While the EDM blogosphere is overloaded with stories of festival chaos from Labor Day Weekend 2023, there was at least one festival from that weekend that went off without a hitch. Chicago’s ARC Music Festival entered its third year with some growing pains because the underground scene it harbors has already grown so much from 2021 to 2023. The festival was practically sold out and many many afterparties had sold out far ahead of the festival. Not exactly bad problems to have by any stretch, but that was probably the biggest gripe fans had this year. For the 3rd straight year, ARC executed things excellently.
ARC is such a beautiful festival because it feels like EDC Orlando in 2012 if the entire festival was techno and house. That is, the lineup is stellar, the excitement among everybody is palpable, the sets are amazing, and the festival still feels simple and accessible enough that it’s not overwhelming or chaotic. The festival footprint is pretty straightforward. After 3 years, the only complaint might be that the Expansions Stage could use an overhaul. It’s a cool concept but the stage is relatively small and situated in such a way that the area sometimes feels like a large mass of people gathering aimlessly in a forest. The stage should be more all-encompassing of the large space with some overhead or surrounding production components. That being said, it’s hard to beat the simple setup they have and they even added a cool 4th stage featuring harder Berlin-style techno. The mainstage area is expansive with good views and space for everyone, with the Chicago skyline in the background. The stage isn’t overly complex, but the production is great and packed with lasers and even pyro.
Perhaps the coolest part about ARC is the fact that its one of the largest house/techno festivals in North America, so the mainstage really feels like a mainstage. I’ve always joked that in a perfect world you’d see ANYMA or Tale of Us close the Ultra Mainstage. Well, that’s literally what you get at ARC. Not only did Tale of Us close the festival, but they didn’t simply water down their set for the masses. This is a festival for more mature musical audiences, so the set featured an equal amount of IDs and their recent big stage hits. While it’s amazing to play on a Tomorrowland mainstage, here you’re playing to an audience that just gets it.
The crowd is one of the best parts of the festival. There’s no pushing and no hassling because everybody is in the same friendly mindset. They just want room to dance with their friends. The drink lines were never very long, which is good since this year media representatives (for the first time) had to slum it in the regular drink lines with everybody else.
The music features something for everyone, and the sets are all close to 2 hours. There’s 3 full days of elrow going in the tent stage, which is unique to this festival. The Expansions stage may not be my personal favorite, logistically, but it featured some epic performances from names like Fisher b2b Loco Dice and more. Quite simply, there was never a dull moment during this festival. If you found yourself with an hour to kill, it was a great opportunity to discovery new artists. This is a festival where everybody is pretty good, there’s no filler or gimmicky acts here.
ARC should be your Labor Day festival. Especially after what happened at Electric Zoo, but even if that didn’t happen. The weather is amazing, the vibes are immaculate, the music is superb, the crowd is welcoming, and everything just works! Do yourself a favor and check it out next year.