2017 is the year I really felt like a legit part of the bass community here on the Canadian west coast. I've met and talked with an astonishing breadth of people with fantastical levels of skill and love for their respective crafts. DJs and producers, photographers, dancers, visual effects and lighting people, sound engineers, visual artists and writers – all working to help this music and culture we all love to thrive. One of the people who I've come to respect deeply both on a personal level and artistic level, is Jim Vanderhorst, the man behind Rebel Cause Films – the company behind some of the most unique and definitely most watchable festival and artist recaps films. His eye for his the medium and his never-ending push to show the most human parts of the culture give his videos an unparalleled warmth and sense of community. His compassion, thoughtfulness and willingness to speak up for what he believes when filming, discussing or just participating in the culture is a powerful and valuable trait. As someone who has made his name observing bass culture and translating what he sees for further consumption, I couldn't think of anyone more appropriate to help me take a look back at some of the things that made 2017 such a big year for bass music here on the best coast. As we enter a new year in bass and whatever weird-ass shit the party brings, we take a final look back at a pretty incredible 2017 with the leader of Rebel Cause Films, the incomparable Jim Vanderhost.
Want to see for yourself what the good human is all about? Rags Music is proud to help present Rebel Cause's 2017 in Review.
What were some of the best sets you saw this year? Let's try to keep this between one and five.
Thelem at Bass Coast on the Main Stage because I was hanging out with a bunch of producers and we were all like, “What the fuck is even happening right now?” He's not doing anything structurally new but his sound production is 100% original and in an era where so many people are doing the basic sounds, his production really stood out.
Also at Bass Coast, Mat the Alien & Librarian's opening set. The first day of a festival is a lot of work for me because I have to go talk to a hundred people and set my camera up. I have to confirm every single thing that's planned and everybody wants to talk to me and I just can't. It's always super stressful. It had been a long, 12-hour day, I get to this set and the music was so good. They were freestyling, playing whatever, just having fun. There was no set planned and they were just goofing off. It was incredibly good music and the vibes were so good. It was packed. The Cantina stage had never been open and huge, like an actual big stage, it was a real space. Before it was, “Oh, it's a bar a DJ is playing at.” But now it was another stage. They moved all the food to that area too. There was 1500 people at this stage and they were playing all this amazing music. A lot of that music was in Strange Thing's Tall Tree set, which is equally as good a set but it was at 1 in the afternoon and it was boiling hot and there's no shade structures at Tall Tree – so no one got to see it but it was an amazing set.
Another great set that I saw at Tall Tree was Lazy Syrup Orchestra. I've seen most of their sets but that was one was special. They'd never been given the nighttime headlining space. I don't know who thought to give it to them but they really owned it and did something really different. Every Lazy Syrup set is a little different because Dunks has complete free-reign to do it and there's more opportunity to free-ball and do what you want. “Let's just have some fun with this. Let's have some rapping now. Let's bring on Sam Klassik. Let's bring up K+Lab, he's not going to wear pants and that's going to become his thing now.” I remember he used to wear a cape, but the no-pants thing is so much better.
A. Skillz and Z-Trip. I've been lucky enough to be there both times they've done it. The first time it happened was one of the most exciting things ever. It's one of the only sets I've filmed the entire time and never stopped. It was such a crazy good energy. Z-Trip is the ultimate master of ceremonies as DJ, communicating with people. And Adam [A. Skillz] is one of the nicest people ever – when my camera got broken he donated money. Even though we had never got the opportunity to work together he still wanted to support. One of my best memories was at Boogaloo earlier this year. Adam was beside me, straight sober and we're all destroyed, Dunks [Funk Hunters] is provoking Dan from Illvis Freshly to keep freestyling because Dan's not really on. Dunks just keeps pushing him to get going and Dan gets on and manages to have this amazing freestyle that was great and not great at the same time. You could see the veins standing out on Dan's neck. The only person who actually knew how bad it was or wasn't was A. Skillz. <laughs>
What have been some of your go-to mixes for the year?
Most of the mixes I've been listening to lately have been house and hip-hop. I've been listening to the J. Dilla mix, the one where they put all of his instrumental stuff in there. I definitely have been listening to mixes by M.K. And Chris Lake lately, they're super fun. I've been waiting for a new SkiiTour chill mix. Those are always good. I saw a live Green Velvet set from L.A., it wasn't just a mix it was a whole video and that was fucking amazing. I don't even really care about techno, but I really like that one. On YouTube there's a liquid drum 'n' bass mix with just pictures of green trees by Horton, that I've been listening to a lot.
(Save this one for later. It's reeeeeaaaal good.)
Drum 'n' bass I've just started to find my way into. All my friends are way ahead of me in electronic music – they were in it for years before I got around to it. So they'd already graduated to hard stuff like Andy C and it's just too much for me.
I went to my first rave in 2011 and had the genres figured out by 2014 but I've been filming music since 2009. So, I've definitely filmed shit that I had no idea what it was called or anything. I didn't know GRiZ was playing dubstep when I went to film him. It was just like, “Hey, here's good music that I like with saxophone and crunchy noises.”
Which year did you first film Griz? Was it 2013?
Yeah, 2013. I had never heard of him. It was my first year ever at Shambhala. I was done filming. I had an artist pass from my friend who wanted me to make a music video in exchange for letting me into Shambhala. At the time an artist pass could get you backstage at the Village, The Living Room and The Amphitheatre. I knew artists that were playing at all those stages, so I worked with them and then I walked around the festival making kaleidoscopes. It was Sunday night, I was tired and I was going to put the camera away and just experience for the rest of the night. GRiZ comes and plays the Village, wailing on the sax. It was so fucking good. I ran to my campsite to get my gear. I ran back and ran into two of my best friends and they said, “We're just going to film GRiZ and edit it together.” I said, “I'm in, let's do it.” And we just tag-teamed that shit. We worked so hard. It was awesome. I ended up doing the edit and met GRiZ later because of it. He's the nicest guy.
What's something that you've noticed in the bass community that you would like to see changed in the upcoming year or trends you'd like to see end?
There needs to be more awareness of just how bad women have it in this scene. There's a big discussion about it right now but a lot of things aren't being talked about. Like, go-go dancers are lucky to get paid enough to pay for there outfits...but they're usually not. They're getting in for free. People walk around thinking they're getting paid a bunch and treating them like shit. Like, 1% of DJs are girls. It's not promoted much and when they do get to play in this area it's an all-girls night, it's pandering and that's not helping the cause either. There are places like Calgary that have some great female acts that are starting to grow but out on the West Coast I'm not seeing it. I think a lot of shit that happens is just not fair. I think men need to really take a second and understand it's not fair. Women are organizing these entire things. Shambhala and Bass Coast are fucking run by women. And yet the talent buyers and everything are all hiring predominantly male acts. The women that are organizing everything are so busy making shit happen for us idiot men they sometimes don't notice the disservices being done. We have a huge long way to go before things are actually fair and I think we need to start taking better care of women who wanna get involved in performance, whether they're dancers or DJs. Guys who want to do it should not complain about things being unfair for guys. So many male stage performers I've seen talk about how hard it is to be a man in this scene.
We just need to fucking smarten up. There needs to be way more respect. Nobody has a right to disrespect somebody because they're dancing on a stage. I've heard stories from girls coming off stage crying and saying, “Somebody was pretending to aim a shotgun at me.” I never would have realized this stuff if not for talking to dancers and finding out they liked how I filmed them, how I was being respectful. That I'd work with them and make something for them. People need to be more willing to stand up and say the right thing because the consequences aren't that big. And if you're a promoter that is levelling consequences against people for speaking up about what they believe is right, you should probably go away. I've seen a lot of promoters that wield way too much power and they use it to reinforce shitty cultural hierarchy and stereotypes and that's not what the music scene is about. I get disgusted every time that some old man that's not even connected to the music anymore has made a decision about what's appropriate and what has what value. We live in a completely new industry where things are being driven differently than it was 15 years ago. The people that are still around from 15 years ago don't seem to be interested in creating the culture. The culture war starts in the nightclub. If you're not participating in that and you're not on the side of making things better for everybody, go invest in the stock market or something. This is about making culture, not making money.
What's a positive change that you noticed in the community over the past year?
Everybody understands now that hydration is key. Water is free everywhere now. No one tries to get away with that. I think the best thing going is that hydration and shade is understood now. Everyone is getting better at raving, as we all get older. There seems to be more of a science of raving and knowledge of how to rave right in general. I am seeing way way more people still awake at morning sets and that's because we're better at raving. They're pacing themselves better. Deaths at festivals were a non-issue this year. Sexual assault cases definitely went up but I don't necessarily think the amount of sexual assaults have gone up, but that it's being reported more.
What would be your big wish for 2018? Maybe something musically you'd like to see emphasized or go away?
I see a change that is going to happen and it's one that I'm excited for. I think bruh-step is not going to be a big thing anymore and actually Datsik and Excision are leading the charge in that. Liquid Stranger and Space Jesus run, to me, the most forward and progressive future-bass label. Excision is taking Liquid Stranger and Datsik is taking Space Jesus on their tours. What that says is not only are those new artists so successful with their much less abrasive form of music, with the same crowd of people, that their managements and agents think that this makes sense but that means that Excision and Datsik also want to be playing something more like that. I think that the taste-makers of the past four or five years are moving away from aggressive forms of music at once. I'm really excited for it. I think drum 'n' bass is where the heaviness is going to be. I don't know how to dance to dubstep that sounds like it's robots. I can dance to dubstep that's like TRUTH. I think that's where dubstep is going to be, much more vibey.
If anything can go away it's mumble rap. I feel that mumble rap had its moment where it looked back on itself and became a self-reflective thing that's eating itself. Ensuring its own demise was that “Pillow Talk” by Little Dicky. He turns mumble rap into its own joke. To me it's the most obviously lazy form of any music genre I've ever seen. It speaks volumes that they gave “How bout dat?” girl a record deal and taught her how to mumble rap. Clearly that's the most disingenuous form of music.
As a hip-hop cat at heart, I find mumble rap straight up offensive. 2017 was a great year for hip-hop. Joey Bada$$. Kendrick Lamar. Your Old Droog. Def3's album was so good.
Man, Def3 is really on a roll. I was catching a cab to the airport this year and the cabbie was so into “The Original” by SkiiTour and Def3 that he stopped the meter and got half my ride for free.
What was your artist triumph of 2017? What are you most proud of?
I realized I was in a rut. I had a conversation with Dunks at Boogaloo. The thing with Dan freestyling out of control later became a real heart-to-heart with Dunks. He said, “You're just making the same thing over and over again. Here's what looks good and here's what sounds good. But it's not the story. No one's going to connect with that unless they were there.” And I had free reign to do what I wanted at Bass coast but no guarantees about how it would be received or used. I really thought about how I could make it a statement. I wrote a monologue for my friend and had him read it. He described the way we both felt about Bass Coast in a monologue at the beginning of the video and then let the montage play. Everyone who makes rave films is always trying to get people to say super profound shit at the rave, which is extremely difficult. The smartest people are really fucking busy and they have a hundred things on their mind. So they can't really give you their all, they can give you their time. But is that that going to match up with yours? Very few people are like ill.Gates or Dunks where they can just stop on a dime, turn around and give you a profound answer. That's a skill of its own. At Tall Tree in 2014, Neighbour said the most profound thing and I spent three years trying to have an interview with Neighbour to get him to say that again. By the time I got him to sit down to say it, he no longer believed what he had said and didn't want to talk about that. Instead of trying to get people to spout off in the moment – I'm an opinionated person. It could be argued that people know me as much because I mouthing off on the internet as much as because of what I do. So why don't I just say stuff? And instantly everyone said it's the best thing I've ever done. I'm doing more and more of them. We figure out what the story is after and do the voice-over. If you walk into a festival with your story in advance, you're going to do a disservice to that festival because the story of every festival is different. And the story of each festival is different year to year. And now I'm way, way happier with everything I'm making because it's not just an advertisement.
The other victory there is that I really managed to prove that videos matter more if you make them longer and you justify the length with more content. We actually did the math and figured out that the two most successful videos right now are 1-minute videos that are just an ad, or 3-5 minute videos that tell short stories.