Countdown Festival is a brilliant chandelier between two vibrant years of electronic music. 2022 brought forth aural chaos with G Jones’ latest EP, Muadeep’s come up (special thanks to Amon Tobin), as well as Ivy Lab’s sophomore album Infinite Falling Ground. 2023 already blossomed with 3 Skrillex tracks after half a decade, which alone is remarkable, in addition to hype for upcoming releases such as new Holly, Baauer, and Machinedrum records
In that sense, this festival was both the end and the beginning. A very loud and shiny bridge connecting two pillars together, as any New Year’s celebration does across the world. But the difference here is twofold:
Volume. Let’s not pretend contemporary electronic music isn’t indulgent. All you’re getting here are risers into drops into risers into drops into laying on the floor and taking it all in. It’s what the people want. Are the people wrong?
The second is a vibe, or perhaps a theme? I haven’t seen anything like Countdown Fest. The sheer dedication to the premise of the “alien invasion NY event” was bewildering and aggressively vivid. Performers placed into the crowd as guerilla insurgents dressed like aliens with hazmat handlers scooting from point A to point B. You could mind your own business and not notice the group of robots dancing in synch with brain-bleeding sub-bass bumps. Everything here was meticulously planned for immersion: stages, decorations, actors, it was overwhelming.
It’s a double-edged sword though, at least to weird pretentious music journalists like me. The marketing for Countdown was cheesy and unappealing. I had no idea the extra mile Insomniac went by ensuring a safe and unique experience – at least not by promo alone. Like okay, your socials are run by a quirky alien that ~ †ålk$ L¥ke ‡h1s ~. That doesn’t interest me. What does make an impact are the noticeable details: quick turnovers, arts & crafts stations, theme park rides, superb audio, and there was even some dude giving out haircuts.
But you’re not here to get a fade, you’re here to enshrine a core memory. There were four mainstages, in descending order of grandiosity: Mothership, Nebula, Area 51, and Twilight. Each employed a vague genre for most of the night. Area 51 was mostly for the wooks, with Jantsen and Ahee -esque acts. The mainstream favorites like Madeon, the Chainsmokers, and Zedd took over Mothership for two nights. Twilight and Nebula were mostly left with tech house and bro-step: JAUZ, Flosstradamus, Maya Jane Coles, and Habstrakt to name a few.
Deadmau5 was possibly my favorite. His visuals are gorgeous and the new Kx5 tracks are melodically wonderous. Even some of Joel’s oldest tracks still hit: “Maths,” “Ghosts,”
“Cthulu Sleeps,” it’s difficult to make a “timeless” electronic song and this dude went and made twenty. “When the Summer Dies” is such a good song, utilizing Lights’ properly Mau5’d vocals paired with the kinetic typography in the background. Perfection.
Minnesota is still a really underrated DJ but his people were waiting for him at Area 51. He played a particularly enticing Ludacris/G Jones remix, in addition to his standard armaments “Devour” and the IDHS remix of “Confusion”. Nothing too out of the ordinary with his brothers-in-amps: Virtual Riot carried that torch until the end of the night, the same flame lit by Saka hours earlier.
The latter has blown up in 2022 and his growth has been nothing short of inspiring. It really makes you have faith in the process that truly unique music floats up in time and after seeing him at Lightning in a Bottle last year, I have only excitement in seeing Saka’s next move.
We were welcomed to Nebula stage by the very subtly named Good Times Ahead, a DJ duo comprised of, you guessed it, two men in their late twenties wearing necklaces. Albeit crass, I quite enjoyed their “Legend of Zelda” remix as did the rest of the audience. ARMNHMR plowed the stage thereafter although I quite preferred Yellow Claw’s energy to theirs. It’s a lopsided comparison. the Claw have been in the game for about a decade with their over-compressed festival anthems, directly from the crystal springs of Holland. Los Amsterdam has aged surprisingly well if you’re a hedonist, because tracks like “Hold On To Me” (featuring our aforementioned Good Times Ahead) and the transient-laced “Open” are formidable in 2023. On the flip side, ARMNHMR’s mixing didn’t impress me much for someone who didn’t know them. They also lacked aliens with ray guns dancing on stage so, I mean, come on now.
Speaking of Amsterdam’s finest, jump over to our Mau P interview we published last week to get some more insight on the outlook of one of 22’s biggest DJs. He opened for Jason Ross and Deadmau5 on the Mothership stage; threw his trademark techno bop “Drugs in Amsterdam” like ninja stars during a Californian sunset.
Galantis’ set was a feature film. I really didn’t care for the music until going through the live experience. He played a three-song sequence that completely banished me into the shadow realm: “Seven Nation Army” (White Stripes) into “Chicken Soup” (Habstrakt) into “Robot Rock” (Daft Punk). The audacity. Visuals were mid but I was still in awe of the mainstage by that point: ribbons of massive speakers, tantalizing strobes for what felt like a kilometer backward. A particle, moving in rhythm with other happy particles, in a hanger the size of Star Wars carriers.
If Galantis was a movie Zhu was the romantic evening surrounding it. He was the last act of the night on the Mothership and began the set with a low-key ambient movement. It was closer to 2 am at that point, so naturally, most of the townsfolk were waning away. The intro was soft and slow, gorgeous and cryptic – until it wasn’t. Dropping thereafter a rhythm so energizing I think my phone battery boosted by +3%. You don’t need me to tell you he played “Cocaine Model” although I like to think it was because of the girl holding up the sign: “ALEXA Play Cocaine Model by ZHU”. We’ve come a long way from the time he was that anonymous, hooded, night-sky DJ. I mean, we haven’t, but it feels like we have.
What I haven’t mentioned yet is the rain. Massive respect for Insomniac for keeping everything safe yet exciting in the face of the sky’s retribution. The torrent was manageable on day one but New Year’s proper was a true deluge. It felt less like a music festival than it did a water gym in Pokémon, with bass rumbles instead of boss battle music. And yet the rides were still operational. The stages were sequestered, the artists were dry, while the festival enthusiasts were huddled but raging appropriately. Genuinely it is impressive how they kept operations running in the midst of this, with the number of anomalies that come with the production and facilitation of a music festival. The trust I have in safety at music festivals certainly wavers, but Insomniac leveled up this weekend.
And so 2023 inaugurates. With it comes a plethora of great music we haven’t heard yet, the anticipation of which is spent with jams we already love. Countdown was probably the most memorable NY event I’ve personally ever been to. If not because of the bass music, then because of the production and design. If not that, then because of the rain. I never realized a music festival could be this immersive – yes Tomorrowland has the stage architecture, EDC has the flamboyancy, and Coachella has… a Ferris wheel – but these aren’t immersive. These festivals don’t have side quests or NPCs or actors in the crowd fueling immersion. It’s difficult to comprehend the scope of it without attending especially when the marketing gimmick is an alien with broken English, but even that is thematically aligned.
Amidst bass drops, melodic house arpeggios, the boons, croons, and all the drama that comes with delving into contemporary music culture, we here at Quip Mag hope you go forth this new year with the same astonishment that we reflexively vocalized when entering the NOS festival grounds on December 30th 2022: