North Coast Music Festival's Winning Formula is Multi-genre Electronic Music
Back for its 12th year running, North Coast Music Festival is one of the midwest’s most eclectic electronic music experiences. North Coast’s ethos is about celebrating our differences and diversity.
“Everybody’s welcome, no matter if you’re a head banger on the front rails or a techno kid in the back doing your thing,” Pat Grumley says. As a founding partner and marketing director for North Coast, Grumley spoke about the background of North Coast and how they built a long-running, multi-genre festival.
When the festival debuted in 2010, it featured a mix of jam bands, electronic, and hip hop acts. As those three genres continued to grow individually, festivals popped up that were focused solely on each separately. Multi-genre electronic music was North Coast’s strongest suit, so they narrowed in on the rave crowd.
Chicago is unique and well fit for large-scale festivals. More festivals take place in Chicago than any other city in the U.S. The city hosts massive events like Lollapalooza down to regular live street festivals. It’s a competitive market, but the amount of quality talent and events is high.
“We’re cooped up a good five months out of the year because of the weather. So when the summertime hits, Chicago just explodes and there’s things to do every single weekend,” Grumley says. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm here for nightlife, and for culture, and for music.”
“Being a Chicago festival, we like to have a very healthy dose of house music,” Grumley explains. “The bass genre is very strong in the Midwest. We like to make sure that every electronic genre is represented. So from there, we’ll throw in some trance, a little bit of drum & bass, some techno, just so everybody has a reason to come.”
Grumley understands the typical struggles of a music fan when it comes to missing out on a chance to see your favorite artist – be it by set conflict or worst-case scenario cancellations. He knows how to get a festival just right – and how to handle sometimes being wrong graciously. He says fans appreciate honesty and transparency, and North Coast has learned a lot from its previous editions. The decision to go ahead with last year’s edition of North Coast was a risk.
“Last year, in 2021, our future was so uncertain,” Grumley explains. “We took a leap of faith, and we got our lineup together and announced way early.” With the variables of moving to a new venue, SeatGeek Stadium, and the aftermath of the pandemic, the stakes were high. But it went off without a hitch and ended up being their most successful edition in 12 years, with names like Kaskade, Zeds Dead, and Griz at the top of the poster.
As for 2022’s headliners, North Coast will feature heavy hitters Armin Van Buuren, Fisher, Diplo, Kaytranada, Illenium closing out Saturday, and Porter Robinson with a Nurture live set. Other must-see acts are Seven Lions with an Ophelia Stage takeover, VOYD presented by SVDDEN DEATH, Madeon, Tchami b2b Malaa, and Femme House leader LP Giobbi.
North Coast supplies a heavy dose of local DJs while welcoming the best in each genre. Fans can appreciate acts like DOWNLow, Eli & Fur, high-spirited and groovy producer TSHA, progressive house and dance-pop duo Two Friends, and mau5trap apprentice and electro house maestro Bentley Dean.
North Coast’s lineup holds a special place in the hearts of melodic dance music lovers, showcasing Said the Sky, Jason Ross, Trivecta, Gryffin, and Mitis. For bassheads, prepare your necks for Subtronics, Level Up, SLANDER, Marauda, Lizzy Jane, Space Wizard, Xotix, and the demonically melodic producer HVDES. Techno tourists can move to Rika B, Chicago’s DJ duo Gettoblaster, and tech house mainstay Fisher.
The music isn’t the only major selling point, as Grumley has learned through years of marketing. Fans want a taste of the whole experience. North Coast’s organizers have a better sense of what they can do within SeatGeek Stadium this time. Grumley describes North Coast’s Rainbow Lounge, a circle of multicolored hammocks big enough for two surrounding a giant reflective ball.
“Last year, actually, the ball in the middle of the Rainbow Lounge got loose, and fans were knocking that around all over the festival, which is not ideal, but they were having fun and no one got hurt,” Grumley smiles.
“We put so much emphasis on the experience and these massive art installations and an amazing lineup and new venue,” Grumley says. This year North Coast plans to step up their stage game by tying in the experiential aspects and art installations. The festival boasts five stages: Silent Disco, the Fire Pit, the Vega, the Canopy, and the Stadium. Back by popular demand is the chill dome with pillows where fans can cool off, take a break with ambient music, and enjoy overhead lasers and a light show.
North Coast continues to grow and proves itself by curating a spectacular dance music experience. Grumley estimates that previously, 80 percent of attendees were from Illinois. Now he places that figure at half of ticket holders coming in from all over the States. He says the numbers show a growth of 120 percent each year, and a vast majority are returning fans. They’re already looking ahead to 2023 and locking in EDM’s major acts. They work on building relationships with club promoters year-round to develop a winning plan for local artists, eventually leading up to a set at North Coast.
The festival considers itself part of a bigger culture, and putting together a good lineup is about more than selling tickets. Grumley says they want to uphold quality producers and quality DJs while being progressive and trying to “move the culture forward in a very respectful way.” That means booking artists that represent the culture and hearken back to the history of electronic music in Chicago while pushing for more diversity overall and having as many female DJs as possible.
At the end of the day, North Coast listens to fans – they’re proud to see ravers plan their festival experiences, tag their friends in the social media posts, and feel humbled by the feedback. They pay attention to where electronic music is heading and move with the city’s rhythm, playing to the strengths that Chicago’s scene has to offer.
North Coast Music Festival will take place Sept. 2-4 in Bridgeview, IL, at SeatGeek Stadium. Get tickets at northcoastfestival.com.