[REVIEW] Paradiso Music Festival II

As festivals sprawl up all over the U.S. and inundate the already heavily commercialized electronic industry, USC Events and LiveNation have put together a massive electronic music festival out in the secluded Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington. Returning for its second year bigger and better than ever, Paradiso has been upgraded to a two-day, overnight camping experience that combines the likes of Coachella and EDC. Portlanders and Seattleites composed the majority of the audience this year but patrons from far and wide made their way to what was one of the larger electronic lineup’s I’ve seen in my 20+ years living in the Northwest. Held at the same venue the venerable Sasquatch Music Festival calls home, Paradiso threw the largest party the Columbia River Gorge has seen in it’s 12-17 million year old existence, and narrated it with some of the biggest names in the industry.

When I arrived for the first day, my primary mission became shade. Rain in the mornings combined with the sweltering summer heat in the Gorge made for some intense conditions during the course of the weekend, and not many people were prepared. Crowds started shuffling into the festival after a long day of drinking, or relaxing (if you were smart), right in the heat of the day. The infamous hill was in direct sunlight and not at a favorable angle, leaving you extremely susceptible to heat-related illnesses. As I went from med tent to med tent in search of earplugs I was greeted by a medic with a lot on his plate, the beds were almost completely filled, and the walls were lined with those in need of shade.

Some sets that stood out from the afternoon were Lazy Rich, Destructo, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, and Jacques Lu Cont. It was impossible to be in one place though as moving around served as your only form of staying cool. As I explored the venue, as well as fueled up on some moderately priced festival food (seriously!), I was able to catch bits and pieces of each DJ’s set. Lazy Rich, Destructo, and Jacques held it down on the Digital Oasis stage captivating those walking in as they strolled past. Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike had the difficult task of entertaining the main stage crowd and did so in proper European fashion. They also served as the first DJ of the weekend to drop the festival certified “Animals” by Martin Garrex, a track that EDC goers are all too familiar with.

Tommy Trash harnessed that energy and got the party started in the Amphitheater as his high-energy set revved up the atmosphere inside the venue. Everyone looked like zombies walking around all day until this Aussie flipped the crowds on their heads, throwing anthem after anthem out to the audience. Finally the crowd and energy were warming up, and the looming sunset lurked in the back of our minds, bringing about a sense of relief all around.

Morgan Page was the first to kick off a set while the sun and temperature were lowering, and soon the pit was instantly filled with willing and capable individuals ready to take in the splendor of the environment. To really experience sets in the pit you had to make sure you kept yourself away from stage left as a choke point in traffic made finding your dance floor niche difficult. A purple and blue sunset bestowed its blessings on the crowd as Page spun his popular original mix, “In The Air,” and for the first time, and surely not last time of the festival, the entire venue was on their feet from the pit to the very top of the hill.

Markus Schulz and Chris Lake provided my first conflict of the festival and I dedicated 30 minutes to catching each. Heat exhaustion and dehydration plagued my thoughts though as the ever-raging sea of people in the pit were sweating out far more than they were taking in. Thirty minutes was about as much as I could handle as I sauntered off soaked in sweat and water I was dumping on myself. Chris Lake’s set on the Digital Oasis stage was a breath of fresh air as it was a personable house set with plenty of room to get down, and the setup was completely shaded as the sun was just about to disappear.

The full light setup illuminated the main stage as Zeds Dead came up to take the decks, but a full three hours of Porter/Tiesto had me thinking my feet were going to need a rest. Having caught the duo last weekend at EDC I felt right copping a squat on the hillside and taking in the grandeur of the setup. In true Zeds Dead fashion they brought the heat for the first half of their set dropping proper festival anthems, and then sent you off with splendid bass vibes during the latter, including one of their favorite tracks to close with, “Coffee Break.” Being the first bass act on the main stage, it provided a solid break from the progressive and electro house I’d experienced all day, as well as set the mood for a huge set from Porter Robinson.

As I meandered my way through the crowd to finagle my way into a good spot in the pit, I turned back to catch a glimpse of what was behind me, and never have I seen the Gorge so packed. Although official numbers will not be released, sources close to me say the festival sold out, meaning roughly 23,000 were there to pack the house, and Porter most certainly did not disappoint. His carefully chosen combination of trance-y progressive house and moombahton-esque bass music captivated the massive audience. Reminiscent of his College Invasion Tour days, he provided the “1” in the 1-2 punch known as Tiesto and Porter. Others may have wandered off as other stages boasted the likes of Infected Mushroom and Headhunterz, but the Main Stage was where the action was.

Tiesto was the first artist slated for a two hour set, and I have to admit I was worried. After the day I had I was left completely void of any energy, but I still wanted to say I stayed until the very end. He started off with some of his crowd-pleasing tracks, but quickly moved between instrumentals and non-vocal edits while shuffling through some massive dance tunes. After a good hour, though, you could start to feel the energy fading, but Tiesto still had some tricks up his sleeve. He dropped his Calvin Harris collaboration, “Century,” and then his classic “Adagio For Strings,” which sent Tiesto lovers up into the clouds. To put a cherry on top of the first night, a tornado of confetti cannons unleashed white confetti all the way to the back of the pit to the tune of “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey.

Obligatory RV Raves battled in the humid night air as I attempted to sleep, defeated, yet content with the day I’d had. After a mere hour of sleep I awoke to a thunder and lightning storm around 7 a.m., as well as a mellow rain that helped patrons wash away their hangovers and skip the 1+ hour wait to take a shower (although one person I know waited 4). Most spent their day kicking back under easy-ups and makeshift shade fortresses, but a few brave souls popped bottles and started the party early. Scattered cloud cover provided some relief from catastrophic temperatures, but sun breaks only became more unbearable. A large portion of the crowd went in later than the previous day, but I decided there was a festival to experience.

Adventure Club piqued my curiosity enough to head in early, but it certainly wasn’t a set for the pit. A t-shirt I’d dipped in a bucket of ice draped over my head, and kept on with a snapback, was just about the only thing keeping me alive. Blame it on the heat, but I wasn’t too impressed by an Adventure Club DJ set. It was cool hearing some of my favorite melodic bass tracks from the artist, but tracks like “Clarity,” and “I Love It,” from Icona Pop served as a turnoff. Bored, I stumbled over to Darude just in time to catch the summation of my 90’s hood where I heard “Sandstorm” blasting through the speakers. I ended up sticking around for the full set and I have to say I was most surprised by my level of intrigue. His set was a lot of raw Euro house and plenty of throwbacks to compliment.

After Designer Drugs didn’t show up without any explanation I was forced to make my way over to Borgore through mob mentality, a set I was not too ecstatic to catch. The crowd was into it, though, and Nervo was up next, so towards the end of his set I made my way to the pit again. Borgore’s set was designed more for the young rave crowd to grind and make out to, and maybe it was the two going at it behind me using my back as support, but it wasn’t really the crowd I wanted to be around.

Nervo in some way followed suit. Although I must admit they are the cutest things to the DJ scene since, ever, it wasn’t much of a DJ set as much as it was a performance. EDM tracks mushed together for an hour and all the pop songs you’d heard the past two days kept my mood going from Borgore. The ladies love Nervo though, and one of the highlights of their set, besides the breathtaking sunset taking place behind them, was when they told every girl to get on top of a guys shoulders for one of their closing tracks. They did a great job of engaging the crowd, just not me.

Au Contraire, Madeon hopped on the decks to absolutely annihilate any set you’d previously labeled as your favorite at the festival, and for me it was one of his best to date. I’ve had the chance to catch him four times now, and each time he brings a completely loaded track listing and enough energy to set off any venue. I think in one hour Madeon played twice as much as most DJ’s did all weekend with the same time allotment. My highlight of the set was hearing Russ Chime’s “Turn Me Out,” and taking in a dark blue Gorge sky as the clouds from earlier in the day left an eerie energy. This French maniac got straight down to business donning his usual blazer and didn’t speak a word the entire time letting his set do all the talking. He hopped on top of the decks at the end, whipped out his cell phone, snapped a pic, then crushed everyone one last time with his “Pop Culture” mash-up. With that I give him my seal of approval for “Set of the Weekend.”

Eric Prydz is someone I’ve had the opportunity to see three times now in my last three festival stops, yet somehow I always end up somewhere else, so when I saw Prydz on this year’s lineup I was sure to clear my schedule. I know Prydz’s DJ personalities quite well and was interested to see which one would show up for this Gorge performance. I was blown away by the ballsiness of his set, to say the least. Not one single vocal edit made an appearance for an hour straight, and cranking dark industrial house took hold of the amphitheater. In a weekend where EDM had it’s moments, it was great to see Prydz do something that no one else on the lineup, maybe even industry, would have the courage to do on the decks. It wasn’t until Prydz dropped his M83 remix of “Midnight City” that we heard words come through, and I have never seen a place go so mental. The wait to catch Prydz in that setting was by far the most worth it in terms of any performance I’ve anticipated.

The finale of the festival came in the form of a two-hour set from Kaskade, another DJ I have somehow managed to not see. You can only imagine the excitement I had after being so rewarded by Prydz’s set and catching another DJ on my list of need-to-see’s. Tiesto did a good job closing the night before, but what Kaskade did was send you off in the most grandiose manner possible. With two hours he could play just about everything he wanted to. From his new stuff, to his old stuff, to his favorite bootlegs, it was everything you wanted and more out of a Kaskade set. Standout tracks included Eric Prydz’s “Everyday” immediately after Prydz dropped the mic and walked off without playing any of his own anthems. Kaskade’s “Young and Beautiful” remix of Lana Del Rey set the place off as the venue unleashed giant LED balls to bounce around that changed colors upon contact. “Jack” by Breach somehow was left untouched all festival until Kaskade dumped the festival anthem on the audience and then transitioned flawlessly into his last track of the night, a stellar bootleg of his “Move for Me” with Deadmau5 and “Together We Are” by Arty feat. Chris James.

All in all I was surprised by what Paradiso had to offer in its second year. I was not in attendance last year out of pure disinterest, and going to EDC the weekend before this year left me very skeptical. But Paradiso was a one-of-a-kind electronic music festival that I can easily say I would like to attend again in the future. I think there is still a lot of room for the festival to grow, and hopefully the lineups will mature as the festival does, but I left with so many outstanding memories and experiences that there isn’t much I would change from this year. I was able to go with a lot of my friends who can’t make the travels to far off festivals, and for a couple friends in my group it was their first massive. It all wouldn’t have been possible either if USC and Livenation didn’t come together to help spread the music to all corners of the U.S. in bringing such an experience to the great Northwest.