Symbiosis Gathering: An Unparalleled Festival Experience
I spent last weekend romping around in a magical forest from sunset to sunrise and beyond, with friends from near and far and a lineup that quite possibly was the best I had ever experienced: top notch musical talent the whole weekend communicated through crystalline sound with a backdrop of insane natural splendor. I was submerged in art and dunked in a lake that bobbed with happy souls, next to tall trees that will be here long after you or I. Symbiosis Gathering was THE place to be in the whole entire universe last weekend, and I am so thankful that I was able to share in the unforgettable experience with so many of you.
Why is anyone living any other life than one centered around art and music and creative expression? Why do people go into toilet sales when they could go into event production or performance art? I know that humans are busy raising babies and prodding their genes along towards immortality, getting married because they are supposed to, saving up for bigger TVs and faster cars, and that SOMEONE has to sell toilets- but it doesn’t have to be you. I sink to my knees in gratitude for the life I have found on the road less traveled and for the beautiful, talented and creative people who fill it. AKA: you.
My favorite moment of the festival, predictable perhaps but no less immense, was the Glitch Mob slamming the sun up Saturday morning, the NoCal sky slowly becoming a sheet of sherbet rainbow behind piney silhouettes as my favorite artists in the world gave us their music on a forest platter. Fucking epic. Heaps of new tracks and a field full of adoring fans who had been up all night, dancing in a woodland home that no one will ever forget. The boys ended their set with a tribute to their home and my home (California Love, baby), dedicated to their friend DJ AM; I was not the only one on the dance floor with tears of joy in my eyes.
Symbiosis Gathering was everything I thought it would be and everything I told you it would be, and then some. One mile down the road was Yosemite National Park, and the dense beauty of the venue was complemented to perfection by the deep beats echoing through the leaves. I would buy my ticket for Symbiosis 2010 right this second, and I would probably buy one for you. If I had to pick one party to go to in 2010, it would be Symbiosis; I wish I could make everyone I love experience this amazing outdoor which really was the best I have ever been to. All my desert-dwelling SoCal homies were freaking out over the forest and the trees, and so was I- it is weird how much I miss my furry green friends from cooler, drippier climates.
Symbiosis felt much more open than Burning Man (in vibe, not geography), with much less of a police presence- I saw one cruiser. The smaller attendance and cozy venue created a more intimate feeling. I was lost for a fair amount of the weekend, but the grounds were totally doable and easy to navigate once you figured it out- which I had by late Sunday afternoon.
A few landmarks guided the wanderers along the way, like Raja’s Laser Guided Visions booth filled with hologram art and freaks; every single time I walked through, they were bumping the illest music ever (I am pretty sure I heard a Whompcast) with a crowd of people dotted with Seattleites. The last time I passed by, it was a straight-up madhouse with a couple dozen people dancing in the path and pratically blocking it off. Big ups Seattle! I have not met anyone in SoCal who parties half as hard as my friends from the 206. You kids crazy.
Some people ask me why they can’t make these outdoor festivals a little easier to experience: make them closer to major cities, not quite so expensive, and could someone plan out the whole camping thing so I don’t have to? But making it a bit difficult is kind of the point. These incredible outdoor experiences are a large endeavor; this is not Hollywood on Friday night where you hop in a cab, fork over $20 and are in. Festivals take planning, preparation, and prioritization in your life. And this is just how the promoters want it. If you could buy a ticket and show up after a five minute ride with no thought and little advance effort, well then it would be an urban massive like EDC. Which is not bad- I had a blast at EDC– but these outdoor festivals are a different animal entirely. No comparison whatsoever to the massive city raves. Everyone out there really wants to be and has made a big effort in order be there at that moment. It creates a distinct, caring tone to the party that you do not find and easy-to-experience festivals.
Symbiosis Gathering was a five-day event; I was there for less than two and a half days. Next year not only will I make going to outdoor festivals more of a priority financially, but I am going to fewer festivals and staying longer. Every festival I have been to this year, I have arrived late and left early. I like the variety to be sure, but to make the huge effort to camp several hundred miles away from my home and then miss a large portion of the experience has left a sad taste in my mouth. I want more!
There were three questions of Symbiosis:
- What time is it?
- Do you have a lighter?
- Where is my drink?
And to that I will add one more: Who the hell is this DJ?
I never wear a watch in “real life,” although I may have to get one for festivals. I really want to know who is playing and when; I like to know what DJ is up so I can make mental notes about their performance and check them out online when I get home. I recognize many artists, but not all. Lineups became slightly off during Symbiosis and pushed back an hour or even two, which made it hard to figure out who was who if you didn’t already know. Another minor issue in my mind was the fact that between several major sets, there was a huge lag time between artists, which allowed the energy that had been whipped up on the dance floor to dissipate through the forest as partygoers slowly wandered off in search of live music. But still, the energy that remained was golden and ready to go; it just could have been done slightly better.
Despite these few snafus (I also heard that people arriving on Thursday had to wait hours to get in), the festival was a resounding success and everyone was just really blown away by the event. I arrived Friday around 3PM, set up camp, and headed out to check out the stages and explore my world.
The Alt Stage was deep in the forest and had a giant inflatable SOMETHING guarding the gate; it was here we enjoyed fat techno the first night to the likes of Sammy D, Nikola Baytala and the Terrakroma crew.
Although there was a very wide variety of music at Symbiosis and you know I like the techno, this party was all about the midtempo breaks, glitch hop, beat music, bass music, and their many miscreant cousins. It is the music I love and champion on my blog every day.
I spent much of the night at what was to become my home for the weekend: The Lake Stage. At every festival, you seem to gravitate towards one stage and find yourself there more than any other place. I am a total festie nomad and can’t stay in one spot for long, but the Lake Stage held my heart this time around. The visuals were incredible and made it seem like the stage was boiling, teaming with life and squirming around. Behind the wooden stage, giant trees rose up to the brilliant night sky, projected onto with different shades of green and geometric shapes for a really neat effect- tree visuals on trees. Up top, the stars bested us all with their incredible blaze, brighter than I can remember them ever being.
Showing up at the Lake Stage, Mimosa had given part of his set to Ill Gates (nice combo!); following those two was the freaky duo Lazer Sword and then Flying Lotus, who as always delivered a mind-stretching set. I could write a thousand miles about how much I love his music. If you are reading this and thinking, I just don’t get Flying Lotus’ music- what is the deal? Please keep listening. Experiencing his music led me down the path to understanding jazz. Major mental breakthrough shit.
After FlyLo, one of my new favorites in this world took the stage: Pretty Lights, with a funky and groovy set that lit the forest on fire. Pretty Lights aka Derek Smith was accompanied by a live drummer and of course, pretty lights like flying piles of worms which filled the night and my heart. I could jam to Pretty Light’s sound forever, and I just might.
The rest of the night: an-ten-nae, Caspa, N-Type and 3WS continued as thousands of fools in love with the forest danced and celebrated life and art and each other. My face hurt from smiling so much.
Saturday I woke up sweaty as hell in my hot ass tent and ready for the lake. Armed with a giant two-person floatie, I wandered down to the lake which seemed to be the perfect temperature: cold, to go with the sizzling sun. I bobbed along, drinking the beers stashed in the netting of my inner tube to the happy sunshine sounds of Laura. She was setting the day off right with a set that was perfectly matched to the fun, summery mood. Following her was Djuma Soundsystem and then Worthy, a DJ I discovered at Burning Man. I think. Again, the time slots were off and in some cases, switched around- so I could never be totally sure of who was playing unless I recognized them.
Claude Von Stroke was a pleasant surprise, shoving us into the grove after Little John and plastering stupid smiles all over the dance floor. Going over to catch Les Claypool over at the newly opened and GIANT Field Stage, we waited for quite a while as the speakers blasted out AC/DC and all got a bit thunderstruck? Really? It was so out of place and amusing we thought it might be a joke. The dance floor was bleeding souls as people fled the screeching rock sounds. After a round of ‘Secret Agent Man’ (I am not joking), finally Les Claypool came on. The festival’s headliner had been talked up quite a bit for his eccentric ways and uncompromising musical attitude, and while I completely appreciate his talent and that beautiful ripping sound on the bass, I was unimpressed. The most entertaining part of his set that I heard was the funny banter at the beginning, imploring all the young ladies to continue with their clothes-less weekend. But I wanted to dance and I left before the set was halfway done.
AND THEN BASSNECTAR. Say what you want about this festival namedrop (and people do- it’s almost as trendy to hate on Bassnectar as it is to hate on dubstep)- but he blew the crowd away with his gnarly beats. His music was meant to be played outdoors on an epic scale, rubbing up on tree giants and creating fits on the dance floor- perfect festival music. Loren was loving it, too, and would stop and tell us so- I bet his face hurt from smiling the next day as well!
I wanted to check out Adam Freeland’s live band but the lag between the sets had me wondering off into the forest. I have yet to mention the intricate Forest Stage, which was adorned with two temple structures reminiscent of Southeast Asia and whose music fell on my campsite, which was just a few dozen trees down. This was the ‘weird’ stage, with more experimental beats and performers to the like of the Shamanic Cheerleaders- WTF? I never saw them- only heard them- and could only wonder what was behind this random chanting going on in the woods. Hey hey, get shamanic! Again: WTF?
Saturday night was COLD- at one point I went to my tent and put on every piece of warm clothing I had packed. A few hours later, I was back in a bikini. But before it had heated up enough for the lake, we hit the smokin’ hot Lake Stage. It was time for the Glitch Mob, and one magnificent sunrise experience. Like Bassnectar, the Glitch Mob’s music was in part inspired and grown by the West Coast festival circuit and seems to slide into perfect place amongst the trees and open air.
After the Glitch Mob? Mala. Holy mother of dubstep, great god of vinyl, wobble the wonk into my very soul. There were a few technical issues, otherwise known as the bass shaking the earth so much it was popping the needle out of the groove, so they quickly moved the set up back up on the stage while MC Lafa Taylor jumped up to keep the crowd’s energy going with funny rhymes on the mike. I couldn’t remember his name, only dancing and laughing my ass off and twirling around and smiling and loving. What a highlight.
And according to EVERYONE, waiting out the technical issues were well worth it, because Mala poured bass like steak gravy on our heads and practically ripped the forest in half. Wow tears just came to my eyes writing that sentence, as I recalled in my mind the dark and soulful music that he laid on us. Oh the sweet sound of analog bass, of the needle in that groove! I heard from people that Mala’s set was the first time that dubstep really spoke to them, that they finally got it, fell in a dancing trance and didn’t let go. I also heard from people that Mala’s set had reinspired them in the genre, awakening anew their love for the wobble and resparking that dubstep fire. Now those are some damn good compliments.
Random Rab picked up afterwards with a dreamy tone, followed by the more left-field Shpongle a few hours later as the day got into full swing and the sun heated up the field of dancers. I climbed around on hot metal art structures and had a piece of pizza muy excellente, made of beets, lemon rind, pesto and roasted garlic. Really? Yes. Believe it or not, it was FANTASTIC!
Sadly and due to a lack of a watch, I missed the Sunday AM set of edIT and OOah’s Crying Over Porcelain for No Reason. Don’t tell me about it or I will cry over missing a set for a definite reason. Ah well c’est la vie. Back to the lake for a quick swim and cool-off next to a gorilla on a raft, my happyface self just wandered around to different stages, checking out Treavor Moontribe’s hard psytrance for a second, browsing sweet leatherwork at the tribal market, laying in the grass under the sun.
Soon it was time to begin packing up, all to the danky sounds of Mikhal and Neptune from the Forest Stage- thank God for dubstep. I did not want to leave, but alas- these amazing moments in our lives were never meant to last forever.
Overall, my favorites of the festival in this unparalleled natural location were the Glitch Mob, Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, Mala, Claude Von Stroke and Lafa Taylor, who jumped up after the Glitch Mob to keep the party going. It would be neat if there was some way for festivals to designate the artist on stage, and keep the list updated and accurate so people would know who the hell they were jamming to. It sucks to discover a new artist that you love, and have no idea how to follow up on it after the festival ends. I am pretty good and stalking down DJs after they perform to get their name, but it doesn’t always happen, and there are usually a few talented souls whose names are lost in the forest to me. I heard dozens more DJs than I wrote about here.
Although sustainability and art of all forms (traditional, live, graffiti) were well represented at Symbiosis, music was still very central. At many Burner parties, it sometimes seems that what the stage and speakers look like is more important than what is coming out of them, and that nepotism sometimes trumps new and true talent, but not at Symbiosis. Well done.
Many people are upholding Symbiosis as the best festival yet to take place in our universe, and I have to agree. What did you think? Leave a comment below and let me know about great sets I missed, your favorite moment of the festival, your biggest artist discovery surprise where a random name on a lineup became your new favorite, how pimp the cabins were and what you thought of the venue. Will you go back next year?
My sweet digital camera broke upon arrival to Burning Man, and the photos you see are a few of twenty I got out of two very shitty disposable cameras, which are better than nothing!
Much love to my festival people. You know what’s up. One outdoor art and music festival is worth 30 nights out on the town, at least. I encourage every one of you to make an effort to incorporate these life-changing festivals into your life and prioritize your time and funds to experience communal gatherings and celebrations at every chance possible.
Or just go on living a normal life and save up for that big screen. It is your choice.
But I hope you will join me on an earthen dance floor in the forest of the future!
This entry was posted on September 23, 2009 at 9:16 AM and is filed under Festivals, From the Front Lines (Show Reviews) with tags 3ws, ac/dc, Adam Freeland, an ten nae, ana sia, Bassnectar, boreta, Burning Man, caspa, claude von stroke, crying over porcelain for no reason, danny corn, derek smith, dj am, djuma soundsystem, edit, Flying Lotus, Glitch Mob, ill gates, lafa taylor, laser guided visions, laura, little john, mala, mikhal, mimosa, n-type, neptune, nikola baytala, ooah, pretty lights, raja, rancho relaxo, sammy d, secret agent man, shamanic cheerleaders, symbiosis, symbiosis festival, symbiosis gathering, terrakroma, thunderstruck, Treavor Moontribe, whompcast, worthy, yosemite national park. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.