2018 marked the 10th birthday of Bass Coast and also Rags Music's first in-person experience with the legendary BC festival. After years of whispers of the wonders inside and pleas to attend from musical and non-musical-friends alike, Bass Coast had reached near-mythic status and much to my delight, did not disappoint. In fact, even with my expectations at an all-time high, Bass Coast blew away my ideas of what a festival of its kind can be, do and inspire. After three full days of music, art and colour on a river just outside of Merritt, BC, it is evident that Bass Coast is the result of an incredible group of people – artists, organizers, light/sound people, builders, etc – at the top of their fields, working together to create an experience unlike anything else in the adjacent space around it. There's something immeasurably beautiful about so many talented people working in conjunction to expand, tantalize and delight the senses of not just their friends, but of complete strangers.
Interactive art installations abound throughout the festival grounds, encouraging attendees to interact with not just the art but with their fellow festival goers. Most entertaining among these were the telephone booths. The sparkly phones on opposite sides of the “downtown” area of the festival were hooked up to each other, ringing when the other was picking up and throwing both caller and answerer into the fires of impromptu conversation. Rags Music contributor Shawn McNicoll spent an inordinate amount of time taking pizza orders and pushing car insurance on people, to his own delight and, presumably, the confused delight of the folks on the other end.
The majority of festivals I've been to feature hoards of unwashed/disheveled masses zombie-ing about until the sun starts it descent back under the sky line. But not at Bass Coast. The lovely people of Bass Coast, if not stripped down and cooling in the river, were dressed in their finest and most colourful ridiculously early in the day. From around lunchtime on, wherever you looked, Bass Coast was all-out fashion show and I was more than impressed. Some peoples' dedication to their costumes, to the weirdness, was flat-out awe-inspiring as the heat generally led me to basketball shorts and a t-shirt. If you were one of the people who managed to stay costumed-up in the sweltering heat and swirling winds, I commend you! SALUT!
While incredible lights and art installations, beautiful humanity wherever the eyes laid and breathtaking landscape views all abounded, it was the music that truly brought me there and the music that really made this one of the best full weekends of dancing I've personally had in a long time. The women behind the organization of Bass Coast, particularly the booking of music, have done a fucking incredible job of putting together a diverse lineup that thankfully all shares the same important thread... QUALITY. I admittedly didn't know a large portion of the lineup and I was either pleasantly surprised or straight-up astonished as I made my between stages taking in act after act I'd never heard of. Bass Coast might genuinely be the most musically well-curated festival I've ever attended. These are some serious music nerds putting together this line up and everywhere a brother turned, there was world-class groove to be had.
Case in point: FRIDAY NIGHT. I started my Friday with a trio of familiar acts. I slid down to Slay Bay to witness a level-up moment for Vic City's finest, MURGE. Anyone who's been reading Rags Music for a length of time will know what a fan I am of Murge. Seeing him up on stage laying down those tasty housey/disco grooves he has such an ear for, in front of a rapt audience, was something really special and a set I'm not likely to forget a long time. After that I crushed time on the packed Cantina Stage to the impeccably warm house grooves of WOODHEAD and the funky breaks assault of FORT KNOX FIVE & QDUP. (Mr. Raskin of FKF informed me after their throwdown that only 30 of the 90 minutes was planned. The rest was himself and Qdup just working off of each other in the moment. In-fucking-credible.) Sweaty and sucking air at the end of this double-bill I felt like I had emptied the tank. Like, you ever dance so hard to incredible music for a sustained time that you just need a good cry at the end? Yeah, that's what this was. The cry was good. I was reborn. Felt fresh. All those good feelings and energy couldn't prepare for what came next.
As I wandered around the downtown area, not knowing where to go next, my friend and I heard a pulse coming from Slay Bay. Like moths to a flame, we couldn't resist the pull of this pulse. What we wandered up to was German duo SESSION VICTIM, lifting a packed crowd up into the stratosphere with deep, pulsing house grooves that kept us floating somewhere between Earth and the vastness of Infinity. I suppose by genre-definition, these guys where playing house music, but this was more beautiful and engaging than any house music I've ever heard. Watching Hauke Freer move very little while doing his thing, like a well-thought out assassin, while his partner in crime Matthias Reiling convulsed and bounced while he turned his knobs and rocked that big fat bass guitar that stayed so close. Every time he picked that bass up, you could feel the electricity run across the dancefloor, as we all awaited to hear what groove-bomb Reiling was ready to drop. Session Victim laid down the kind of festival set that made you forget about the friends you'd lost on the walk. Fuck 'em. They're not there and I can't leave to find 'em.
Then it was time for Smalltown DJs, one of my festival go-tos. But along my way to the main stage, a funny thing happened. I crossed paths with the homie Handsome Tiger who informed me the place to be was down at Radio Stage for Madam X and the Innamind Showcase. So I figured I'd go down and check it out before I slid back up to the main stage for Smalltown. I didn't go back to the mainstage. MADAM X wouldn't let me go. Her bass-offerings were so deep and so gangsta, but endlessly sexy and beautiful. There wasn't a body around me that wasn't winding and grinding. Hips everywhere were all but impossible to keep still. Having only been into electronic music for half a decade, I don't think I knew what proper dubstep was but after the INNAMIND SHOWCASE, I can say I'm a fan of whatever it is they're doing. It was explained to me that indeed, the sound they were laying was the sound that made a lot of people fall in love with dubstep and now I wholly understand why.
When I woke on Saturday, I didn't think the day would be what it turned out to be – a chance for me to recommune and bond with my first true musical love – hip-hop. Things started again on the Cantina Stage as the mighty MNDSGN took his place behind the decks and laid down the sultry, silky space hip-hop that's made me such a fan of his for so long. There's no rapping here but the hip-hop aesthetic runs deep through his funky offerings. His chilled-out, retro grooves delivered through a future prism were exactly what the doctor ordered on a sweltering Saturday afternoon. There was a reason he was my must-see act of Bass Coast and I was proven correct, as seems to happen pretty often.
Slay Bay once again called my name for almost the rest of the day as I set up shop to catch the funky homie JPOD lay down one of his legendary BlissCoast sets, a staple of many Bass Coast tales. It was there, as JPOD laid down reworked classics one after another, delighting all in front of him, I did that festival thing where you manage to get together every friend who's there at the festival with you for a proper communal dance. There aren't many better DJs better suited to laying down grooves that everyone can love, regardless of genre allegiances as JPOD. Job well done.
Next on my docket was ERICA DEE, who, along with a cadre of friends (Christie Lee Charles, COZY, Claire Mortifee and Mira), delivered a powerful sermon highlighting female contributions to the culture like I haven't seen in a criminally long time. Admittedly, when left to my own devices, I don't get enough female-created hip-hop in my listening diet. But this set was both an inspirational call for me to remedy the situation and a reminder that women have more to add to the over-masculated world of hip-hop than ever before. COZY in particular left an indelible impression with her flow and hype stage presence. Her track “Ladystough” wormed its way into my head and the recently released EP of the same name has already found a spot in the regular listening rotation.
Past 5 Questions answerer and guy I've been a long time superfan of, THE GAFF, jumped on stage after Erica Dee & co. and whooooa boy. Having seen countless Gaff sets over the past five or so years, I can safely say that this the second best set I've seen this cat lay down (See Rifflandia Festival 2016). I hadn't seen a whole of scratching up to that point, but The Gaff reminded me what great scratching can do for a track. A man of impeccable skill and taste, seeing The Gaff on that beautiful Slay Bay stage was a treat for the hip-hop lover that still thrives inside of me. I do have to admit that I peaced away from the Gaff for a bit of time to catch some of the sweet disco delights of DANE. I don't think of Alberta as a particularly funky place, but the Edmonton homie laid down one of the sets of Bass Coast with track after track after track of top-flight disco. If have even a passing interest in the best of what disco has to offer, I implore you to do yourself a favour and hunt down the groovy stylings of Dane.
Sunday started off straight-up sultry with a delicious set from vocalist, producer, guitarist and all-around cool dude, FRASE. The mark of a great artist, it doesn't matter how many times I see him, Frase always brings something new to the table. There are new songs, old songs that gain pieces from the last time I heard them – always something different. Most notable on this day was a track I'd never heard before that had Frase rapping and singing over a beat courtesy of legendary funkmeister Stickybuds. That's a big choon right there - can't wait to get that one into my headphones.
The final two musical highlights came from two very different sources of danceability. As I walked up to the Radio Stage to catch two of my favourite weirdos, RIGHTEOUS RAINBOWS OF TOGETHERNESS, I could hear the duo, but I couldn't see them. The fuck was going on? Turns out I couldn't see them because I'm short as hell and instead of being on stage Righteous Rainbows were down in the thick of the crowd, Boiler Room style, in all their analog glory. Their driving and oddly beautiful techno had smiles pasted across the faces of the whole crowd as we got close and intimate. I saw a lot of people I knew from the Victoria scene reconnecting and embracing each other, while one of the city's most revered dance-machines revved at full speed.
As my body was begging me to stop and my feet were getting unreasonably heavy, I stumbled across the rescheduled EL PAPACHANGO and was treated to a Latin-flavoured gangster-bass smorgasbord courtesy of the longtime veteran of west coast bass. Papachango proved once again why he's a go-to for festivals all around these lands, giving people new, exotic sounds and flavours reflected through a familiar lens. While I stayed up for awhile afterwards, nothing else left an impression on this evening like the good Papachango. (He also ended his set with an untouched playing of Cardi B's banger “I Like It,” which delighted me to no end as I booty-bounced to the untouchable track rattling of that PK System. Stupendous!)
All of the people involved – the organizers, the DJs, the visual artists, the builder, the dancers, the attendees – reached down into themselves and put together an unforgettable festival experience. I came to Bass Coast hesitant on the whole idea of the festival experience. More than 15 years of going to festivals every summer had worn down my desire and I was starting to get jaded at the very idea of enduring another weekend at a festival, no matter how many great things I had heard. I left Bass Coast after four days, refilled with my love for music and for the communal action of dancing with a few thousand other people looking for the same release and same joy that I was looking for. No wonder I'd heard so many great things about this festival, and now I have a bunch of stories of my own to add to the lore.