Over July 4th weekend, we attended the second annual Mamby On The Beach, after being there when React Presents launched the two-day affair at Oakwood Beach in Chicago last year.
Location, Accessibility, and Set-Up
React Presents offered a number of ways to access Mamby throughout the weekend. There were shuttles available to allow attendees to take the Red Line or the Green Line of the CTA to the festival with ease, along with dedicated Uber drop off and pick up locations to avoid traffic jams and confusion. Driving to the festival was also very easy as the festival used Lot B of the McCormick Place as a major parking lot for attendees to park their car and take a shuttle to the festival. Shuttles were never in short demand; as soon as one would fill up and leave, another would arrive to take its place almost instantly.
Once again Mamby was held at Oakwood Beach on the South Side of Chicago, arguably the perfect location for this festival, or as close as possible to it. The venue is truly beautiful, and as each day wore on we were blessed with a beautiful view of the city skyline with the sunset in the background. The beach was clean and the venue was large and full of life, providing a dual experience when moving from the stages on the beach to the Park Stage in the grass.
Despite little sound bleed when standing between The Beach and Mixmag DJ Tent, the sound quality at each stage itself was perfect. A lot of those in attendance were wearing their DownBeats ear plugs, as was I for most of the time. Despite high volume and responsible need to wear ear plugs, the music remained crisp throughout all stages.
Mamby provides attendees with an interesting layout, with its narrow entrance north of the beach leading way to a corridor on one side that runs along the festival grounds before allowing access to the three stages. Soon after entering festival-goers are come across the various art displays and shops that are set up along the way. The best part about these areas is that they started with a blank slate at the beginning of the fest, allowing artists to work on them as the days went on until the very conclusion of the weekend. Moving on attendees were faced with a walkway that led to the VIP lounge as well as the deep house yoga stage littered with yoga mats for all your relaxing needs. The food cart area came up ahead along with the Silent Disco and it was at this point that the festival split into two separate areas, to the left the beach which housed both the Beach Stage and the Mixmag DJ tent and to the right the small valley-like lawn that housed the Park Stage.
Perfect weather landed on this Independence Day weekend for us in Chicago, especially for a music festival on the beach. 80 degrees and sunny during the day both days of the music festival and at night the temperature dropped to an average of 75 degrees and lows of 70. This allowed for the perfect environment to enjoy a beach festival in, complete with stunning sunsets each night.
Crowd and Atmosphere
Crowd and atmosphere always tend to be a key make-or-break determinant in deciding whether a festival is worth attending. Mamby leaned strongly on the “make” side of that spectrum. If I were to ever recommend an electronic music festival in Chicago based on the crowd and overall atmosphere my pick would certainly be Mamby. I was pleasantly surprised to find an exceedingly mature crowd fit to appreciate the nature of the house music that was booked for the weekend. At no point during the festival did I witness medics in action – the crowd seemed to be in a happy and good mood throughout both days, and had a clear understanding of how to party responsibly.
I didn’t make it to the festival until around 4:30pm on the first day which left me just enough time to catch the ending of Billy Kenny’s set over at the Mixmag DJ Tent. I was pleasantly surprised by the plethora of groovy beats he dropped into his set much to the joy of the crowd that already was starting to pack the tent this early in the day. The Mixmag DJ Tent would end up being the home for the majority of my time this first day, with Hannah Wants following Kenny’s set.
One thing to appreciate about Mamby this year was the amount of female artists that were booked to perform the festival, from headlining singer Santigold to former Smartbar resident DJ and RA Top 40 DJ The Black Madonna, the aforementioned Hannah Wants and more – female acts were definitely not in short supply at Mamby which was very good to see. Hannah Wants arrived with a strong stage presence and ignited the crowd with a very energetic beginning of her et. Unfortunately she ended her performance on the lighter side, tapering down from what was a very good beginning.
I personally did not enjoy Shiba San‘s set for the same reason. Although there is no denying that some of his fans seemed to be having a good time, his track selection bordered on the generic and didn’t seem to be very inspired. I choose to leave the Mixmag DJ tent during Shiba San’s lackluster set to head over to the Park Stage where Lido surprised the crowd by bringing out Chicago-born Chance The Rapper for a surprise joint performance. As soon as he took the stage a massive rush overtook the crowd and it easily became the most packed stage of the entire weekend. The set was pure mayhem and so was the crowd and it was exactly what Mamby needed to get the ball rolling this day.
Following the Lido set I made my way back over to the Mixmag DJ Tent to catch Audion. The techno alter-ego of Matthew Dear, Audion playeda very good set the last time I saw him in Chicago several years ago and I was hoping he would deliver again. Unfortunately that was not the case as he also played a very underwhelming set opting to “play it safe” than really showcase his signature techno sound. Next up came the closing set by headlining DJs Tale of Us. The Italian duo showed up and did not disappoint. Like a crack of thunder in the coming storm, Tale of Us took control of the stage and the crowd and sent us all into a techno worm-hole deep into the depths of the night. From beginning to end Tale of Us fed all the hungry electronic music fans with more than what they bargained for, making up for some of the more weaker sets earlier in the day.
Day 1 left me hungry for strong electronic sets. While Tale of Us delivered strongly, other DJ acts disappointed. A first glance of Day 2’s lineup had me reassured that I wouldn’t be disappointed. Chicago-heavy, it featured Smartbar residents The Black Madonna and Derrick Carter to lead the way earlier in the day. Full of life, energy, disco and signature jacking Chicago House, The Black Madonna delivered strongly to kick off my day. Steve Bug was next; one of the strongest bookings made for the festival had a demanding performance from the start much to my satisfaction.
I eventually left to make my way over to the Silent Disco stage to catch a bit of Ghostmachines’ set and was surprised to see just how packed the Silent Disco was for one of Chicago’s brightest locals. All of the headphones were in use and the wait line to get a pair nearly wrapped around the entire stage, and as soon as I finally got my hands on a pair it was easy to see why. Ghostmachines had the stage in a house music frenzy which worked perfectly as a follow up from the other sets I just witnessed in the DJ Tent. Back at the Mixmag DJ Tent, it was the turn of Derrick Carter to man the decks with an emblematic “Queen-on-the-beach” experience that I strongly believe was the best set of the day.
Later in the day, I headed over to the Deep House Yoga stage. Although this stage’s lineup did not appear on the Mamby app, I arrived just in time for Phil Rizzo’s set, a resident at Primary Night Club and regular at both Annex and Spybar. He provided one of the more enjoyable sets of the festival, reminiscent of a sunrise Robot Heart set filled with melodic, broody and deep house music.
After, I made my way over to the park stage for a bit of Lupe Fiasco’s performance, which unfortunately was riddled with him talking and ranting rather than actually performing smoothly through at least one song. He did however perform hit song “Superstar” live, much to the enjoyment of his longtime fans. Closing out the day I started with Santigold, who delivered a strong performance at the beginning to a very ecstatic crowd, dropping her hit-tracks left and right. I then made my way over to Loco Dice, who, despite not having the strongest set of the day, still provided a strong tech-house filled closing finale for the day and Mamby weekend.
Experience – 4.0 out of 5
The venue and the atmosphere hit it out of the park. React Presents delivered a low-key festival that was an absolutely astounding experience. From the location to the crowd and overall vibe, React did a great job in elevating Mamby’s overall experience.
Music – 4.0 out of 5
Unfortunately the only thing to detract from the overall weekend was the quality of the lineup. While some delivered strongly, others really disappointed. At the end of the day it was beautiful to see Black Coffee on the roster before he was removed. It is acts like him that should form the direction React Presents takes in future bookings – bigger risks in bringing new names to Chicago, rather than touring DJs that the city gets on a regular basis.
Value – 5.0 out of 5
Two-day passes could be found for as little as $106.00 after fees only a couple of weeks before the festival. Full price was at around $150, the perfect price point for the festival and experience provided. Alcohol was reasonably priced and so was the food. Everything was the perfect price for the perfect value.
Overall – 4.3 out of 5
Mamby has potential to be the best Chicago electronic music festival experience of the year. House music was born in Chicago and React Presents is hitting all the right points with Mamby in providing a large slice of underground experience in a festival setting. There is room to grow and while the bookings can (and hopefully will) get deeper and stronger, the festival reached a perfect balance with a low-key two-day set up and its perfect venue and atmosphere.
Review by Adrian Andrade
Photos courtesy of Mamby On The Beach