They came, they raged, they probably left with tinnitus.
The third annual Summer Set Music & Camping Festival went by last weekend in a neon, bass-wobbling blur. An average of 18,000 fans from the Twin Cities to Tennessee flooded Somerset Amphitheater in western Wisconsin for the eclectic (if EDM-tilted) three-day bash.
Organizers made several improvements, including an expansion at the Grove side stage and the addition of a fourth stage between the main stage and the bigger and better Grove, easing the flow throughout the hilly grounds. New this year, a Ferris wheel and Gravitron added to an already carnival-like atmosphere, as light-up octopuses, human mushrooms and sweaty bros wandered among the stages.
While the lineup again spanned electronic dance music, hip-hop, jam and indie rock, the general rule was: The louder the bass, the larger the crowd, with DJs and rappers typically faring better than guitar-wielding bands.
Friday's people's choice award would've gone to trap star RL Grime. After charismatic rapper Danny Brown deftly knocked out a workmanlike set at the Grove stage, the Los Angeles producer ignited the young crowd, manically mixing trap/rap songs including Aryay's "The Lawnmower." Grime's presence was felt throughout the weekend, as other DJs often spun his 808-heavy tracks "Tell Me," "Pockets" and vuvuzela-esque banger "Core."
Jam-rock heroes the Disco Biscuits played their first local gig since 2009 to a small audience in the Grove, meandering through two songs in the first 20 minutes as they traded off guitar and keyboard solos during "42" and "King of the World."
On the main stage Chromeo poured out positive energy via Prince-evoking electro-funk.
The fun-loving duo of Dave 1 and the Auto-Tuned P-Thugg taught the crowd to two-step and had seemingly half the ladies on guys' shoulders during the chill-groovin' "Over Your Shoulder" before exiting after a guitar-grinding crescendo to "Jealous (I Ain't With It)."
As EDM star Kaskade was set to take the main stage, fans slowly started trickling from the dance-centric Big Top, where dark-and-dirty dubstepper Figure dropped bass bombs. In a genre rife with talented producers who aren't DJs, arena-raver Kaskade proved again that he's a legitimate dual threat. Whether smoothly transitioning from "Llove" to the sweetly explosive John Dahlback collaboration "A Little More" or teasing hits such as "Turn It Down," the mood master deftly balanced airy progressive and grittier electro-house.
Without an arsenal of in-your-face synthesizers, indie rockers Cults and Twin Shadow drew meager crowds on Saturday while squaring off with electro-pop duo Cherub and rapper Schoolboy Q, respectively. Although fans didn't mind, Q suffered from Randy Moss' "play when I want to play" syndrome, lazily taking off the end of each bar during certain songs and annihilating some verses, as he did on the moody "Hell of a Night."
The L.A. rapper's potent if uneven set was trumped by his Top Dawg Entertainment mate Isaiah Rashad, who lit up the tiny Saloon stage immediately after Q's performance. Spitting with force and melody over cerebral backpacker-approved beats, the Tennessee rapper delivered the best sleeper set of the weekend.
A shorthanded Wu-Tang Clan followed on the main stage, disappointingly without Method Man and Ghostface Killah. However, the legendary rap collective didn't miss a beat, ballistically trading verses on classics, including a romping "Shame on a N****" and "C.R.E.A.M.," with Raekwon calmly attacking his opening bars with precision. Between songs RZA played ringleader of the seven-member squad, scolding the fans for not bouncing as hard as Canadians (heaven forbid) and dedicating an all-crew "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" to late member Ol' Dirty Bastard and a deceased Wisconsin fan.
After tech-house titan Claude VonStroke closed the Big Top to wild applause, perennial Summer Set headliners Big Gigantic again handled the role with bass-dropping aplomb. Cherub joined the Colorado duo for its disco/electro collaboration "The Night Is Young," with Big G's Dominic Lalli rocking back and forth while blasting a sax solo. The EDM/jam/funk fusionists timed their jazzy slow jam "Shooting Stars" to a crackling fireworks display that capped the first two nights, creating a rare serene moment amid the sea of rage sticks and neon lights.
After a Sunday bro-down showdown between dubstep mutilator Datsik and raunchy brat-rapper Tyler, the Creator, whose set times overlapped, Chicago house vet Green Velvet had the Big Top clapping to his funky hit "Percolator." Umphrey's McGee jam-rocked the Grove stage, opening with a rare performance of the sludgy "Sludge & Death" before experimental bass lover Flying Lotus teed up an intricate trip-hoppy set on the main stage. As the sun set, the beatsmith wove together ambient atmospherics and rich sub-bass bursts with skittering changes, occasionally emerging from behind his DJ booth to kick a verse.
Fans packed the main-stage bowl as trailblazing producer Bassnectar capped the weekend, drawing heavily from this year's "Noise vs. Beauty" LP early on. The former metalhead dealt 90 minutes of maximalist bass music, hitting crunchy tracks such as "Noise" and "Upside Down" as the crowd stomped along. The real-life Lorin Ashton worked through a majestic cool-down stretch, which included the soaring "You & Me" before whomping across the finish line.
Three years in, the junior festival looked stronger than ever.