All Photos by Ben Wilson’s eye and eye photography
The new location of Sonic Bloom, Colorado’s premiere electronic music festival, couldn’t have been more ideal for an audience ready to celebrate a weekend of musical and visual bliss. The Rocky Mountains encircled the site, a raging river separated the two stages, tree shade was abundant, a serene pond provided a break from the mayhem, and a quaint cabin sat to the side of the Main Stage. Other than the natural beauty, plenty of sights were at hand: light and art installations, aerialists, fire dancers, hula-hoopers, art galleries, and the overpowering, pulsating lights that blasted the crowd from the Main Stage.
The opening ceremony, which began Friday at 4:20pm (go figure), invited the crowd to stand in a full circle while a humbling prayer of gratitude was given towards the North, South, East, and West of Shadows Ranch and two girls walked around blessing the attendees with sage smoke. As the prayer concluded, dubstep artist Dayquill tested all frequencies of the superior Funktion-One loudspeaker system and it sounded like an alien invasion coming to earth via a roller coaster. As everyone steadily increased their screams of excitement to match the speakers, the three days of music commenced.
As a novice listener of electronic music, the differentiations of style in the multitude of artists weren’t always easy to pinpoint. Attempting to learn a thing or two about the genre and sub-genres was interesting, but delving into the sound and letting the vibrations of maddening bass circulate through my body was the best way to grasp and enjoy the movement. On the Main Stage, Human Agency, comprised of Ryan Kjos and Seamus Moore, played some down-tempo hip-hop flavored tracks that bled into a set by Zilla, one of the many musical projects that festival thrower, Jamie Janover is involved in. Rounding off the group is Michael Travis of Eoto and String Cheese Incident, and Aaron Holstein of Vibesquad.
The fusion of members from other bands into one group was not an anomaly. This coming together of bands, and friends, emphasized how tight-knit and experimental the electronic music community has become. For the most part it works, but the improvisation becomes noticeable from time to time when the drums are trying to keep up with the loops and beats, or vice-versa. While somewhat distracting, there’s something very human about witnessing friends and band mates having fun trying to keep up with one another. Marty Party, on the other hand, was constantly challenging himself and the crowd with layer after layer of beats. His tracks mostly started with a simple smooth sound until it grew into a tornado of sounds destroying everything in its path.
Across the bridge and through the woods, a mere two minute walk from the Main Stage, was the CO-Dome. The dome became the weekend home of several Colorado natives who did everything they could to prove their worth. The flannel wearing co-producer of Pretty Lights’ debut album, Michal Menert, made waves in the tiny structure that only a 300 pounder doing a cannonball in the deep end could accomplish. His set included samples of Middle Eastern sounds and angelic, driving beats with spattered sounds of laser beams, but that was only the begining as the dome was soon to be home to one of the best sets of the weekend.
One of the dubstep originators and most anticipated acts of the weekend, MALA, was scheduled to come over from London to play this one show. Much to the dismay of just about everyone on sight, his flight was delayed and for a while it looked like we might miss out on seeing the legend. However, around 4am word quickly spread that MALA was on site and they had relocated his set to the intimate confines of the CO-Dome. The result was one of the most inspiring sets of the weekend as his music forced its way into the hearts and loins of the crowd until sunrise. The flawlessly crisp sound had a sensual feel to it; so much so that it was almost surprising the crowd didn’t strip off their clothes right there on the dance floor.
On Saturday, Encanti raised the wild and ridiculous meter to extremes. During his set he threw Depends out to the crowd which predictably led to a couple of grown men wearing these diapers for the rest of the weekend. Later on, I asked him about his outrageous demeanor, “I was telling my friend that after my set the crowd will have to be identified by their molars, because I was going to melt their faces off. Then I surmised that my music might actually make them poo their pants a little, so I had my buddy pick up a bunch of Depends from the store,” Encanti told me.
While David Starfire was soft spoken and meek during Saturday’s press conference, just a few hours later he played a hard bumping set that set the stage for another musical highlight of the weekend, Tipper: Sound Experience. His music is designed specifically to be played through the Funktion-One sound system. The system is a quadraphonic array; so if you’re located in the middle of the surrounding speakers, it’s possible to experience some of the cleanest and freshest sounds ever to come out of speakers as the music swirls around you. Not only was the sound impeccable, but the light show pulsated with such vigor and serenity that no drugs were needed to keep the bright lights flashing beneath your eyelids long after the two hour set was over.
During Cacheflowe’s fast paced and entirely original set, Encanti emerged wearing nothing but a Panda mask and booty shorts while air humping and grinding on everything in sight. Before pulling two girls on stage to dance on top of the speakers, he gave us all a lesson on how to do the “I Don’t Know Dance” (it involved looking confused while doing a shimmy) and poured Bloody Mary’s into people’s mouths from atop the speaker towers.
Sunday featured a loose and fun set by The Floozies, and a rather emotional effort by the one woman act LYNX, before Tipper wowed us all again. While the twilight set was mellower than Saturday’s mindbender, it still blew people away. I walked away realizing the you must be mentally prepared for Tipper’s jaw-dropping show because it can drain all your energy as the flawless sound runs through your body like an electrical circuit. After his set a lot of people went back to their campsites and it was obvious the vibrations had not stopped inside their bodies as they slumped over and continued to reel from the experience.
Throughout the weekend I noticed that most of the crowd was probably in their early to mid twenties, and as Sunday night rolled around it became clear in my head why. This scene requires fans to have sturdy bones that can handle the hardcore vibrations for hours and days at a time while sleeping (or not sleeping) on the ground. There were folks that were dreadlocked, on stilts, in animal outfits, half naked and all the way naked, tie-dyed, doped up, gyrating aficionados, and spiritual, but the one thing that we all shared was an excitement for the music and the experience that we were sharing together.
Overall the festival was inspiring and proved that the electronic scene is continuing to evolve as it attracts people that want to feel more, learn more, and understand their peers and music with affection and love. The respect people had for the earth and each other was something to revere. Campsites had solar panels and recycling bags galore and I never even saw anybody relieving themselves outside of the Porta-Potties. Even the bathing was ecologically friendly, as “Dr. Bronner’s Interblastive Foam Experience,” which took place in a huge tub, only used a fraction of the water of a normal camp shower. People wandered from tent to tent to say hello to their neighbors and hostility was nowhere to be found. When 2,000 electronic music fans gather together in such a serenely beautiful environment, the sublime and spiritual event is well worth the cost of admission.