ll be fine.
Thursday, my sister drove me to Middlelands like I was a kid getting dropped off for summer camp (something I never got to do as a kid). I would be camping with people I never met before, a group from New Orleans known as the Dohm Collective. My friend Brittany, who I met at Hangout Fest a few years back, put me in touch with the group, who would be setting up their own Soundcamp. The Soundcamp idea is one of the big things that drew me to Middlelands — it allowed festival campers to setup their own DJ and lighting equipment so they could play music and party after the festival grounds closed at 1 AM each day. I’ll be writing a more in-depth story about my experience with Dohm that I’ll post later on — a lot happened that will make it a great read. Much love to all the guys at Dohm for taking me in. I was a complete outsider but never felt that way as soon as I arrived. They were all awesome and it never felt weird popping my head into a canopy to say hey and chat with any of them.
I picked up my media pass for Thursday from the camping will-call. I was covering the festival for QRO Mag (here’s my writeup of the fest for them). I setup my tent in about five minutes, then helped out my neighbors with theirs. Theirs was a massive tent with big poles, but it came with no instructions. We struggled for probably 40 minutes to figure it out. I saw that the poles were matched with little colored stickers — once we got that part down it was smoother sailing.
Thursday, they had a pre-party that featured sets from 12th Planet, Crizzly, Space Jesus, and Tim Gunter. One of my pals Bo works with one of the acts, so I caught up with him over a beer before he went on. It was my first time seeing Tim Gunter live, and he dropped some killer jams. I remember after he finished one song, hearing a guy yell “You’re fuckin’ KILLIN’ IT DUDE!” The pre-party was a cool introduction to the festival experience I was about to have. I also got to meet Alina Baraz, who I saw at the El Rey earlier this year. She was really fucking cool.
I headed back to my campsite around 1 AM and tried to get some sleep, since I knew it was going to be at a premium over the long weekend. One of the Soundcamps next to me was blasting loud tunes until 5 or 6 AM, so I didn’t get much sleep (though I know what I signed up for).
FRIDAY, MAY 5
I got about an hour of sleep or so because the music was so loud and went late. But I went into where the pre-party was and got a cold brew coffee and breakfast burrito and immediately felt better. I ended up speaking a bit with the Dohm Collective guys for a more extensive piece I’m writing about the Soundcamp experience at Middlelands. They were all really cool peeps, I got to know them a bit before heading towards the fest before the gates were opening.
One issue I had with the fest was that the music started at 3 PM, and the gates open at 3 PM. Which means the first acts of the day were playing to empty stages until people got through security. On day one, security didn’t let us through until about 3:25 PM, which kind of sucked. By the time I got in, I was just catching some of the early acts.
I met a couple people from Florida at Keys N Krates who had driven an insane distance to the festival — five of them tightly packed into the car with their camping gear. This was the start of me realizing that in its first year, Insomniac had made Middlelands a true destination festival.
I went and caught Crystal Castles, an act I really like that I kept missing when they were in LA or at festivals. Holy shit, I was hugely disappointed. I know it isn’t Alice Glass singing anymore, but the new girl was a freak and I couldn’t hear her voice the entire time — it was drowned out completely. They were having some massive sound issues and walked off 15 minutes early. It was one of the worst festival sets I can remember ever seeing. That’s OK, though, because I now had a spot on the rail for Phantogram, one of the main acts I came to see.
There was this one girl behind me who was wasted beyond belief that kept trying to squeeze her way onto the rail next to me when there was absolutely no room. It was quite annoying, she’d put her hand on either side of me and try and shove me to the side. I kept telling her there was no room but her drunk ass couldn’t comprehend. Once Phantogram took the stage I stopped worrying about it.
Sarah Barthel is my motherfucking spirit animal. She’s so dope and it was my 10th time seeing the band live — the first from this close up. Phantogram was the only electro-rock groups booked on the bill that I can think of — which unfortunately translated into people not really being as into their performances as I’m used to. Their set came just as the sun was setting, so it started out in the daytime and ended perfectly at night. I was rocking out pretty damn hard and am convinced that Sarah Barthel was looking my way whenever she approached the front of the stage. She seemed super stoked to be playing the festival, saying it was “way better than Coachella” and also that she was “really fucking high.” They had a few technical issues early in the set but nothing that really threw them off.
I stuck around after Phantogram for Big Gigantic, who delivered a really fun set. I bounced before marshmello, who I think is just the most formulaic EDM bullshit that’s out there right now — though I mean no disrespect to anyone that fucks with that. It just isn’t my bag at all. I went and caught Danny Brown on the Middlelands Arena stage. I never really dug the sound of his voice but seeing him live for the first time really changed my opinion on him. Dude has fucking BARS and his flow is pretty top-notch. The crowd wasn’t huge so I got into the front pit and people were really into it.
Afterwards, I bumped into a friend who was there with an artist and wound up in the artist compound drinking some free beers before catching the afterparty at the small stage in the campgrounds. I bumped into my friend Ben Hogan, who had like a dozen acts on the bill including NGHTMRE and Elohim, two of my faves on the bill. For Desert Trip last year, he was nice enough to let my roommate Jordan and I crash his pad he rented for his and his fiance (now wife) Karie’s families last minute as we bought tickets when they bottomed out from $500 to $150 for “Oldchella”. That was a killer time.
I took in the killer afterparty sets from Tim Gunter, TOKiMONSTA (I love her), and NGHTMRE, meeting a bunch of cool people from Austin and other places. Afterwards I went back to my campsite and raged with the Dohm until about 4 or 5 AM in the morning, taking in some killer sets from a number of my campmates.
SATURDAY, MAY 6
The rest of the weekend I had an artist wristband because my friend had left for the rest of the weekend. I was able to bypass having to walk into the festival through the normal gates and it was completely empty when I made it in at 2:50 PM. It was like being Tom Cruise at the beginning of Vanilla Sky where he’s driving through Times Square and nobody is there — that is until a bunch of Bassnectar super-wooks come running full speed towards the rail of the stage he’ll be playing eight hours later.
I hung out in the artist area for a bit and grabbed some beers and snacks before heading out to see this Indonesian rapper named Rich Chigga, who was performing for like the second time ever in the States. It was up-and-down, the dude was CLEARLY super nervous and kept pacing back and forth on stage not facing the crowd. He had a couple of fun jams but overall it was just a little too much for him at that point.
I caught some of What So Not before grabbing some free Mad Max BBQ — the ribs and sausage were delicious. Afterwards I headed back to the main stage and caught the last half of Jurassic 5 — damn these guys still got it after all these years. Amazing chemistry. Afterwards, I decided to stay at the main stage, at least until after GRiZ ended.
Louis the Child are always a pretty good time and I had a lot of fun at their set. Afterwards, Alison Wonderland fucking SLAYED. I had saw her backstage a few hours earlier taking photos and I yelled “Alison Wonderland rocks!” and she said “Thanks! I’ll tell her,” which made me laugh. She retweeted me:
— Mark Ortega (@MarkEOrtega) May 8, 2017
Bassnectar fans get a bad reputation. We’ve ALL seen the videos. I had never seen him before and thought it would be interesting to watch him from up close to see if that was true. During Alison Wonderland’s set, a couple people on the rail were straight up sitting down. Most of the people facing the stage weren’t showing any positive reaction at all — not even when she threw down some fucking metal.
GRiZ was epic, one of the main draws on the bill for me personally. I had started vibing with these two girls by me and we were all having a good time, until the music stopped out of nowhere. Then we turn around and there’s a fucking dude in a tree like 30 feet in the air. They’re telling him to get down and he isn’t listening — then HE STARTS TO ROCK THE FUCKING TREE BACK AND FORTH. These aren’t very strong branches. If he fell, he was certainly going to get really hurt, and hurt the people below him. Then out of nowhere, a fucking cherry picker appears and pulls him out of the tree and he is arrested immediately. That guy would later post a video on Facebook in one of the Middlelands groups saying he isn’t sorry and that they should have let him enjoy the show and got him down between sets. Seriously, what a douche canoe. I hope Insomniac bans him from all their future events (though that would be hard to enforce).
The music returned about 15 minutes later and we all jammed out for the rest of the set. I had put my backpack down by this girl’s foot during the set so I could rock out a little harder. One of the Bassnectar superfans had moved it onto one of the little steps on the other side of the rail, which was fine by me.
Then Bassnectar came on. People were losing their shit. All weekend long I kept hearing about “This is my 20th time seeing Bassnectar and we drove this far,” which is awesome — I love when people are super enthusiastic about who they are seeing. I really enjoyed the show and the production was pretty incredible.
People were headbanging like I had never seen before. I must say, I did find it a little comical that people would headbang to every single drop, even when they weren’t that big. I almost feel like some of these people fuck with Bassnectar because that’s all you have to do is headbang. There were some really good rhythms to some of his tracks that I was moving to, and this one scary-looking mofo who I didn’t even see his pupils tapped me on the shoulder and said “I want to see you BREAK YOUR FUCKING NECK (headbang)! I’m watching you!” I get that he’s passionate, but I don’t really like being told how to respond to music. That dude was acting super weird the whole rest of the time. Then my phone died and I asked the dude on the rail if he could grab my bag and he said “In time.” WTF? 20 minutes later he hadn’t handed it to me so I just try and reach over to grab it and the guy was just a salty motherfucker about it for no reason. Everyone else around me was cool and having a good time, but there were definitely a few of the people up front that fit the Bassnectar superwook stereotype.
Afterwards, I walked out of the fest with one of the girls and met up with her friends. They didn’t have a place to camp so I let them setup their tent near where I was at near the Dohm and we walked around all the Soundcamps. One of the crew had taken some acid at 1 AM (!!) and had a pretty crazy ride the rest of the night. They were a bunch of people from a small town in Louisiana called Lake Charles. Half of them drove back the next morning after sleeping a bit, the other two stuck around for Sunday.
I stayed up until 7:30 AM. At the Dohm Soundcamp, this dude came running in with a bag of wine asking if anyone wanted to tap it. I look at this dude and realize, holy shit, this is a kid I’ve known since 9th grade newspaper class. I hadn’t seen him in years. We caught up for a good while, it was really surreal to bump into him. Back when I met this kid was the earliest point that I started studying journalism, though it was something I always thought I would want to do. I caught him up on what I had been doing and he got a kick out of the fact that I was still following that passion. He was there working with Insomniac in some capacity too, so it was pretty cool. I took a picture with him and sent it to one of my best friends Nick, who was also in that class. He got a kick out of it.
The sun was basically up and I was watching this dope chill set from one of the DJs Bryant, he goes by Concourse. He dropped the sickest transition into a remix of Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” and I literally yelled “Holy fuck!” It was my first time seeing live music as the sun came up and that was easily the cherry on top to my evening. I got about 30 minutes of sleep and had one more day left.
SUNDAY, MAY 7
I had to rally from getting very little sleep so I started my morning off by grabbing a shower (admittedly my first of the weekend). The VIP line was 30 minutes, I can’t imagine how long people had to wait in the regular line. There was no water pressure whatsoever, but I still managed to come out feeling refreshed. I then grabbed a cinnamon bun and another cold brew coffee and felt much better. I went and met up with the Lake Charles peeps and met their whole crew of friends, who were all pretty cool.
I headed into the fest to catch Elohim, who I first caught at Coachella in the DoLaB a few weekends earlier. I really enjoy her stuff, and though the crowd was a bit small because everyone was on no sleep and probably waiting until later to get into the festival, people were enjoying it. The first two days I spent most of my time at the main stage so I did a bit more exploring on the last day. I caught some of Christian Martin, Boombox Cartel, Ephwurd, JOYRYDE (awesome) before heading to the main stage.
The crew I was with all got a good spot for ZHU, which was easily the sexiest set of the weekend. I remember the last time I saw ZHU, at CRSSD Fest. This one girl tapped this other girl on the shoulder and said “Hey, you’re hot. Wanna make out?” “Sure.” No previous interaction between the two of them. After ZHU, most of the group went to check other sets out but me and one of the dudes Logan moved up for Galantis. After seeing them from far back at Coachella it was awesome seeing them from 15 or 20 feet away at Middlelands. Their set was pretty magical.
After that we stuck it out at Kaskade and one of the other crew Colton managed to find us in the crowd. Kaskade basically ejaculated lasers and fireworks all over the crowd during his set. It was pretty dope. After that we went and checked out the after-party a bit where there was a set where Crizzly and herobust were going b2b with someone else as well. Afterwards I went back to my camp and caught some of the last sets at the Dohm Soundcamp before crashing out. I had to wake up early enough to put away my tent and find the shuttle location, which took me back to the airport, where I caught an Uber to my sister’s house. The shuttle location was a bitch to find, it was the single-most disorganized thing the whole weekend. Luckily I figured it out. After arriving back in Houston I tried my best to match my sleep from the entire previous four days.
Electronic music is not my usual wheelhouse but Middlelands was a joy to be a part of. If the lineup has enough stuff to my liking, I plan on coming back next year. I made a lot of new friends at this festival, which is really part of what makes music festivals so damn fun. Onto the next one, Shaky Knees in Atlanta, which will be much more relaxed.
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