BY NATTY MORRISON
For one reason or another, the jam and electronic scenes have taken a liking to one another over the past few years. Maybe it’s the fans’ affinity for dancing. Maybe it’s the fans’ affinity for recreational partying. More likely though, it’s both genres’ ability to take fans to heights of musical ecstasy during their live performances. They both understand the importance of the build, of nailing the climax in the song. In short, they both know how to give live-music lovers exactly what they crave.
Camp Bisco, now in its ninth year, is a fickle festival. At times it feels as though it can’t decide between being a strictly electronic music festival or a jam band gathering. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. The improv-happy atmosphere seems to provide some inspiration to the DJ acts, and, in turn, the electronic artists push the live bands to match the energy found in clubs and raves.
One of the most convenient features of Camp is its relatively small area. Whereas other festivals can challenge fans with long and arduous walks between separate stages and campsites, Camp Bisco’s total layout could be explored on foot in no more than 15 minutes. And with the tents and stages so close to the camping area, it’s possible to listen in on multiple sets from your site – provided you grab one with a centralized location. I was lucky enough to find a space nearly dead center. Pulling in at just around 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, I sat against my car and could hear the not-so-distant sounds of Sub Swara and Wu Massacre, playing from the dance tent and main stage, respectively.
Though Swara’s set was wrapping up by the time I decided to head to the tent, Wu’s performance over on the main stage was still going strong. Personally, I’ve had disappointing experiences with hip-hop acts at festivals. With the majority of most bands emphasizing extended improvisation pieces, rappers can seem out of place, with music much more rigid in its live presentation. That being said, Wu Massacre (featuring Raekwon, Ghostface Killa and Method Man) seemed strangely fitting. The Camp Bisco crowd is already so heavily influenced by hip-hop culture that the classically raw sounds of deep Wu Tang Clan cuts seemed to be a rallying cry for most of the attendees. It was mildly bizarre seeing a mass of young, white kids screaming out that “Cash rules everything around me,” but somehow it made sense.
Next up, was the ever-intense, ever-shifting Thievery Corporation. My knowledge of Thievery is rather limited, but I was treated to a vastly different set than the down-tempo style dub tunes that I had heard from them before. They were able to effortlessly control the crowd and turn Massive Attack sounding tracks into an electronic explosion of energy, spewing drum ‘n bass beats while spacey vocals intertwined with the throbbing bass lines. The crowd response was terrific, as sporadic fits of energy burst from the crowd in the form of screams and cheers.
But the festival, of course, belongs mostly to The Disco Biscuits. So when it came time for the Biscuits to step up to the plate, they delivered with two extremely impressive sets. First set got off to a bit of a slow start after a meandering jam out of “Morph Dusseldorf,” but once they dropped into the epic tune “Spaga” the jams picked up and keyboardist Aron Magner steered the band’s through renditions of “Abraxas” and “Voices Insane,” before eventually returning to “Morph” to close out the set.
However it was the band’s second set that truly shone. Opening with an intense version of “7/11” guitarist Jon Gutwillig took center stage, particularly on a epic “Orch Theme” jam that stretched out a good 20 minutes and eventually gave way to the semi-rarity “Sweating Bullets.” By the time they closed out with a solid performance of the more-recent song “Naeba” there was little doubt why it’s called “Camp Bisco.”
Though I was rather exhausted, I took a deep breath and dove deep into the late-night tents, arriving in time to catch the final strains of Diplo’s set. But soon the dancehall beats coming from his set-up segued to the electrifying live house band The New Deal. The New Deal is a band tailor-made for late night performances. The trio, consisting of keyboards, bass and live drums, is so precise in their playing that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a real band and not listening to a spectacular house DJ. Drummer Darren Shearer has said that the group rarely works from a set list, and it shows. The New Deal has truly honed their improvisational skills, and jams with purpose and direction. Each jam could easily pass for a composed song. The New Deal knocked the performance out the park, simple and plain.
My final stop of the night was the Silent Disco event on the Hill Stage. Silent Disco is an interesting concept: fans wear wireless headphones featuring a real time broadcast of a DJ’s performance on stage. There’s no sound coming through the speakers, so without the headphones you can’t hear anything. It’s a neat idea, and the scene is hilariously strange. Waiting in line outside the stage, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight of attendees dancing in complete silence. Once I made my way inside, my headphones treated me to an excellent set by Chicago-based trios Orchard Lounge and Future Rock.. Unfortunately, in a desperate attempt to find some water, I had to leave the stage and eventually wound up waiting over a half hour in line before I gave up and returned to my campsite. As cool the concept may be, it seemed like a bit of a letdown for the fans on the outside looking in; the Silent Disco had only 500 pairs of headphones, and once the New Deal wrapped up at around 4:30 a.m., the thousands of other fans were left without any music. I feel as though it might have been better for the festival if they had simply let the DJs plug into the sound system. But, aside from the slight faux pas with the Silent Disco, Friday was an excellent day – and night – for Camp Bisco.
Stay tuned for the Saturday review coming shortly…
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