Chicago native and the Godfather of House Music Frankie Knuckles famously said, "The minute you think you're greater than the music, you're finished."
This ethos is intrinsic to one of Chicago's premier (and newer) dance music happenings, ARC Music Festival, returning for its sophomore year this Labor Day Weekend to the city's epicenter in Union Park. The three-day festival pays homage to Chicago's proud history as the birthplace of house and includes a lineup stacked with dance music legends like Carl Cox, Honey Dijon, Seth Troxler, Derrick Carter, Mark Farina, Mike Dunn, Fatboy Slim, and more than 50 other artists.
When asked to describe in a few words what the 20,000 daily festivalgoers can expect during this second annual go-round, ARC co-founder Stu Hackley offered an unambiguous picture. "Amazing F**king Music."
Paying tribute to one of the most prolific global genres over the past 40 years is no easy feat. The house music community is broad, diverse, and encompasses a wide range of tastes and sonic textures. So how did the ARC team translate the once-underground genre onto the American main stage?
As the iconic lyrics of vocalist (and Chicagoan) Celeda still ring out across dancefloors today, "Music is the answer."
In 2019, a mutual love for house and techno brought Hackley together with industry veteran and festival co-founder John Curley, who grew up in the Chicago club circuit in the early-90s. However, soon after the seed for ARC began germinating, the pandemic arrived. Fortunately, it afforded the duo downtime to "get to root of what Chicago really needed" from its next big festival.
"There was no specific formula," says Hackley. "It was us two music heads, almost just thinking, 'What would we want to listen to? How do we see this coming to life?'"
CamelPhat at ARC Music Festival 2021
Three years later, and coming up on its second installment, ARC aims to represent every facet of house, techno, and underground music on a large scale. With Chicago's influence on the electronic music scene top of mind, the ARC team has intentionally curated an experience that captures the true essence and history of dance music as a genre rooted in equality, diversity, and inclusion.
"We try to create something that has a little bit for everyone," says Hackley. "Everyone is welcome at ARC. I don't think we're speaking to any one individual. When we talk about ARC, we talk about how to reach people who love good music and want to appreciate it in a great city, with great weather, and have an amazing time. It's an intrinsic gut feeling that we go off by being [dance music] fans ourselves that helps us speak to the audience that's out there."
Eric Prydz at ARC 2021
This spirit of equity also comes to life on ARC's stages. The festival ensures that its diverse lineup of artists—from legendary classic house DJs to progressive newcomers—get equal footing and billing, with the goal of cross-pollinating audiences and exposing festivalgoers to new artists.
"We aim to really mold and mesh the classic sounds and the new sounds together," says Hackley. "There are other festivals that will book some of these legends or founders of the genre, but they don't get prioritized set times. We do the opposite. We want to put every artist on equally prominent stages and really represent what each of them has given to this music."
And from a production standpoint, ARC eschews flashy gimmicks. The team has refined a laser focus on the fundamentals: high-quality sound, amazing production, and a cohesive, creative visual experience across its three stages.
"At the basics, we focus on solid production and sound," says Hackley. "It starts with just creating an uncommodified, real experience. We don't want people to step onsite and feel like they're being taken out of the club environment they're used to feeling."
Deborah De Luca @ ARC Music Festival 2021
The festival fosters an immersive journey, where attendees can flow seamlessly between the technicolor containers of the ARC's largest stage, The Grid, and the psychedelic flamboyance of Elrow. A journey onwards moves into the deeper, jungle-like vibe of Expansions. And for festival pass holders looking to party late into balmy Chicago night? The ARC After Dark party series hosts artists at venues across Chicago once the festival wraps for the night.
ARC offers three types of three-day festival passes. The ARCitect (General Admission) pass includes priority access to purchase tickets for ARC After Dark events. The GLOBAL (VIP) pass provides access to the Global lounge, elevated viewing areas, and private bars. And the ICON (VIP Plus) pass includes all-inclusive access to locally catered food, hors d'oeuvres, and top-shelf alcohol, with access to the Icon lounge for the best views at the festival.
In recent years, house and techno have slowly but surely returned from across the pond in a massive way. ARC aims to foster a burgeoning and increasingly diverse dance music community in the US, united under the banner of good f**king music in the city where it all began.
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