Looking for the Perfect Beat columnist Todd Ernst gives W. Michigan fans a sneak preview of The Windy City’s second annual massive celebration of electronic music starring Fatboy Slim, Carl Craig & more.
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As music festivals such as Lightning in a Bottle, Electric Forest, CRSSD (San Diego) and Movement (Detroit) provide a much-needed offset to massive efforts like EDC, Ultra and Lollapalooza, establishing an event like ARC Music Festival in the home of house music was not only natural, but perhaps a bit overdue as well.
For those that experienced ARC Music Festival in 2021, there seems to be a consensus, almost a wonderment of sorts: How in the world did Chicago pull off a first-year festival of this magnitude, with this many global headliners, and have it run so flawlessly? So much so, people like me have been almost left without words, even a year later.
As Chicago house DJ and ARC performer Gene Farris put it to Spin magazine in a quote being used to promote ARC Music Festival 2022: “There’s a statement being made that quality beats corny. I believe this is one of the most important festivals that’s been thrown in a very long time.”
Taking place Friday-Sunday (Sept. 2-4) at Union Park with mega-stars such as the U.K.’s Fatboy Slim and Carl Cox, Swedish DJs Adam Beyer and Cirez D, Belgian DJ Charlotte de Witte and Detroit’s Carl Craig, ARC returns to the birthplace of house music as an expanded three-day event.
By introducing ARC as a metaphorical vessel of sorts to bridge the global house and techno scene, and bringing it all back home if you will, ARC’s parent entity Auris Presents leaned into Chicago’s strengths and coalesced industry assets in ways that was previously unimaginable.
Set in a city park surrounded by mid-rise residential and retail, the festival is so real and authentic to Chicago that the easiest way to get to Union Park is to take the L (transit) to the event, as there is a stop right at the entrance of the festival.
In its inaugural year, the fashion was somewhere between Coachella and Movement, yet relaxed and chill. ARC just feels more mature, proper even, but in no way pretentious. “No flashy tricks” is as Chicago as it gets, thus you won’t see any Ferris wheels or fireworks at ARC: The festival is all about the music and pays homage to the city that incubated one of electronic music’s foundational genres.
“Less is not more when it comes to house music,” John Curley, co-founder of Auris Presents, told Local Spins. “More is more.”
Indeed, fashion icon and Midwest musical genius Honey Dijon will grace the ARC stage for the first time, alongside Derrick Carter, “Queen of Chicago House” DJ Lady D, Farriswheel’s Gene Farris, Green Velvet of Get Real, “Godfather of House Music” Chip E., fellow longtime veterans Ron Carroll and Mike Dunn, and next generation riser Kryptogram.
Upon entry to the festival, there are four stages to choose from, each offering a different feel and vibe, and while my thoughts below barely cover the ambition of ARC’s efforts, they do touch on what I experienced at each.
The GRID: This is considered the main stage and in many ways is on par with Coachella’s Main Stage or Electric Forest’s Sherwood Court. The production here is massive and might very well be the ‘sixth man’ so to speak, an entirely relevant analogy in the home of Michael Jordan’s Bulls. This is where the techno headliners convene, with Boris Brejcha on Friday night, Carl Cox and Charlotte de Witte on Saturday night, and Adam b2b Cirez D on Sunday night, each afforded a proper extended set.
ELROW: Spanish promotion troupe elrow returns in Year 2 with its “Rowmuda Triangle” stage takeover. It’s kind of hard to explain elrow, you really have to experience it. It’s somewhere along the lines of Barnum & Bailey throwing a rave, with Captain Jack Sparrow as the CEO, and the Spice Girls in Spandex chicken costumes as your tour guides. In the inaugural year, Patrick Topping leading into Fisher was one of the most intense two hours I have experienced at an event.
EXPANSIONS: This has a great BPM@Tulum vibe to it. This is where you’ll find ‘the heads’ trying to escape from the masses looking for something more original or unique. Friday has a stacked lineup with techno titan Richie Hawtin closing down the night. Saturday is just as strong with Carl Craig b2b Seth Troxler, leading into Ricardo Villalobos’s Chicago debut. Thereafter, Chicago’s elder statesmen of all things house related — Derrick Carter and Mark Farina — will play back-to-back, before leading into what I find the ultimate nod of respect with Honey Dijon closing it down.
ARC CAR: This was a surprising hit last year and was powered by amazingly petite yet thunderous VOID Acoustics sound system. You won’t want to miss this as it is where many of the Chicago locals are offered an opportunity to play.
Expanded to a three-day event, the unofficial summer sendoff will be presided over by global heavyweights Carl Cox and everyone’s favorite funk soul brother, Fatboy Slim.
One of the best things about ARC is the festival’s ability to diversify and book crowd favorites like Chris Lake, Claptone, Gorgon City and Vintage Culture. Anchor the aforementioned with techno favorites ANNA, Enrico Sangiuliano, Joseph Capriati, Paco Osuna and Sama’ AbdulHadi, and there is no question that ARC’s roster is almost unparalleled here in the United States.
For those looking for offerings more on a more melodic shade of things, melodic house and techno artists Ben Bohmer, Lane 8, Nora En Pure and Giolì & Assia are some of the industry’s top performers in this space right now.
You can see the entire line-up here so I am not going to list every artist, but upon closer examination one almost has to wonder if a four-day festival is on the mind of organizers for 2023.
General admission, three-day tickets are $309 and available online here, with single-day passes costing $139. There are also pricier VIP options.
ARC AFTER DARK AND FESTIVAL ATTENDEE TIPS
As I touched on in my Local Spins article last year, ARC After Dark was every bit the hit as the main festival itself. Chicago nightlife is already legendary, so when you consider well known venues like Spybar, Prysm, the historic Concord Music Hall, along with the massive Radius/Cermak Hall, booked with modern house music icons alongside Chicago’s own house heroes, ARC has left no stone unturned in efforts to establish Chicago as a major player on the global festival circuit.
The Loop and The Lakeshore: Not much beats September in Chicago and its Indian summer days along Lake Michigan. If time permits take an hour to walk along Lake Michigan and down by Grant Park which offers some iconic views of the Chicago skyline. Union Park is only a few miles from the Loop and River North hotel districts, so if time and energy permits, the 30-45-minute walk through the heart of the historic Loop district is like no other. Of course, there are great local eateries along the way as well.
The ‘L’ and Union Park: Chicago’s CTA transit system (L is short for elevated) is the best way to travel within the city. Google Maps will show you options via the green and pink lines from the Loop area to Union Park, which is the location of ARC Music Festival, and there is a CTA stop literally right at the gates. By and large transit in Chicago is safe at 10 PM when the festival lets out. Also, if you’re flying into O’Hare or Midway, the CTA will you get you to where you’re going cheaper and quicker than any other option.
Midwest Hospitality: It’s written about globally, and it doesn’t take long to run into as much. That said, please consider you are quite literally traveling to the birthplace of house music, where DJ Frankie Knuckles has a street named after him. A smile and a thank you goes a long way in these parts. Like any major city, keep your head up and eyes open, expect some panhandling, but all in all you will find Chicago to be a life-affirming experience.
Facebook Group: This ARC Music Festival group connects with other ARC attendees, people traveling from overseas, and so on. There is another I have enjoyed moderating called ARC 40+ Music Festival 2022 that is designed more for the 40+ traveler. Acting as a bit of a concierge for people coming to Chicago for the first time has always been kind of my thing, as it’s kind of cool to see people so enthusiastic about traveling to a city I have enjoyed since a kid.
Feel free to ping me @toddernst on Instagram or Twitter if you have any questions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Todd Ernst has been an electronic music DJ and promoter for 30+ years and is half of the DJ duo DiscoBrunch. While his days are spent as the owner of an indie real estate brokerage, he also owns EXSIGN which is a creative concept that designs and manages corporate, non-profit and nightlife events. Todd is also one of the founding team members for TEDxGrandRapids.
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