By Alan Ranta
MERRITT – 2018 marked the tenth anniversary of Bass Coast, the infamous electronic music and arts festival that had too much bass for its initial Squamish locale and moved to Merritt after four years. They stepped their party game up big time for this one, but having already experienced what it’s like to wear out your welcome in a community, this festival is actively doing everything in their power to work with the city of Merritt and respect the traditional lands of the Nlaka’pamux Nation.
Some 5,500 tickets were sold this year, up 22% from the 4,500 sold in in 2017, to go along with a bunch more staff, artists, vendors, and volunteers for everything from parking duty to sweeping the grounds for moop after everyone leaves. Health and safety measures were visibly ramped up to compensate for the massive increase in attendance. With a heavy focus on consent, including several workshops tackling the subject, dozens of pink-shirted harm reduction volunteers wandered the grounds making sure people had condoms, letting them know about onsite pill testing, and other safety concerns, while each stage had a life guard station to keep an eye on the mayhem. The festival ensured a massive enough first aid presence to virtually guarantee that the city of Merritt would suffer none of the medical burden for any possible partying mishaps, and even hosted a Tourism Merritt Mobile Visitor Information Kiosk in the food court for good measure.
Of course, Bass Coast did a bunch of things for its own satisfaction too. There were some 10,000 handtied streamers flowing at the Main Stage, made half the length as last year so it was far less like dancing in a carwash. Project Runway Canada winner Evan Biddell designed a whole high fashion collection, based on recycled materials. There were subtle improvements in the already brilliant selection of food vendors, available art, and installations, like how the monumental space ship from last year’s Main Stage was relocated to the woods by the Slay Bay stage.
While the official decorative theme was prism, meaning there was a wash of rainbow colors in the crowds, there also appeared to be a cleaning subtheme between the girl walking around with a feather duster giving people a once over on the roads, the guy with a fox mask who set up an ironing board in the middle of the dancefloor for Taal Mala and proceeded to take off most of his clothes to give them a pressing, and the crew of tie-dyed janitors with mops. Suffice to say, it was quite an experience before you even got to the music, and good music, they had plenty.
Given little else was going on, Thursday was all about the Cantina. It was a casual night of cocktails capped by sheer mania of Cherriep, happy hardcore included, and the bouncy house of Neighbour.
Friday got my vote as the best night of the fest. I bounced between the soulful house of German duo Session Victim at Slay Bay and the sexy kitchen sink style of Manchester scene-maker Madam X at the Radio stage, before landing back at Slay Bay for Vancouver’s Jesse Bru. Bru was there covering for Moomin’s unfortunate cancellation, and his disco-infected funky house bridged the gap nicely.
I caught some of Justin Martin, Smalltown DJs, and a bad ass jungle-heavy showcase for Innamind Recordings featuring Ago, Headland, Karma, and Kursk, but the highlight of the night, if not the entire festival, was D. Tiffany. To be honest, I was expecting something a little on the colder, insular side to go along with the icy hipster aesthetic that the 1080p label espoused, but D. Tiffany hammered out a technical yet swinging set of bangers that satisfied both hearts and minds.
Saturday for me started back at the Cantina, grabbing some Carolina BBQ and on-tap kombucha while checking out the lo-fi deep dance of Vancouver’s Pender Street Steppers. From there, Dov1 and An-ten-nae pooled their rib-crushing bass skills as DNA, doubtlessly leaving no carbonated beverage at Slay Bay’s Yarr Bar with any remaining fizziness, followed by CharlestheFirst fathering bass babies at the Main Stage with his tripped-out, hip-hop-tinged lower frequencies.
I had high hopes for Nosaj Thing, having seen him rock a sick MPC set on a bill with Daedelus and Jogger at Fortune Sound Club some eight years ago. This was all wrong, though. It took the first fifteen minutes of his set to calibrate the lasers, which didn’t end up doing much more than basic pre-set sweeps through the streamers. When his set finally began in earnest, and it was hard to tell when it did, Nosaj Thing merely teased. On the coldest night of the weekend, when you needed to move to keep warm, he spent the majority of his set building up towards something that never took off. That sucked the wind out of my sails until Bass Coast curator the Librarian got on and threw down one of the most rambunctious sets I’ve ever seen from her, aided by a much more engaging light show and occasional dancers. She always gets a prime slot at this thing, and she deserves it.
Though some people had left the festival by Sunday night, others had rallied from the weird energy of Saturday, so the party felt like it actually regained momentum. Vancouver’s Nancy Dru brought her mysterious midnight techno to the Radio stage at dusk, and slowly coaxed the crowd into a trance that perfectly set the table for the interstellar communication of Australia’s Roza Terenzi.
Later, at Slay Bay, Greazus delivered their usual bowel rumbling bass devastation. One can only thank the heavens that HxdB and Patrik Cure found each other, as their combined efforts continue to expand wildly beyond their individual talents. Following that, longtime Hyperdub producer Ikonika dropped a bass heavy set of grimey island riddims transitioning into a kind of retro-futuristic pop EDM, taking listeners on a journey that tantalized and delighted the senses.
All that is but a small fraction of the music that was on the schedule, in addition to all the workshops, interactive installations, roving experiences, and what not. It’s all about the people, though. I ran into Max Ulis, JGirl & Manousos, Longwalkshortdock, Nancy Dru, Urceus Exit, and Heidrogen, among other musical associates, just wandering through the crowds, and half of them weren’t even performing at the fest that weekend. This isn’t just a party for most people; it’s a way of life.
It’s almost eerie how similar this is to where Shambhala was at when it hit the ten-year mark. The vibe is still overly glorious, but the same growing pains that struck Shambles are starting to peek through here. Unfortunately, as more and more people are attracted to the sheer spectacle of experiences like this, it loses its sense of intimacy, while the core base of homegrown hippies and old school ravers can get somewhat displaced by the bros, the Jersey Shore club types. So, please, don’t tell them what a fantastic, life-altering experience this was. Don’t tell anyone else to go. Send them to the Electric Daisy Carnival instead. Let’s just keep this between us.
All Photos by Caily DiPuma