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[intro-text size=”25px”]Summer got a huge send-off this Labor Day weekend when a crowd of nearly 2,000 party-goers descended onto West 6th Street for the first outdoor EDM festival to ever take over in downtown CLE.[/intro-text]

The TanZ Summer Music Festival featured both locally- and internationally-renown DJs, headlined by Dutch superstar Afrojack and the Grammy-Award-winning Cedric Gervais.

Electronic dance music (EDM) has always had a home in Northeast Ohio, but only recently has it become mainstream, filtering from larger cities like L.A. and Miami into the Midwest through local Top 40 radio stations and the appeal of EDM artists like Daft Punk and Calvin Harris across all ages and demographics.

Cleveland is ready for this.

“We should’ve been doing this ten years ago”, DJ E-V tells me backstage. He looks into the crowd before him, eyes wide, brilliant smile. He’s obviously proud of his hometown, maybe even a bit amazed….

The Warehouse District became the hub of downtown’s mainstream dance scene after the decline of the Flats in the 90s, so it was the obvious choice for the TanZ festival. West 6th Street between St. Clair and Lakeside was transformed into a sea of colour, light and sound.

1:00 p.m. The party officially kicks off in the parking lot next to Barley House: a 20’ x 40’ pool and party deck, a cornhole set, mural painters working their craft and scantily-clothed girls providing alcohol service, their tanned skin coated in the body glitter that is a must-have for EDM girls. This is already not your typical Cleveland party…

2:15 p.m. A giant piece of plywood stands just inside the entrance to the parking lot pre-show party. Cory Schnitzer, from San Diego, is here with two assistants/friends and they’re working on painting a mural featuring a four-foot-high black-and-white image of a woman wearing sunglasses with palm trees in the reflection, typically symbolic of summer. They contrast the image with vibrant colour and abstract designs street-art murals are known for.  Schnitzer seems to just come up with designs and paint them as he goes with an unlit cigarette hanging from his lips as he thinks it all through…

3:34 p.m. The less self-conscious among us are hanging out in the pool tossing beach balls and lounging in the inner tubes. You don’t really need a “beach body” to feel comfortable here, but I’m sure it helps. Festival staff have been very vigilant, keeping an eye on the pool-goers and maintaining the flow of alcohol.

4:11 p.m. These local headlining DJs are gonna just smash it today, I’m convinced, and I’m really looking forward to writing about them. Derek Armstrong is first; just took the stage at 4:00. The crowd is still small this early, but not lacking in energy. Armstrong’s deep house is drawing them in; every time the bass drops they bounce a little harder. I really want to grab a drink, but I’m too into his set to be bothered.

5:17 p.m. I’ve familiarized myself with the bar but at the expense of not being at stage front when Corrupt takes over from Derek Armstrong and I’m pissed that I’m missing his set. DJ Corrupt, from C-bus, has a residency here at the Barley House a few doors down from the stage he’s on now. He has a fantastic ear for good sound; his music is grittier and more multi-layered than what is generally thought of house music. The state-of-the-art sound system delivers each individual layer of his tracks completely unmuddled.

6:04 p.m. DJ E-V has transitioned in from Corrupt’s blazing set. I’m on my third drink and now I want to quit writing and thinking and just dance. E-V is quite animated and charming; “Afrojack is like 7-feet tall, so I’m standing on a case right now,” he tells the crowd from behind the deck. E-V’s mix n’ match of musical styles doesn’t confuse the crowd, which has now grown to about 600 people. There’s the progressive house, of course, and some rap and rock songs he’s remixed, including Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, to which the crowd automatically switches from raving to fist-pumping. He ends with MGK’s “Cleveland ‘Til I Die”, much to this crowd’s pleasure.

Being a DJ is like a customer service job, but you’re selling a feeling instead of an actual thing. You have to know your audience, and you damn well better know your music. With any other music genre, rap, rock, jazz, the quality of the music is judged by the sounds an artist makes with their instruments, their skill at writing lyrics, etc. But with EDM, especially when it reaches a mainstream level, your audience isn’t going to be able to expound on why the music is good or shit – they just know because they’re either feeling it on the dance floor or they’re not. Your job as a DJ is to know, what’s going to make these people move? What’s going to create this vibe and how I am I going to be able to hold onto it for the rest of my set?  I’m quite proud to say the Cleveland DJs TanZ invited to serve this crowd demonstrated they’ve all got the skill. They knew this crowd and they knew how to play to us.

This is the kind of deep shit I think up when I’ve had too much to drink and my brain thinks it’s really on to something.  I’m scribbling up this little moment of brilliance in my notebook while stumbling back toward the stage, not watching where I’m walking, and the ground opens up and tries to swallow me. It took me a second to even realise I’d fallen; I was just kind of sitting there stunned. One nice man and a wonderful young girl grabbed my arms and helped me up, and I showed them I’d fallen into a pothole, like “Look, see? It’s not my fault!” Don’t blame it on the alcohol, it’s all the city’s fault. Because potholes, amirite?….

7:01 p.m. EDM is night music; now that the sun is serious about setting itself, the atmosphere is becoming more authentic. Over 1,000 people are here with about 500 of them in front of the stage for Kronic. His name graphics in graffiti-style letters on the LED wall behind him light up all of the Warehouse District in a bright blue. He grabs the mic and yells, “9…8…7…” The crowd is in. As we hit “2”, there’s the call-to-arms of “Put your hands up”. The bass drops right on the ‘1”, and everybody’s down.

Kronic is going to be fucking fantastic.

And he is. His set shows his heart is in hip-hop and he’s willing to push the limits of just how far hip-hop and house can go together. If you weren’t at the show, have a listen to Kronic’s new EP, “Sophisticated Ignorance”.  It’s experimental but not random, clever but not overdone.

8:49 p.m.  I have no idea where the fuck I am right now.

DJ Apster is on, I know this because his name graphic is blasting on the LED wall in front of the deck. He has a distinctly European sound – high on synthetised melodies, low on bass, and I think it’s off the 4/4 beat. Maybe I’m the one off the 4/4 beat…

9:17 p.m. The glowsticks have come out. Really, crowd? Its 9:17 at night, you motherfuckers are LATE…

9:32 p.m. I’ve been watching this dance chap all day – hair gelled up in liberty spikes, sleeve tattoos, wire-rimmed glasses and smiling at everybody. I decide he’d make a great interview, so I approach him about it.

“I’m having a really great time, everyone’s been real friendly, but I’m sorry, I’m not in the right state of mind for this right now. Love you!”

Huh? ‘love you’? ‘not in the right state of mind’? I’ve been watching him, he’s been drinking water all d-

Oh, yeah. Water. Got it…

9:54 p.m. Cedric Gervais is on. I’ve been guzzling water and pissing out alcohol for some time, hoping to sober up some. There’s got to be about 2,000 people here now. They’re wearing flags, headbands made of lights, lots of gladiator sandals and full-on costumes.

Someone is touching my arm. “Are you still okay? You know, from earlier?”

Huh? Oh yeah, the pothole. It’s the girl who helped me up. I kinda feel bad for not recognizing her straight away.

“I’m fine, thank you, love.” I give her a hug, because that was just too sweet of her to check up on me like that. I put my notebook away and go with her into the middle of the crowd in time for Gervais to cut the music so we could all sing the refrain of his Grammy-award winning track “Summertime Sadness” to him…

11:18 p.m. I’m backstage. I can’t take any more being in the middle of the crowd. Too hot, too drunk, too tired, too old. I meet E-V, he says he feels “blessed to be a part of something like this that brings people together.” He introduces me to the very stunning and quite creative Kaiya Wolff, who had joined him during his set to perform a new track. The energy from the crowd is blazing back here as headliner Afrojack and his MC take over.

I get my ankle caught up in some party streamers and nearly fall again, this time onto Kronic. He seems like he’s had the same kind of fun I’ve had today, and plenty of it. I ask him what he thinks of Cleveland since he’s never been here before.

“I fucking love it,” he tells me. “I had no idea what to expect, but the crowd is insane and the people here are absolutely incredible.” We talk about the some of the silly stereotypes of American and Australian people; “some of them have never seen a kangaroo in their life,” he claims. He tells me about a conversation he had with 2-Chainz about how all EDM is lumped together by people not familiar with the many sub-genres, and I tell him about my struggle to put EDM into words when I don’t have instruments and lyrics to write about. Some other topics come up which shall remain strictly off-record, but I do try to nail him down on taking the opportunity to shag a Cleveland girl since DJs are the new rock stars. “I’m not like that”, he says, quickly and with conviction in a way that you know he’s telling you the truth. Score one for integrity.

11:38 p.m. Kronic has called me a “fucking legend”, like, 8 times. I’m starting to believe him.

12:19 p.m. This fucking legend passes out on the bus ride home, misses my stop, can’t find my bus pass and pees on the corner of a building on a main road because I can’t find a tree.  Maybe I’m a fucking legend, maybe I’m a fucking idiot. All I’m really sure of right now is that I can’t wait to do this again next year.


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