The Blastoff Music & Arts Festival: Day One
Words By Stevie Tee
Photos By Tomas Culver (89ViSiON Photography)
It’s exciting to see a new music festival pop up in your area, inspiring to see a community build a festival from the ground up. The story of this festival starts about two years ago when DJ Grant “K@dog” Jackson, visual and lighting expert Scott Sutterfield and event coordinator Angela Palaian started putting on parties known as the Dubstep Circus in Detroit. At this time Dubstep had become popular in the UK, NYC and LA, but had yet to develop a major presence in Detroit. These parties brought the new subgenre of electronic dance music to the limelight in Detroit and raised the standard of dance parties in the area with their high-end production values. The group became known as Cirque Du Womp and as the name suggests, they’ve formed a collection of artists and performers to create an immersive theatrical experience that is a spectacle to behold. As they’ve expanded, the group has grown in many directions musical directions beyond dubstep attracting acts such as Emancipator, Michna and jamtronica band The Coop. Their story is truly one of grassroots efforts, ambition and passion. Last summer they took the act out on the road to Summer Camp Music Festival and Camp Bisco. This year they decided to make their own festival featuring a large number of regional bands, producers and DJs, as well as many touring headliners.
It was somewhere around 11 AM on Friday morning when we arrived at Zane Shawnee Caverns, the site of the inaugural Blastoff Music & Arts Festival. Most of the festival attendees were hazily waking up at their campsites from the night before. Even though there were no scheduled performances the night before, Thursday arrival was the popular choice for those looking to start the party early. After a smooth and friendly check-in, it was time to wander around and scope out the area before performances started. There was a good amount of camping within earshot of the two main stages and others spilled into surrounding partially forested areas. Artist installations hung from the trees and led back to the eye-popping Galactic Temple. Food, clothing and other interesting vendors lined the pathway near the main stage.
Opening up the main stage for the weekend’s festivities was the Michigan-based band I Love Dinosaurs. With one of their keyboardists absent, the band is comprised of drums, bass, keyboards and electric violin. Jazz-fusion and progressive rock influences are very apparent in the style and musicianship of the group, but they also had a considerable amount of drum ‘n’ bass, hip-hop and electro flavor. In fact, the group teased “Ain’t Nothin’ but a G thang” to the delight of the early afternoon audience. Most of their songs were seamlessly strung together as the band took only one break between songs in the hour-long set. Synthesized bass guitar shook the ground and the electric violin dazzled going from quiet textural tones, to spacey tremolo and all the way to highflying shred guitar sounds. All members of the band had stand out moments of tension and release and set the bar very high for the weekend’s performances.
Freddy Todd quickly took over the main stage with his unique blend of laser bass synths and dirty glitch-hop grooves. While Freddy manned his computer and controller device to conduct the non-stop flow of beats and blaps, his friend and recent collaborator Jaws That Bite accompanied him on guitar with an elaborate series of pedals. Jaws That Bite wove eerie harmonies and transcending melodic riffs over Freddy’s slightly dubstep leaning, heavy hip-hop breaks. Every time I’ve seen this producer he has brought something new to the table in his all-original, live PA performances. His set of sexy new tunes drew out the largest audience of the day until headliners started taking the stage much later in the evening. With his squeaky clean, professionally produced sound and party-starting tracks, it’s not hard to see why he’s gigging across the country.
After taking a break from the early afternoon heat, I managed to hear some of Archnemesis’s set at the amphitheater stage adjacent to the main stage. This live PA production duo is made up of Curt Heiny from Telepath and Justin Aubuchon from MO Theory on laptop computers and controller devices. It’s no surprise that their collective experience with live instrumentation brought a lot of depth to the sound that they bring to the stage. Coupling that with some tasteful sampling, they kicked out a soulful array of funky hip-hop tunes. One thing that I’ve noticed from listening to Telepath that translated to Archnemesis’s performance is a knack for world-beat style percussion and flare. Not to mention MO Theory’s big-time breakbeat sound that remains the centerpiece of this duo’s output. Shortly after dropping a brand new track that I was digging, they started relying on more of a mashup feel drawing in acapellas from popular songs, creating a remixed top-40 sound that turned me off. It was about then that I headed back over to the main stage to check out the band that was setting up.
Over at the main stage, the band EP3 (short for Eight Planets Past Pluto) were building up some interesting themes. This quartet from Atlanta was made up of drums, bass, guitar and keyboards, which I believe also had some computerized production elements as well. Their tension-and-release jams that built upon melodic themes in between the structured parts reminded me of the Disco Biscuits in a big way, especially the guitar playing. Some slower or more hip-hop based songs also brought STS9 and Pnuma Trio to mind. Though they had their noticeable influences, found myself coming back to their set when I left briefly to check out Eprom whose heavy dubstep sound was a bit aggressive for my tastes. The last song EP3 played distinguished them from their influences to me with a developed intro that featured some interesting tom work in the drumming and more airy, organic textures that didn’t rely on standard electronic jam band cliches.
As the evening wore on, I found myself drifting from stage to stage a bit more catching bits and pieces of different sets. Noah D was dropping some proper dubstep. Though I usually have a difficult time picking out tracks from DJ sets, I noticed he mixed “It’s Late” by Silkie who is one of my favorite dubstep producers currently. His set was deeper and more laid back then Eprom had been directly before him on the amphitheater stage, but I decided to take the opportunity to see all the bands I could for the weekend considering most of the headlining acts were DJs and producers.
The Werks arrived a bit late and could only play a brief three-song set that was still quite enjoyable. Since the last time I’d caught them they’d grown from a trio to five-piece band with two guitars, bass, organ and drums giving them more of a classic rock feel as opposed to a lot of the electronic jam bands of the weekend. Funky backbeats and slap bass made their music easy to move to, while bright organ leads and shredded guitar licks elevated jams to triumphant peaks. The Werks actually started throwing festivals at this site for the first time the previous year at their shindig called “The Werk Out.”
Audiences started filling-in for some of the evening’s later acts like Bay Area producer Heyoka. Heyoka’s live PA set was perfect for those who love glitched out, psychedelic downtempo, trip-hop. Basses wobbled in and out over crisp lead synthesizer melodies. Wave and sampled sounds would wash over the mix at the turn of a knob on his controller device and steady beats would occasionally warp out at the hands of this unique up-and-coming producer. His sound brings to mind The Glitch Mob with less of a gangster rap influence and more organic elements. However, this set and possibly Eliot Lipp’s were cut short due to a heavy storm passing through.
In contrast on the amphitheater stage Eliot Lipp’s set was much smoother and straightforward with more classic analog sounds. Lipp’s brand of hip-hop beats had a lot more movement and got into some higher tempos than Heyoka on the main stage. The crowd was getting down! There was plenty of electro styling that characterized this producer’s earlier work, and I would’ve liked to have heard more of this set before the storm set in. Fortunately I could hear the abrupt conclusion of the set from my tent.
After the storm passed through, I made my way down to the main stage as it reopened to catch one of my favorite sets of the weekend. Nosaj Thing was about to drop one of the most unique sounding sets of the weekend that had elements of live PA and DJing while not relying too heavily on any particular genre. The main stage was now at maximum volume to draw the audience out of their tents, cars and other shelter from the storm. The low end was very deep and heavy hitting, not too aggressive or overbearing. Lighter, almost angelic melodic sounds contrasted nicely to the depth of the low end. Original remixes of Flying Lotus and “Wandering Star” by Portishead elicited huge crowd response. This was one of the last sets I would hear from start to finish and despite the fact that it was supposed to be one of Nosaj Thing’s coveted visual sets, no one seemed to mind with the set that was constructed for us.
After Nosaj Thing’s stirring conclusion, Ott was delving into highly psychedelic territory at the amphitheater stage. Some of the first tracks I heard of his performance were heavier new songs from his new album, Mir, that had dubstep elements and womp bass that is absent from his earlier work. Soon after he got into tracks from his first two albums that have a trippy dub reggae feel. His productions, like all members of the Twisted records roster, have stunningly rich and masterful sound quality. Sampled Indian vocals on tracks from his album Skylon also brought to mind the Twisted Records sound. What I caught of his set was spacey and relaxing, an intriguing set despite the fact that many of the tracks that I recognized from Bluemenkraft and Skylon seemed similar to how they sound on the album.
Now that it was dark outside, Cirque Du Womp’s signature performers were on platforms flanking the main stage, mesmerizing the audience with fire dancing, hooping and other glow in the dark tripped out madness while Tipper kept the psychedelic vibes going. Exotic percussion and richly textured electronic layering made his set stand out. Hypnotic melodies swayed to the groove of otherworldly downtempo beats that ranged from sexy to creepy. The volume of the main stage had once again been reduced to a more conservative level but it didn’t hinder this set for its ambient, chilled-out nature. This exploratory set is one that I wish I had spent more time seeing.
One of the big stories of the night was how well the Cirque Du Womp’s regional DJs and producers held their weight compared to the headlining DJs of the weekend, particularly when K@dog and Ohio-based drum ‘n’ bass/jungle DJ Sheepdog teamed up for some tag team late night action both nights of the festival. We’ll look further into these performances in our coverage of Day Two, but I wanted to hint at why these two DJs will be performing at Electric Forest at the stage Cirque Du Womp will be curating...
Blastoff Day Two Coverage Here
Tomas’s Day 1 Photo Gallery