In the eight years since its inception, Tall Tree Music Festival has built itself as paragon of musical diversity, bringing in acts spanning across genres and helping reinforce the sometimes shaky bridge between DJs/rave culture and live bands/rock festivals. Way up high in clouds on Brown's Mountain in Port Renfrew, BC, the people of Tall Tree have created a place where musical cultures stand proudly side by side, interacting with each other in a way that is wholly inspiring. Every year I make the trek up and down the mountain and every year I am refilled with musical Love and this year was no different. The entire three days up high was jam-packed with incredible music and grooves, a near-endless aural smorgasbord. Here are half a dozen (+1) acts, ranging an incredible sonic spectrum, that blew my overly critical ass away and left a dent on my eardrums.
Note: I think it's time that Tall Tree made Murge's “Tiny Dancer” rework the official festival anthem. It kind of already is, but let's make that official, okay everyone?
Astrocolor's latest EP Astrocolor II – with its silky, smoky and incredibly smooth sound – has been indispensable listening since its release earlier this year. As I marched up to the top of the mountain at midnight on Saturday night, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, apart from some smooth beats. What I and the rest of the packed Stump & Stone Stage got went way beyond just smooth beats. We were treated to a ridiculously fun, engaging and endlessly musical set a group guys clearly doing what they love. Playing cuts from both Eps (Including standouts from II “Push Too Hard” <feat. Fox Glove> and “Figure It Out) and stuff I haven't heard before, the group dazzled everyone in hearing radius with their uber-colourful dreamscape funk. The love that Astrocolor radiated from the stage was quickly absorbed by the crowd – like the music was water and the audience was a jubilant ShamWow – and blasted back at the group with incredible force. As I wandered back and forth through the crowd I overhead such comments as “This is incredible.” “What is this?!” “This isn't what I expected.” And every one of those statements I overheard was delivered with palpable joy and wonder. If you like any or all of the following: dancing, fun, colours, smooth funk, disco, house or jazz, you should 100% be trying to track down the next Astrocolor show near you.
Music makes me really emotional. I can often be found at shows being overwhelmed, often to tears, but I've never had a truly emotional response to a drum 'n' bass set...until I saw Shapeshifter bring their hard-driving and ethereal music to Tall Tree main stage. I've been thinking about it, replaying it in my mind over and over and I'm still stuck at the same place... “What did I just see? How did those five human beings make that sound? How is this even possible?” When vocalist P Digsss asked the crowd how many of them were seeing or even hearing Shapeshifter for the first time, a sea of hands shot up into the air with a big cheer. It didn't matter that the majority of the crowd hadn't heard the group before, didn't know song titles or lyrics. None of it mattered. Shapeshifter saddled up with that PK Sound rig (That got a well-deserved special mention from Digsss) and took everyone on a sonic journey through the heavens. As I sit here trying to come up with a better description of Shapeshifter's drum 'n' bass heroics, I'm becoming fairly certain there isn't a writer on planet Earth with enough talent to accurately convey the feeling of watching a Shapeshifter set. This is a powerhouse of a band, not to be missed by anyone with even a passing interest in the possibilities of modern music.
Fox Glove's soft, beautiful, slightly dark, folk pop – seemed like the perfect thing to take in on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Before Tall Tree, I'd listened to the trio's moody, supple folk but I hadn't ever seen them perform live. The ladies took the stage and started the set slow, their achingly beautiful harmonies filling the mountain air with more emotional resonance than the wind should be able to carry. It took about 45 seconds for me to become completely overwhelmed with emotion. Fox Glove's harmonies are so hauntingly beautiful and touched me so deeply that even simple tasks like taking photos became nearly impossible. I tried desperately to stop the onslaught but failed spectacularly and began sobbing in mere moments. When is the last time you experienced art that made you want to die? Not like you wanted to die from sadness or despair, but that you could be satisfied with death at that moment because you're fully, completely sure of how much beauty there is in the world, in your fellow humans? That's how I felt watching Fox Glove in the sun on that mountain.
Taking influences from wherever they may appear and trying to bring as many sounds as possible into a cohesive whole, Grand Analog have long since established themselves as one of the most exciting and progressive hip-hop acts in Canada. The Toronto group is downright thunderous in a live setting and their appearance at Tall Tree was no different, proving once again that there are few things better in life than good hip-hop with a live band. It takes a lot of energy to get a crowd bouncing in 30+ degree heat and Grand Analog had more than enough to get the job done. Led by frontman Odario, Grand Analog delivered a career-spanning set that touched on the many facets of the groups output and influences. The ultra-heavy, ultra-inspirational “Play My Kazoo” got the energy established early in the set. (I shudder to think of the day I see Grand Analog and they don't play that track. It's essential.) The low, deep dub of “Vapours” (Spelled in the correct way, thank you) from the group's Love Is A Battlefield EP brought a nice change of pace, while the dancetactular, party-ready track “Wild Animal Print” from their ridiculously awesome Modern Thunder (2013) might have been the best single song I saw all weekend. I've come to expect a certain kind of a celebratory mood at a Grand Analog show, and this was no different. This was a celebration of all the things that make not just hip-hop, but all music, such an indispensable part of a life worth living.
Before I left for Tall Tree, I was going over the lineup with a friend and she suggested I check out Application. She had no reason for me to do it other than homie's name. She had never heard his DJing, had no idea what he emitted from the speakers, but was drawn to that DJ name. Upon looking at the schedule and seeing that Application was scheduled for the 10am, wake-up-the-festival slot on Friday morning, I was immediately intrigued. I'm a morning person and as such, morning music is a very important part of my day, especially a festival day. Let me tell you, good people, Application fucking nailed it. His deeply groovy, slinky glitch hop flowed like water, washed over the side of the mountain and cleansed our aural palettes for the day ahead. This set was an incredible balance of light and dark, perfect for 10am after the sleep but just as good for 3 or 4am when the party is starting to wind down. An incredible feat for a DJ I had never even heard mentioned before I got on the mountain. After his set I got the chance to talk to the good homie himself and he explained that it's only recently that he started really taking this whole being-a-DJ thing seriously. It's a good thing for all of us that he's making a serious go at it, because a little Application is going to a go a long way in any well-balanced listening diet. Keep your eyes and ears open for Application...you'll thank me.
The reigning Intergalactic Funk Champion K+Lab touched down on the top of the mountain for a festival-stealing dance party at the Tall Tree main stage. It doesn't take more than a few minutes of watching the funky New Zealander to realize he's more than a DJ or a producer – K+Lab is a fucking rockstar. Jumping back and forth, behind and in-front of the DJ booth, K+Lab puts on one of the most engaging electronic shows anyone on this planet can experience right now. When he's standing at the front of the stage, pounding his midi-controller or punching his keytar (Or shoulder synth, as DAM-Funk would say) it's evident that K+Lab is a bloody force of nature. His glitch-funk had the packed stage relentlessly bouncing and ass-shaking as he hammered through tracks, including a number of delights of his fantastic The Worldy's. Extra tasty was a reworking of his collab with other renowned funkmeister Stickybuds, “Clap Ya Hands Now” (Recently featured in a trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming). K+Lab is on the road lots this summer, find him and let him use his considerable funk-strength to drill into your earholes and load you up with that good intergalatic funk shit.
I don't know why Fake Shark eluded me for so long, but I'm super glad I got to witness the neon indie rock glory that is Fake Shark at Tall Tree. Sweet jebus this is some danceable disco-rock, delivered with an incredible sense of fun. Fake Shark possess a willingness to be playful with their music, even silly, a trait that I find lacking in a lot of indie-rock I hear these days. From a song or two into their set, I was a fan of Fake Shark. Songs like “Something Special” and “Heart 2 Heart” have already made their way into regular rotation. Lead singer Kevvy Mental's bright pink hair may grab the eye right away, but it's Fake Shark's overwhelming ability to write a hook that will keep people on the dance floor and make them come back for more. If it wasn't for the previously mentioned Application, Fake Shark would be the sole winners of my “Festival Find” award, but whatever, I'm a socialist and ties don't bother me, so tie it is! Get some Fake Shark into your life. You will smile more and your life will be markedly improved.
Like any festival worth its salt, the people-watching at Tall Tree is top-shelf. Here is a just a small smattering of the many, many photos Rags Music took over the weekend. There's a FULL ALBUM over on the Facebook if you're so inclined as to check out more of these smiling, wonderful faces.