This year Canada Day weekend brought with it a new meaning for our city, and more importantly the passionate fans of electronic dance music. For the first time ever in the Toronto downtown core, dance music and some of its biggest personalities came together for the Digital Dreams Music Festival. With names like Afrojack, Kaskade, Mark Knight, Richie Hawtin, Steve Lawler, and Alesso; fan expectations were high for the first of several outdoor EDM festivals in Southern Ontario this summer.
On day one we arrived at M.C.A Flats in enough time to get familiar with the venue before proud Canadian Alain Macklovitch aka A-Trak took the stage for his 4:30 pm set time. Known for his mastery of the turntables, the man recruited by Kanye West personally to be his tour DJ combined house, disco, and urban sounds to the delight of an eager crowd. His popular tunes ‘Heads Will Roll (A-Trak Remix)’ and ‘The Big Bad Wolf’ made for easy sing alongs to loyal fans and served as the perfect exposure to his sound for the unfamiliar. As usual the musical genius did not disappoint in his latest trip to Toronto, and he was certainly the perfect way to kick off our Digital Dreams experience.
Following A-Trak was a man was long overdue for a return to our city. Chuckie is host of one of the best shows aired on BBC that is responsible for introducing us to some of the most outrageous and unique hidden gems we’ve ever heard. As expected his set was filled with the ‘dirty Dutch’ sound that characterizes hits played like ‘Who Is Ready to Jump?’ and ‘Move It To The Drum’, a collaboration with Hardwell. It’s inspiring to witness the passion he has for the music he plays, a trait on display through his constant shout outs and hypes.
Up next was one of dance music’s fastest rising stars, a Dutchman taken under the wing of Afrojack known to us as R3hab. The youthful DJ is responsible for creating a fresh sound that is unique to dance music and often referred to as ‘chainsaw music’. His producing talents were on display for the crowd gathered in front of him in the form of records ‘Sending My Love’, collaboration with Swanky Tunes as well as his impressive remix of David Guetta’s ‘I Can Only Imagine’ a record that builds around the vocals of R&B star Chris Brown. His excitement was on display with regular fist pumps and embellished dance moves behind the turntables. As the set came to a close the crowd’s anticipation for Afrojack filled the air, but there was a problem. Afrojack was stuck in Edmonton, Alberta as the result of a broken jet and full flights and wasn’t going to be able to make it. The announcement left some fans disappointed, but comforted that he would be taking the Dreams stage the following day. As a replacement Toronto artist and Deadmau5 collaborator Jelo filled in perfectly before night one finished with duo Duck Sauce.
The Echo Beach stage was responsible for the deeper house and techno sounds for the weekend so it was fitting that to close out Day One was two seasoned techno veterens Steve Lawler & Richie Hawtin. Up first was Lawler who’s stimulating tech-house grooves connected immediately with the massive crowd in front of him. With sand in their toes and a breeze in their face Technasia’s Pete Tong approved ‘Heart of Flesh’ attacked the senses of supporters during the set. The soothing sounds of Lawler’s transitions eventually served as the perfect lead in for Richie Hawtin, the man designated to close out the night. When it comes to techno the name Richie Hawtin is only associated with all things awesome. His influence is felt globally on a scale that you couldn’t even imagine. In Miami 40 year old women go nuts for his sound, something impressive considering his genre. The eerie techno set left plenty to the imagination for the Hawtin fans and those vaguely familiar with his work including us. His sound left us in a trance as the dark, dark beats took our minds on a journey into the depths of electronic music.
Day two of Digital Dreams got off to a later start, no doubt a testament to the fact that Guvernment’s party with Afrojack & R3hab made for a very late night. With Afrojack scheduled to take to the stage at 6:00 pm the crowd at the Dreams stage was already significantly bigger then the previous day. Taking to the microphone before even approaching the stage, the words “It took me 14 hours to get here…” echoed through the collection of speakers to cheers from fans down below. It has been some time since Afrojack released new material, leaving fans anxious to take in the new sounds. One this is certain, Afrojack has put in the studio time to evolve and expand his sound. The new records hold true to the bleepy music we’ve grown to love him for, but his musical knowledge has fused in some truly beautiful melodic components. It was no surprise that the first record out of the barrage of ‘ID’ tracks from his debut album due to be released July 16 ‘Rock the House’ instantly resonated with the crowd. He couldn’t have picked a better record to be his debut single.
For me the track I can only refer to as ‘EDC NY ID 8’ connected with me on a whole other level. The track deemed a summer chill out track by Afrojack seemed to surprise the crowd with its minimal Afrojack pitches accompanied by summer music magic.
From there it was straight to the Echo Beach Stage for Toolroom Records owner Mark Knight. Known for his Ibiza inspired productions, the crowd was teleported to the island with a barrage of tech-house bombs that kicked off with his own instant classic ‘Alright’. With Toolroom Record’s Ibiza Essentials 2012 due to be released in the next few days, many cuts from the album were shared with the crowd inspiring the hooligans at the back to build and dance in the Echo Beach ‘pit’. Mr. Knight and his Toolroom entourage have been synonymous with all things Ibiza so for Toronto to provide the water and sand, the environment could not have been better. Of course his massive remix of Florence and the Machine’s emotional ballad ‘You’ve Got The Love’ was saved for one of the last few songs to cheers of fans in the crowd. The club veteran and insightful musician however went out with a bang as he chose ‘Man With The Red Face’ to close out his set. The collaboration with Funkagenda is a true classic that is as soothing as an Ibiza sunrise. As far as sets from the weekend go, there is no question that Mark Knight left his footprint in the sand and on our city.
Major Lazer was responsible for quite possibly the biggest surprise of the festival. Who would’ve guessed that the duo of Diplo and Switch would take over the Dreams Stage with such swagger, energy, and the most random yet alluring collection of music heard all weekend. The diversity of the crowd was exposed with the variety of reggae, moombahton, and house music that garnered reactions from different groups throughout the set. At one point Diplo was crowd surfing in a hamster ball, most likely to scan the crowd for pretty girls #ExpressingThemselves (check his Twitter if that didn’t register). The random set included their biggest production ‘Pon De Floor’ and even some Bob Marley.
With expectations high, Sebastian Ingrosso protégé Alesso made sure that the Digital Dreams crowd would be anything but disappointed. Boldly opening with his highly anticipated energy anthem ‘Clash’ the young Swede dazzled the crowd right from the start. His mashup of Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Greyhound’ and ‘Antidote’ unsurprisingly bolstered a strong response as did his monster collaboration with mentor Ingrosso ‘Calling (Lose My Mind)’. Alesso is responsible for twice destroying the Guvernment, our city’s powerhouse club in the past year and on Canada Day he completed the hat trick. Plenty of mashups defined the tone of the set with popular accapellas paired up with fan favorites, but his own productions ‘Years’ and ‘Silenced By The Night (Alesso Remix)’ take credit for stealing the show.
For the grand finale, America’s biggest DJ let his highly anticipated ‘Freaks of Nature’ summer tour expand our minds in an impressive display of music and art. Kaskade has used the FON tour as a platform to share his own personal creations with fans in forms they’ve never heard before. What exactly does that mean? He’s taken the vocals from older Kaskade records and combined them with current club hits. The result exceeded all initial expectations and made it another candidate for best set of the weekend.
The Dada Life remix of ‘Llove’ nearly burst all the speakers with its explosive bass line, and Tommy Trash’s ‘Cascade’ under Kaskade’s ‘Empty Street’ made for a blissful yet energetic combination. The Gregori Klosman remix of ‘Room For Happiness’ had people reaching for the sky, and the Deadmau5 collaboration ‘I Remember’ soothed the tired souls. His passion for music, and pursuit of something different makes Kaskade’s Freaks of Nature tour a stand out for any music fan this summer and the perfect end to a perfect weekend.
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