Wavefront founders reflect on fledgling festival’s Windy City rise
To fully appreciate the experience that awaits Wavefront Festival-goers this weekend, look no further than the founders’ Windy City roots.
Now in its second year at Chicago’s Montrose Beach, the fledgling festival began as the brainchild of Brandon Carone, then-Director of Business Development for the Opium Group, and Spybar owner and resident DJ Dino Gardiakos. After the Chicago natives partnered with jet-ski entrepreneurs Ramsey Al-Abed and Salvatore Balsamo to form the aptly named 4 Headed Productions, their vision of a forward-thinking music festival on Lake Michigan’s shore began to take shape.
While a targeted 2011 inception proved too ambitious under the time constraints, last year’s debut featured such headliners as Duck Sauce, Boys Noize and Sasha, and was widely hailed as a success.
“The first year we tried to make it happen there too late, but the second year we got all our eggs in the basket and made it happen,” says Gardiakos. “Even still, it kind of happened last minute. We had a limited timeframe to get permits and secure enough artists to make it go off and generate some interests. This year we had some more time.”
They appear to have made good use of it. This year’s iteration sports six total stages to its predecessor’s four, as well as an art car stage ala Burning Man or EDC. With a throwback Chicago Heritage stage joined by special themed stages like Friday’s Death from Above showcase, Saturday’s Visionquest 13 production and Sunday’s “organic” All Day I Dream area, the festival is well-tailored to deliver a distinct experience each day.
Chicago’s size, location, and musical heritage have made it a hot destination for new summer festivals, with Electric Daisy Carnival Chicago, Spring Awakening and North Coast Festival joining the city’s perennial Lollapalooza in the past few years. Despite the crowding of the midwestern market, Wavefront’s founders firmly believe their festival stacks up against its more mainstream contemporaries.
“I think we have a bit of an older demographic,” says Gardiakos. “Our lineup’s a little more diverse, and we have some live elements as well that we’re going to keep expanding on. We wanted to also be a little bit different from the other festivals and incorporate some of the more cutting edge underground artists that no one else was touching… Not to take any credit away from the Tiëstos, Armin van Buurens and David Guettas, but they’re playing every other festival, and we’re separating ourselves with the same quality but a bit of a different sound.”
It’s clear that the homegrown connections Gardiakos forged during his years at Spybar enabled him to navigate a nebulous industry web to assemble this year’s eclectic lineup.
“I’ve always been pro-underground so it was a no brainer to go that route, especially because a lot of artists I worked with are loyal and have gone from where they were when I booked them to where they are now,” says Gardiakos. “The scene has grown so much now, and I wanted them to go outside of Spybar to bigger areas… Even a lot of the commercial artists in the EDM scene, I originally booked them at Spybar a couple years ago and they kind of outgrew the club, so we were able to get some of them back out to the festival.”
If Gardiakos’s impact is best embodied by this year’s stable of artists, then Carone’s will be evident on the stages they grace. Inspired by his work on Swedish House Mafia’s Masquerade Motel, Carone oversaw the creation of fully immersive stage environments this year, including a Tetris-like Cube Stage and a Wave Stage shaped like a 130-foot LED-studded tidal wave. He also drew upon years of hospitality experience to create Wavefront’s ambitious VIP Cabana.
“I’m building a nightclub in the middle of the sand,” Carone says. “There are going to be 30 tables, with its own production, dancers and lighting… I don’t think there’s any other festival that will have anything like this.”
In addition to exporting its brand to like-minded festivals such as BPM and Movement, Carone expects Wavefront to continue building on the model that made it the first Chicago festival to be grandfathered in for the coveted Fourth of July weekend time-slot.
“On top of our more desirable crowd, we had no problems last year, and we were compliant with the requests that we needed to change,” he says. “The city had some faith and trust in us that we’d follow through with same team we had to keep it as well organized as last year.”
Given Chicago’s historic status as the birthplace of house music, Gardiakos hopes to expand the outlet the festival provides to local legends and upcoming talent in the future.
“As the festival grew, this year we had the opportunity to add more artists from Chicago, and I feel like it’s important to keep expanding on that and get a stage for three days next year,” he says. “It’s a good chance to embrace our city, our heritage, our city and the people that made it happen, and that aspect will keep growing as the festival grows each year.”