In anticipation of the New Year, thousands of people doused in glitter gathered at the Donald E. Stephens convention center on Chicago’s Northwest side to kiss 2016 goodbye with two nights of EDM, hip-hop, and dancers in light-up sneakers.
Curated by React Presents, Reaction NYE showcased some Chicago-local talent as well as headliners Zed’s Dead, Flume and Gucci Mane. Live-performance artists and their easels dotted the entrance way, working on new abstract paintings that would gather a crowd of sitting spectators as the night went on. The area was hardly lit, mostly with red light, and, despite being in a massive, wide-open warehouse with lofted ceilings, there was a club-like atmosphere under the mask of darkness. In the center of all the stages was a big no man's land littered with people either lounging on the floor, dancing or walking briskly to the next stage because of the rather large stretch between them.
The Warehouse Stage shamelessly held the spotlight both nights as crowds flocked to the bigger names, bigger crowds and greater energy. There was an almost tangible buzz in the air—but it was spent pre-maturely. Danny Brown kicked off at 8 p.m. twisting words so fast that he hardly had a moment to move from his stance at center stage; the crowd tried to keep up in what came out as a messy, mumbling slur under Brown’s impressive precision.
Dillon Francis followed and swung the groove from down-and-dirty hip-hop to dubby, upbeat EDM. In classic fashion, Francis cracked a few jokes as he dropped hit after hit, including one of his latest singles, “Anywhere.” Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals kept the crowd in the same dance frenzy, but with a little soul mixed in that sounded extra smooth after Francis’ methodical set.
The crowd flooded in for Flume, jumping and bouncing as they anxiously waited for the midnight set to start. Just over twenty minutes later, excitement burned into impatience as Flume left everyone waiting through a significant chunk of his scheduled hour-and-a-half set. When he finally took the stage, he was in no rush to make up for lost time. Some attendees slouched and groaned as an extra-slow build led into a chilled-out, relaxed slew of songs. There were moments when things turned around and turned up, for instance during his track with Disclosure, “You & Me,” and during “Say It” as well. Despite his efforts, the crowd never quite picked back up to its former buzz, and Flume’s set felt incomplete as the lights came on.
New Year’s Eve on Saturday found a vacant, empty warehouse for the first couple hours of the evening. The early arrivals donned glowing blue headphones and bounced around inside the silent disco while also taking advantage of the squishy leather couches – the only place to take a seat in the venue aside from the floor. New artists started on new paintings, and the Arcade Stage, second to the Warehouse stage, drew in some well-overdue attention during Statik’s set.
Chicago’s Manic Focus came out on the Warehouse Stage at 8:15 p.m. in a cacophony of funky beats and sharp drums that fused an edge of rock into the electronic style; to follow, French DJ Tchami threw down an hour of house music. The Warehouse Stage dominated once again as Chicagoans were magnetized to the familiar: a talented local artist and a culturally significant genre. But even so, the lights dropped again at 10:40 p.m. as Gucci Mane took the stage, and the dense crowd expanded yet another 25 feet outward in all directions.
Gucci Mane does not make a lot of appearances, considering he was recently released from a three-year prison sentence earlier this year in June. His performance had the crowd roaring as he cheesed a big, pearly smile and played a fully-stocked set including iconic tracks like “Lemonade” and “I Think I Love Her.” Gucci closed out with his newest single, “Both,” featuring Drake, and walked off the stage 10 minutes before his set was scheduled to finish. There was surprisingly little protest from the fans, and in a happy daze, many wandered over to catch the end of another Chicago artist, Milk N Cooks, on the Arcade Stage.
As the clock neared midnight, attendees scuttled and scrambled to find their best view of the stage as a 60-second countdown appeared on the backdrop. Zed’s Dead greeted Chicago, introduced the build of a big, bassy sound, shouted out the last few seconds until 12 a.m. and then a final, “Happy New Year!” before a massive drop into some of their older dubstep. The crowd erupted, toasted to the New Year and relentlessly danced into the earliest hours of 2017. Lasers crisscrossed the air and tunneling visuals spiraled on the three massive screens behind Zed’s Dead as the duo asked the crowd, “Who here likes dubstep?”
Friday may have left something to be desired after close, but the New Year’s Eve set and the excitement surrounding it more than made up for any mishaps. In a blaze of flashing strobes, lasers and light-up finger gloves, the future and 2017 looked bright; the memories—and the glitter—will linger for weeks to come in the New Year.