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Stay Gold, Bass Coast (2016 review)

Credit: Neil McElmon

The Main Stage. Photo (c) Neil McElmon

Another year, another fantastic show of talent by some of BC’s finest new media artists over at Bass Coast Project. After a week of the usual 9-5 desk work I couldn’t wait to get back to Nicola Valley, where the sun was shining despite the insane rainstorm we drove through to get there. (Anyone wishing to get caught up can read last year’s review here.)

I had to leave early on Sunday for a funeral, so unfortunately I can’t offer any insight into the final acts, but read on for a tour of the festival and the first two days’ highlights.

This year’s celebration was sold out months in advance (including early entry!), but with a capped attendance of 3000 people, things never felt too crowded. One of my favourite things about Bass Coast is the size. Getting in and out is a breeze, and so is carving out some room next to your friends if they happen to arrive early. Nobody pays extra to camp with their car which is also a huge plus.

So many hot people... Photo (c) Pollinator

So many hot people… Photo (c) Pollinator

The theme this summer was black and gold, which turned all the festivalgoers into literal eye candy. As if people who attend Babe Coast weren’t sexy enough… that shit had me questioning my sexuality!

La Cantina, Bass Coast’s least stage-y stage, was actually bumping some pretty sweet acts on Friday night with Dubconscious keeping things light in the evening and Goopsteppa‘s deep, bass-heavy set of spacey minimalism closer to dawn.

As much as I love the music at Bass Coast, I think I like the art even more, if only because it’s so rare — a sandbox of pure novelty, perfect for exploring between sets. The forest at the center of the three main stages serves as an interactive playground of multimedia installations. As expected, this year’s crop did not fail to amaze. There was a giant rotating, colour-changing kaleidoscope that you could stick your face into so it encompassed your entire field of vision, and a gumball machine that spat out little capsules containing missions! There was also a cozy black-lit platform painted with intricate patterns, ideal for midnight chillin’, upon which I encountered a HUGE beetle that shimmered like a gasoline puddle! (At least… I think that happened?)

“The Registroid”. Photo (c) Khaos Photos

Artist duo Monkey C Interactive deserves a special shout-out for creating two of the most engaging pieces at this year’s incarnation. The Registroid is an antique cash-register-turned-DJ controller that always had a crowd of people surrounding it. Anyone who played with the Registroid for long enough was rewarded when the drawer popped open to reveal a hidden trading post full of treasures to choose from.

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“Remix Railings”. Photo (c) Joe Flow

Monkey C also turned the railings of the bridge leading to the campground into a DJ controller, with touch-sensitive points triggering beats courtesy of longtime Bass Coast performer Longwalkshortdock. It was always a pleasure passing over the bridge to see people running their fingers along the railings and discovering that even the bridge was interactive.

Aside from La Cantina, Bass Coast has three stages: Slay Bay, Pirate Radio, and the Main Stage. I caught SkiiTour at Pirate Radio on Saturday Night, who are known for filling the air at their shows with fake snow (bubbles and foam!).

Combined with the light show and the incredible dance music SkiiTour was feeding us, I was completely overwhelmed by the mastery of it all. Pirate Radio has a huge net suspended between trees for partiers to relax in (a blessing). In the morning, it offered back-to-back yoga classes.

Slay Bay was done up like a steampunk distillery for DJs to cook up beats behind. Situated right by the water with a newly established bar next door, Slay Bay is the place to be in the daytime. Lighta! Sound hosted the annual reggae jam here on Saturday afternoon.

The main stage provides a platform for some of the more eccentric acts at the festival (I’m looking at you, Blondtron), including those that need the extra space to move, like female dance group Luciterra. My favourite set here definitely had to be Ekali’s on Friday night, a gritty, hip-hop inspired mix that saw even the spacious main stage packed with people.

Bass Coast also hosts a series of thought-provoking workshops throughout the day. Class subjects ranged from tea to music production to how-to’s for successful threesomes ;)

I won’t ramble on too much about logistics, but there are a few things that I feel really set Bass Coast apart when it comes to how it is run. No corporate sponsorship, no price gouging, and no cutting corners around artist compensation. Visual artists receive grants to complete projects for the event. Everyone gets paid. Considering how small Bass Coast is (and how often organizers offer artists “exposure” as compensation), this is significant. They’ve also got a kickass team of people in charge of harm reduction over at the festival’s Sanctuary, ensuring 24-hour access to a wide scope of safety-centric resources.

While I was attending the media orientation I ran into a delightful gentleman, Eamon Armstrong, who was covering Bass Coast for Fest300. Eamon passed on an interesting piece of advice about festival writing: he suggested writing not about the music or schedule of events, but the human condition within the context of that environment. His words reminded me of last year, when I dropped my wallet and collected it 10 minutes later from the lost and found with all $200 cash untouched. Then I thought back to my first year, where I fell into a funk on the last day and reenergized by collecting hugs from strangers until I no longer felt out of place.

Music festivals can be overwhelming at times, but I always feel empowered by the knowledge that everyone is looking out for each other, contributing to a communal good vibe that fuels the individual each time they glance around. There is something that changes in people when they’re given the chance to get out of the rat race and celebrate life at an event dedicated entirely to the beauty of human expression; a kind of fullness that overflows into a desire to give rather than take. Bass Coast is a perfect example of that.

Thank you Bass Coast Project! Until next time!

Bass Coast 2016 approaches

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Three weeks ’till Bass Coast 2016! My personal favourite of BC’s artist-run electronic music festivals, Bass Coast is unique for its complete lack of corporate sponsorship, eclectic offering of interactive art, seamless professional execution, and largely female team of organizers (including co-founder The Librarian. Shhh…)

Nestled between the mountains in sunny Merritt, the eighth annual celebration has already made history for being the first time that the show has completely sold out. This year around 3000 people will be making their way to the valley oasis to peruse an innovative outdoor gallery of light and sound-based installations and throw down to a world-renowned roster of emerging Canadian and international talent. Sound like paradise? You’re not far off.

~ VASHO PHOTOGRAPHY ~ www.facebook.com/vashophotography , www.vasho.ca , www.basscoast.ca , #vashophotography , #basscoast

(C) Vasho Photography

If you don’t already have a ticket I feel bad for you son, but hey, there’s always Craigslist. (Just be smart about it — scams suck and Bass Coast reserves the right to refuse any ticket bought from a third-party retailer.) Those that are on the fence may be interested in reading our review of last year’s event, which reads a bit like a tour of the grounds and gives you a pretty good sense of the experience & logistics. This year’s line-up is featured in the series below, pick a mix and kick back to gain some perspective on the type of music you can expect to hear at Bass Coast.

See you there!

Bass Coast Project
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Mature & Intimate Vibes at Bass Coast 2015

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Bass Coast Music Festival

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.

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The perfect place to chill out under the summer sun.

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.

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Is this real life?

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”.

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The most tentacularrr stage of them all!

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).

Rotating 3D sacred geometry and a wooden deer skull whose shifting lights responded to heartbeat.

Rotating 3D sacred geometry and a wooden deer skull whose flickering lights responded to your heartbeat.

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.

A nod to the rogue DJs of days past.

Pirate Radio

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).

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Slay Bay

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!