by Natty Morrison
It’s become increasingly obvious that the electronic and jam festival scenes are rapidly becoming one. The average Phish show contains nearly as many flat brims and pixie-hairdos as a warehouse show contains patchouli stench and good weed. The reason is anyone’s guess. You can dance to both. Both like to go long and late. Maybe it’s both musical styles’ emphasis on the peak. Maybe it’s that both genres feature audience/artist interaction, essentially shattering the fourth wall for all time. Or maybe it’s just about the drugs. At any rate, the two are undeniably melding. Dubstep and bass music are becoming as prominent at a jam music fest as a naked guy or the Mixolydian mode. And thus far, one interesting theme has begun to emerge. Jam festivals are traditionally a source of “feel good” music. It’s plenty of funk and guitar solos and slappy bass. Hammond organs and fun drums to play with. It’s a party. A big, smiling party where everyone is invited.
Dubstep, however, is not feel good music. Dubstep is dark and evil. Dubstep shatters ribcages and realigns your spine. Dubstep yells at you when you walk on his lawn. Dubstep will probably steal your identity and buy $25K in Poppers on EBay. Dubstep wants to hit your dog with his car. But, dubstep also wants to throw his arm around you, drive you to the pet store, walk you up to the window with all the puppies, and then force you to do just an unimaginable amount of ketamine. Dubstep is a kind of a dick, but he also wants to help you live. So when I arrived at the Blastoff to the crushing sounds of bass music, only to see hula hoops and baja hoodies, it was comforting to see the two contrasting and somewhat contradictory scenes making nice with one another. It was touching—kind of.
The festival started out with clear skies and a cool summer breeze lingering in the air. I made my way to the food tent for a surprisingly cheap hamburger and Stella (only $4 for both! Incredible), and quickly headed to the main stage to watch Detroit native Freddy Todd sling his lazer-infused dubstep sound. He wasn’t alone, however, as fellow Michigan-man Jaws That Bite joined him onstage to play shred-worthy guitar throughout the set. The sound quickly reinforced my theory that dubstep is the metal of electronic music.
After head-banging for over an hour, I enjoyed a relaxing tech-house set from SuperDre. It was around this time, however, that I noticed a lack in bass power. The stage was packed with top-notch audio equipment, so I began to wonder, “What gives?” Apparently, a problem with the local police force led to the festival promoters turning down the bass. Normally this wouldn’t be the worst problem in the world, as the speakers were providing crystal-clear mid and high ends. But the Blastoff is a bass music festival. And a bass music festival without bass? Well, that’s kind of like a music festival without music, or a shitty movie without Nic Cage. It just doesn’t feel right.
Next up was EPROM at the Amphitheater Stage. While his 8-bit style doesn’t necessarily require huge blasts of bass, it was interesting how much more powerful the stage’s sound was. Some of this was due to the space; the stage is less than half the size of the Main Stage, and with the steep hill facing the space, it allowed the artist’s blips and beeps to bounce back, creating a quasi wall-of-sound experience that really enhanced the overall delivery of every square inch of low frequency.
Upon arriving at EP3’s set at the main stage, it was apparent that the live bands didn’t suffer the same difficulties the DJs did. The lowered bass volume certainly didn’t prevent the Atlanta-based band from ripping through an intense hour-long set. With guitarist Dan Cox slamming leads on a beautiful new Telecaster, the rest of the band followed suit, pushing upwards towards the stratosphere with big synth sounds and crashing drum builds. The crowd may have still been filing in, but those in attendance were blown away by this ever-growing, ever-improving livetronic group.
With the sun disappearing behind the trees at Zane Shawnee Caverns, I wandered over towards the Grassroots Dome to check out some underground (or, grassroots, if you will) acts. With some of the sound issues earlier in the day, I was a bit concerned with a smaller stage and its presumably smaller system. Thankfully, I was dead wrong. I showed up in time to catch the last half of Kalamazoo producer Duktap’s set, and she was already shoulder deep in bass waves, taking them to otherworldly spaces with plenty of strange ambience and echo effects to fill the entire dome. And while the system was smaller, the tighter and more compact audience created a dense, sweaty mass of bass reverberations. I finally was beginning to feel at home.
There are a lot of moments at a festival. Some of them are great, some of them are awful. And looking back now, I realize that the Grassroots was where I had my perfect moment. That moment? A set from a young man known simply as GRiZ. Melding yaw-style bass lines with huge, intense builds and outrageous drum sounds, GRiZ plays like a poor man’s rich man. I had been lucky enough to check him out before heading to the festival, but I soon discovered my headphones were no match for the pure force this guy brings. I may blow a lot of smoke when talking about artists, but this guy is the real deal. And as the weekend continued, GRiZ proved to be the top newcomer of the fest, playing nearly ten sets throughout the weekend (by my count), including a surprise SplaTTerbox set, featuring both himself and Freddy Todd. As I maneuvered throughout the festival grounds, I noticed his name escaping the chapped lips of nearly every fellow concert-goer. If anyone had achieved liftoff at Blastoff, it was GRiZ.
As day two rolled in, so did the rain clouds and heavy winds. The Blastoff was brought to a halt, due to light bulb sized hail and gusts of over 60 MPH, some of which were responsible for the death of my Easy Up canopy. But, I pressed on into the blustery day, and by the time the weather had cleared, it was time for the evening’s headliners. First up was Mochipet, a producer about whom I was woefully undereducated. I was back changing into dry clothes at the tent when I heard the opening strains of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” seeping through the waves of his all-encompassing sound. Normally I would have rolled my eyes. “Teen Spirit? Really? That’s too cliché. That’s so overused,” I would have said. But within seconds I knew this was no simple remix. In one quick swoop, David Wang (aka Mochipet) had completely reappropriated the seminal rock song into something both abstract and quietly beautiful. Hooked, I ran to the main stage. To my joy I found that the noise ordinance did not seem to be in effect this evening. The bass was obscene and pumping, and most of the attendees had emerged from their shelters to enjoy the sunset set.
But as good as Mochipet was, this festival belonged to MiM0SA. I was wowed by his prowess a few weeks prior at Summer Camp, but seeing him in this intimate, enclosed environment made it that much better. At times during his hour and a half set, Tigran Mimosa cut out the sound, grabbed the microphone and guest starred on a cappella vocals for some of his songs. With nearly all original material, the artist everyone seemed to have come to see showed the masses exactly what they wanted.
With Cirque du Womp’s first major production in the books, the time is now to reflect upon the possibilities for next year. Can the promoters up the ante, with an even higher-caliber bill—a tall order, as a lineup featuring Tipper, Ana Sia, MiM0SA ,Mochipet, etc. is already loaded. Perhaps a venue change or scheduling adjustment are in the cards, as these growing pains are standard for any first-year festival. A festival’s merit, though, lies in its ability to bring together likeminded folk, introduce them to something new, give them a heaping helping of what it is they crave, and send them packing without causing too much stress. Whether it’s jam or electronic, merengue or polka, the scene continues to warp and stretch, while keeping those basic principles in mind. Entertain, invigorate, and enlighten. But dubstep is still a dick.
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