By Michelle Swami
August 5-8, 2016
SALMO, BC — If you’ve lived in Western Canada it’s very likely you’ve heard of Shambhala Music Festival. Whether it was from that one hippy that works with you, or your local grocery store cashier that has her wristbands on (still!) from years past. You may have also heard that Shambhala is just one big hippy rave in the forest, in the middle of nowhere. This may be true, but this so called “rave” has been going on strong for 19 years, this year being its biggest yet with 17,000+ people in attendance. That is saying something, considering Salmo, B.C. only has a population of approximately 1,700. Also impressive is that this festival has flourished without the help of corporate sponsors, running solely on ticket sales, (mostly) volunteers and word-of-mouth.
DAY ONE: Thursdays at Shambhala, unofficially known as “Shambhala Eve,” are definitely the most busy, albeit exciting day at Shambhala. The volunteers and security, scramble to ease in the thousands of people that arrive at Shambhala as best as possible, with some people waiting in line upwards of 16 hours. Diligent security checks are done with each car to properly ensure no car is sneaking in contraband, which in this case is liquor because, unlike other festivals, what sets Shambhala apart, is that it is a dry festival.
Upon entering the festival, the excitement is high, with two stages open from afternoon to late into the evening and the vendors selling festival garb, accessories and merchandise appealing to the droves of fans embarking on the ranch.
Noticeably, one of the busiest vendors that day was the ANKORS tent. ANKORS, a not-for-profit based out of Nelson, BC, is a harm reduction organization that helps provide resources for things such as sexual health and drugs. Drug use at music festivals is, of course, inevitable and with things like fentanyl being sold, it would be nice to know what drugs are safe and not safe to do. To keep attendees informed, there is a bulletin board outside their tent listing what harmful substances they have been finding in people’s drugs so people know what to look out for.
Back on the dance floor, the Living Room stage and the AMPhitheatre were packed to the nines with eager attendees ready to get the party started early. Bass music from San Francisco’s own An-ten-nae flexed the PK Sound system on the beautiful beach front stage, The Living Room while the Moombahton sounds of Shambhala favourite, El Papachango, played to a rammed AMPhitheatre. The music was scheduled to go on till 4:30 a.m. that night, but this author had to go to bed because: a) this weekend is only just beginning, b) we had about an eight-hour drive there and c) I had to mentally prepare myself for sleeping in a tent with booming bass shaking in the ground every night for the next four days.
DAY TWO: One thing about festivals that most people despise is porta-pottys. Unfortunately, there is no way around them. Even if you’re VIP at Shambhala, there is nothing. Porta-pottys or bust. That being said, some of the Porta-Pottys at Shambhala are the best you’ll ever see. Not only is there ventilation, they are cleaned on the regular, there is a bar in front of the toilet that allows you to squat with ease and the bathroom graffiti is some of the most inspiring shit (pun intended) you could ever read. More than likely ecstasy induced, the graffiti telling you that, “you are beautiful” or “follow your dreams” or “take a shit, do a bump” makes you feel a bit better and helps taking a dump in a porta potty so much smoother.
Shambhala during the day is a whole different vibe. While people put on their best costumes and bust out their creative totems at night, the day is an excuse for people to enjoy the 30 degree plus weather, and put on their best bathing suit, or just their birthday suit, grab a floaty and hang out in and by the Salmo river. With the sounds of Fort Knox Five playing their brand of tropical remixes of indie rock acts such as Cults and The White Stripes, it makes for the perfect background music as you are lounging.
Feeling refreshed from the river, we were now ready to take on the music. Dirtybird mainstay Justin Martin played his brand of melodic house music on Shambhala main stage, the Pagoda. Martin, having been vocal about loving Shambhala festival, he graced the stage in a ‘Sooo Wet’ hoodie, a collective known for their totems at Shambhala and other small festivals in and around B.C. New Zealand’s Opiuo played his brand of glitch-hop at Fractal Forest during a live set, in which he played on a electronic drum pad.
Friday, the Village stage, which is typically known for its loud, thumping, bass music, hosted a few U.K. bass heavyweights as prolific drum and bass artist Roni Size (with equally prolific MC, Dynamite), and Dubstep heavyweights Rusko and Caspa took the stage. Both acts used the festivals PK Sound to the best of their advantage, making the crowd jumping, making the Village stage the most packed stage of the evening.
On the pagoda stage, one of the bigger acts of the festival, Boys Noize graced the festival playing his brand of techno music, the perfect accompaniment to the drizzle that was slowly starting to happen. We decided to end the night at the AMPhitheatre with bass producer, Eprom. As it turned to 4 a.m. we decided that the thumping bass was making us a bit sleepy so it was off to bed. Apparently, as soon as we wandered off, the festival went into full zombie mode as soon after Eprom finished his set, he went on to social media to say he was attacked on stage by a “crazed fan that was apparently under the influence of some strong drugs”. While we were a bit bummed to miss this debacle, we heard Eprom got right up and finished his set off like a champ.
DAY THREE: Waking up at approximately noon, the weather did not look too promising. The sky was grey, clouds were gathering. We decided to take a little break, as storms around these parts get kind of crazy.
By 2 p.m., the weather decided to cooperate and what better way to take advantage of this than to hit a fashion show, right?
A nice break from all the throbbing bass music, the AMPhitheatre featured a fashion show, featuring festival threads and garbs from all local designers. Afterwards, we managed to catch a little bit of MA/AM, a duo from Vancouver comprised of DJ Mateo and producer Adam Biggs. As the sun finally decided to come up, MA/AM provided the soundtrack with their disco and house tunes that kept everyone’s feet moving.
Later on in the day, back at the AMPhitheatre, we went to check out Plastician. Being a Dubstep/Grime originator, England’s Plastician, did not shy away from that as Shambhala’s acrobats trapeze on the stage above him, adding to the Amphitheatre’s circus aesthetic.
Back in the forest, Questlove, of Roots and Tonight Show fame was beginning to start his set.
Thousands of festivalgoers flocked to see what his set was about. But, would we have loved his set if it were played by anyone other than this legend? That’s debatable. But the Fractal Forest crowd was lapping up his pop-heavy tunes that were a stark contrast to the rest of the Shambhala sound. The rest of the night featured the world’s best turntablism, with the sounds of Cut Chemist, Z-Trip, Featurecast and A-Skillz gracing the stage. The real stand out of the night belonged to, Canada’s own, Skratch Bastid. Being able watch a DJ get up and share so much joy from his own talent is a privilege, which had everyone in the Fractal Forest smiling along. Skratch used his decks like a beautiful instrument to bring us original hip-hop sounds along with the Prince and Bowie mash-ups that have been an online sensation this year.
DAY FOUR: The final day of the Shambhala music festival has brought the inevitable, a giant thunder and lightning storm. Unfortunately the thunder and lightning kept many away from the annual Fractal Funk Jam that was supposed to getting underway early afternoon. Around late afternoon, the rain and thunder decided to subside, but, with that, left many mud puddles in both the Fractal Forest and Village stages. Slippery and wet, that did not deter people from going into the forest to hear the likes of Skiitour and DJ Slynk play old funk off records and 45s. After all, it is the FUNKIEST place on earth.
Deciding to do one last daytime walk around the festival grounds we stumbled upon the ANKORS tent again. Day three had the “bad drug” board looking bigger, with some alarming yet some funny things being sold as certain drugs. Amongst the bad… PMMA sold as MDMA, meth sold as cocaine…. But the funny, crushed-up Benadryl sold as cocaine or CO2 canisters sold as NO2, in case you wanted to make some Pepsi or get rid of your hay fever. Luckily people are out there getting their drugs tested, because in the 19 years of Shambhala, there have been very few fatal incidents when compared to bigger music festivals, which sadly average one to two a year.
Totems at Shambhala have gotten more and more popular year after year. At most European festivals, totems are used to find their friends. Most fly their countries flags, to represent where they’re from. At Shambhala, most people blow up the most derpiest picture of their friend who couldn’t attend or pop culture references. You can definitely tell what’s trending in pop culture by looking at what totems attendees had up and flying. A major trend this year was Rick and Morty, Donald Trump, but my personal favourite, would have been the multiple “Dat Boi” signs.
On Sunday night, the Fractal Forest decided to lay off the funk music and focus on the House. There was no “throwback” set from this Godfather of House Music. Felix laid out a master class in modern house DJ-ing. Perfectly set up Fractal Forest for a transition into Green Velvet. The sets flowed so well together it could’ve been a back-to-back set between the two if you weren’t watching.
Other highlights from the last night belong to drum and bass heavyweight, Andy C who brought his jump up D’n’B style to the village and Emancipator who brought the Funkition-1 powered grove stage, grooving to their slow, bassy beats, hypnotized from the acrobats from above.
Determined not to make our last night an early night, we decided to end our night, at the Pagoda stage with Destructo, who has a mini cult following due to the fact he is the CEO and founder of Electronic music events mainstay Hard Events which hosts the ever popular cruise-festival, Holy Ship. Gary Richards started the Sermon as a ’90s after-hours party in LA and it recently came to prominence again on his HARD festival-at-sea Holy Ship. Richards closed out Pagoda wee into the early morning with a party-classics set that was billed for 90 minutes, but four hours later, a conga line was still dancing around the stage for those who weren’t ready for Shambhala to end.
Did the party end there? Well, you must be mistaken. The Fractal Forest was still grooving to the sounds of Rich-E-Rich, who kept the crowd going from 6 a.m. all the way to 12 p.m. Unfortunately this was too much for this writer, who decided to sleep to the soothing sounds of bass one last time before the long journey back to Vancouver.
There are many reasons why people call Shambhala home. Whether it’s the sense of community, the great music, the river or the good vibes, just remember what the bathroom graffiti tells you, “You are beautiful.”BC, British Columbia, Shambhala, Shambhala 2016