There is no experience like Shambhala. The mountain setting, the Life-giving river, the PK Sound, the hoards of beautiful people, the ridiculous stage designs, the colours, the art...all of it combines for one of the most unique experiences any of us are likely to find on this planet. But all of this pivots on the music. The best Djs, spanning nearly every genre of dance music you can imagine, provide the soundtrack for all the ridiculousness and that soundtrack is the thing that keeps me coming back year in and year out. There are many places to read about the people and the culture of Shambhala, albums of photos by people far more qualified than me documenting the bliss (Check the Shambhala FB page for a cornucopia of said photo albums). So with that, here is my overly long, in-depth look at the way I spent my musical time on the Farm this year.
Thursday – Living Room Appreciation Night
From the moment the AMP Stage opened on Thursday at noon, the stage was on fire with heavy-hitters with even heavier beats. Zeke Beats, Stylust Beats and Pigeon Hole all delivered ridiculously heavy afternoon, gangsta-riddled hip-hop sets that would have been the late-night norm for most other festivals. But this is Shambhala and we start at 100 MPH. By the time SkiiTour took the stage for their traditional Thursday afternoon set, the crowd was in a frenzy – dancefloor packed, costumes and totems already out in full force, people falling over from heat exhaustion only to be immediately helped by medical staff and fellow Shambhala-goers. These Thursday SkiiTour sets have become the stuff of legend and this year kept this proud tradition strong. Regina/Vancouver reppin' Def 3, who had numerous star-appearances this year, helped the proceedings hit a fever pitch, complete with that lovely “snow” that always manages to show up at Shambhala, in August, in the Kootenays. The Whistler-based duo is the perfect example of an act that has used the platform of Shambhala – one filled with music obsessives who love to spread good music – to their ultimate advantage, through the consistent quality of their sets and the annual releasing of those sets.
After leaving the music to hit camp for a necessary rest and regrouping, I returned to the AMP Stage to find things had gotten heavier than ever, and now the base wasn't g-funk or groovy house, we had moved into long, deep bass sounds, designed more to overwhelm and pound a feeling into the listener, rather than ride a groove. It certainly does the trick when the mood is right, but I was still needing that groove and as I approached the Living Room Stage, the only other stage open on Day 1, I was greeted with the groovy hip-hop house rhythms courtesy of Adept. Homie was on-point from the moment I arrived, with my friends and I nodding vigorously in approval. Ass-shaking was imminent. Then came the highlight of the night, Morninglory. Her set was seeping with warm, swampy Kootenay house vibes, the perfect music to welcome everyone to the party. I've become more and more familiar with the “Koots Roots” with each Shambhala I've attended and this set really made me feel like I finally knew what the whole ethos was about. The only thing that could have possibly made it better was taking a walk over the bridge to the other side of the river and looking at the stage from afar, as a whole. The purples and pinks radiating from the stage and crowd, amplified by Morninglory's love-filled vibes, really brought the thing together, man. After re-visiting the AMP stage and getting overwhelmed by the bottom-end bath of Space Jesus, I ended up back down by the river at the Living Room for the end of Justin Pleasure and Breakfluid, another helping of swampy Kootenay goodness. One last visit to the AMP to catch the master El Papachango proved more challenging than I had expected. 'Chango was as weird as ever and it took a little bit to me to find the groove he was riding on and by the time I did, he was nearly done. But up next was Woodhead, who blew me away. I cannot say enough about how great Woodhead's set was. A warm but hard-hitting house set, it was the perfect way to end my day (I'm getting old and need sleep). Woodhead's deep groove, lulling me to sleep as my eyes shut after a jam-packed Thursday.
Friday – An Unreasonable Amount of Lording in Fractal Forest
After starting the day a bit later than I would have liked and missing Foxy Moron, I arrived to get my gentle dance moves out to Fort Knox Five & Qdup doing their 4-deck party-rocking thing down at the Living Room. Appropriately for the stage, this set was a little more laid back than the last couple of times I've seen them and a real nice way to start my day. Next I slithered up to the Grove for The Russ Liquid Test, one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend. Unfortunately for the Test and for us in the crowd, the stage was not ready to handle the live set-up and the trio struggled with the sound for the first chunk of the set. Luckily, Miss Erica Dee was around to come out and do a little improv jam with guitarist Andrew and drummer Nick. A pretty magical little moment, taken from of chaos, that helped buy time to get the sound problems fixed. Once the sound was all good, The Russ Liquid Test came with all the goods of a great live act and a top-flight DJ set. I predicted they'd be a delicious highlight, and I was not wrong. Thanks for fighting through the darkness, fellas.
Next on my docket was Father Funk's Shambhala debut in Fractal Forest, the Omniverse's home of electronic funk. Excited to see a guy I had listened to pretty regularly over the last couple of years but also anxious that I might encounter another “Ghetto Funk” DJ, sticking to a predictable formula, any fears I had were quickly squashed by Father Funk's powerful funk attack. Those Ghetto Funk flourishes were there, but rest assured, there is no one else on the roster like Father Funk. I don't see how after this performance, the good homie doesn't become a regular Fractal Family member. Also, how many people discovered his remix of the Reggie Watts' delight “Fuck Shit Stack.” About damned time!
My first visit to the Pagoda was up next as I was drawn in by the beautiful, ultra-partyrific house music of Nora En Pure. My goodness, I had no idea about the Swiss-based wonder but she certainly won herself a new fan during that set. There's a lot of shitty, boring house music in the world, so if you're looking for something genuinely exciting and full of feeling, you should be checking out Nora En Pure. Speaking of genuinely exciting house music, the chunky and just-the-perfect-amount-of-weird house of Dirtybird all-star Justin Martin was a top-5 set of the weekend. The homie is a master DJ, doling out sexy silliness with a precise abandon. It was one of my fam's must-sees of the weekend and by gawd, Mr. Martin did not disappoint. A real win for the Pagoda here, this set made me immediately regret past years that I skipped over his sets. We shan't be making that mistake again, shan't we?
Then, Fractal Forest, where I saw back-to-back sets full of so much Owning that I kind of still can't believe it. The first question that needs to be asked is this, “Why hasn't Opiuo been in Fractal Forest forever?” It felt like someone coming home for the first time. He belongs there, in the womb of funk. Few things over the weekend were as satisfying as watching Opiuo and his drumsticks pounding out his incredible, one-of-a-kind glitch-funk (or wobble-funk or whatever term you want to use. Who knows?). The songs from his recently released thumper Omniversval were almost too much for my ass. It almost shook off my body. Luckily it didn't, because Stickybuds, a man arriving home for the 12th time, once again proved why he is such an integral part of Shambhala. Mere moments into his set, my friend turned to me and said, “It feels like he's going to destroy this place. This is going to be really special.” And she was right. He did and it was. You can see Stickybuds on any given night and you're going to get a great show, but there's something truly special that happens when he's in that old stump in the middle of the Forest. If you want some funky party breaks, he's got you. You want some drum 'n' bass that even I, noted disliker of drum 'n' bass, can get behind, Sticky's got you. You want indescribable DANCE music, Sticky's got you. If you're a fan and haven't seen him in Fractal, you seriously need to rethink your approach to this whole game and get on rectifying that situation.
After this the night got a bit unhinged as I drifted from stage to stage with stops at heavily-recommended Gorgon City and a requisite visit to Shambhala-legend Excision, doing his Excision thing. Wandering continued and my body started rebelling against my thirst for more music and dancing. I needed to sleep. End of Day 2.
Saturday – Hip-Hop, You Saved My Life
I'm a bit of a loner in my day-to-day life, alone time is a necessity and shortly into Saturday I realized that I needed some alone time, away from the madding crowd and even my close friends. Well, not necessarily alone time but one-on-one time with my first and truest love, Hip-Hop. For five hours I laid, sat and danced at the Village for the annual Hip-Hop Showcase and there I had my soul filled back up. I forget sometimes how much I really love Hip-Hop and how much great music is so close to me at all times. West-coast legend Emotionz, making his 17th appearance at Shambhala, delivered the deft, skillful rapping I've come to expect, running through 30-minutes of genuinely great west-coast hip-hop. Vancouver's Red, Green & Gold Machine put a massive smile on my face and a bounce into my step with their party-and-people-positive reggae/hip-hop vibes. It's always nice to see a true group repping the Hip-Hop spirit. Toronto beat-box wonder Scott Jackson once again provided the show-stopping highlight of the Showcase. I can't possibly do justice to his performance with my words, but suffice to say he remains far and away the best beat-boxer I've seen in person. It's really just out of hand. Settle down, Scott Jackson. (Apparently I Hip-Hop legend and all-time great rapper Chali 2na agrees with me, as he spent Jackson's entire set watching from backstage, captivated, with an impressed smile pasted across his face the whole time.)
After another successful Hip-Hop Showcase, I landed back in Fractal, where I stayed for basically all of the night (Save for a brief visit to the Village for Chali 2na and the Pagoda for the first part of Rezz). The lineup of The Gaff (w/ Mat the Alien) > DJ Nu-Mark > (Chali 2na Village Break) > Cut Chemist > Skratch Bastid > Z-Trip > A. Skillz/(Rezz Break) > Featurecast was too much for me to pass up. Look at that line-up again, read it back...that is a serious music-nerd roster there. All of those guys are expert-level crate-diggers with insatiable nerd tendencies. My kind of people. I spent much of this night separated from my Fam because I tend to live in this mid-tempo breaks and hip-hop world much more than the rest of the electronic-purists I hang out with. DJ Nu-Mark was even better than the last time I saw him at Shambhala (Village, 2014) and that's saying something. His song-choices were incredible, his remixes were bullseyes and the dude just seems to genuinely love rocking parties and playing music that he loves. That I'm-a-really-big-fan-of-music vibe ran through the whole night with every DJ on the lineup (Save for the elusive Questo) posting up with their fellow Djs for each other's sets, clearly trying to impress each other with song choices and mixes. Z-Trip seemed especially impressed with everyone around him, a serious joy vibe radiating from him and culminating with his impressively stomping, music-knowing set. I don't like too much when Djs talk on the mic and Z-Trip talked a lot, but I found wholly endearing. The homie Z was a guy just so grateful and excited to be when and where he was, completely overtaken by the moment. He needed us to know it and I shouted back with glee every time he picked up the mic. The Elephant trampled the Forest something fierce that night.
And then there was Featurecast. Anyone who's read my writing or talked to me about this stuff in the last couple of years knows my motto, “Featurecast is Best.” I had seen Featurecast barely more than a week earlier in Victoria and even with that, I was ill-prepared for the funky destruction of the Master. He makes everything look so effortless even though he's barely ever still. He's a deceptively good scratcher and his production is second-to-none. There were multiple moments when the music he was playing was so good and genreless that the crew and I were unable to describe to each other. “What are we listening to?! This is SO GOOD!” Speed-garage is one of the things we settled on. He's also the only DJ I've heard to consistently play drum 'n' bass I could vaguely describe as “funky.” That's a win in my books. Long live Featurecast. That was going to be the end of the night for me, but Neighbour...good lord, Neighbour. I can't imagine a more perfect sunrise set than the glowing, funky house of the Vancouver fixture. Luckily all the friends around me felt the same way as soon as he took the stage and we stayed there celebrating the birth of a new day, all making mental notes to delve further into his catalogue upon our return to civilisation.
Sunday – I've Maintained Plans Long Enough
The Fractal Funk Jam is my favourite chunk of every Shambhala. There are few things in life I love more than dancing to funk and soul and hip-hop and those good things. But, for the first time in my Shambalife, I missed the Funk Jam for a combination of visiting people and seeing a three-hour highlight real courtesy of Nightmares on Wax. The Spanish legend made his Shambhala debut with a slow-burning, deeply groovy late-afternoon, early-evening set at the Living Room. Despite my very good friend's abiding love for N.O.W., I had had few encounters with his music, but his chill, disco-y grooves are the perfect fit for what I'm looking for in my lower-temp dance music. Guy played like a legend because he is a legend, evidently. Well done! Five stars! Next up, I blew it hard and missed Moontricks due to necessary life-sorting-out. From all accounts they were fantastic – groovy and sexy as ever. Five Alarm Funk, perhaps the most powerful band to ever come off Canada's west coast, struggled through horrendous sound and still managed to pull off another engaging performance. The stage once again wasn't ready for the live-music component and it had a real effect on the quality of the show. Guitars and horns were nearly inaudible for a good opening-chunk of the set. I imagine anyone seeing them for the first time was a bit let down, but maybe I'm wrong. And this is where my plans fell apart. I completely forgot about Haywyre, making his Shambs debut at the Village. Numerous people at my camp told me Haywyre was their overall festival highlight and I'm still angry at myself for missing his dance clinic. I did plug the hole with the Purple Disco Machine in Fractal Forest, which was a good choice for me. I love disco music and purple is my favourite colour, so it seemed like something I should check out. They lived up to the name. Basically, if you like disco, you'd love Purple Disco Machine. If that's not your vibe, listen to something else.
After getting my disco on I wandered back up to the Grove for CloZee, who legit put on one of the greatest sets my ears have experienced at Shambhala. She was on my radar for something I should check out if I had the time and wherewithal, and sweet Jebus am I glad I got there. Her glitch-hop is ridiculously groovy, lovely and fluid. Watching her hit that Midi pad, providing that groove with her own hands, provided me so much joy and pleasure. Somewhere between the relentless funk of Opiuo and the beautiful space of Odesza (Sadly not present), lies CloZee. If you want an orchestral feeling to your glitch-hop or genuinely complex emotion in your funk, get CloZee into your ears. Right after that was Emancipator, bringing even more beauty to the proceedings with his ethereal, violin-laced hip-hop grooves. There isn't anyone around like Emancipator right now and everyone I've talked to since who saw the set, points to it as a highlight. General consensus has to count for something, right?
After once again being overwhelmed by throbbing, pulsing bass – this time courtesy of the Executioner, Andy C – I found myself alone and wandering from stage to stage, passing out hugs and high-fives to my fellow dance floor inhabitants. A truly perfect way to kill time at Shambhala until your next appointment. In my case, the next (and final) scheduled appointment was back at Fractal Forest for Slynk's 4:30am sunrise funk fest. Slynk did his ultra-funky, party-ready Slynk thing, except this time he was armed with his special new weapon, the talkbox. His “Talkbox Tuesdays” on Facebook have become weekly must-sees and have helped him hone his new ability to something genuinely formidable. My first Shambhala a few years ago featured another 4am performance from Slynk and he immediately became one of my favourite Djs, an artist I listen to constantly and will see live whenever he's around. It was a fitting end to my most musically successful Shambhala yet. Hardly a dud in the bunch. The people build the party, but all of the Djs bringing their A-Game year in and year out is the biggest reason I am constantly drawn back to this amazing, temporary Wonderland in the mountains. I already can't wait for next year....Year 20 (And my fifth anniversary)....