The setting of a festival is of the utmost importance. Think of all the memorable festival experiences you've had and how each festival's setting added, morphed or amplified the music in a way that you couldn't predict. Maybe you made it through the wasteland of Bonnaroo, or soothed yourself in Old Man Rivs at Shambhala, or felt the cozy community of Atmosphere Gathering or <insert your amazing festival memory here>. No matter what memory of your surroundings you have, it's probably a safe bet that you didn't wake up to this every morning. Welcome to Brown's Mountain.
This is the incredible view from the Valley Stage, where I saw at least half a dozen top-shelf DJ performances this year. The first stage to open each day, the Valley Stage gave an opportunity for a slow build from wake-up music to all out rave vibes by the time the stage closed to let people get ready for the evening's headline acts up the mountain at the Tall Tree Stage (Main stage). This seems like an easy thing to do, but it is not. The art of waking people up with music is a subtle, difficult thing to pull off. And no one did it better than Emotionz. A staple of the west coast hip-hop scene, especially in electronic realms, the good homie Emotionz proved his chops as a selector and DJ, spinning the most incredible wake-up set you could imagine. Just as I said, “This is amazing. I wish I got to wake up to this,” Emotionz declared that his set was a collection of his favourite wake-up tunes. There was nothing in it not to love. Shortly after, a new friend told me, “That music this morning was so good for waking up to.” And another told me, “I need to start every day of my life with this mix.” Please, Emotionz, if you're reading this, release this set or at least a track list so I can do it myself. Thanks for the stickers, also.
Huge shout out to Victoria's mighty Mt. Doyle. He put on a clinic during his Canada Day afternoon set, running across genres and slowly building to drum 'n' bass I actually enjoyed. (Anyone who knows me knows this a rarity. But I'm learning.) Any DJ who can move through so many genres and feelings in a single set and never have it sound jarring deserves some attention. You should be checking out Mt. Doyle if and when you can.
One more quick shout out to Vancouver's Coner. I had no idea who he was or what he was about (And I still don't...information is sparse) but dude crushed it. The last 20 minutes of his set was probably the most perfect 20 minutes of music I saw all weekend. If “chilling-on-the-side-of-a-mountain” was a genre, Coner has it nailed. Time to get a set out, good sir. I need something to start spreading around to people! There was more to be loved at the Valley Stage, but if I wrote about everything I enjoyed you'd be here for awhile, so let's get moving. Wait, one more thing: listen to Rhythmicon. So damned good.
The DJing wasn't centralized to the Valley Stage with phenomenal sets laid down at both the Tall Tree Stage (Main Stage) and the Spirit Stage (colloquially known among people as “the Rave Tent”). Special mentions need to be given to Moontricks, who laid down the perfect vibes before Nahko & Medicine for the People blew everyone's face off (More on that shortly). Their mix of deeply groovy, sexy and live guitar and banjo is a surefire winner. No one that I badgered about going was disappointed. Another victory for my good taste.
Friday night at the Spirit Stage gave me one of the finest runs of sets I've witnessed in a very long time. Spiral Architects lit the place up with the second best drum 'n' bass set I've ever seen. Hmmmm, drum 'n' bass has made another appearance here...maybe I have turned a corner, but I digress. Their set was filled with peaks and valleys, letting up on that machinegun d'n'b from time to time to let me get my dancing breath back. It's the most vital factor in my enjoyment of the genre. Just gimme a break from time to time and we'll be fine. Then came west coast legend and past 5 Questions answerer, Mat the Alien. I never know what to expect with a MtA set and I was as pleasantly surprised as ever. His grimy, electronic hip-hop beats were ceaselessly groovy and kept a smile on my face. I didn't think I'd ever use this word to describe an MtA show, but shit was LIT. Then, to top of my Friday (I rarely make it to end of these things. I have incurable oldmanitis.) the powerful JackLNDN came out and blew away every lofty expectation I had. Like, even if he had come out and met those expectations, I would have been more than pleased, but the guy proved himself to be more of a killer than I ever thought possible. He hit the party with a ferocity no one could have anticipated. But within everything he played, which I won't try to describe in terms of genre because he transcends, there was aggressive happiness, pretty much the M.O. Of all JackLNDN's musical output. Everything had that nice, house bpm, but never sunk into any one mode. I have no pictures of any of my Spirit Stage highlights because, frankly, I'm not a good enough photographer to come close to capturing the feeling of what was happening in there at any given time. It is a wonderful place and something that needs to experienced.
Note: The no-pictures thing also applies to the Laser Trap, which also needs mention, even though it's indescribable. If you were there, you know what I'm talking about. And BLESS the good people who put that together. Actually, while we're on the subject, props need to go to the crowd that inhabited the mountain all weekend. The crew and volunteers who worked their asses off, the organizers who continue to grow their amazing event (I can only imagine the logistical nightmare that is putting on a festival on the side of a mountain) and last, but certainly not least, the people who attend and build this amazing, ridiculous community. These fucking people. Beautiful creatures one and all. Your colours and sparkles and paints and costumes and insanely cozy camps...It was tremendous. To new friends, neighbours and the countless strangers I high-fived...You were all KILLING IT. HARD. The no-pictures thing does NOT apply to these good folks, so, here, enjoy some of the lovely faces and moments I witnessed over the three days and nights on the Mountain.
Now after that lovely break, let's talk about the utter pleasure that was the Tall Tree Stage. Working as the showcase for all the live bands, the festival's Main Stage was a showcase for some choice live music. My good friend, who recently graduated from “music fan” to “music obsessive,” declared that Nahko & Medicine for the People's Thursday night performance was “maybe the most powerful musical experience” of her life so far. It's hard to disagree. Nahko Bear and his band were tight, muscular and rocked way harder than I expected. (Their recorded stuff is much more in-the-groove as opposed to in-your-face like their performance.) It's been awhile since I've seen a passionate social commenter command a stage like that. The powerful statements their music incorporates really hit the spot. They have a real strong “Fuck Whitey/the USA” vibe (“Whitey” clearly not meaning white people as a whole!) and I'm way into it.
Shad brought the place down Friday night and it was the set that was mentioned to me by my fellow Tall Tree'ers more than any other. There are few things more delightful than good hip-hop with a live band and combined with the overwhelming positivity of Shad's lyrics and deftness of his rapping, the career-spanning set proved yet again why he belongs at the top of the Canadian hip-hop pantheon. His band was tight and his mic was AUDIBLE. And always, his songs continue to shine and radiate like beacons. How can you not like Shad?
The biggest surprise of my weekend had to be Victoria roots-rock crew Quoia. This band is clearly writing hits, with a really groovy, likeable jam-band thing laced with catchy-as-fuck choruses. I've slowly drifted away from the jam-band thing over the years but they tickled a part of me I thought I'd lost long ago. I don't know where I've been (Apparently they've been around town awhile) but I'm glad I found them. There's a heavy Dave Matthews influence going through some of the vocal delivery – scatting, incoherent babbling about whatever is going on in the crowd – but I'm into it. I can't speak for anything the group has released recordings of, but in a live setting, that stuff is great. An army of crew and volunteers joined the group on stage (a few songs before the end, strangely) provided the perfect microcosm of Tall Tree - this strange, amazing little festival on the top of a mountain on Vancouver Island, where ravers and rockers hug and high-five until they burst blood vessels in their hands. (Thanks, everybody.)