While the 2015 Sunset Music Festival (SMF) has come and gone, the vivid memories of the music, lights, pyrotechnics, and eclectic outfits that took over Raymond James Stadium this past weekend remain. Although Sunset is a relative new-comer in the world of electronic music festivals, there is a lot to be said about this Tampa production.
Large music festivals that feature electronic music, like SMF, have a tendency to draw polarized criticism from a variety of groups, especially if the festival doesn’t carefully balance the many demands of interested parties. Electronic musical purists and fans of underground music often gripe about the commercialization of a genre(s) that was once considered entirely underground and far removed from the mainstream. Purists point to some of the changing demographics and attitudes towards electronic festivals, which now regularly attract average radio listeners. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise though, as electronic music has fully cemented itself into American (and global) pop culture. With the attention of a diverse audience at stake, festival promoters need to ensure that the music is popular enough to draw large crowds to remain profitable and allow the opportunity for growth, but underground enough to attract the dedicated fans that keep the life in the music when it’s not just a trend. At the same time, electronic music festivals have come under fire for their association with recreational drug use, and on top of that, the competition has been getting stiffer. With options for festivals growing, festival promoters are increasingly competing with each other over the market.
This year marked the first year that Ultra Music Festival Miami lowered ticket prices, after years of expensive tickets. That trend will continue in 2016 as ticket prices will be lower for the second consecutive year. The promoters claim that the decrease in price is a result of listening to fans’ criticisms, but it’s hard to imagine that increased competition didn’t play a role in that decision. Ultra Miami now competes with other wildly popular Florida festivals like EDC Orlando and Sunset, as well as other national and international productions. There’s quite a lot that goes into putting on a festival of such size and in the midst of such a balancing act, Sunset Music Festival appears to have found its balance. Last year’s SMF drew some pretty heavy criticism from fans. Although the music was great, the logistics were lacking. Security was unnecessarily harsh and inconsistent. While some fans didn’t have many issues, others reported security requiring attendants to remove their shoes, and in some cases, their socks. They confiscated everything from glow toys to personal items like gum, chapstick, and tampons, even in cases were items were factory sealed. As a result, security lines were long and personnel seemed particularly unhelpful. On top of that, water lines were quite long and attendants with VIP passes had issues of their own when one of the VIP platforms collapsed.
SMF 2015, however, was markedly different. Festival promoters have a tendency to make claims of responding to fans’ criticisms, but sometimes one wonders if they even make any changes. Actions always speak louder than words, and SMF’s actions spoke loud and clear, in the best way possible. Will call and security lines were a breeze, water lines were strikingly shorter, and personnel seemed more willing to help out attendants in need. Security was more reasonable, allowing attendants to bring in personal items that would have been confiscated last year, glow toys were allowed for all the glow fanatics, as were hula-hoops and totems. There was a noticeable atmosphere of positivity that propelled fans into a fun weekend of dancing and enjoying music.
Even the extreme weather couldn’t stop the fun. Day 1 saw a short interruption in music due to a passing lightning storm, but in the midst of the weather, fans were still cheery. The interruption lasted about an hour from about 5:20PM-6:20PM. Ironically the storm blew threw as SNBRN was finishing up his set at the Horizon Stage. As soon as the weather cleared, the music started back up and so did the dancing; the fans didn’t miss a beat.
Just as the fans picked up where they left off, so did the artists at their respective stages. Where SMF excels is in having stages with coherent flow of artists and music styles that allow for a seamless experience. While the Sunset Stage was dedicated to the usual festival headliners and crowd pleasers like Tiesto, Armin van Buuren, Skrillex, etc., the Horizon and Eclipse stages had their own select genres.
Day 1 of the Horizon Stage was packed with House, Future House, and some experimental styles with artists like Duke Dumont, Tchami, and Cashmere Cat, while the Eclipse Stage was dedicated to Trance, with artists like Astrix, Andrew Rayel, MaRLo, and more. Day 2 of the Horizon Stage saw similar styles with House, Tropical House, and Deep House with artists like Robin Schulz, Thomas Jack, Sam Feldt, Viceroy, and an incredible closing live set by Porter Robinson, capping off an exceedingly successful weekend for the Horizon Stage, which had stunning performances all weekend. Day 2 of the Eclipse Stage was more bass and hardstyle oriented with artists like Flosstradamus, Headhunterz, Sub Focus, Keys N Krates, and more.
Like most festivals, Sunset is all about what you make of it, and the overwhelming feeling was that fans and promoters made the most of it. Despite some inclement weather on Day 1, the festival proved to be a fun experience for most, and it was nice to see the promoters follow-through with their promises of making logistical improvements. SMF 2015 certainly proved to be a success—now let’s see what 2016 brings!
Stay tuned for a follow-up interview from this past weekend with one of SMF’s trance artists, MaRLo!