By Paul Rodgers
Another Bass Coast has come and gone — a year of anticipation suddenly becomes reality before it quickly slips away again into the ether of memory and now we wait as photos, videos, written accounts and recorded sets start to trickle out as we once again begin counting the days until the next one. For this, the festival’s tenth year, organizers pulled out all the stops. The stages were even more developed and visually stunning than ever, the curation of music, art and performance art was stellar and the overall prismatic atmosphere was surreal, beautiful and awe inspiring.
“This year Bass Coast celebrated 10 years yet somehow it feels like just the beginning,” co-founder and music director Andrea Graham, a.k.a. The Librarian told BeatRoute. “This edition of the festival was a true celebration of everyone who contributes from the artists to the volunteers, the participants to the crew. Everyone on site adds to the experience and I feel grateful to be part of such an open minded, talented, and inspiring community.”
Each year the festival has a different theme; last year’s was Space, in years past there’s also been Zebra, Mutiny and Gold to name a few, and this year it was Prism and the theme shone through in countless ways throughout the weekend.
Beyond the thematic depiction in stage and lighting design, individuals’ costume choices or photographers’ experimentation, it had a more allegorical element as well. It was as if the festival itself was a great prism, and all who passed through it were able to burst forth into their fullest, most colourful states of being.
There is always a strong Calgary contingent present and this year was no exception. There’s a substantial number of Calgarians attendees, volunteers, photographers. There’s the incomparable PK Sound and of course the BassBus Crew, who are responsible for building the Radio Stage and this year far surpassed their previous work. Furthermore, there was a huge amount of Calgarian talent behind the decks this year.
One of the Radio Stage’s builders Re:Me migrated over to Slay Bay to lay out a thumping, intricately crafted tech-house set early Friday evening. Many of his comrades from the Radio crew, all decked out in their customized basketball jerseys moved the “Booty Beacon” dancing platform over to his stage to show their support, and his set had them and everyone else around them dancing their asses off.
Before the audience had a chance to recover, Esette, another veteran Calgary DJ, stepped up to bat and kept the vibe elevated with more four-on-the-floor excellence. Darting right over to Radio three quarters of the way through her set, one was able to get right into Metafloor’s performance.
In 2016 he made his Bass Coast debut with a set at the Cantina, and it was spectacular to see him playing to a bigger stage and audience this year — his jungle infused half step and footwork-based sounds fit in perfectly with the aesthetic of the festival. After the festival Metafloor, a.k.a. Blaine Kingcott had this to say:
“ … another thought is how happy I am to be part of the West Coast bass music community. At no other festival do I feel so at home with so many other like minded artists, the talent they pull together is so good. On a more personal note, I’m stoked on my Radio Stage performance because I feel like I’m very close to being able to do music full time and have exposed myself to enough people that I can start planning bigger tours and tour full time.”
Jah Raven was another example of a Calgary selector getting boosted to a better slot this year. After playing a deep, emotive and highly experimental set in The Brain last summer, Jah Raven was tasked with performing the closing rituals for the Radio Stage on Saturday night and he came through in full force, serenading the sunrise-loving crowd with an impressive all-vinyl house and techno set — believe me, his milkshake brought all the boys to the yard and then some.
OAKK, who’s been grinding away, creating new music and developing his HiFi Club residency New Wave, also had the chance to showcase the fruits of his labour. On Sunday evening at Slay Bay his tasteful tunes soared out over a wildly receptive crowd.
Though he has long since moved to Toronto, Sergio SP’s hard work and dedication, which helped to build nights like Modern Math and Northern Lights, made waves that are still felt today. After Mike Dehnert was unable to make it to play, J.Phlip was scheduled as a replacement. She then got held up at the border and was also forced to bail. This resulted in Sergio extending his slot for an additional hour and a half and putting on what many agree was one of the best sets of the festival; a perfectly woven blend of techno and trance bliss that brought the crowd along with him on a truly beautiful journey.
“I had such a wonderful time and I’m still buzzing off of the energy of that couple hours there,” he said. “It was bracketed by pure love and I just feel great knowing that I’ve had a hand in cultivating such a loving and devoted family out in the West Coast.”
His counterpart in much of his Calgary legacy, Dan Solo is another staple of West Coast festival culture, and he was there on Sunday to provide a hip hop and R&B-laced soundtrack to a beautiful afternoon at the Cantina, representing yet another night he had a hand in starting in Calgary, Natural Selections.
Given that this Bass Coast celebrated its tenth birthday, it’s no surprise that the weekend was full of … well a whole lot of wonderful surprises. Oh wow, there’s a roller rink? Must have missed that memo. Wow, the Cantina is about three times bigger than last year! So is harm reduction! Oh shit! Michael Red is playing an all vinyl classic jungle set for his slot? Moomin cancelling means that Jesse Bru is delivering one of the best house sets of the weekend? Is that Doctor Jeep going back to back with Anna Morgan?! Wait, wait, wait, those question marks on the schedule meant The Librarian is closing out Slay Bay?
The fact that no matter where you placed yourself over the course of the festival you would be exposed to incredible sights and sounds may be astonishing, but certainly not surprising. The team in charge of curating the musical talent do consistent, amazing work, and it would take many more thousands of words to highlight everything one managed to see and hear. A definite highlight was the Saturday programming at Main Stage.
Charlesthefirst has a unique way of concocting mind-bending, sonic technicality with serene melodies; jarring yet lovely.
Next up was Nosaj Thing, the set I was most excited for and the set that has been imprinted into my mind as one of the most amazing audio/visual experiences I witnessed. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I’m still not quite sure how to process it, but suffice to say that the territory his performance traversed had some of the darkest, some of the most soulful and some of the grooviest moments of any set that weekend.
Next was The Librarian and it was a very special sight to see her up on that stage, sending out the full spectrum of drum and bass from this platform that she and her team have extracted from imagination and made into reality.
And then Ivy Lab. Damn. Throughout both theirs, and The Librarian’s sets, the dancing and acrobatic performances alone were staggering, that can’t be understated. The production quality, costumes, lighting and skill of the dancers were on par with a Broadway show. But what Ivy Lab did was demonstrate what it is possible to do with sound, pushing bass music to jaw-dropping limits. Their set just seemed to go on for hours, and it was indeed a timeless show.
Finally, Fixate took the stage. The stage itself seemed to transform as each new act took to it, from blinding whites for Nosaj Thing, purples for Librarian, ominous and dramatic reds for Ivy Lab and finally an eerie, villain-esque green for the jungle deconstruction Fixate dished out.
I found it impossible to pry my eyes and ears away from that stage for those consecutive performances, despite knowledge that there were many other artists to see at other stages. That’s the beauty about this festival’s programming — no matter where you decide to position yourself you are guaranteed to hear something terrific.
Bass Coast, and, from personal experience, I would say festivals in general, are accompanied with their own set of unique challenges. There’s the more straightforward dilemmas attendees face like making decisions between conflicting time slots such as Justin Martin at Main Stage or Anna Morgan over at Radio. Eliminating instances of FoMo while navigating programming such as this without the aid of one of those Time-Turner things Hermione had or attaining a god-like state of omnipresence is no easy feat. There’s the camping conundrums that arise like ensuring your shade structure is pegged down soundly enough that it doesn’t get swept into oblivion by the powerful winds of the Nicola Valley. Is it the right time of day to chance using the porta-potties or should I wait and see if they are cleaned soon? Have I eaten/drank enough today? Etcetera.
Then there are the seemingly infinite number of challenges that can and do present themselves to the people behind the scenes. A prism falls down. An artist replacing another artist that cancelled has to cancel. A video camera breaks. Another patron decides to climb the damn hoodoo and needs to be taken down (seriously, the one volunteer I spoke with one morning had already taken 20 people off that hill. Cut that shit out! There’s better things to do with your time and energy at this festival!)
Speaking with the staff and volunteers of Bass Coast is truly humbling — no matter what mammoth hurdle rises up before them they are always prepared to squash it immediately, efficiently and they do it all with a contagiously positive attitude.
Additionally, what makes one’s time at Bass Coast so special is that it comes along with more profound challenges as well. It challenges you personally to question yourself about a myriad of tangible issues. How do I feel about rave culture, and my personal place in it? How do I feel about diversity, inclusion, or sexuality? How do I personally feel about substance use, or harm reduction?
Over the past ten years, the Bass Coast Project has provided attendees the opportunity to truly experience these issues. From their upfront stance on culturally appropriative costumes like Indigenous Head Dresses, their progressive position on harm reduction and consent culture or how they consistently include and elevate artists, musicians and staff from the full spectrum of gender, race, and sexual orientation — Bass Coast continually acts as a vessel for forward thinking. The addition of The Brain as a hosting space for forums on everything from herbalism to colonialism, provides yet another opportunity to grow intellectually and expand one’s perspective. Another fundamental aspect of the festival is that it challenges you to question your level of involvement with the project. Which brings me to my final point.
Bass Coast is known as the Project because it is an ongoing thing. It does not begin and end with July 7 to 9. Like a flower that only blooms at a certain time of the season, yes it is a spectacle to behold during that small moment in time, but for the rest of the year it is a work in progress, continually being developed, nurtured and kindled until it is time to unveil once more.
That living energy is enticing and inspiring, and the wonderful thing is that if you should feel so compelled by your experience at the festival, or by hearing about it from friends or seeing photos and videos of it — you can absolutely get involved yourself. There are dozens, if not hundreds of ways in which to immerse yourself in Bass Coast.
The most streamlined way would perhaps be to buy a ticket, support the festival and just go and be your best self there next year. You can also volunteer. You could get involved with stage building or design. You can apply to perform as an artist or dancer. You can sell the food or artisanal works you make or display a piece of art that you created. You can get on the media team. You can volunteer in harm reduction.
That tangible energy you feel while on the grounds is something unequivocally special. It’s why people spend hundreds of dollars on tickets year after year. Why people go to the site weeks before and weeks after and pour their blood, sweat and tears into the build and the teardown. It’s why artists like Ivy Lab say they begged to be added to the bill this year. Everyone who participates in the project both impacts it and is in turn impacted by it. As The Librarian proclaimed during her monumental celebration of a performance, joined on stage by a gigantic mob of staff and supporters, “We are all Bass Coast!”Anna Morgan, Bass Coast, Dan Solo, Esette, Fixate, Gold, Ivy Lab, J.Phlip, Jah Raven, Mike Dehnert, Modern Math, Mutiny, Northern Lights, Nosaj Thing, OAKK, Prism, radio, Radio Stage, Re Me, Sandro SP, Sergio SP, Slay Bay, The Librarian, West Coast, Zebra