By Gabriel Klein
July 8-11, 2016
MERRITT — Last weekend a crowd of 3,000+ hippies, bass heads, artists and DJs once again embarked upon what can by now only be described as an annual pilgrimage to the Nicola Valley. If you live in the Pacific Northwest and have even a passing interest in alternative electronic music you will likely have guessed that I am talking about the eighth iteration of Bass Coast Music Festival returning once again to sleepy Merritt, B.C. Since its inception in 2008, the brainchild of Andrea Graham and Liz Thomson has been going from strength to strength, and this year proved to be no different.
What sets Bass Coast apart from other festivals is that it manages to combine a fiercely independent spirit, eschewing any and all corporate sponsorship, with a level of professionalism and attention to detail that I have yet to see matched by another festival, all the while limiting the size of the festival to 3,000 attendees. This results in a buck wild party atmosphere in which festival goers are encouraged to let their freak flags fly until the wee hours of the morning (the last stages usually close around 8am), while never threatening to become overwhelmingly chaotic, unsafe or uncomfortable.
Unlike more commercial festivals like Pemberton or Coachella, which can leave you feeling like cattle being herded to the nearest slaughter house courtesy of Generic Soft Drink Co.™, it is clear that this festival is run by people who are unwilling to compromise on their aim of providing a high-quality alternative festival experience, just to extract a few more drops of profit out of its attendees. From the specially delivered Astroturf dance floors, the beautifully crafted stages, state of the art PK sound systems, trees lined with hammocks, and illuminated interactive art installations, to the first aid and harm reduction tents, plentiful water stations and food vendors, ever-present but non-intrusive security, and a festival full of kind and helpful people, all the little details of Bass Coast add up to a complete and fulfilling experience.
This year Bass Coast successfully piloted a program through which a limited number of early-entry tickets allowed people to set up camp on Thursday July 7, something I took advantage of. Unlike larger festivals, Bass Coast’s smaller size means that there is plenty of camping space to be had for everyone, and I was able to cordon off a patch of grass large enough for a group of 30 and their respective vehicles (including a tricked out school bus) without encroaching on anyone else’s turf, or even so much as raising an eyebrow. Truly, Bass Coast is a land of plenty.
The amazing thing about approaching a festival this way is that the attendees respond in kind. Whether it be the insane and hilarious costumes you encounter on the dance floor, the campsites decked out with hot tubs, trampolines, yurts, party buses, and geodesic domes (one of which at one point hosted a foam party), or the numerous dancers armed with LED-clad hula hoops, Poi, Staffs and other flowtoys, Bass Coasters are clearly inspired to let their creative juices flow. Conscientious behavior on the side of the festival breeds conscientious behavior on the side of the attendee. Unlike at most mega festivals, Bass Coast attendees did not leave behind a deluge of garbage, something they were happily commended for after the fact by the clean-up crew. Bass Coast should be regarded as a model in community building.
Putting aside all the little touches that make this festival great, lets talk about Bass Coast’s bread and butter, the music curation. On this front Bass Coast continues to act as a platform for a variety of local favourites, as well as showcasing a collection of international underground luminaries. The focus is obviously on alternative electronic and soundsystem music. The daytime tends to feature lots of reggae, dancehall, soul and funk. Dub, dubstep, trap, grime, house and techno dominate the nighttime sets. The great variety of sounds means that you will be able to hear plenty of your favourite genre(s), while at the same time ensuring that at some point you will end up exploring outside of your musical comfort zone.
For this writer, that moment came right on the first night. Despite originally hailing from Germany I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of techno music is extremely limited. Luckily due to some assurances by friends I found myself at Radio stage during my compatriot Roman Flügel’s set, and absolutely had my mind blown. From a technical perspective alone his set was extremely impressive. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a DJ look so in control behind the turntables. It was also great to witness a DJ building and releasing tension in such an incredible subtle way, which contrasted perfectly with the earlier set by Blondtron and Waspy. Subtleness does not seem to be part of the Bass Coast mainstay’s vocabulary. They rocked the main stage with their signature mix of maximalist trap and dubstep, while putting on an incredibly wild and subversive dance performance, with Blondtron ending up upside down on her table twerking several times. Other standouts on the first day included Machinedrum delighting dancers with his glitchy uptempo beats, and North-london native Sabre, who threw down a set of incredibly soulful drum and bass. My favourite performer of the night though was Montreal producer Goopsteppa, whose set was relocated late night from the cantina to the brain that usually hosts smaller workshops during the day. In the intimate atmospheres listeners were treated to a dose of futuristic and experimental bass music with strong dub influences.
Saturday definitely belonged to local Vancouverites Lighta! Crew, who threw down a four-hour-long reggae jam featuring everything from roots, dub, and dancehall. They even managed to get Bristol dubstep and grime luminary Kahn to join in on the fun for his daytime set, one of the festival highlights. From midnight onwards the bills were absolutely packed. It started out with first lady of the festival Andrea Graham a.k.a. Librarian gracing the main stage with a mix of own production, and bass music classics. In what will surely be remembered as a watershed moment for the Canadian music scene she was accompanied onstage by the legendary Rider Shafique, who took over toasting duties for her set.
Librarian’s set was immediately followed by Ivy Lab, who I had heard lots about but had never listened to too much before. They definitely lived up to the hype, delivering a great blend of drum and bass and experimental halftime sounds, as well as even sneaking in a couple of classic hip hop tracks at the very end. At 3:30 a.m. I headed over to Radio stage to check out the string of heavier bass music and dubstep acts including Bass Coast mainstay, Mat the Alien and Bassos Rancheros.
Sunday was even sunnier than the day before, and large crowds gathered to float the river and enjoy lounging in the sun being serenaded by DJ K-Tel’s Sunday soul session, one of Bass coasts most popular recurring sets. Rinsing out classic Soul records and some electronic mixes for three hours, this set is always a great re-energizer for the last day. Again the schedule was pretty packed, starting with the Blondtron-led Reggae TwerkShop, and local North Vancouver Finch and Barley owner DJ Prince Sho, laying down some trappy dance beats. JPod was laying down funky breaks and house over at Radio stage, and later Frumulator and 22:22 laid down two sets full of dupstep, grime, and other 140-bpm goodness. Michael Red, the Lighta! Crew head honcho and Vancouver electronic scene linchpin followed them up with a set more on the experimental side of Bass Music.
I stepped away from Radio stage for a bit to check out Neon Steve, whose set was extremely energetic, up-tempo and 808 driven; quality club music in the countryside. I immediately headed back to Radio stage afterwards to catch the last bits of ScratchDVA, and to get ready for what for me was the main event: Kahn, the producer at the forefront of a new generation of Bristol artists was back in B.C. With numerous Deep Medi releases, Dubplates for days, and his own record label Bandulu, Kahn has been making a mark on the British dubstep and grime scene for years now. An incredibly talented producer, he is also a classic sound system DJ,travelling with bags full of vinyl dubplates and specials. On the mic once again was Rider Shafique. This really was the most incredible set of Bass Coast, full of Kahn production, classic dubstep records (Finally heard “Earth a Run Red” on a big sound system!), and darker grime. An hour and a half of sub-bass, this was definitely the heaviest set at a festival full of heavy sets, and the crowd went absolutely mental when he dropped the Kahn & Neek duplate of Sir Spyro’s monster hit “Top a Top.” The night ended on the deeper side of the dubstep spectrum, with one of my favorite West Coast DJs, Westerly, laying down a great heavy halftime set.
Absolutely exhausted, we packed up our camp on Monday night, vowing to return again next year. It can hardly be overstated how full of positive vibrations this festival was all weekend long. Bass Coast manages to stand out in a world already saturated with quality festivals. Judging by what I saw this year, I am confident in saying that next year, will be the best Bass Coast yet. Make sure you get to experience it yourself.22:22, Bass Coast, Bass Coast 2016, Bassos Rancheros, BC, Blondtron, British Columbia, DJ K-Tel, DJ Prince Sho, Frumulator, Goopsteppa, Ivy Lab, JPod, Kahn, Librarian, Lighta! Crew, Machinedrum, Mat the Alien, Michael Red, Neon Steve, Rider Shafique, Roman Flügel, Sabre, ScratchDVA, Waspy, Westerly