Written by Joseph Sherman
Photography by Joseph Sherman
Over the last year, Milwaukee has really been upping their game with regard to EDM events and festivals, and Jawbreaker Festival was no exception. The star studded lineup featured the musical stylings of an eclectic array of artists including GRiZ, Louis The Child, Zedd, ODESZA, RL Grime and more.
Before we get into our recap of the amazing performances, let’s first go over some of the logistics. Jawbreaker is a new name on the festival circuit, and it seems obvious that this fest is filling the void left behind by the recently relocated Freaky Deaky. The festival was held at the Wisconsin Center, which was the same location as last year’s Freaky Deaky. Personally, I had never been to the Milwaukee Convention Center until Jawbreaker, but I was generally impressed by the venue. The setup was very reminiscent of Decadence Colorado or Reaction NYE, with security at the entrance to the building, and the dance floor in one of the conference halls.
The festival ran extremely smoothly. Lines to get into the venue were relatively short (although we arrived early), there were plenty of bars to grab a drink from, and the free water was perfect for the venue and size of the crowd. Additionally, I was really surprised that the event never really seemed crowded; there was always plenty of space to move around and dance. Although the festival did not allow Camelbacks, there was a room dedicated to free water, where there were plastic cups and dozens of water coolers for attendees to get some much needed hydration. Other than at peak times, the lines for water were short, and to my knowledge, there was never a shortage. Free water should be a staple at every festival, and I applaud the organizers of Jawbreaker for making this a priority.
My experience with sound quality at convention center festivals has been hit or miss. Reaction NYE at the Rosemont Convention Center outside of Chicago had notoriously poor acoustics, but Decadence in Colorado was great. I was definitely concerned that the sound would be echo-y, but was extremely impressed by the clarity of the music when we arrived. I imagine it is extremely difficult for live sound engineers to achieve quality and clarity in what is essentially a concrete box, but the guys at Jawbreaker nailed it. The music was loud enough to melt your face without sacrificing clarity, and the bass punched without distorting the treble or mid range frequencies.
On to the performances… Night one kicked off with RCKT PWR and Parker, who both delivered stellar performances with a wide variety of bangers and classics alike. RCKT PWR premiered a new song, and Parker dropped Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” which got the whole crowd excitedly singing along with gusto. Next up was Zedd, who was surprisingly scheduled before both Louis The Child and GRiZ. I imagine the organizers wanted to get people into the venue early to support smaller artists, which definitely seemed effective. The crowd must have quadrupled in size between RCKT PWR and Zedd, and the floor of the convention center (on the third floor) was legitimately bouncing when Zedd dropped “The Legend of Zelda.” I was mildly afraid that the floor was going to fall through! He also dropped all of his major hits, including “The Middle” and “Clarity,” but also peppered in a number of other great tracks from other artists. Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” was certainly a surprise, and in the spirit of Halloween, Zedd also dropped Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, complete with visuals sampled from the original music video.
The fantastic track selection, lasers, and confetti cannons got everyone fired up for Louis the Child, who walked on to the stage dressed as two halves of a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. The future-bass duo dropped their new EP, Kids at Play, the day before Jawbreaker. They played several of their new tracks including “Better Not” and “LOVE.” The pair also dropped their major hits such as “It’s Strange (feat. K.Flay).” I was particularly excited to hear their single with Chicago rapper Joey Purp, “Shake Something.” I hadn’t heard that song live yet, and it was a treat to hear on a huge sound rig. Continuing with the Chicago representation, they also threw down a remix or edit of Chance the Rapper’s “All Night.” If anyone has an ID on that, please email us. I need that heat in my library.
Finally, GRiZ closed out the night, and opened his set with some brand new songs. GRiZ’s social media has been hyping up some sort of announcement coming soon, and I am certain it is going to be a fresh album of new tunes. I remember him recently mentioning in an interview or on social media that he intends to start doing some vocals, which was confirmed as he performed some verses from his new tracks. Also notable was an edit or remix of “My Friends and I” that I haven’t heard before (again, inbox me with that heat if you have it), and a joint performance with Muzzy Bear for the second half of the set.
Night one was quite an experience, but night two was insane. The night started off with Moses, who we were unable to catch due to waits at security. Next up was Plaid Hawaii, who played a set that was similarly eclectic to Parker’s. The duo played a cover of Post Malone’s “Psycho,” which I absolutely loved. They also threw down some great classics, including an interesting edit of Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way,” and Outkast’s “Miss Jackson.” Next up was Slumberjack, who prepped and primed the crowd for RL Grime’s performance with plenty of trap bangers. The pair also included some tracks from a variety of genres, including Rezz’s “Plague” and a filthy remix of Skrillex & Habstrakt’s “Chicken Soup.” Honestly, when I first heard the intro to “Chicken Soup,” my first thought was that the song is massively overplayed, but the beat quickly shifted into a remix, which really surprised the crowd and got the whole room jumping.
Next up was RL Grime, who played a variety of the mashups included in his recently released “Halloween 7” mix. I am always impressed by how great of a DJ RL Grime is. His mashups are insane, and I was blown away by his mix of his song with What So Not, “Tell Me,” and Post Malone’s “Congratulations.” He also did an extended mix of “Stay For It,” wherein he played the original song, spliced in the chorus of KIDS SEE GHOST’s “Freee (Ghost Town Pt. 2),” and then dropped the Oriental Leavings flip of “Stay for it.” I had not seen RL Grime since he released his most recent album, “Nova,” and the new visuals are fantastic. He really shines around Halloween, and spooky season is the time to catch him at his best.
After RL Grime, everyone had a lengthy thirty minute break to both process the preceding mind-blowing trap performance, and mentally prepare for the emotional roller coaster that comes along with ODESZA’s sets. In the past, when seeing ODESZA, I remember the drum line coming out a few times each set, but this time was different. The drum line performed with the percussive duo for at least 5 songs, including their most recent single, “Loyal,” which I was extremely stoked to hear live for the first time. They mostly played tracks from A Moment Apart, but also played a number of selections from previous projects, including the unreleased VIP mix of “Memories That You Call.” Again, I need this heat in my library; praying for a recording to be released of that one. We had an amazing time at Jawbreaker Festival, and I genuinely hope that the festival returns next year for a second run. The lineup was great, and the organization was definitely a high priority for the organizers.