The people behind the Atmosphere Gathering have built something truly special and unique in the increasingly large and saturated festival world. In the heart of Vancouver Island, nestled in the midst of the Comox Valley, they've built a festival that is part folk festival, part rave ala Bass Coast or Shambhala, part yoga/health/body festival ala Blessed Coast, an interactive arts festival – the breadth of art contained in the relatively small park is astonishing. And on top of everything, Atmosphere Gathering is all-ages to boot. Maybe more than ever in my life, I thoroughly enjoyed the presence of children, running around oblivious to everything but the immediate need for more fun, more dancing. Their energy was absolutely infectious and helped to power me through an incredible weekend in the soft, grassy embrace of Cumberland's Village Park.
The creative spirit of that youthful energy was on display everywhere you turned in the small, but never crowded (!!!) area. Paintings were on-going works of art, changing each time you passed by. The Elixir Temple was dispensing all variety of remarkably healthy beverages, created with a seemingly-endless array of fruits, veggies and spices. People of all-ages, suited up in a harness to help them climb safely, piled milk crates impossibly high throughout the day. There was a misting station that looked like an octopus! A strong selection of local vendors brought their most colourful and creative wares. And the musical performers all brought their best stuff, delivering some of the finest sets I've seen this summer in by far the most intimate festival environment I've experienced. Each provided highlights that hold up to anything else I've seen this year. These are some of those highlights.
I got there a little bit late on Friday but luckily made it in time for the master of all things funky, SLYNK. Yet another Slynk show and yet another helping of funky DJ goodness for the masses. Under the big top tent, Slynk brought it as hard as I've ever witnessed him bring it, while keeping the proceedings moving swiftly, never falling into bass-noise. That Rage Against the Machine remix around the end of his set...WOW! Not something I ever would have expected, but I rapped along with 'Bombtrack' and danced my face off like nobody's business. Right after that funkily heavy display, I slid on over to the Atmosphere Stage (The festival's main stage) for a flat-out incredible set from Victoria's merry pranksters, THE LEG-UP PROGRAM. Any band with a name that comes from the Simpsons is a band I'm more than willing to give my ear to, but their bottomless well of talent is what keeps my ear always looking for more. With such a large group of people making the music – I think I counted 13 people this night - the sound is huge and the influences are incredibly varied. Leg-Up serves up a remarkable blend of hip-hop, funk, soul, gospel, reggae, whipped together with a fantastic sense of fun. It's music with massive energy, that really needs to be experienced live.
Then it was time for the Silent Disco, one of the most fun, unique festival happenings I've come across at a festival this year. Wander around the grounds while you listen to any one of the three channels, joining spontaneous dance parties wherever they may jump up. And the ability to remove yourself from the music, from the bass after a day of being immersed in it is a truly wonderful power to have. The highlight of the entire two nights of silent disco for me has to be LADY AK. The Vancouver Island-based DJ displayed an aural dexterity and taste for music that had myself and everyone else tuned into the red channel during her set fixated on the channel, grooving hard to her hip-hop, soul and reggae-tinged bass beats. In a lineup of some stellar Djs rocking the Silent Disco, Lady AK stepped up something fierce. It's not a competition, but if it was, she was the winner. And lucky for all you who weren't there, the good Lady just released her super-dope set! Get it into your earholes.
On a day jam-packed with top-notch music, Saturday on the main stage came hard, giving us three truly standout performances. The first of those came courtesy of Melbourne power-duo THIS WAY NORTH. The guitar-drum duo was instantly captivating, turning my skeptical-ass into a fan within minutes of stumbling across their mainstage performance. I was caught completely off guard by their powerful, dancey hooks and their impossibly cool aesthetic. Songs like “Pretty Much” and “Don't You Fly” have already made their way into my regular listening rotation. Now, FRASE while definitely not a surprise for me – this was legit the fifth or sixth time I've seen the Montreal homie since the spring – was shocking in how, after an entire summer on the road, Frase was seemingly more powerful than ever. His voice supple, warm and crisp as he sang those catchy, conscious and sexy songs of his. In the warmth of the early-evening sun, Frase had the main stage crowd bouncing and winding relentlessly to his sultry looping wizardry. This was a family affair, so there weren't panties raining down him like there was at Shambhala the week before, but I bet some undergarments would have flown if circumstances were different. Saturday's big surprise for this guy was Vancouver house outfit DIRTY RADIO. Performing as a duo this night, Dirty Radio laid down one of the most engaging sets of disco-house I've seen in a long time. The live musicianship combined with some incredible vocal work and an uncanny knack for finding those big hooks, had the packed main stage going pretty crazy, dancing and jumping with reckless abandon. Even if you're not into so-called “dance music” (Though, I'm pretty certain ALL music is dance music, at least in some form), Dirty Radio is an act you need to get out and see live. Their energy and stage-presence was straight-up bananas.
My relentless summer schedule had caught up to me by Sunday, so I took it fairly easy and mostly eschewed dancing for a nice grassy seat while I watched my second duo from Australia of the weekend, THE IMPRINTS, with their contemplative yet dancey and wildly creative violin/live drums/synth looping combination. It was a stark contrast to the ska-bombast of Cortes Island mischief-makers BACK EDDY & THE PROCRASTINATORS. Their cover of Aloe Blacc's modern classic “I Need A Dollar” was one of the best single songs I heard all weekend. Had I had more energy I would have been on the dancefloor cutting a rug something fierce but I had to save my energy for the mighty ASTROCOLOR. One of my picks in the run-up to Atmo2017, Astrocolor has captivated me since I first heard their album of all-original Christmas music. Their set earlier this summer at Tall Tree had me champing at the bit to see them again and the beloved Victoria weirdos did not disappoint! For over an hour, including a whole bunch of extra time that they apparently hadn't planned for, Astrocolor dazzled the Atmosphere crowd with their flabbergastingly smooth, live acid-house stylings. Rags Music would officially like to posit that Astrocolor is the most exciting new band on the West Coast right now, reaching the delicate balance between accessibility and weirdness, and creating a musical experience unlike anything in its orbit.
In fact, that very same thing can probably be said about the Atmosphere Gathering. The festival crowd ran a gamut of subcultures and aesthetics, ages and cleanliness, but those differences were of little consequence. Everyone was there for the downright magical chillness of the Atmosphere Gathering. After a long summer of festivals, it was an absolute pleasure to go to a festival and get recharged, to leave with more health -mind, body and soul – than I arrived with.