Summer on the Road
Date: Dec 17, 2004
some 2004 north american festivals reviewed by dj neerav
returning from central america to canada this year, i got off the plane and headed straight to the om festival. considering that they lost their traditional location the week of the party and had to move everything, the organizers did a fantastic job. there was a stronger representation from the west coast this year, as they even had their own stage in the forest. the live music acts were all excellent (both electronic and non), and adham shaikh, bluetech, and solar fields back to back was a great way to welcome in the sunshine with their morning sets. it was unbelievably cold at night, but this seemed to be the case with almost every festival i played this year. another running theme this year was hoola hoops. the kids have gone mad for them! (i'm not joking). at almost every party i played at i saw large groups of colourfully dressed people gathering to hoola hoop together. it seems to be the latest festival sport / craze here in north america.
but back to om: the 'kind kitchen' once again provided welcome free food and hot drinks for the hungry dancing masses; 'black light activist' had a lovely little fluoro stage up and running for the trance junkies; there was so many workshops i couldn't figure out which one to go to; there was literature galore concerning the usual range of environmental and social / political issues; and last but not least, there were pirates (arrrrgh! shiver me timbers!); not kids copying cds, but adults dressed up and being theatrical. om traditionally is a very kind and shanty event, and is almost more of a social and conscious gathering than a party (although the saturday usually rocks on the dance-floor). this festival gives city ravers from toronto a chance to experience life differently for a little while, and has always been one of my favorite events.
next was eclipse. last year they had a killer party, killer lineup, but rain the entire weekend, so this year, they were praying pretty hard for sunshine. so it was a bit scary at first when the rain kept on until the very start of the festival saturday night. but it finally eased off, and things started to heat up on the dance-floor nicely. the organizers had also lost their location the very week of the party, and yet somehow managed to find a new location and make it work! serious respect to them for pulling that off! some problems occured behind the scenes with dado not being able to make the event and his replacement (dino pasaris) also not showing up. but ticon came, and played a wonderful set. and asterix (who managed to miss 2 flights before finally catching the last possible flight, for which the organizers had to buy him a 1st class ticket cause all other seats were sold out!) got to the party the next day and played a pumping afternoon set in the sunshine. i had a n amazing time, and felt it was a great job by the eclipse team. people from all over the north east of canada and america came to see the international artists and wicked sets from osg, seb, yan, rickham, b.l.a., and other local heroes, as well to check out the great sound and decor. next year will surely be sunshine all weekend long, so come join in if you want to visit beautiful quebec (and canada in general). also, next year the festival will be even longer.
from quebec i headed west to saskatchewan for the connect festival. again, rain was a bit of a challenge, but the friendliness of the people more than made up for it. this was the only festival (along with eclipse) that had a proper dj set up and monitering in my opinion, so there needs to be a bit more work on the part of the promoters to involve dj's with the technical requirements. connect ended up being one of the most creative and enjoyable parties i played this summer, as there was a real family spirit at work, along with costumes, and good booze (an excellent social lubricant when used properly!). thanks to jeff, fran, and mikhail, orion, and the rest of the team.
i didn't have much time to come down after leaving the festival site on monday, as tuesday, my flight to vancouver was scheduled for 7 a.m.! believe it or not i made it on time, and was in british columbia a couple of hours later. dj sara spicer, who was running the 'beach stage' at shambhala, had booked me to headline the 'inna sanctdom' trance stage along with nuclear ramjet. my vj friend from montreal, catherine was in whistler on vacation, and came down to meet me at the airport; we planned to road trip to the much anticipated festival together, and jason (a friend of sara's) met us at the airport, and set us up beautifully in his house. he also drove us the 10 hour journey over beautiful rolling mountains to the party. on the way, the car battery went dead, so we got there later than expected. it was 2 a.m. thursday night (technically friday morning i suppose), and most everyone was asleep as the party had not even officially started yet. catherine and i stumbled around the site under a pitch black star lit night, trying to figure out where the artist area was. eventually we heard an adham shaikh ethno track, bushwached our way through the forest, and found andrew interchill, aris (samothraki festival), adham shaikh, and lex of 'legion of green men'. we were extremely relieved and happy to be there at last. other friends showed up over the coming days. the weather was perfect, the location as stunning as i remembered it to be, and the inna sanctdom stage rocked in terms of sound, location, and installation and decor. thanks to steve ronin for doing a great job stage managing; he runs his own successful festival out west on the sunshine coast as well ('invision'). several thousand happy people were in attendance, their were some excellent live acts, and the festival was a huge success. i think the beach stage and the inna sanctdom were my overall fave, and i heard good reports about shakatura, andrew, adham, and sara's sets.
the great thing about shambhala is the location -the fact that it is private land, and that they have it there every year means they can build on what they created they previous year. and the river and scenery are so stunning, with the mountains being unbelievably green. the days are hot and sunny with blue skies, but the glacier fed river water makes it easy to cool off with a nice swim. the kids that come for the event are very friendly in a typical west coast way. the scene is a bit young, and is still developing, but hopefully the kids will continue to be influenced to grow in a positive direction by more and more conscious events.
from shambhala you can head two ways: east towards the rocky mountains of alberta (banff, lake louise, jasper, calgary, etc.), or back west towards vancouver and the pacific ocean. we were heading west. getting off the site took us longer than expected; after having passed many happy days playing in the river, sun tanning, meeting new people, and partying by night, it wasn't easy to get organized, but eventually we managed to head off for the long journey back to vancouver with andrew's car packed beyond capacity. we left much later than planned and andrew ended up driving all through the long night. Aris and Risa fell asleep after some time, leaving me with the job of co-pilot, and making sure that Andrew was awake and fine. it wasn't easy, but he did a fantastic job of navigating the ups, downs, and turns of the dark mountain roads, and by 10 am the next day we were at interchill headquarters on salt spring island, where i settled into a nice week of relaxation, recovery, g reat meals, and endless ambient music listening sessions.
after that i was off to san fran for burning man. it takes place in the desert of nevada, in an area know as 'black rock' -also affectionately referred to as 'the playa' (which means 'beach' in spanish')- and is about an eight hour drive from san francisco through the sierras. it was to be my first time, and it took an incredible amount of preparation and shopping to get ready for this mother of all festivals (a festival that can best be described as: 'mad max' meets 'fantasy island'). it lasts 7 days and nights in the desert, and you have to bring everything you need to survive. on the back of the ticket, it says quite plainly: if you die, it's not our problem! as well, the motto is: 'leave no trace', so whatever you bring in, you've got to bring out. i won't lie: it was one of the hardest things i have ever endured, what with the seemingly endless sandstorms, the massive scope of the sight, and the unbelievably cold nights. but, i would not have missed it for the world. it is an absolutely unique experience. most everyone comes to create and participate, wearing costumes, going naked, giving away stuff, and just generally being free.
burning man is not just about trance. instead, you can find almost every style imaginable (electronica and non). many people that go there love trance, but at least as many hate it! for instance, i was staying with the 'ambient ambulance' camp; there whole thing was to dress up like doctors, and drive a psychedelic ambulance into the desert, somewhere near a party, and then set up mattresses on floor for people to 'chill out'. they would then serve free chai and grilled cheese sandwiches. we had a big dome back at our camp, and loved to listen to ambient music. but, the camp right beside us liked to play old rock music (like 'foreigner', 'styx', and 'led zepplin) really loud!!! another example: last year, there was a camp that played on the motto of the event (leave no trace), and called themselves: 'leave no trance'! they played anything but trance music, and if you'd ask them for trance, they'd tell you: go in the desert, spin around till you fall, and there you go, you've got 'trance', cause you're not going to find it here. on the other hand, a nice thing about burning man is that there are also many live bands that play in different styles.
despite all this, the fact of the matter is on any night you can find several great parties, each with thousands or hundreds of people dancing to progressive-house, techno, and trance. 'i played in the 'official' burning man chill out dome: 'bok globule', which was set up for astronomical projections of the galaxy, and it really intrigued people. (I forgot to mention, every year has a different theme, and this year's was: 'vault of heaven'). thanks to james for giving me the opportunity to play there.
as mentioned, there was great live music all week, and too many parties to keep track of, as well as countless workshops and activities on every topic imaginable ('erotic mathematical performance art', 'how to dress up like a super-hero', etc,). everywhere i went, people were giving away free stuff: free ice cream, massage, rides on the 'art cars' that drive around the desert. the highlight for me was the 'critical tits' parade, which featured thousands of women with painted breasts on bicycles, and then the party for the parade afterwards at sunset. the other highlight was seeing 'kan'nal' play live; they play gipsy rock music with a big spiritual edge, and loads of costumes and performances.
the best way to see burning man is to bring a bike, because it's so huge you really need it. then you'll be free to float around from place to place, meet people, and go with the flow. planning too much is no good but you need to plan enough since the only thing you can buy at the festival is ice and coffee! so for instance the following should be worked out in advance: how to get there, enough water to drink for one week, enough food, a place to sleep (tent or trailer van), your costume, something to share with people you meet, your ticket. the ticket alone is $200 u.s., and when you add on your other costs the whole thing can be quite expensive! so, plan just enough and then go with an open heart. and if you don't have a costume, you can always get one there. once you are arrive, you'll find there a couple of daily newspapers that tell you pretty much every thing you need to know. in fact, when the population reaches its peak by the weekend, burning man's 'black rock city' (as it's called) becomes the 3rd largest city in the state of nevada!
after one week of peace, love and partying, getting organized to leave can be a nightmare, depending on who you're camping with. most of the people in our camp were already gone by monday, leaving the hard job of breaking down and packing the camp into the truck in the hands of four people: two veterans, and two 'newbies' including myself. working under a hot desert sun is not easy, and the worst is you have to take everything you brought in back out, including the dirty water! it took us about 10 hours to complete the packing, and then we got in the lineup of cars waiting to leave and that took another few hours of being in traffic. and the week after the festival was even worse; it seems common to feel completely lost, drained, and burnt out after the event, and i spent most of time lying on the couch at my friend stephanie's house in the 'mission district' of san francisco. oh, and i almost forgot: after the event, be prepared to spend several days trying to get the dust o ut of everything you brought to the playa (and good luck!).
stephanie (my hostess in san fran) was organizing the upcoming 'rhythm society' party, and invited me to play. the society is a 'members only' organization that takes its partying very seriously; if you want to join, you have to participate for an entire year (including meetings, etc.) before being able to apply. the night of the event, everything was in place: an endless supply of free fruit and food, a massage and healing space, a proper chill space, a stage for the live act, altars with incense and statues of deities, a smoking room -you name it and they thought of it. needless to say the party was a joy, has i had not seen a vibe like that since the very earliest days of the 'rave' scene, when it was all so new, fresh and exciting (and we all felt that this music was the future, and that, wow, maybe we could change the world after all).
I had wanted to go to the main 'earth dance' event, a few hours north of san francisco but it was the same weekend. however stephanie (master of manifestation that she is) managed to set me up with someone at the party who was driving up to earthdance and had 2 free tickets that he'd won on the radio, so without stopping to even take a coffee, i found myself on the road again on my way north. 3 hours later we arrived, and by the early afternoon we had set up camp. earthdance was a major blast for me: fantastic sunny days, loads of live spiritual bands, an electronica dome, good food, friendly people, a little river for swimming; ok, the nights were freezing, and the volume in the electronica dome had to be turned down after 2 a.m. (as a condition of its operation), but apart from that, it rocked. trevor of moontribe played a great set, and ganga giri played a couple of amazing sets, but the highlight of the festival, without a doubt, was again the live show of kan'nal. these guys are taking it to the next level, in a way not seen since 'the doors', way back in the day. they have nothing to do with electronica, but their live show is so powerful, it's impossible to deny the experience.
the amount of talented groups and musicians that played at the earthdance was very inspiring, and hopefully, the event made some cash for a good cause. getting off site was once again a problem, this time since my friend patrick's car would not start monday afternoon after most everyone had already left! that night, after trying to hitchhike unsuccessfully, i tried to get back in for the night, but some security goons tried to kick me off the site! but i finally talked one guy into letting me at least find patrick to tell him what was going on. one long search later, i found him, and discovered the bad news that despite several hours of recharging on a generator, the battery still would not start. i set up camp, crashed out, and woke before sunrise to repack my stuff. by 10 am, after several hours of trying to hitch a ride, i was getting seriously worried about missing my flight back home that afternoon, but at the last possible minute, a heavy metal musician (and very nice guy) from oregon pulled over to give me a ride in his pick-up truck, with his dog in the back, and i just barely made my flight home to canada. all in all, a wonderful summer, and i have to say, festivals in north america are getting better and better! this article doesn't cover all the festivals; for instance, i heard that 'gaian minds' had an excellent one this year, and there are others I have yet to hear of. so keep your ears open. chances are next year there'll be even more reasons to pack a tent and hit the road.
p.s. if you have some festival info you'd like to tell me about, feel free to do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org