The Blastoff Music & Arts Festival: Day Two
Words By Stevie Tee
Photos By Tomas Culver (89ViSiON Photography) & Joseph Le (Joe Le FOTO)
After midnight, it was time to really let it all hang down. In the coveted post-headlining late night slots were Cirque Du Womp resident DJ K@dog and Ohio’s rising star junglist Sheepdog. Though they were billed on the schedule to have two separate hour-long sets each night after the headliners, they performed together and dropped some of the wildest drum ‘n’ bass, jungle, dubstep and overall heavy bass music. Often informally referred to as Two Stupid Dogs (based on the names K@dog and Sheepdog, referring to a cartoon on Nickelodeon with the same name) these guys really held their own compared to any of the national DJs. Sheepdog’s scratch turntablism elicited a huge crowd response and K@dog’s brand of heavy yet laidback dubstep and bass music helped dip things back into lower tempos so they could build it back up. K@dog even introduced some of his own original material in the set.
When I had a chance to speak with them, they both expressed great fondness in working with one other. Sheepdog described how they hadn’t had much time to work together before these performances, but that they intuitively clicked and had an easy time bouncing tracks off. Anyone reading this who attends Electric Forest will have a chance to see this magic take place in the forest at the stage that Cirque Du Womp will be curating. Unfortunately, the second night my ride was leaving the festival after midnight and I only heard the first couple of tracks from their set just as guitarist Jaws That Bite was joining the stage.
Though the sound ordinance kept amplified music from taking place at the stages after 2:00 AM, it didn’t stop anyone from keeping the music going. Many speaker systems were going all night and some of the DJs even performed in the camping areas. The Galactic Temple was a popular spot to chill, which was lit up with ultraviolet lights and a bright, vibrant artist painting. However, once the music cut out I was ready to get whatever sleep I could to rest up for the next day.
The next day, there was more rain to be had all through out the afternoon into the early evening. Though the rain lasted longer throughout the day and slightly offset the performance schedule, it wasn’t as bad of a storm as the day before. Covert opened up the main stage about an hour late due to the rain, and I heard most of their funk-infused jam rock styling from inside my tent. The set sounded great with some really nice reggae breakdowns during some of their songs as well as decent vocals which had been absent most of the weekend. Unfortunately, they didn’t get quite the turnout they deserved because of the weather.
Covert had set the tone of the day nicely as I checked out more bands throughout the day than I had the day before. The next group I saw was a bit of Elemental Groove Theory, an enjoyable ensemble with guitar, bass, drum, sax, trumpet, keyboards and a talented female singer. Some Latin flavor peaked into their mix of funky rock, and where keyboard and guitar solos may have lacked, the horn section and swinging bass made up and helped lift the singers voice up like a siren calling throughout the festival grounds. Audience was also thin at this show due to the early afternoon placement and rain showers.
With rain beginning to clear up and sunshine reappearing, the Illinois quartet Brainchild was commanding the main stage. It was nice to get to see some of these regional up and coming groups this weekend, particularly Brainchild. Funk seemed to be the theme of the early afternoon at this point and I certainly wasn’t complaining, but to pigeonhole this band to just funk would be unfair. They were also jazzy and at times touched on progressive metal overtones similar to Umphrey’s Mcgee, though not in a way that I would describe as derivative. Everyone in the group had chops with silky smooth bass, driving drums and ripping guitar work. Spacey tones were explored in the song “Green” and vocals brought Grateful Dead vibes to mind with “Follow the Morning Sun”. The song that stood out the most to everyone around at the time was “Funky Robot”, a strong jam vehicle with faster jazzy-funk that had the crowd shaking it.
Around this point in the afternoon I was drifting around a bit to catch some of my friend’s music at the festival. Thunder St. Clair spun a massive set which started out with some heavy but tasteful dubstep. There were some great looping buildups being done on the fly in his genre-spanning set. Though I left to go check out Jaws That Bite midway through, I was told his set reached house, juke, drum ‘n’ bass and other flavors throughout its course. Thunder St. Clair has learned from the best as a prominent DJ promoter in Cleveland, Ohio.
Deepblip Record’s Jaws That Bite and Shadow Attack’s respective sets finally drew me over to spend some time at the third performance space. On the way back into the campgrounds that led to the Sacred Forest and the Galactic Temple, there was the Grassroots Dome. Much like at Wakarusa earlier this summer, Grassroots California had custom hats including one especially made for The Blastoff and other heady apparel for sale in the dome. Performing producers and DJs set up at a table inside the dome and played out of a modest PA system compared to the other actual stages. The setup was fine for the local beat makers, though at this time the crowd was spreading out around the dome to check out these sets. This area would also host yoga, hula hooping and other workshops and miscellaneous performances throughout the daytime. Both performers had solid sets with new tracks from the last time I’d covered them opening at a Shigeto concert in Ann Arbor, though I was left wondering why the two hadn’t performed together like they had previously.
Though I had to make some time to catch some local heroes at the Grassroots Dome, there was no way I was going to miss my first chance of seeing Zoogma over at the main stage. The Mississippi five-piece consisted of guitar, drums, bass, synthesizers and Midi controllers, and more than one lap top could be seen on stage. Their seamless blending of live instrumentation, improvisation and computerized production elements was impressive. Mind-bending synth licks set the tone while driving rhythms and machine-like guitar precision guided the music to enormous peaks. The pace would work back and forth between breakneck drum ‘n’ bass and half time hip-hop beats reminding me of older STS9 but not to an unoriginal extent at all. Vocal samples were even lightly used in agreement with live instrumentation. The fullness of their sound actually made The Malah’s following set sound a little bare although I didn’t catch enough of it to write them off.
One unexpected gem of the rainy afternoon was hearing frequent Cirque Du Womp performer Dixon’s Violin at the amphitheater stage. Dixon would often refer to his musical expressions as a journey that I fully welcomed as a break from shredding guitars or subwoofer bending basses. Using only a violin and a looping pedal station, Dixon laid out rhythms by playing or plucking the strings and build them into transcendent crescendos. It was the only set of the weekend that had such a meditative quality with spellbinding serenity. Many would stop by to take a break and have a seat in the wet grass and allow themselves to be transported by the sound of Dixon’s Violin.
Later at the amphitheater stage, Vibesquad was pulling in a larger crowd than the main stage at the time as the on-and-off rain was finally receding for the night. A member of Zilla and frequent collaborator with Janover and The Glitch Mob’s Ooah, Vibesquad knows how to get a party going. His sound characterizes the west coast glitch-hop and dubstep movements at the moment and is perfect for fans of Bassnectar or his collaborative partners. With a laptop and a controller device, he appeared to be using Ableton as a DJing program, mixing all of his own tracks, edits and remixes, including an interesting rework of a Nas and Damian Marley vocal track that stood out to me. Big bass wobbles with dissecting blips and break dancing beats keep his sound from stagnating on standard dubstep rhythms for too long. Acid-synth and upbeat, crunked out hyphy was preferable to the more mechanical and aggressive sounds of Mochipet on the main stage.
After Vibesquad wrapped up, the Amphitheater stage was quickly turned over to Bass Science. Since the performance, it has come to my attention that this is a production duo, though only one member of the group appeared on stage. I was also under the impression that this was a Live PA kind of performance until a friend of mine pointed out that the lone member was dropping a Starkey track. Given these circumstances I don’t really know how to call this one other than to say that it was a smoother brand of bass music than Vibesquad’s more glitched-out sound. I noticed some additional plug-ins to his Ableton setup that provided very synth heavy and hybrid bass sounds and shimmering high arpeggiated melodies. Friends of mine who’d seen the group before claimed that past shows they’ve seen were better, so due to the lack of the whole group’s presence, I’m withholding any serious assessment.
After a previous lack luster encounter with Mimosa in the live setting while opening for The Disco Biscuits last year, I had more or less planned on avoiding his set. Since performances on the amphitheater stage had been pushed back a bit from rain and other scheduling issues, I could clearly hear the first half of his set even waiting at the amphitheater stage while Brothers Past set up. Even him dropping a Hudson Mohawke track that I’m fond of didn’t lure me over. Despite taking a cookie cutter approach to Ableton Live mixing, he was clearly a fan favorite to many crowding the main stage. I’d overheard a few people who left his set complaining that it was the exact same set from Movement Electronic Music Festival a couple weeks prior, and some of my friends who enjoy his studio work shared my complaints about his live show. I wished that it was Ana Sia’s set following that I was actually able to hear.
My weekend was capped off with a performance from Brothers Past, an old favorite of mine who I’ve not had the chance to see in several years. After reuniting with their original drummer in 2008, they’ve been playing with new inspiration. Their performance at The Blastoff was no exception. “Dead Clowns” was the opening song which allowed the band to launch into a high tempo jungle jam. It’s always a treat to hear drummer Rick Lowenberg playing complex jungle beats usually reserved for computerized drum programming. “Getaway Somehow > Can You Keep a Secret” was the meat of the set, as “Getaway Somehow” always has a drawn out experimental electro intro that is the perfect starting point for deep danceable exploration. Clay Parnell’s bass had warm synth pad tones while keyboardist Tom McKee guided through jams with steady themes. Guitarist Tom Hamilton took strong leads to reach climaxes or tease at the next song. He also showed the ability to restrain, providing only rhythmic textures or not playing guitar at all while using his computer and MIDI instead. “One Rabbit Race” was the final song before an encore of “Let’s Start a Gang.” Both songs patiently developed their usual upbeat four-on-the-floor jams into some dubstep leaning, womp bass exploration. This was very tastefully done and seemed to come out of nowhere for how they carefully circled around it before execution, like a plane circling in for landing. “One Rabbit Race” in particular was a highlight though the whole set was consistent with precise transitions from one distinct part of a jam to another.
I heard a few tracks from K@dog and Sheepdog before we made our way home after the weekend and was disappointed I didn’t get to hear them close the festival out with guitarist Jaws That Bite. Cirque Du Womp did a fantastic job with this festival through weather issues and scheduling snafus and didn’t drop the ball for the audience in any way. Through hard work, dedication and no help from corporate sponsorship, they put together a brand new festival for a new generation of music lovers that was in no way limited to dubstep or even electronic music. Their events have always been immersive and interactive, blurring the lines of performers and audience. With experience throwing parties that transport their audience to another world, it’s easy to see why they are setting out to become a creative force involved with the first ever Electric Forest in building the mystical Forest Stage. It’s been inspiring to watch this group grow over the last two years and their constant growth means only bigger things for next year’s Blastoff.
Blastoff Day One Coverage Here
Tomas’s Day 2 Photo Gallery