For the first time ever, Mamby on the Beach took to the southside of Chicago for a weekend of lakeside fun. The birthplace of house music lived up to its name with a Tent staged packed full of elite DJs that kept the four-on-the-floor going throughout the weekend. On the opposite side of Oakwood Beach the mainstage hosted a variety of indie electronic acts ranging from the tropical vibes of Goldroom to the gothic rock of Phantogram with Empire of the Sun and Passion Pit headlining Saturday and Sunday nights respectively. Filling a sorely needed hole after the now defunct Wavefront and Riverfront Fests failed to secure a second year, Mamby on the Beach satisfies Chicago’s need for a mid-level electronic music fest catering to artists too underground for Lollapalooza and Spring Awakening yet have enough notoriety that they would feel out-of-place at a street fest or Pitchfork. Located south of Soldier Field the festival also opened up to an oft neglected southside market.
Saturday began with a soggy start with a light drizzle blanketing the beach for the better part of the afternoon, not that many festival goers minded. Chicago House legend Farley “Jackmaster” Funk gave everyone an early house history lesson cycling through classics by Adonis, Mr. Fingers, and himself before launching into a spiritually moving set that any true house head would appreciate. Other highlights of the day included thumping techno from George Fitzgerald, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem getting startled by the onstage CO2 canons going off during his set, and calming vibes from disco duo Classixx who played a Felix Da Housecat cover opposite his set at the Tent.
However, the set of the day went to Cashmere Cat who’s angelic piano driven melodies and cute beats got the evening crowd whipped up into a turnt frenzy. The soaring vocals of Ariana Grande on “Adore” and the plucked strings of “Mirror Maru” stood out as clear highlights.
The night was capped off by the midwest debut of mysterious deep house producer Zhu, bringing the full Zhu Experience to the Windy City waterfront. Customizing his visuals to include shots of downtown Chicago, ZHU’s highly-anticipated set delivered with all of his hit Nightday EP tracks interspersed with covers of Thriller and new originals.
Getting off to a late start, Sunday was less soggy than the previous day with clear skies that had beach-goers chilling out under the Tent to escape sunburn. Once again Chicago brought out everybody’s housiest A game with J. Philip and Route 94 digging deep into the crates for deep cuts.
Cut Copy brought summery vibes with a indie-dance DJ set that kicked off with some rave-y Daphni before transitioning into a bevy of Tropical house and nu-disco that felt perfectly timed with the setting sun. Somehow I ended up holding a limbo poll halfway through Cut Copy’s set but I didn’t fight it. It seemed like a fitting farewell to the Tent stage that had been so kind to me through out the weekend.
Synth-Rockers Phantogram warmed up the mainstage crowd for Passion Pit with charismatic frontwoman Sarah Barthel headbanging and hyping the crowd up in between her breathy vocals. Now in the interest of full disclosure I am a huge Passion Pit fan. They were one of the first bands I ever saw in concert and they hold a very special place in my heart, so when it comes down to it its hard for me to be impartial. The energetic synthpop outfit had Chicago wrapped around their fingers with the excited crowd jumping up and down and singing along to practically every song. Hits like “Little Secrets,” “Take A Walk,” “Carried Away,” and “Lifted Up (1985)” were huge crowd pleasers while more reserved numbers like “Where the Sky Hangs,” “Swimming in the Flood,” and “Constant Conversations” lulled them back into a dream-like calm. What was almost a perfect set to cap off a great inaugural Mamby on the Beach was cut short in the last 30 seconds of “Sleepyhead” when the organizers pulled the plug on the audio. Major buzzkill.
Otherwise Mamby on the Beach had a solid start as a festival. Solid talent, nice location, and all around good vibes. Fingers crossed that we’ll see more Mamby in the years to come!