Fest 411: How Chicago’s North Coast Music Festival Pivoted To Strictly Dance

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After rebranding to become a strictly EDM festival in 2019, North Coast moved to SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Ill. Photo courtesy of North Coast Festival

Over the past 12 years, Chicago-area North Coast Music Festival has transitioned from being a multi-genre event to one that exclusively focuses on dance music. The switch came as festival organizers Michael Berg and Pat Grumley of Collectiv Presents began to notice a change in their audience.

“In 2010 when we founded the festival, it was a multi-genre festival that covered jam bands, indie rock, electronic and hip hop,” Berg, co-founding partner and talent buyer, tells Pollstar. “As the next decade moved forward, the fanbase grew older and what we referred to as the Venn diagram of the shared space of all those genres in those cultures kept getting further and further out. So, as each year got deeper into that decade, there were less people that cared about the middle part than they did about the outskirts. There was less common stuff. So as lineups would drop, we were feeling a little less excitement about the full thing.”

Berg and Grumley made North Coast’s pivot into strictly dance music back in 2019. And after a break in 2020 because of the pandemic, the festival returned in 2021 with a new home at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Ill., roughly 12 miles outside of Chicago with 78,000 attendees (or Coasties, as the event’s organizers like to call them). The fest previously took place at Huntington Bank Pavilion on Northerly Island in 2019 and Chicago’s Union Park from 2010-2018.

The 2022 edition is set for Sept. 2-4, featuring major dance artists including Armin van Buuren, Illenium, Porter Robinson, Fisher, Diplo, Kaytranada, Gryffin, Jai Wolf, Madeon, Said The Sky, Seven Lions, Slander, Subtronics, Tchami x Malaa, Svdden Death and more.

The Chicago area is a competitive market with a large number of music festivals, from Lollapalooza to Pitchfork to Riot Fest. With the transition to focusing solely on dance music, North Coast has been able to carve out its own lane in the city. Electronic dance music carries a variety of different genres, with techno, dubstep, bass, trap, house and more all having related but separate communities and fanbases. Berg and Grumley highlight each genre under the dance umbrella, inviting all subgenres and subcultures.

“It’s not just house music, or just trance, or just drum and bass, or just big house EDM, or just dubstep,” Berg says. “It’s a little bit of everything and we curate our stages based on that. There’s been a lot of intention into stage takeovers, supporting our partner acts and the detail to make it a multi-genre dance show.”

While North Coast makes sure to keep its multi-genre spirit within the differences in dance, house music is still one of the highlights of the event. Having originated in Chicago during the early ’80s and pioneered largely by gay Black men in the underground ballroom scene, it’s important to the North Coast organizers to properly salute the genre.

“We like to pay homage to the culture, being from Chicago, the home of house music,” says Grumley, head of marketing for North Coast. “We try and get DJs in there that are trying new things and pushing the culture forward, but also keep slots for a lot of respected DJs, cause we recognize that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. And there’s a lot of people who took a lot of risk before us.”

Outside of the necessary respect to house music, Berg and Grumley ensure they’re listening closely to fans when it comes to creating the ideal festival experience. With a diverse lineup and art installations, the two closely monitor social channels to hear what their fans have to say and guarantee a great weekend.

“I see customer service pretty synonymous with marketing nowadays,” Grumley says. “I think listening to fans is a big part of our success. We give them multiple avenues to communicate with us. I deal with customer service on a day-to-day basis just to make sure that’s getting down. We try to listen to our fans and just be honest about what they want and what we’re able to do.”