By: Anand Harsh
The Ocean Stage served as homebase for the festival’s electronic music. Isolated and intimate, the terrain of the area forms a natural club environment. The stage is at the mouth of a bowl surrounded by 10-foot mounds. Saplings line the rim, and practically enclose the area. Around 200 people can fit inside the basin with another 200 or so around the sides and lip. It’s the perfect setup for an outdoor electronic show, which can feel positively unsettling during the daytime.
Regional sensation Amtrac, out of Lexington, KY, was the first act I caught on the Ocean Stage. This kid really impressed me: he’s young, inventive, and full of fire. He had a couple of circus performers (from LA’s Cirque de Berzerk) join him on stage, but their contortions and gyrations were unnecessary—the crowd was already on board. Amtrac mixed high-energy house beats with distorted guitars and thudding bass. The crowd really got a charge when he slowed down the tempo and syncopated the beats, revved up the bass, and brought a steppy vibe to the stage. Look for Amtrac to break out of the Midwest and head to one of the coasts with his cocktail of dubstep, house, and electro.
Two Fresh and Break Science complemented each other quite nicely. Both mix hip-hop with jazz, sampled hooks with live drumming, and as the air became sticky both acts were able to cool down the crowd with some sultry gooves. Sherwyn and Kendrick Nicholls, the twin DJs behind Two Fresh, are joined by drummer Colby Buckler, who held his own against the fury that is Adam Deitch of Break Science. Deitch is at the forefront of the live drumming/electronic movement because—in addition to his unquestionable talent behind the kit—he brings elements from all over the world into his sound. While there were explosive moments from the stage and the audience, both sets were rather subdued on the whole due to the heat. The exposed floor of the Ocean Stage felt a bit like Death Valley by mid-afternoon. Caked in dust, the crowd was parched and losing energy.
Logistically, Forecastle fell short in certain areas and caused waves of consternation in others. Due to the festival’s urban environment, the organizers implemented some changes in order to boost revenue. The major point of contention was the no re-entry policy. In years past, festival goers could leave Waterfront Park, walk to their cars, and grab beer, food or whatever they had stowed for later. Vendors jump through a lot of hoops to sell their wares, and Forecastle had their best interest in mind when they instituted their policy. Why pay ten bucks to get a taco and a drink from a truck when you could leave the festival, walk to a bar, sit in the air-conditioning and enjoy the same (or, perhaps a marginally better) meal? Furthermore, a stricter re-entry policy meant less breaching of the festival grounds through bracelet shenanigans—probably the biggest reason for the change.
A majority of complaints came from people who camped in the designated area, which was quite a distance from the venue. These folks were essentially trapped at Forecastle. There were areas underneath the interstate that provided shade, but not within earshot of any stages. Bottled water was at a premium, and there were only a handful of water fountains scattered across the grounds. With temperatures reaching the 90s, Forecastle turned into a sweaty, rock and roll internment camp. Of course, proper medical staff was on hand to treat those overcome by heat, exhaustion, or dehydration. But if you didn’t want to deal with that hassle and you still needed to get off of the grounds for a breather you’re gone for good.
As the blistering sun finally dropped, Lorin Ashton, A.K.A. Bassnectar brought the only pure electronic music to Forecastle’s main stage. This is what Girl Talk would sound like if you dropped him into a K-hole. It’s dark and moody, sure, but there are enough pop samples dropped in to keep the kids happy and bopping around. His sound is pulsing and moving, with each banger giving way to the next like Olympic relay runners passing a baton. While the actual handling of the knobs and dials is seamless, the sound remains glitchy and fuzzy. If the music wasn’t so hook-laden, I’m sure a lot of people would find the sound creepy, and perhaps even a bit nerdy. When the climax comes, though, hands are up and fists are pumping.
Bassnectar has a stranglehold on the South, and there’s no questioning the primo main stage timeslot. Ashton’s crowd may have rivalled that of the Smashing Pumpkins. His following is getting bigger by the day. We’ll have to wait and see how the East Coast, crossed-arm skeptics react at Camp Bisco this weekend.
Back on the Ocean Stage, it was EOTO’s duty to close out the night’s electronic showcase. Having seen EOTO a few times at this point, I think it’s safe to say I’ve figured out exactly what Michael Travis and Jason Hann are up to. They know the kids love the whomp. Travis is wearing a t-shirt that reads “Can I get a Whomp Whomp.” Several handmade signs state simply “Whomp.” And the agile crowd members who have scrambled up into the trees surrounding the stage rock the branches in time with the whomp.
So EOTO opens up with some whomp. They give the crowd exactly what they’ve been begging for. Travis kicks out the buzz saw bass, Hann pounds out the steppy barrage of beats, and the crowd loses their mind. However, any second grader on a Halloween binge can tell you, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. This goes for dubstep, as well. Travis pulls back the bass, and quickens the pace, which Hann matches. They move to a four-on-the-floor dance beat, more reminiscent of early EOTO straight D&B. The melodies become more complicated, drop into quick reggae comps, move faster and faster until finally…here comes the whomp. The crowd goes wild yet again. And EOTO’s not even done for the night.
The Belle of Louisville is a beauty. She’s almost a century old, but she still eases out onto the Ohio River a couple of times a day. This aged steamboat served as the late night venue for Forecastle’s electronic, post-festival parties. Thankfully, for those of us who can’t find our sea legs, the ship stayed docked for the midnight affair. The previous night, Ana Sia and Big Gigantic rocked the boat to much acclaim, and the sold out event attracted a lot of last minute ticket-seekers.
Johnny Lewis A.K.A. Larva Ink started off the festivities in the Belle’s low-ceilinged ballroom. He’s got a real easy style. Lots of uptempo and upbeat tunes with a really elegant electro feel. The Denver-based DJ brings on a drummer for his live performances, and the kid is incredible. George Horn doesn’t like a day over 15, but his youthful appearance belies some serious chops. More than once he got some approving nods from EOTO’s drumming vets.
When I first arrived at Forecastle, I heard the Belle’s belly was a sweltering sauna. There were some nice breezes drifting in the mini-windows lining the ship, but as more late-night attendees arrived, the temps rose dramatically. By the time EOTO took the stage once again, the ship was swaying and the sweat was pouring. They went through their familiar rhythm: bring the dubstep, crank up the tempo, go four-on-the-floor until the crowd is screaming, and then crush them under the whomp. I moved back and forth through the room, and nowhere did I see anyone just relaxing. The crowd came to get down, and Travis and Hann were bringing it with a vengeance. Laser-light provided by Herm Production’s Alex Schneider cut through the air and complemented the psychedelic mood of the duo’s jamming. EOTO had missed the heat, and if the partiers were suffering from exhaustion, they hid it well. The Belle became a moist pressure cooker. More than once I heard the phrase “swamp whomp.”
After an hour-and-a-half of straight thumping kick and pulsing bass, the crew of the boat started getting nervous. First they tried to stifle the band, then they cut the lights. The kids kept dancing and demanding more. The floor was sticky with sweat and Bell’s Oberon, and still people had perma-grins stretched across their tired faces. Quietly, the crowd filed out of the ballroom, through the narrow hallway, and down the gangplank.
A word to future Forecastle attendees: drink plenty of water, rest periodically in the shade, and get on that boat.
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