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Diplo Moves Mad Decent Block Party to Northerly Island in Most Chicago Move Ever

After accusing Chicago of shady politics in 2015, Diplo plunks his festival at a venue with its own questionable past.

Diplo   Photo: Courtesy of Shane McCauley

This week brings another twist in the saga of Diplo vs. the City of Chicago. After a stampede in 2012, three years away from the city, and accusations of political shadiness, the DJ’s touring electronic festival Mad Decent Block Party announced this week that it will return on August 21, trading its former home on a block in West Loop for the megapavilion on Northerly Island.

To recap, Mad Decent Block Party landed in hot water with the city in 2012 when fans bum-rushed festival gates. The then-free block party, located on a tiny stretch of Fulton between Ashland and Justine, had hit capacity by 5 p.m. and was quashed by police before headliners Action Bronson, Tanlines, and Nadastrom could perform. The ordeal punctuated allegations by local duo Flosstradamus that CPD had removed them from the bill after their rowdy set at West Fest the month before.

Unsurprisingly, Mad Decent Block Party didn’t return to Chicago in 2013 or 2014. It looked poised for a comeback in 2015 after floating a tour poster with an unfilled Chicago date, but eventually it pivoted and held the festival in suburban Cicero.

Then came a tweetstorm from Diplo, in which the DJ accused city officials of banning Mad Decent in 2013 and 2014, revoking his 2015 venue, and soliciting bribes in exchange for festival space. The whole thing was enough for him to swear off returning to the city.

Foul play or not, boycotting Chicago would’ve been a nice bit of political theater, had Diplo followed through with it. Instead, he will mount his once-free block party at Northerly Island’s FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at $45 a ticket, a move that has its own black irony.

Not only does the 30,000-capacity pavilion sit on city land, the Park District reportedly dodged competitive bidding rules in awarding Live Nation a contract to book there. That’s complicated by the fact that the mayor’s brother, Ari, sits on Live Nation’s board, and furthermore by the $200,000-plus the mayor received in campaign donations from executives at Live Nation and Ari’s talent agency, William Morris Endeavor.

Which is to say, the very money shuffling Diplo accused the city of in 2015 may be what built his festival’s new home for 2016.

Of course, there are upsides to Mad Decent landing on Northerly Island, too. Its fans are by all accounts bonkers, and if a city block can’t contain them, a literal island should do the trick. As more and more communities speak against festivals in public parks (Union against North Coast and Jackson against Spring Awakening most recently), there’s a need for spaces like the pavilion—private, secluded, and of use to precisely nobody but next weekend’s concert-goers.

Mad Decent Block Party should be a legitimate boon to the city’s coffers, too. For every show it hosts at Northerly Island, Live Nation pays the Park District $1.25 a ticket ($37,500 a sold-out show). At the end of the calendar year, they pay the Park District 20 percent of concession revenue past $1.2 million and 30 percent past $1.4 million. (If you’ve bought a beer at Northerly Island, you know those are not tough figures to reach.) The only ones losing out in that regard are fans, whose free block party will now run $45.

As of this posting, a representative of Mad Decent Block Party had not answered a request for comment. A Park District spokesperson deferred a request to Live Nation, who has not responded. We’ll update if they do.

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