Counterpoint Music Festival 2012: A Retrospective

CounterPoint 2012 – Dylan York

Well summer is officially over, and Atlanta’s first electronic music festival is in the books, for better or worse. CounterPoint brought all walks of life to congregate alongside the Chattahoochee River for a weekend of bass, beer, booty… and bro love. Yep. I legitimately saw a group of dudes doing pushups and cheering each other on, in the middle of the crowd, during Alesso’s set. But anyway.

CounterPoint took place the last weekend in September, set on a rolling expanse of land that normally is home to a horse breeding and training facility, not that there weren’t a great number of fillies prancing around the property that weekend, but again, I digress.

The layout was excellent, and extremely efficient. The main stages were just outside of the east campground, and but a hundred yards or so from plentiful portapotties and food stands. The merch vendors there were also really great. Lots of quality clothing, jewelry, novelty items, and gemstones, if you’re into that kind of thing. I was really excited that local companies such as Atlast Clothing, and national standards such as Grassroots California were represented.

CounterPoint 2012 – Dylan York

Just past this area was a pond lined with re-purposed steeple chase obstacles for seating, which worked really well, and immersive LED lighting that set a cool vibe at night. Directly behind this area was a zone designated for local artists to do their thing. There were people stacking cardboard boxes into makeshift castles, and later projecting trippy visuals onto them, and at least half a dozen enormous canvases that allowed artists to develop a project over the course of the weekend.

It was a treat to watch these pieces evolve over the weekend, but one stood out from all the others. At first, my girlfriend and I were drawn in by one that seemed to portray a purple psychedelic Narnia, complete with the ice queen’s castle. However,  this one took a sudden Freudian / phallic twist, and the artist included a menacing goblin that was unleashing his ‘minions’ from his, um, ‘staff’ upon the land. Not gonna lie, it was hard not to stare. Heh, hard. And it was pretty funny watching people do double takes as they migrated from stage to stage.

One of the highlights was indeed the local food and beverage vendors. Unless you stopped at the Atlanta Brew tent, only Heineken was available at beer stations. No thanks. But we did discover an incredible wheat beer by Atlanta’s Red Brick Brewery, as well as a few notable IPA’s. The local barbecue and Mexican were fantastic, but I avoided the seafood themed trucks. We chose not to bring any hot food or cooking gear, so it was nice to have quality hot food from local companies at fair prices. Well played CounterPoint. I don’t think I’ve seen this approach at any other fest.

Beyond this lay the tent stages, which for everything other than the headliners were my favorite. The covered setting really allowed for an immersive experience and maximum usage of stage production and lighting. They were also a welcome haven from the mid day sun. We saw some of our favorite performances there, most notably Stokeswood, which happens to be out of Milledgeville, so be looking out for them in Macon soon. They had such a great energy and mustache ratio, especially for being the first act of the festival. Seriously, go look into them on the old Facebook!

CounterPoint 2012 – Dylan York

As far as ‘harder’ EDM goes, Run DMT, Excision, and Feed Me just plain blew me away. I noticed that DJ’s utilizing CDJs for mixing were able to achieve a quality of sound on the back stages that those using midi and other such rigs just couldn’t match. Most notably, I feel that the sound for Big Gigantic was piss poor, and very hollow. I left this set early, which I have never done in the 10+ times I’ve seen them. All three of these acts, however, did just that, and their song selection, sampling, and mixing was just plain relentless. Being that my girlfriend is a pretty big metal head, I pulled her along to Excision as a warmup for Bassnectar, stating that her inner headbanger needed it. We were not disappointed. Though he normally sticks to his well branded ‘industrial robots and factory noise’ dubstep, this was not the case for his set. He sampled various artists such as Rage Against The Machine and Disturbed, and got our adrenaline rushing with some well selected drum and bass. Stellar.

On the way to Bassnectar, we caught the tail end of Avicii, which was cool. I can understand why people get behind these types of feel good tunes, and we heard “Levels” live, so success, I guess. But yet again, I feel like the sound for Bassnectar just wasn’t up to par. We set up shop right next to the sound booth, expecting this to be the sonic center for the show, but we were wrong. The sound ducked out quite a bit during transitions and ‘drops’ for much of the set, and was muddy at times. I’m not sure if this is because someone had set limiters or compressors too low so that the sound wouldn’t carry to the nearby residential area, or what the deal was. It seemed to shape up later as Nectar turned to his deeper ambient stuff. I enjoy these tunes of his the most, as they are extremely well composed, and hit you right in the feels, especially when you’ve got a date to enjoy them with. The most notable tune he brought out was a modified version of “Ping Pong” where he takes the sounds of a game of table tennis, and converts them into a backing drum kit for one seriously genius composition.

The later acts just didn’t compare to Bassnectar, as it was hard to get into DJ’s that were playing nothing but 128 BPM house, for hours. I would have loved to have heard some sort of break beat, bands, or even downtempo that night. But it seems as though the fist pumpers and candy ravers enjoyed themselves, so I guess that’s good.

Saturday was a mad rush of trying to see everything at every stage. The Mad Violinist and Company was an interesting concept, but it just lacked a cohesive feel. It seemed as everyone was playing over each other, not with each other. Cousin Dan gave the full out, no holds barred performance I’ve come to expect from him. I mean, a midi controller mounted on a bedazzled codpiece and leopard tights? That’s art right there. Much respect to Dan Scoggins. I may have a crush on you.

Toro y Moi. I just don’t get it, I’m sorry.

Paper Diamond was fantastic, and he was in fact my favorite act that represented the Pretty Lights label. He played a diverse, high energy set, laden with the new ‘trap’ sound that is a natural fit for Atlanta. Of course, he used to produce hip hop, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch for him. Regardless, well done.

It should be said that out of all the DJ’s in the lineup, ATL natives Mayhem and Heroes and Villains played two of the best sets of the weekend. Their sound was very ‘Atlanta’ and driven by southern hip hop and danceable bass rhythms. Seeing them drop their own bangers to a huge crowd was something to truly be proud of as a Georgian. If you haven’t had a chance to see them live, or even check out their music, much of it is free online.

Big Boi was an awesome mid day break from the overwhelming amount of EDM. Being the second time I’ve seen him and his crew live, I was not disappointed. His performances create some damn good dance parties, and you get to hear all of the songs you know by heart live! My favorites were “Rosa Parks” and “ATLiens”. Such a good time!

I fully understand that aspects of big time artists’ sets such as Pretty Lights and Skrillex are pre planned, as there is a lot at stake, but for me, that did not detract from the experience. Usually I prefer Djs to play ‘off the cuff’ and improvise as much as possible, but I was thankful for a well polished and professionally executed show put on by both of them.

Skrillex was amazing. I was most relieved that the sound during his set was perfect. It sounded great no matter where you were in the field, and his lighting and effects were just as good. It truly was an experience to be able to look all around you and see people dancing and sharing the moment. I’ve only seen crowds this big at large draw events such as Wanee, and a joint Allman Brothers / Dave Matthews concert in Piedmont Park, Atlanta. Spectacle is the only word for it. And yes, I was treated to a few ‘VIP’ versions of songs I was thirsting for, such as the Alvin Risk remix of “Ruffneck Bass”, and the drum and bass edit of Nero – “Promises”. Apparently I truly am a dnb head. The pyrotechnics at the conclusion of his set nearly caused me to rip my girlfriend’s arm out of socket in excitement, and she still uses caution when allowing me to hold her hand. Oops. I can honestly say that I’m surprised that a full set driven by Skrillex based material in no way gets old, and truly delivers some serious energy. Guess that makes me a believer. Will I be rushing to buy a ticket if he comes to Atlanta soon? Probably not, but it most certainly is not something I will be forgetting anytime soon.

CounterPoint 2012 – Dylan York

As far as Pretty Lights goes, we played a more passive role in enjoying the set. After such a raucous time at the adjoining stage, it was important that we refuel and recover. We grabbed a massive pulled pork sandwich for only $5, food prices were stellar, a couple smoothies, and sat back up on the hill among the other spent weekend warriors. The tunes were great, and the lighting was spectacular. A light fog helped the lights on stage stretch to the furthest edges of the park, and from our vantage point we could see small pods of partiers enjoying the night in their own way. All in all, the vibe of the weekend was really friendly, and I witnessed a good number of people taking care of each other and being respectful of others. Sadly, this is a rarity in today’s concert / festival seen. Glad to see the south is still hospitable.

Yet again, the late night scene was dominated by repetitive house. Yeesh. However, the high point of the night was enjoying the simultaneous visual experience put on by Ghostland Observatory and park wide fireworks. When we first arrived at Ghostland, they were really bringing down the house with some deep riffs, but then they moved into some strange stuff with high pitched, screamy vocals. Most of the bands featured resorted to this. Why? Stop. Please. I know you want to have a unique sound, but there’s a lot to be said about being approachable. Crystal Castles, I’m talking to you too. I get it, you’re weird. But you sound awful.

I did enjoy picking apart Alvin Risk‘s set. He had a huge entourage just off stage looking on, and it was very apparent that he is on the cutting edge of production. He also looks like an ‘Alvin’, with his heavy frame glasses and argyle sweater. The kid looked like he was having a blast. His mixing technique was kind of odd, the only way I can describe it is geometric and glitchy, but it was something different, so I was all for it. However, for now, it seems as though his best pieces get immediately grabbed up and designated ‘Skrillex Use Only’. Still, it does speak to his talent. Yet again, his sound suffered, as he was utilizing a midi based rig. Not fair.

CounterPoint, please make an effort to standardize the experience, no matter what medium the artist chooses to use. There’s no excuse for allowing a generic, Jersey Shore sound promoting, half ass mixing ‘DJ’ to achieve a better sound quality than someone who is trying to bring something new to the table. Lock it up.

At the end of the day, I consider CounterPoint to be a success, especially since it was the first of its kind. There is room for improvement, specifically in sound quality, and media relations, but there’s always next year. It seems as though there are already plans for a repeat, and I highly suggest you take advantage of the opportunity. Thanks again to everyone with Caren West, M3 Presents, C3 Presents, and all the sponsors, artists, and fans that made this a weekend to remember. See you next year, Atlanta!

Photo – Dylan York & Hannah Stark