We're not sure what it was that made Governor's Ball so exciting.
Possible guesses: It may have been the culture of electronica: candy-colored strobe lights refracting kaleidoscopic visuals and accompanying states of mind. Add to that the anatomy of a festival: braless, shoeless, the assumption of lawless--people hatching out of their own skin. Personalize that to the unexpected picturesque weather on Saturday (despite the stormy forecast, the day was clear enough to admire the orange-balloon necklace dancing in the clouds), with spires from a cast away land in the distance - just far enough from the city to forget, just close enough to remember. It was likely a sum of the above, plus the festival lineup, that forced the painted, flowered, feathered, and unencumbered off their feet June 18th, for twelve starbursting hours of Governor's Ball 2011.
The crowd, a mix of 16-25 year olds and the occasional pocket of teens, wore enthusiasm from headress's (a nod to Empire of the Sun) to soiled feet at the gates of the ferry, where festival goers queued up for what felt like hours on New York Harbor's Pier 11. The line wasn't enough to stop eager partiers, however, as the holy bag-check area (final check point before boarding the boat) was a graveyard of empty beer and liquor bottles. Not bad. The ferries were timely and the crowd was neon, which probably had less to do with the United Colors of Electronica, and more to do with off-the-grid safety en route to the unsynthesized island-world.
At the mouth of the island, ragers were greeted by a three-man jazz outfit, joyously sweeping the herds to the ticketing line with the expedient subtlety of an airport skyway. Ticketing and festival flyering were peppered with the occasional costumed zealot or the up close "rawk n' rolll" type wail from a spirited tweaker. Passing through the gates soon after, the seen of the circus was vast. A white-tented cafeteria of sustenance lined the perimeter while entertainment of the crafty variety held the center.
Though the day began modestly, or how do the kids say, "chill," the mood turned from picnic to party with the standard accumulation of munchies and buzzes. The timing was uncanny; just as the mass of psychologically-enhanced wanderers flooded the DIY burrito line, and just as the requisite passed out guys curled up fetal position in the weeds--the big acts took stage.
An abbreviated note of the worthy:
One could say the music was a mix of indie/rock, pop and electronic beats. Essentially, electro music for the hipsters. The Australians proved to be at the forefront of this rendition with Empire of The Sun stealing the show. Using slow guitars, keyboard and the synth (oh, that synth!), this duo from Sydney produced psychedelic beats with a catchy, pop backdrop. Itching to dance to this music is a given. But it's the "high-on-life" feel that's more astounding. A euphoria that finds no verbal expression and can only be translated in a "you had to be there" - where everything outside that very moment loses relevance. Affix the scandalous wigs, spandex in every color, outrageous makeup, and synchronized dancing of women in pleather pink bodysuits and you have a whole lot of perfection. That right there, is Empire of The Sun.
It's Aussie counterpart, Miami Horror, usually a pro of this same musical genre, didn't quite make the cut on this occasion. Perhaps they played too early (4 p.m) and the audience was still in picnic mode, perhaps there was too much sun and too little beer at this point. But Miami Horror fell short. Their songs are grand and usually quite catchy, but the energy was low. Their sound was off. Even as frontman Josh Moriary, wearing a Napoleonic-style velvet red blazer, climbed the high railing on stage--one hand holding on to dear life, other on the mic--his attempt to get the crowd rallied up proved unsuccessful.
Big Boi--the only hip hop act in the front liners-- proves that somewhere beneath all the mellow, acoustic guitar, let-me-tell-you-my-sad-story layers of indie rock, there is always a taste for some sweaty popping, blocking and grinding.
We expected Girl Talk at Governor's Ball to be a mashup on steroids. Whereas Gregg Gillis is normally known for his ability to stir up dead air, he seemingly did more on Saturday to create it. This may have stemmed from the unfortunate fact that he had the first show just after the wowing performance by Empire of the Sun, but Girl Talk junkies had a right to be underwhelmed. In what seemed to be a last ditch attempt to put on a "show," Girl Talk populated it's stage with hundreds of randoms from the crowd. Ask anyone sunk on the green below though, this just gave the appearance of flailing limbs on a
raised club stage, and with the lackluster tracks he picked for the late night set, there little to look at.
We took the good with the bad but in the end, a rave's a rave. The music, better at some times than others, no doubt shook the islanders for half a rotation around Earth (12 hours, delivered as promised). And the crowd, who walked nearly 1,000 yards throughout the alternating stage policy, did cause some to question the value of 'no overlapping sets' (but overlap they did not, as promised). Governor's Ball - well done sans a few faux pas, and we're looking forward to it's sophomore year.
Laura Steiner contributed to this article.