Favorite This[REVIEW] The Shambhala Experience: Diving into Canada's premier electronic music festival

Published: August 28, 2014

By: Mitchell Treend

Photos by: Michael Benz, Jeff Cruz, Bryce Duffy

Attending Shambhala Music Festival this year was a truly rewarding experience. As a first time guest, I had the unique opportunity to dive head first into this long-standing family tradition of music, art, food, and friends. 2014 marks the 17th year of production for the Canadian gathering deep in the glorious Kootenay Hills of southeast British Columbia. For many this event marks the most important reunion of the year and stands as the point of rejuvenation at the end of a difficult journey. Hailing from regions far and wide throughout Canada and beyond, Shambhala attracts a special group of like-minded humans bent on creating seriously special moments together for one sweet weekend in early August. It is fair to say that Shambhala represents an experience of the true power of community and the ways in which creative outlets such as music and art have the potential to bring out the best in us all.

For starters let’s talk about the festival grounds. Shambhala is hosted by the Salmo River Ranch in Salmo, British Columbia. This private piece of paradise sits nestled alongside the crisp Salmo River on 500 acres of farmland dedicated to livestock for most of the year. But just as July slips into August a transformation unfolds that turns this sleepy BC mountain ranch into an electronic dreamscape. Festival guests camp out on a long stretch of grassland surrounding the central festival hub. For most seasoned guests the adventure begins as early as Tuesday evening to get in line to wait for the campground to open at 8 am on Wednesday morning. I almost couldn’t believe it, either. General admission begins on Thursday August 7th, however for an extra fee the festival campground opens to super-early birds to begin setting up camp Wednesday August 6th. Be warned however the commitment is very real. Arrivals on Tuesday night face the gauntlet of waiting until late Wednesday afternoon to actually enter the festival grounds. We waited in line for about 16 hours before actually getting in to camp. Why put yourself through all that? Camping spots are prime real estate. The earlier you arrive the closer you camp to the festival entrance making life a heck of a lot easier once you have already arrived

Despite the inherent beauty of the Kootenay region in British Columbia, Shambhala bubbles over with an ecstatic beauty of its own. The transformation of this space into the glowing epicenter of dance music and organic joy is truly amazing as you wander around for the first time.. Next you are faced with exploring the many nooks and forest trails that wind around the grounds between stages and installations. As you make your way, you begin to notice that the people of Shambhala are truly amazing. No matter where you go the masses of beautiful and creatively dressed humans abound. Everybody I met had an insatiable glow about them, beaming out from the dance floor, lighting the way for their fellow fam. This was a special quality about the Shambhala experience, a feeling of true connection no matter where you went.

Shambhala may have compiled one of the best lineups of dance music in the world this year. I was truly amazed at the variety of sounds and styles featured throughout the festival. Not only was each performer keen on adding intimate flavor and style to their performance, but also the production teams for each stage took careful measures to create a uniquely original vibe for the span of shows during the weekend. House, Dubstep, Drum and Bass, Hip-Hop, Funk, Disco, Reggae, Reggaeton, Glitch-Hop, no matter what stage you went to there was always something a little different on the decks. The one thread that united all these performers and their styles was the power of the PK sound system. Bass music takes on a whole new meaning when fed through the finely tuned decibel pumping machine that is the Canadian based PK sound rig. Earplugs are an absolute MUST HAVE!

Now let’s get down to business and try to condense 4 days of high-octane creativity and talent into less than a Tolstoy novel. As I said there are 6 stages at Shambhala. The Pagoda, which acts as unofficial main stage, The Village for all things bass, The Amphitheatre, transformed from The Rock Pit of previous years into an intimate theatre type setting covered by a glorious tented canopy oddly reminiscent of circus big tops. Next there is The Living Room stage, which sits just aside the sparkling Salmo River. Of all nostalgic summer stereotypes, listening to funk and reggae music on the river watching beach balls bounce through the air was definitely the most potent. Then comes The Fractal Forest, which many would say is the best stage at the festival. After sun down Fractal Forest becomes a laser tech’s dream. Words can barely describe the scene of neon cutouts of Star Wars creatures and Technicolor sun’s twisting and shape shifting to the trippy jams until morning.

Last but not least Shambhala premiered its brand new Grove Stage this year, which deserves a bit more recognition. As I said before each stage at Shambhala is curated and produced by an individual production team. In the past the festival featured an area called The Labyrinth, which showcased downtempo, ambient, and world music. This year however the Grove took its place. Byron Whitlaw of Area One Events shouldered the responsibility of bringing the new environment to life. The Grove stage featured interactive art installations, tea booths, a tree web for mid-afternoon kick-backs and an exclusively Funktion-One sound system. Since the early days of Shambhala PK has been the sole supplier of all audio equipment for the festival stages but this year The Grove was chosen to showcase the Funktion-One system. For some it may have been sacrilege but they do say that competition breeds innovation.

So here is a glimpse into the best performances of Shambhala 2014.

Thursday: featured Fort Knox Five and label mate QDUP spinning breaks, hip-hop and some nostalgic disco remixes in both sets that lit a fire under the eager early birds. Later on, most were getting anxious for Thriftworks to make his appearance but sadly he couldn’t make it across the border. Luckily for everyone involved, his good pal Freddy Todd stepped in to blow us all away. After a glitch hop rinse down, Germany’s own Robot Koch quietly snuck on stage and proceeded to simply steal the show. His set flew across the spectrum of new and old school dance tunes floating seamlessly on the outstretched arms of the crowd swaying to each track. He sealed the deal with a massive feature of Eprom’s “Beast of Babylon” which effectively brought the house down in serious style. The evening buzzed on with Bass Coast queen The Librarian studiously tracking through a collection of original west coast bass tunes. Astronomar kept things spacey into the wee hours of the morning before Longwalk Shortdock emerged to shake up 4:30 AM into absolute bedlam. Whoever scored a sword got one of the best souvenirs of the weekend.

Friday: all the stages came alive. Things got started with the opening ceremony at The Grove featuring fire dancing, guided prayer and lots of love. The Village stage opened shortly after to kick off the Raga Jungle Rinse out, one of many showcase events highlighting some high octane Jungle and DnB. This really got the blood flowing. Sun:Monx played the first set at the Grove and really set the bar high with spirit wave and bass that made the spine tingle. I wandered past an unfamiliar sound and found myself at Justin Hale. As the clock struck 4:20 he addressed the crowd and sent his crew onto the dance floor too dispense enough supplies to let everyone ‘celebrate’ with him amidst a deep and funky house set. Later in the evening came Stylust Beats, a set that many look forward too as the surefire kick start to the Shambhala weekend. As he floored through smashing mash-ups, bootlegs and some seriously tasty originals from his recent album we got a glimpse of a brand new Bassnectar collab that sent the crowd absolutely mental. Next up was a trip to the Pagoda for the end of J.Phlip launching off the dirtybird records showcase straight into the fresh techno and bassline styling’s of Skream. To make matters difficult, JPOD and Plantrae were pouring out the magic right next door at the Fractal Forest and the Grove. The peak of the night brought out the legendary Excision Shambhala set right alongside another legend on the decks Moby. No matter where you ended up the spirit of the celebration could not be quelled. Friday ended early on Saturday with an unbelievable sunrise set from the precocious Pumpkin. The morning rays were almost as warm as the smiles on each persons face.

Saturday: got going by the river with a too-cool-for-school ghetto funk set from Portland hair icon AfroQben. Joined on stage by lyricist Lafa Taylor, AfroQben layed down sweet guitar riffs as he jammed out to the beats in the background while the crowd went crazy with 20 beach balls emblazoned with a certainly iconic Afro. Next there was the hip-hop showcase at the Village stage. Opening up the afternoon, the Village brought in a host of local hip-hop talent for small showcase features lasting all throughout the afternoon. To top things off the showcase featured some very special headliners. First was Zion I beatsmith Amp Live accompanied by the eloquent Eligh on the mic. Next was Hieroglyphics original MC Casual playing through an anniversary set of his first album. Finally the Zion I crew themselves complete with Amp Live took the stage and blew the crowd away. The afternoon moved forward and Mr. Scruff had just sealed off an impressive 4 hour set at the Living Room so it was time to catch local legend Mat the Alien for his second set, this time at the Pagoda. This guy absolutely blew me away. His set was groovy but his skills on the turntable were a sight to be seen. A common theme throughout the festival was a high volume of insanely impressive turntablists. Not only do these artists have a keen ear for great tunes but their ability to mix and match and scratch up on-the-fly edits is truly remarkable. A side step through the trees leads back to the grove where The Human Experience was unraveling a soulful and spirited set with some of the best hoopers and dancers I saw all weekend. Ill Gates at the village was hard to pass up, his live beats and unreal bass were another highlight at this stage all weekend but it was short lived as Beats Antique and A. Skillz were ramping up their sets as well. Needless to say the peak of Saturday was the bass head captain himself. Bassnectar reminded us all that no matter what level of commercial recognition you can achieve, it all comes down to the love of music. As he proclaimed that he “Wasn’t trying to blow anyone’s mind tonight” I watched in awe as the minds of 10,000 glorious humans dissolved into the dust and neon light. As epic as Bassnectar can be, the night roared forward into a wild set from Australia’s What So Not, more bass therapy from Paper Diamond and Datsik back-to-back and a hard-hitting funk party from Kill Paris. While the madness was unfolding, masses gathered around the shady canopies of the grove for another unbelievable string of shows. Emancipator dreamed up bliss and fed it through the function ones just before Kaminanda arrived to share his new album and lay down a smooth sensual glitch set. Desert Dwellers came on right after and sealed the deal for the Grove as one of the top spots to hang out at Shambhala 2014. The end of the night left off with a banging set from The M Machine and a lucid wave of spirit from Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation.

Sunday: Everyone knew things were coming to a close and celebrations reached their pinnacle. People got to jamming in the Fractal Forest for the funk jam with a special set from the Jurassic Five crew’s DJ Nu-Mark. Next up Octaban put the grove on their feet with a sizzling set of hip-hop and future bass tunes. House legend Mark Farina entered the Living Room for an extended mushroom jazz set and left three hours later with trail of melted hearts in the sand. I had to catch Neon Steve in the Fractal Forest next to warm up for Beardyman who turned out another favorite set of the weekend with his insatiable vocal skills and master loop work. Liquid Stranger smashed up the village only to have it reborn in the ethereal wake of the Lucent Dossier Experiment. Odesza wowed the Grove crowd with their debut Shambhala performance. The duo from Seattle made the most of the potent Grove energy and served up some serious joy to all those on the floor. Z-trip came out of nowhere and turned the Fractal Forest into trap and bass wonderland with his untouchable skills on the turntables but all I could do was flock to the lights and sounds of the Sunday night house party Pagoda style.

The list was staggering, Hometown girl B. Traits got things all jacked up before Gorgon City who soothed spirits and got bootyies bouncing just ahead of happiest man on earth Justin Martin. Returning to Shambhala this year, Justin Martin put forth an experience to remember forever. The sight of a smile on everyone’s face as they danced in pure bliss will stick with me until the end. Then things got whacky. Hannah Wants followed by Chris Lorenzo unveiled the wonky bassline house vibes they have come to be known for. This capped off a long night of serious footwork trying to keep up with the high caliber performances at every single moment of the entire weekend. . By the end of the night Dimond Saints was ready to close things out at the Village for a superb downtempo and bass laden sunrise set. As the sky turned from navy to misty yellow it was time to say farwell to the most beautiful place I have ever been.

Shambhala music Festival stands as an important benchmark in the future of community gatherings and musical celebrations. At first glance you see the staggering lineup of world class artists and think, wow! This is even better than Tomorrow world or EDC. Even deeper beyond the superior talent , Shambhala really proves to be the best experience for anyone who truly loves the magic of bringing people together to celebrate music and art. No matter if you are Bassnectar or Smalltown DJs rocking the decks the levels of joy and excitement are exactly the same. After 17 years of community sourced success it is safe to say that Shambhala is in a league of its own. My hope is that this festival will maintain the integrity of its grassy roots and continue to provide generations with an experience of the magic and beauty of being in the world as a member of a universal community. This experience is indeed, hard to describe completely, but I feel the words of a fan and a new friend say it best.

“Thank you to Shambhala, and to all my wonderful friends, for reminding me (once again) that behind all the PK subs, lasers, lights, costumes and craziness.. The real power of music is its ability to bring us together, connect us, and help us realize that WE ARE UNDERSTOOD, and we are never, ever alone!”

Tags: BreaksDowntempoDrum and BassDubstepElectroGlitchHip HopHouseLivetronicaTechnoTrap