Any time you leave the limits of Atlanta it automatically feels like you’ve traveled 100 miles. Everything is green, everything is far apart and no one accepts the Emory Card.
My trek to CounterPoint Music Festival in Kingston Downs, Ga. was no exception, and instilled in me a feeling of adventure and simultaneous immersion in someplace foreign. The festival, which is only in its second go-around, took place this year at Kingston Downs, a hilly 5,000-acre venue that has hosted the Atlanta Steeplechase for the past 20 years. Before my concert-mates and I could even begin to navigate the parking situation, get out and explore the venue, we were informed that all musical performances were temporarily suspended due to heavy rain and thunderstorms. All 5,000 acres soon turned to mud. Concertgoers were encouraged to remain in their cars until the music resumed, which seemed disappointing, but quickly led to the blasting of EDM through car speakers in the parking lots. This ultimately led to a collective appreciation of the music we would hear live when the rain slowed. (Our car’s tunes consisted of Flosstradamus’ hour-long, high-energy set from this year’s Ultra Music Festival in Miami.)
After about an hour of tailgating, the storm ended, and one could hear the sound of car doors opening simultaneously as everyone gathered at the festival’s entrance to see as much as they could of Sunday’s lineup. That lineup was fully loaded, but not so loaded that you had to run between stages, overwhelmed and sweaty, catching a chorus here and a baseline there. It was perfectly packed, featuring big acts like Major Lazer, OutKast and Flux Pavilion, and then lesser-known gems such as GTA, Phantogram, Minnesota and Sleigh Bells: some of it heavy EDM, some not, but all of it music you could dance to.
Which is exactly what’s behind the CounterPoint vision. The three-day extravaganza, which is presented by the producers of big weekends all around the country, such as Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits Festival, advertises itself as being just as much a party as it is a collection of concerts. People who came out for the music Sunday night seemed to get this, as everyone pushed through the mud in their dedication to dance.
We first made our way to the Steeple Stage to experience a set by GTA, a Miami duo comprising Matt Toth and Julio Mejia, who know how to precisely manipulate every corner and crevice of dance music to their advantage. Traces of trap, metallic synth, funk, hip-hop, world and classic electronic drops can be found in just a short snippet of every track, suggesting that these guys aren’t just here to leave their mark, but instead to leave several. Their live rendition of “Boy Oh Boy (TWRK edit)” with Diplo was worthy of some serious movement: arm flailing, hip swinging or, as its title suggests, twerking for those who were compelled. Its chorus of “drop down and get your eagle on” made everyone crazy. Even more dance-conducive was “Ai Novinha,” a trappy track that could pass as a slowed-down merengue that never lost any steam.
Our group was so excited for Flosstradamus that we got split up twice once the stage was in view, and had to run around in a few circles before we could all regroup and plow ahead. After listening to their Ultra set in the car for an hour straight, one would think that we’d tire of their rowdy sound, but instead, we found ourselves even more into it. “Mosh Pit” established their presence at CounterPoint and had everyone singing its singsongy hook along with them–even a few paces fast. Their remix of Major Lazer’s “Original Don” set the audience loose and turned the venue into a carnival with its merry-go-round-esque, bouncy baseline. These guys, who hail from Chicago, have been doing this for almost eight years, and it seems that they’ve nearly made it.
We also got a snippet of “Fall in Love” from Phantogram’s set, which was distant and beautiful and a kind of Odyssey-like siren that could have kept us there forever if it hadn’t been for our ardent obsession for Major Lazer and his set beginning at the stage a little ways away. Major Lazer (composed of DJs Diplo and Switch) has been spinning reggae dancehall winners for years now, and has maintained a loyal fan base ever since its dance-floor anthem “Pon De Floor” dropped in 2009. Sunday’s set included a charged rendition of “Bubble Butt” with punchy B’s and an even punchier finish. “Jah No Partial,” which features Flux Pavilion, showed that they meant business with a filthy drop to contrast its island-chill opening. Surprisingly, the track that resonated with the crowd most was the lovely “Get Free” featuring Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors, which reminded everyone of Major Lazer’s unpredictability.
To close the night, every concertgoer flocked to the Blu Freedom Stage for the only performance in the next timeslot: the beloved, fast-talking, throwback we know as OutKast. If you’re not sure what AndrÃ© 3000 and Big Boi have been doing since their red and pink 2003 album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, know that they released a soundtrack and movie in 2006 (“Idlewild”) and then went on hiatus until their 40-date tour in honor of the 20th reunion of their time in the music scene.
CounterPoint was the duo’s second stop after playing at Coachella in Indio, Calif., where they received a somewhat awkward response from the mildly confused crowd. It’s clear that a lot has changed since OutKast’s peak; nearly every other artist at the festival debuted a hard-hitting, aggressive, dirty sound that left OutKast’s set feeling one-dimensional and kind of … well … old. They started with the track “B.O.B” that picked up more and more speed with Big Boi’s quickening rap and every repetition of “bombs over Baghdad,” but slowed with the next few tracks including “So Fresh, So Clean,” “Player’s Ball” and even “Ms. Jackson.” The effort may have been there from OutKast’s end, but it wasn’t from the crowd’s. “Rosa Parks” impressed a few and had us moving, and we couldn’t help but grin at the sound of the “1, 2, 3, huh” kicking off the adored “Hey Ya!” but the 38 concerts left in their tour might leave America expecting more.
The night ended with a classical man-behind-computer performance from English dubstep producer and DJ Flux Pavilion. “Bass Cannon” featuring a wide-spanning laser show woke everyone up, and “I Can’t Stop” was a treat to hear after the many mash-ups we’d gotten previously, but his show lacked the dimension and messiness that a live performance requires. The volume of Flux’s show should have been turned up too, which also may have contributed to its low shock value. Flux is an artist we wanted to feel, not just hear. After he finished his set, festivalgoers fled the scene, wading ankle-deep through the dense mud, and pressing their car alarms in hope of hearing something. Like most festivals, there’s a kind of solidarity you’re left with post-sets that makes you sad to leave and return home. We’re back now, we made it and we have the ruined converse, circulation-cutting wristbands and bass ringing in our ears to show for it. Until next year.
– By Ellie Kahn
Photo courtesy of Kevin Earle