Day 1 at Holland Park on Friday, July 3
One of the first things the mob of dance music lovers would have noticed as they swarmed the grounds of Holland Park for the FVDED in the Park festival was the vastness of the Surrey setting. Gated off from the busy King George Highway, the park offered a huge swath of grassy land for EDM and hip-hop fans to move through—much more so than past years at Malkin Bowl or the PNE Amphitheatre.
Noticeably, with the early afternoon sun already dialling up the heat, many made an immediate beeline for a misting station at the top of a small hill. Besides a cluster of evergreens off to the side of the site's main stage, there wasn't much protection from the onslaught of summer sunshine. There's a reason this wasn't called Shaded in the Park.
Montreal mover Tommy Kruise was the first major player of the day. Hitting the massive Pacific stage, the long-haired DJ announced "We’ve got to heat up things out here," before adding wisely to the earliest of showgoers, "don’t forget to drink water. It’s fucking hot." He quizzed the crowd whether it "fucks with rap music", and proceeded to hammer out a throbbing blitz of hip-hop tunes from Dougie F, Meek Mill and OG Maco.
Kruise may have been spirited, but the sight of him grooving above his mixing set-up wasn't exactly stimulating. Thankfully, there was enough eye candy out in the crowd. The takes-all-kinds mixture ranged from bare-chested bros wearing a king's ransom in plastic Mardi Gras beads, to ladies beating the heat in Southern Comfort-print one-piece swimsuits and tye-dyed bikinis, to a Chilly Willy-type in a penguin suit, who sucked some sort of coolant out of his straw-equipped backpack.
No, it wasn't a mirage. There were also a number of foam-domed deadmau5es milling about the grounds ahead of the headlining artist's set, though some of big-eared figures seemed suspiciously off-brand. Nonetheless, here's a shout-out to the most memorable phony, a vintage video-game loving gender-swapper whose lemon-yellow, bow-topped helmet suggested she be called Ms. Pac-Mau5.
Back on the Pacific stage, Detroit rapper Danny Brown wondered whether or not we were, indeed, faded in Holland Park. "I'm a little tipsy," he admitted in between high-energy tracks. "Give me a few hours and I'll be fucked up."
He wasn't joking, having laced his set with plenty of Molly talk, and scissor-kicking across the stage to hedonistic bangers "Smokin & Drinkin" and "Kush Coma".
Decidedly more chill was deceptively named Northwest Stage opener, Haywyre. The Indiana artist offered up plenty of impressive finger rolls across his midi keyboard, but the digitized avant jazz approach seemed like it would have suited a compact club setting more than a field of EDM fans. A crowd of maybe 100 or so foot-shufflers confirmed as much.
Thousands instead flocked to the doomsday boom Chuckie was pushing through the speakers at the Pacific Stage. Filthy synth squelches, hip-hop mechanics, and the percussive rumble of Dirty Dutch house music were some of his standbys, and Chuckie got the crowd to pogo each time he dropped the beat.
Destructo kept things tropical over at the Northwest Stage by placing a pair of pineapples near his Pioneer mixer, while the suppertime set time clearly had parts of the crowd more interested in scarfing down corn dogs. "It's not time to eat, it's time to get to work," he said with mock derision of the hunger-struck who chose to munch instead of move.
Flosstradamus offered up an atom bomb's worth of energy, gleefully annihilating the audience with a fast-paced performance. Wearing bright white, stay-puft sweatsuits and Kevlar vests, the pair noted they wanted to turn Holland Park into a house party. Considering the set design of burnt-out family sedans and razor-wire fences, odds are you don't want J2K and Autobot to Airbnb your place when they roll through town.
Adding to the postapocalyptic feel was the outfit raining bottled water on the overheated crowd like Mad Max villain Immortan Joe would onto his teeming, huddled masses. This, in addition to the sounds of pro-pot hit "Rollup" and the duo's punishing-but-playful remix of Fetty Wap's "My Way", had a more than grateful crowd throwing up their hands in the shape of Flosstradamus's triangular hazard logo.
Tyler, the Creator came on stage slightly less confident than the previous act, with the Southern California rap provocateur explaining that two months on the road had killed this throat. To compensate, he suggested: "For the next hour I'm just going to jump on stage. Is that cool?"
This was a bluff, as the MC exploded like a cherry bomb when his DJ dropped into "Deathcamp", a synth-scorched shuffler which revealed that Tyler's already gravelly flow was just a touch more ragged than usual. In between songs, he and hypeman Jasper Dolphin poked fun at a litany of shoulder-riders they spotted in the crowd, and looked forward to a few fleshier, festival-style moments.
"You in the tank top, with the beard, you show me your titties, I'll show you mine," Tyler said to one dude, who apparently paid the rapper's quick flash of skin back in kind. Both Tyler and Dolphin made fun of a "thirsty" creeper that got way too excited when a young woman proceeded to do the same.
The set may have been the most diverse in tempo, ranging from fully screamed rap tracks to the neo-soul ballad "Fucking Young", but the absolutely energy-draining dirge "IFHY" may have grated FVDED followers just looking to groove to the pulse of a steady four-on-the-floor.
By this time, though, the Northwest Stage had all gone Pete Tong. The English DJ treated that stage's biggest crowd to a finely blended mix of gauzy, hi-hat heavy tracks from Disclosure and Jonas Rathsman, at least when not taking iPhone pics of his congregation. A pair of dance-club vets on the periphery of the pit suggested to themselves that Tong was saving the choicest cuts for an after party at Celebrities, but the rest of Surrey seemed more than okay with a last minute spin of psych unit Tame Impala's swerving "Let It Happen".
Canadian EDM house icon Deadmau5 brought the masses back to the main stage with a closing set that initially had him caged in what looked like a miniaturized, LED-loaded Science World dome. The rodent-masked DJ born Joel Zimmerman sat within the structure behind a table of assorted samplers and keyboards, building tension with the '70s prog-geared intro of "Avaritia" before jumping into a mighty kaboom.
The throng then undulated to a plethora of Deadmau5's bassy, minimalist beats, but a mass-conniption fit nearly erupted during what seemed like a set-tanking power outage. A MacBook voice asking "are you there?" signalled this was intentional, being an integral part of party starter "You There?"
As the globe-shaped set piece dismantled itself into four pieces, the masked mau5 emerged with his x-ed out eyes all aglow to throw down even more danceable tracks. While the steady flow of beats dragged a bit as the sun set, highlights included the ghoulish synth screeches backing "Ghosts N Stuff" and melodious "The Veldt".
Zimmerman took a tiny break from full-time knob-twisting to take off his mask and drink a beer during poppy floor-pounder "Seeya", but he brought out Super Bowl meme Left Shark and a guy in a hot dog suit to pick up the slack. The felt-covered costumed pair strutted their stuff as the crowd cheered on.
Heading to the exits, one couldn't help but think about the potentially catastrophic outcome of that moment. There they were, a vicious predator standing side-by-side with Canada's most famous and rhythmically inclined dance music rodent. Thankfully, the faithful at FVDED didn't so much witness a bloodbath, but a playful celebration. Even if there was a deadmau5 onstage.