For those who haven’t heard, Bass Coast is an arts & music festival that takes place annually in Merritt, BC. From downtown Vancouver it’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive down the Trans-Canada highway; a route well-worth it for the sight-seeing alone. At the heart of this festival is a love for electronic music, community-building, technological innovation and the creative craft, with a strong focus on showcasing emerging artists, both local and international alike.
Nicola Valley provides a pristine setting hugged by jagged sandy mountains from all sides. A freshwater creek runs through the middle of the venue, separating the festival from the campgrounds and providing attendees a place to cool off in the daytime.
One of the best parts about Bass Coast is the camping culture. A generous amount of space is allotted to campers, many of which secure beachfront property on Friday morning. People go to great lengths to make their three-day pop-up homes cozy, unique and welcoming to all. Highlights included a colourful geodesic dome adorned with hammocks, an aerial hoop and surrounding art installations, and Camp Hugz, which offered an elaborate menu of free hugs to pass-byers.
Over the bridge and into the festival was the Cafe, one of Bass Coast’s four stages and the first to turn its speakers on & off each day. The Cafe bumped upbeat bass music for the listening pleasure of hungry patrons munching from a menu of all-organic eats. Many of the options here were raw, gluten-free and/or vegan. The food was so good that I feel obliged to post a picture of the menu (you’re welcome!). I caught Barlee here on Friday night and DJ Abasi’s classic house set on Saturday afternoon, both of which had me groovin’ in the smoothie line-up and coming back for more.
Next to the cafe was the festival’s sanctuary, which had undergone a make-over. Replacing last year’s bright, towering tee-pee was a smaller tent with a pathway and bridge leading to an enclosed space by the creek. Pillows and blankets padded the corners, creating a safe haven for partiers to escape to. The added privacy, dim lighting and relaxing sound of trickling water was enough to make you forget where you were. Sanctuary volunteers were also sent to make rounds of the festival, educating people about available options for harm reduction and handing out condoms.
Past Sanctuary was the Brain, Bass Coast’s designated classroom. Discussions were run throughout the daytime and tailored to the Bass Coast crowd, covering a wide range of unusual topics. Workshops on music and art, such as the sound production and wood-working classes, stuck closer to Bass Coast’s raison d’etre. Others took the opportunity of an open-minded audience to explore ideas around non-monogamy, mind-altering substances and even Chinese metaphysics. As someone who’s interested in naturopathic medicine, I felt particularly sour about missing “Healing Alchemy of Spices & Ayurveda”.
Down the path a little further was the momentous main stage, a theatre-like permanent structure outfitted with massive wooden tentacles for this year’s theme, Tentacularrr. Invented by organizers, the nonsensical word encouraged attendees to “reach out and explore the world through feeling”. It also made for very interesting costume pieces…
The main stage played host to some of Basscoast’s bigger acts as well as its more elaborate performances. San Francisco’s j.phlip stole the show on Friday night, while Saturday was dominated by illusory dance group Subscura and Bass Coast co-founder the Librarian. On Sunday night the Funk Hunters uplifted crowds with funkadelic beats to make you dance your socks off (if you weren’t already barefoot).
Bass Coast’s arts district exploded into view just past the vendors, where a multi-coloured forest housed numerous interactive art installations. It was easy to get lost in this hallucinatory playground, as every single piece begged to be played with. Some were more passive, such as the sculptural third spaces that gave attendees a place to kick back and take a break from all the noise. Others required direct intervention, like the cash register-turned DJ controller or the photo booth.
Turning right took you to Pirate Radio, a nod to the rogue DJs of days past. Appearing as something between a castle and a pirate ship, this multi-dimensional stage was outfitted with crow’s nests and tied-up nets, giving partiers all kinds of vantage points from which to enjoy the music. The dance floor here was a bass-heavy pit of dark and dirty beats. A stacked line-up on Friday night kicked off with Taal Mala followed by Portland’s Eprom and then Mat the Alien, who blew up the PK speakers with a gritty trap set that had my teeth vibrating. Detroit Swindle was one of Sunday’s highlights, though Sabo might’ve won the night as his sunrise set played on late into the a.m. for somewhere around 5 hours straight, making him the final act of Bass Coast 2015 (and a total champ).
Closer to the river was Slay Bay, a beachfront paradise nestled beneath a whimsical canopy of shifting lights and patterns. The dangling threads were reminiscent of old man’s beard, or hanging lichen, giving it a playful, forest-grove appeal. The DJ booth was framed by two massive, feathery white wings in an otherworldly display of creative stage design. Slay Bay was always a great place to be, but you really missed out if you happened to miss Saturday’s 2 p.m. reggae jam. With a few clouds in the sky, festival-goers happily took a break from the river to throw down to some Caribbean soul music. DJ Dubconscious kicked off the night shift followed by Alberta-born Smalltown DJs and El Papachango, who killed it with a Latin-inspired set of bass music and hip-hop. JPOD the Beat Chef kept the party going with some bouncy beats on Sunday afternoon, and finished his set by initiating a giant group-hug on the dance floor. This was in response to the marriage proposal that took place on one of the speakers in front of the stage, a real indicator of the love that was in the air. Sunrise sets by Ekali and Michael Red made it impossible to stop dancing, even as the night surrendered to the light around us.
Speaking to the festival’s logistics, both Pirate Radio and Slay Bay had grass-laid dance floors to control the dust; a successful solution to an age-old problem. Free (cold, delicious, glacier) water was provided at designated fill stations, though these were reserved to the festival grounds and not the campgrounds, making it difficult to transport large volumes back to campsites without a wagon. Getting into the festival was as smooth and low-hassle as could be, and line-ups were never an issue – a perk of Bass Coast’s capped headcount. One suggestion for next year might be the addition of a second bridge across the river closer to Slay Bay, as this would eliminate the long walking distance for those camped on the far end.
Finally, I would be committing a grave injustice if I failed to mention the amazing community vibe that sets this festival apart from others in its genre. Not once did I ever feel nervous or threatened – not once did I think twice about ditching my coat by the dance floor or dancing up to a stranger. To put it into perspective for you, within 10 minutes of dropping my wallet I was able to collect it from lost & found. Of the $200 inside, not a single bill was taken. 3000 attendees – 3000 friends.
Thank you Bass Coast Project!