Article By: Zac Cirivello ; Photos By: Oliver Gosselin
There is no way to completely describe everything that happens at the Shambhala Music Festival
, because there is no way to experience everything that happens at Shambhala music festival. With 15,000 partygoers and 4 days of nonstop music spread out over 6 uniquely themed stages, one’s journey to the festival turns into a “choose your own adventure game” of epic proportions on 500 acres of psychedelic wonderland. Now in its 15th year, Shambhala has become the largest and longest running outdoor electronic dance event in the nation. Many Canadians consider it a yearly pilgrimage, and this last year, the 10,000 tickets sold out in just under an hour of online sales. There’s really only one word for this event that takes place outside of Salmo, BC, just a hop over the US border: EPIC.
Operated by the family that owns the land, Shambhala is an incredibly unique event for a number of reasons. Much of the infrastructure is kept in place throughout the year and added onto in the weeks preceding the event. Each stage is managed by a separate production crew creating a multitude of distinct zones, atmospheres, and musical lineups. Law enforcement presence is practically nonexistent, except for when necessary, and Shambhala operates much of its own security and first aid crews. The operations are highly fine-tuned, and it’s easy to tell from the moment you walk in that these people know exactly what they are doing.
Many of the stage builds possess a level of creativity and complexity that rival most Burning Man theme camps, and the crews that work onsite for several weeks make sure that every year there is something new and exciting for the massive crowds to enjoy. Shambhala goes beyond a traditional weekend music festival, it is a massive shared community experiment and experience entirely in it’s own realm. It could be argued that nowhere else are there such impressive artists playing on such massive sound systems for such all-out raging party professionals.
After what was probably a several hour wait at the gate for most patrons, there was a seemly endless list of options as for where to camp. Whether it was in the large field outside the main festival grounds, sprawled out on the beach on the side of the beautiful Salmo river, or tucked into the woods along one of the many winding paths that carved their way through the back end of the grounds, you were guaranteed to find a place not too far from the action with incredibly friendly neighbors. It’s never too long at the event before one experiences the “Shambhala Wave,” a guttural utterance of celebration that travels through each zone like a shiver, usually starting with one person shouting a cheer of excitement and then building its way through the grounds until it becomes a crowd-wide cacophonous cry of ecstasy. The power of this, much like the power of Shambhala itself, is in the awe-inspiring whole being something much more powerful than just the sum of its parts.
Musically, there are very few events that attract the quality and diversity of talents at Shambhala. While many of the artists such as Pretty Lights
, and Adham Shaikh played multiple sets on different stages, each of the 6 main stages brought to the event their own energy and the performances were set to match. On Thursday, only two of the stages, the Rock Pit and the Living Room were open, and it was probably the only time you were going to easily find your friends.
The audible festivities began with a noontime show from the skilled performance group Lucitara. Featuring an impressive array of skills including contact juggling, hula hooping, and dance performance set to a soundtrack of face raging dubstep, the Rock Pit dancefloor was immediately filled. The crowd stood before a 4 foot tall barrier in front of the stage made of massive subwoofers hurling bass into a dance pit surrounded by a terrace of large rocks that was shielded from the sun by a large cone of red and white fabric that resembled something like a circus themed cornucopia. Placed between the Tribe 13 art gallery dome and the Vendor area, the Rock Pit provided a healthy dose of bass and a consistent vibration for a large section of the central area of the event. Thursday afternoon also saw the likes of scratch master and sound scientist Timothy Wisdom and drum & bass duo from Alberta, Cain and Four20 MC. The crowd knew that Shambhala 2012 was well on its way when West Coast staple Russ Liquid
took to the stage armed with his laptop, his trumpet, and a bottle of whisky. Playing a high-energy set that had dancers spilling out of the tent and pit area, Russ matched heavy bass and space lasers with grinding buzzsaws and the soothing brass voice of his trumpet mastery.
The other operational stage on Thursday was the Living Room stage. Commonly referred to as the “Beach Stage” due to its proximity to the river, the Living Room is a community collaboration between some of Canada’s most progressive artists and producers. With unique stretch fabric ornaments silkscreened by Inkspoon (www.inkspoon.com
), a number of shaded nooks, a soft sand dancefloor, and 360˚ of sound, the Living Room was one of the more comfortable and intimate spaces throughout the event. The Thursday night highlights featured a block of a few of the BC underground scene’s finest including sexy stylings of Bastet, a grimey glitch set from Yan Zombie
, and a drum and bass jungle infused dub performance from one of Canada’s favorites, DJ Dubconscious.
The late night at the Rock Pit offered more of BC’s most hailed bass slingers. Fresh off of producing her own killer event, the BassCoast Project in Squamish Valley, Andrea Graham aka The Librarian, brought the love with her to the much larger Shambhala. In fact, quite a number of the musicians, artists and fest heads were themselves just coming from the event that is becoming one of BC’s premier festivals. If you hadn’t heard of BassCoast up to that point, you had once you left Shlambhala.
The Librarian’s set was followed by another crowd favorite: Mat the Alien. The Librarian plays on Mat’s Wednesday Dub night in Whistler, and the pair blend in a bassful harmony. A longtime expert on the decks, Mat has been a Canadian mainstay for years and is the purported originator of the “Really Good” saying that has become commonplace all over the west coast festival scene.
Friday brought the audio onslaught from all 6 stages as one by one the sound systems were tested and cranked. At noon, thousands or revelers stood cheering and chanting at the giant wooden gates that led to a trio of stages, The Labyrinth, The Village, and The Fractal Forest. As the gates opened, the mass was led to the Labyrinth stage for the opening ceremony by (literally) a marching band. Built with an intimate dance floor in a small clearing covered by stretched fabric, the entrancing music of the stage reached back through the maze of woods in which nook was filled with art, shrines, chill spaces, a secret stage and even a chai booth selling the best grilled cheese this side of the border. The name Labyrinth is quite appropriate for this space given that one could easily get lost for hours in the maze of psychedelia.
The Village stage was a massive space with wooden elevated walkways sized to fit the crowds that showed up for the big names on the bill. Masterminded by the ultra banging PK Sound crew, this stage was an impressive feat of both imagination and engineering. A massive dome was leaned back to make way for a wall of speakers and large stage that had at any given time no less that 20 people raging on it. The PK Crew brought much of the sound for the other stages, and made sure not to skimp on their own. Speakers hung from the bottom of the 2nd story dance space adding an extra nice punch in the space.
After setting the mood right with a raga jungle welcoming set from the PK house DJs, the Village stage made their first night one to be remembered. After a heavily drum & bass infused day and evening, things got considerably dubbier in the night. Subvert, LowRIDERz, Datsik, and Chris B all took turns slaying some seriously heavy drops, crunches, and synths. It gave a taste of what may be to come in the post dubstep craze world of midtempo face melting beats. Also playing on the stage that night was the live improv electro-jam act EOTO. Showing off a continuously evolving style, this side project from from String Cheese’s Michael Travis and Jason Hann brought together a heavy backbeat, dubstep buzzsaw, and jazz freeform flow kind of improvisation.
The Fractal forest stage was a wooded grove of raised platforms and giant flowery projection screens. Being inside the center of the Forest floor at night, one was surrounded completely by lights and dancers at every level. The premiere night from the Fractal Forest featured uplifting groove from The Funk Hunters and Fort Knox Five
. The morning was brought in with a housey sunrise set from Justin Martin.
In the afternoon, the most centrally located and assuming stage, The Pagoda, began echoing a thunderous rumble that would persist through much of the next 3 days. The massive multi layer structure towered over the decks and faced a massive courtyard set for all manner of dancing. Emanating from the top of the structure was a collection of weapons grade lasers that sent green lightsabers piercing the darkness over most of the entire event. The Pagoda pulled in some seriously impressive names including Friday night’s pairing of party house heroes Claude Von Stroke
and DJ Dan
The daytime hours on Saturday at Shambhala were a good time for relaxing, taking a dip in the river, catching up on sleep, or doing anything to escape the intense heat. The Village stage hosted a live Hip Hop Showcase block hosted by Little Dinosaur. MCs and even a live band took to the stage in a multi-hour set featuring Nicoluminous, Lafa Taylor, and ending in an old school breakdance battle. A.Skillz brought fresh broken beats to the Fractal Forest, and Grounded TV (www.getgoundedtv.ca
) presented the Jellyfish Collective playing a high-energy dubstep funk set. The scene on the beach of the river smoothed out into a lively, sexy, and hilarious hour from Tarran the Tailor. The Tailor brings a resonant antique sound to his crowd through a layering of beats, loops, and some skilled banjo licking. As the sun began to settle, many headed to camp to prepare for the evening. Saturday night at Shambhala is certainly not something to be taken lightly.
The highlights of this jam-packed night included Excision
at the Village throwing down some of the raunchiest dub glitch lazer bass craziness of the weekend. The floor was pouring out into all ends of the forest with an intensely passionate crowd. After Excision’s set, the Village was set for drum & bass legend Dieselboy
. Pagoda also featured an amazing lineup that kept the courtyard packed. Swirling colors of light were projected into the Pagoda featured Canadian mix masters Glitchy & Scratchy and imports from Reno, Nevada, Love & Light
. With his partner Matt Madonna absent, producer Ryan Anderson kept the crowd more than appeased with his display of the duo’s unique West Cost dubcrunk funksauce. Love & Light have quickly become a crowd favorite on the West Coast of the US and made a great showing to the Canadian audience. Pagoda stage also featured one of several sets from Pretty Lights, Mat the Alien, and Dillon Francis
. EOTO jammed out at the Rock Pit and while Rob Garza from Thievery Corp
took to the stage at the Fractal Forest. The Labyrinth spent the night in a smoother mood including sets from Brad and Treavor Moontribe
Down on the shores of the Living Room, Westerly filled in for NastyNasty
who would play the next night. Opening with a slow and complex trickling of drips and hits, he dropped into a glitched out dubbed infused wonderland. The crowd seemed to be moving in half speed as Westerly delivered a sexy serving of superb bass music. As the night went on the beach saw a rousing set from the Librarian and brought in the first daylight with a sensual and uplifting set from Michael Red. Then Middle Eastern style beats from Sijay, and Gemma Luna performing freestyle improve live looping.
After a 6 hour funk jamdown brought by the crew of the Fractal Forest and their friends, the stage welcomed mix maestro & fun engineer JPOD the Beat Chef on Sunday. With a fresh fusing of mixes and samples layered into energizing melodies crafted for mass enjoyment. At the Village stage, the Phat Conductor, ill.Gates
, took to the speakers and made it heavy. A master of not only crafting digital music, but also teaching it, ill.Gates is a Shambhala favorite and has also been touring to deliver his workshop, the ill.Methodology. The mood stayed lively as Autralian Dub FX came on to deliver a live electric dub set. Accompanied by the soothing vocals of his wife Flower Fairy, the two composed an entirely live made high-energy reggae, hip-hop, and drum & bass. After Dub FX came Pretty Lights, taking his turn on the Village Stage. With an epic and diverse set including a throwback to some remixes including Led Zepplin and Pink Floyd’s “Time,” Pretty Lights made a point to tell the crowd that this was his favorite place to play. Ever.
At 2:00, most of the Shambhala dance floors seemed to free up a bit as dubstep icon Zed’s Dead
prepared to take the helm of the epic Pagoda stage. For 90 minutes, the crowd was given intense crunchy bass with some seriously heavy drops. Spilling out of the Pagoda courtyard, festivalgoers danced well out into the central Shambhala area where the food vendors were selling late night delicacies.
Adham Shaikh, the world music influenced and consciously minded producer played two sets that night and was also fresh from playing the previous night at the Beloved Festival in Tidewater, Oregon. Both at the Living Room and later at the Labyrinth, Shaikh tapped into the sound of a far of world and the spirit of a new paradigm of existence. Later at the beach stage, the Living room crew brought out a block of Bay Area headliners. NastyNasty took his turn sending bass waves downriver, and was followed by his good friend and fellow crunk explorer Knowa Knowone who kept the hard beats flowing until the sky lightened on Monday morning. El Papa Chango mellowed out the morning and started the call towards the conclusion of Shambhala with a playful and energetic first morning set.
After a few more performers and a closing ceremony, Shambhala 2012 came to an end. The mountains fell quite by midday, and the line to leave was at times upwards of several hours. By the night, half of the people would be gone, and the other half would trickle out in the next few days as camps, stages, and booths were torn down and packed up. The main buildings and stage infrastructure would stay, to be left until it just about this time next year. The memories, too, as unique as the experiences had, will slowly fade, until months down the line some one says, “Hey, you remember that one time at Shambhala? That was awesome!”