Are You With Me?

This year, we all agree that the Grove has become the main dance floor. Nadir temperatures reach the low forties and everyone slips hoodies under parkas to dance and roll our ankles on top of tree roots. Front center is warm enough to shed a layer and inhale the forest air hovering just above us. It's 4:45am on Sunday and Lena Willikins moves between the decks next to Vladmir Ivkovic, two old friends piloting the spaceship through a wormhole, tracks swirling heavier and faster than their usual journeys, an enrapturing pace. Fifteen minutes later they land us back on Earth. livwutang steps up. She is grounded, the conductor of a steam engine set to chug and rumble us into daylight.

But not just yet; the train sits still in the station. Liv knows that we have been astrally projecting for three hours and can't immediately lurch forward on her tracks. Her first few selections are delicate. The third or fourth or fifth is a lush, airy house bop ("Congo" by Geeneus, ID'd later). Monkey chatter sample? We laugh. It slows down, opens up, into birdsong, Liv planting us on the forest floor. A single chime rings out. My LSD time dilation stretches the near-silent afterimage of the chime for what feels like 30 seconds. It is so quiet, I marvel. How did she make it so quiet? More birds. The monkey again! Ha! And then the beat is back. She fires up the engine. Ready, bittersweet: we are heading home. 

Liv is maybe 30 minutes into a set that she can stretch, if she wants, for another 7 hours. In the chime, a stark and demanding sound, I hear a question: Are you with me? Perhaps this is the mark of a great DJ, or a great set: a clear question posed to us, the dancers, whom the DJ calls to answer in our movements through the night. I had spoken to Liv briefly, or maybe I read it in a tweet or something, about how her summer touring Europe was frustrating, because as soon as she stopped laying down four-floor the lads stopped dancing, tuned out. Pearls before drunkards. Now she is here, at home, playing this set, a booking of the utmost trust, free reign to do her thing, and her thing only. And so very early on she tells us: I am here, this is my time. I am starting quietly. And now that I have your attention: Are you with me?

We are, we continue to be. This is a marathon and my details blur as the morning spreads. Mist, faint orange in the distant sky, gold unfurling onto the treetops but not yet filtering down, a moment at the back of the dance floor looking at all of it, the dawn light and the lasers and the fog and the six hundred people pulsating and my friend rolling a little too hard and we turn to each other and say, Can you believe this is our life?

I give up at 9:30, accept that I won't make it. Earlier in the summer I had, for the first time in six years of raving, decided to sink back into my disco nap and missed the second night of a festival, and it was the right decision. I had opened a new option and at the Grove I choose to exercise it a second time. In my tent I drift half-asleep through an unmarked time, Liv pulsing through the forest and my mind. I realize I have to go back, that Sustain is not where you exercise this option, that I am still with Liv. I stuff my pockets with mandarins and clutch them as I pad back down over the pine needles, extra careful not to trip. It is 11:15. Reaching center front, I find my friends and split open the fruit, passing out the wedges to everyone around me, just as a kind stranger did for me during Powder's closing set in 2019. Liv looks tired, or is that just the stoic focus that she always brings to the booth? It's a little past noon and we have pushed into that second reserve of unworldly energy accessible only to those who have slept for less than two hours.

Like Powder did, Liv ends up faking us out, closing twice, an unsolicited gift. But it's the first one that's the real one: "Flowerz" by Armand van Helden. One by one, my friends start hugging each other, then crying, and eventually I give in. Wet eyes everywhere, ours and strangers’. We notice Liv is crying and we cry more. We are still with her. She is with us, too.