By Paul Rodgers
CALGARY – Lake Koocanusa is a reservoir in southern B.C. and northern Montana that was formed when the Kootenay river was blocked up by the Libby Dam in 1972. The name is literally just Kootenay, Canada and USA smashed together and the dam itself was dedicated to former president Gerald Ford. I wonder if, when they created this massive body of water, it ever crossed their minds that it would become an annual haven for some 1,500 be-costumed, dancing festival enthusiasts.
This year’s FozzyFest was special for a number of reasons. The organizers first moved to Big Springs Campground on Lake Koocanusa in 2013 from their original home in Kananaskis because of the catastrophic floods that rocked Alberta that year.
Their new home on the sandy beaches of this great reservoir was quickly embraced by attendees and organizers alike, which made it extra painful when they got slapped with a denial of their special event license in 2016, forcing them to have a substantially smaller festival that year. Then, in 2017 after winning a bureaucratic victory, they were once again allowed their full festival size, but had to pull the plug and relocate north of Edmonton, this time because of forest fires, not floods.
This year marked the triumphant return of the full-sized Fozzy to Big Springs campground and the weekend was blessed with fantastic programming, bigger and better stage design and lighting, and fantastic weather — a few downpours aside.
FozzyFest has a real knack for bringing out big-gun names, while also showcasing dozens of talented up and coming, or perhaps lesser known DJs and producers from around B.C. and Alberta, with a huge contingent coming from Calgary.
Before launching into the manifold Calgarians who performed and the pride-swelling, heart-bursting moments they created, let’s recall some of the big-font headliner’s sets.
Drum and bass is a cornerstone of electronic music. It has dipped in and out of the mainstream electronic scene for decades, its influences are far reaching and, like it nor not, it’s going to be around for a long time. I for one, really, really like it, and I am truly grateful to the talent selectors at FozzyFest for always ensuring that the junglist massive is well represented at their event.
One of the most formidable, well loved and respected labels in drum and bass is Hospital Records. Since 1996 they have consistently elevated the genre with their countless anthemic releases, their sub-label Med School, their Hospitality events, and the choice in artists with which they associate. These include some of the biggest names in the game like Netsky, London Elektricity, High Contrast, S.P.Y. and of course, one of their very first signees, Danny Byrd.
Fresh off the release of his bombastic new albumAtomic Funk, which features the sensational singles “Salute (feat. MC GQ)” and “Devil’s Drop” — Danny Byrd was a perfect booking for this year’s Fozzy — and he did not disappoint. His lively performance had the dance floor popping, with everyone’s face interchanging amiably between stanky bass faces and delightfully bemused and mischievous grins. Mr. Byrd actually had to switch set times with another of this year’s big d’n’b names Benny L — but there was no confusing these two distinct performances.
Benny L has not been around for as long as someone like Danny Byrd, but you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that after hearing his tunes, or seeing him play.
UKF quite astutely dubbed Benny L “the man behind the most vital basslines of 2017.” His mastery of crafting penetrating bass lines and devastating drums belies his young age — and made him one of the most intriguing sets to catch that weekend. Taking control of the decks after Danny Byrd, Benny L quickly had the pit in a frenzy and unleashed wave after wave of epic devastation.
While all this madness was taking place in the Bedlam that is the Shipwrecked Stage, there were some serious sounds going down over in the forest that Saturday night. France’s Moresounds was my personal favourite set of the weekend — an absolute sonic and cranial delight, pure jungle bliss.
After he played, San Francisco’s Dirtybird ambassador Worthy stepped in. Even though Danny Byrd and Benny L were two names I was most excited to see, I found it extremely hard to drag myself away from Worthy’s performance. While Dirtybird Records may on occasion be known more for their sillier take on house music; with squelching bass and tongue in cheek samples, particularly in the work of head haunch Claude Vonstroke, Worthy’s performance went deeper than that; it was a more serious, clinical experience.
Back on the drum and bass tip, another extremely memorable focal point was Kursiva on Friday night on the Beach. His set encompassed pretty much every element that makes drum and bass great — hard-hitting rollers, classic tunes, plenty of happy-go-lucky jungle (he is on Jungle Cakes after all) and cheeky jump up — all expertly woven together with deft mixing skills.
One last international headliner that blew the crowd away was Kytami. Formerly of Delhi to Dublin, this talented violinist has really come into her own as a solo act and her stunning performance was evidence of this. The sounds emanating from the stage were almost otherworldly; as her DJ dished out track after track, she was right there accompanying him with soaring symphonic melodies that gave an entirely new feel to classic tracks like Konflict’s ominous anthem “Messiah.”
Then of course, there were the dozens of local and regional acts that played. Maybe it’s because FozzyFest is at the end of festival season and everyone really wants to bring out their A-game, but I think more likely it’s simply that these artists are all just that good, all of the time.
Some highlights include: Jon Delerious, with his mind-expanding journey of a set, He led the way into another of Calgary’s finest house and techno DJs Esette and the transition was absolutely perfect. Those two are some of the most essential names in Calgary house music and they delivered the goods in a memorable way. They were followed up by another of Calgary’s best, Sub Chakra’s Carissa Gem, whose tasteful selections were a lovely way to transition into the wee hours of the morning.
Coming off a massive summer, Sub Chakra boss-dude Metafloor was tasked with shutting down the Forest stage Friday and he did so in fine form with his deep, dub-laden set.
Calgary’s OAKK, who has been on a steady upwards progression of late, both with his stellar releases and his successful HiFi residency New Wave, also was slotted a very late, or extremely early set towards the conclusion of the festival on Saturday at the Forest. OAKK has, in only a few short years, forged a sound that is wholly his own; though it encompasses many elements like grime, half-time and hip hop, his amalgamation and his own production style has become quite recognizable. Check out his Booms and Claps mix that just dropped today and check it out.
Though I’ve already waxed on for far longer than I likely ought to have, it would be criminal not to at least mention some of the other remarkable moments of the festival provided by Calgary talent. Like the 403DNB takeover to close out the Beach on Friday — hot damn it’s such a pleasure watching that gang all play together. They each have their own style, honed over decades of collective experience and it is truly fun and smile enduring to see.
Break Beat Dojo owner Donald Bump absolutely destroyed the Forest stage with one banger after another. Another set in that same vein — slamming bass-heavy house beats — was Space Coyotes. Great name, great guys and great goddamn selections.
Burchill into Crooka midway through Friday was another example of the diverse talent out of Calgary — both put on distinct, fantastic performances. Lotus Queen into Wigginz, yet another example of that same sentiment.
I truly could go on and on, but I’d like to close by saying that, though that was only my second time at FozzyFest, my first being in 2015, it is plain to see how much growth and progression the festival has cultivated. Despite everything they’ve gone through over the past years the organizers have managed to not only make their festival happen amid calamity, but evolve concurrently.
Their stages and talent curation were world class. The location they’ve chosen as a home, and the way in which they inhabitant and make it their own is exceptional, without even mentioning the extensive efforts they take to be good neighbours to the surrounding communities and authorities. FozzyFest has fully come into its own. It’s not simply or solely a great way to wind down festival season. It is a standalone, singular event that encompasses all the elements that make festivals fun, transformational and heart warming. Good vibes indeed.Benny L, Danny Byrd, Dirtybird, FozzyFest, Koocanusa, Kursiva, Worthy