Symbiosis Gathering 9.19 - 9.23.13

Woodward Reserve
Oakdale, CA

Words By B. Getz & Maria Herrera
Photos By Kauai Ric & JMH Mixed Media

Now in its eighth year, Symbiosis Gathering 2013 was a living, breathing dragon of pagan synergy, an event filled with spiritual confluence and an electronic-sonic paradise — a rigorous program featuring dozens of the best intergalactic yodas in EDM, yoga and sustainability practices. This was a transformational festival, and despite some disorganized infrastructure, the event broke new ground for what can be created in this type of community gathering.

Symbiosis boasted four workshop stages by day, classes from mycology to mysticism, yoga to making yogurt, and organic farming to improv comedy performances. One may have gotten lost in the workshops all weekend and felt fulfilled. Another crucial component is the variety of different visual art on display. Symbiosis is a music, ART and conscious lifestyle event. Per square footage, they had more art than any other festival in the U.S. besides a certain event in the Black Rock desert. It is also a festival that strived, with the help of WasteBusters, Inc. to leave the grounds that host to this year’s event (Woodward Reservoir, Oakdale, Ca.) in better condition that when Symbiosis first gathered there.

Amidst the well-curated lineup of workshops and speakers ready to educate the masses were Darin McFadyen, better known as FreqNasty, and his yogi counterpart Claire Thompson, who opened the Empire of Love Stage Friday morning with a unique take on the therapeutic properties of combining yoga, dance music and sub-bass frequencies. The pair used meaningful insights from the foundational texts of Yoga and Buddhism along with sub-bass sounds, or sounds which are approximately below 60 Hertz and extend downward including the lowest frequency humans can hear, to create something Thompson called the Bass Wash – an energy cleaning experience that unites the realms of sound healing and meditation.

The Bee Hive Collective, a group of artists and activist who have taken on a plethora of pressing environmental and political issues, gave a fierce presentation on the impact of mountain top removal and coal mining using a 8-15 tapestry that illustrated the struggles for land, livelihood, and self-determination playing out in places like Appalachia. Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the nonprofit Food and Water Watch and author of Foodopoly, encouraged festival growers to rise up against the stronghold multinational corporations have on our food source.

Symbiosis is based around the Bay Area, a vibrant community of artists, builders and magicians that test the bounds of what is possible to create at a five-day event. Art comes from people and places, in the spirit of random acts of creativity and selfless expression. This review will focus on the plethora of monumental music on the stacked lineup cards. Rest assured many of the festival’s best performers may not be featured in this article; we could only be in one place at a time, and also did our best to take in the countless activities (like swimming and Yoga!) that were plentiful about Symbiosis. The following is some of the best of the symbiotic best in sonic exploration of the realms of intelligent dance music and crunkalogic science.

Dub Kirtan All-stars, led by Freq Nasty and David Starfire with special guests J Brave of the Luminaries, Srikalogy and Caitanya, set it off proper on Thursday night at The Cove stage set lakeside, dripping in bamboo and psychedelia. The Kirtanic enchantment within “Hari Krishna” sent people into a mystical procession of Zen aerobics, while “Sita Ram” captivated and enchanted, a mid-tempo dub- ridah and mesmerizing pulsation filled with bombastic drums and soundsystem rudebwoy swagger. Tracks from dreamlike EP Subsonic Devotion were recreated with live chanting and vocals drenched in a lathering of bass buoyancy. Later, emcee collaborators hailing from Brooklyn drove the carpet ride decidedly to the streets, and the New York chants met the Yoga of bass. Kirtan channeled its inner b-boy from the corner of Paul’s Boutique and a new style.

One of the most moving, mind-blowing musical experiences in recent memory was the séance that was led by the Liberation Movement. Taking place in the grand Pantheon, a stage area and art installation that was built into a futuristic vision of an undisturbed Tibetan freedom; it went deep into the dark of Shabbat. Led by the Resurrector (of Heavyweight Dub Champion) and Sasha Rose, they vigorously fused Ancient technology with modern ritual into a creation of a new communal rite; Liberation Movement used sonics and translucent chanting to tap the inner psyche.

Their potent alchemy of analog synths, acoustic guitars, emceeing, live vocals and vocal samples, warm and fuzzy filters and distortions, all of which were infused with recordings of Shipibo Shamans derived from the Peruvian Amazon. This was the living story of the Jungle, transmitted through Ikaros, the Sacred Song of the Plants. Just when you were meeting the God within yourself in the midst of a two-hour hajj to Amazonian healing modality; the entire ensemble unites in a sublime, somber-yet-uplifting rendition of the sweet, serene Bob Marley hymn “Soul Rebel.”

One must acknowledge to stunning and grandiose performance from dancer/sorcereress Ka Amorastreya(of Serpentfeathers and Visionary Arts Foundation). Her enrapturing sacred dance and her elegant serpentine feather ensemble were positively breathtaking. The entire Liberation Movement experience at The Pantheon could be describe as a personal human awaking, focusing on the potential of the complete sound spectrum, and reminded us all what it means to meditate through the might of music and performance art.

Lunice, one half of buzz-duo TNGHT (alongside fellow Symbiosis performer Hudson Mohawke), is rapidly redefining the art of the trap hip-hop remix. A Montreal-based producer born to Filipino and Haitian immigrants, Lunice is a b-boy at heart. He has stated he was inspired to make beats by the early work of 9th Wonder of Little Brother, and the dude lives, eats, and breathes hip-hop. Opening with an incredible take on Jay-Z’s brand new banger “Church,” Lunice unleashed an excursion in bass gymnastics that was positively trap-tastic! R&B vocal samples drenched in gutter-bounce 808 bass thunder, he had more than enough exclusive acapellas to make his entire set fresh to def! Like Laura Low, Lunice implanted vicious versions of Kanye West Yeezus tracks, his emboldened by a manic gloom, as Lunice raged like a man possessed. Dark and dirty versions of ASAP Rocky’s “Pretty Flocka” and Pusha T’s Kingston shout “Blocka” established a current force to be reckoned with. Alternately swilling from a handle, running around his tables rubbing his dome like a raving lunatic, headbanging along with his drums, or coming front- stage to uprock in a new style, Lunice was nothing if not demonic, and most of all, enthralling.

Ott set up at Pantheon and manufactured what was another of the finest displays of artistry over the Symbiosis weekend. He kicked things off with a solid forty minutes of mind-blowing psychedelic dub reggae, mining the Kingston yards for the finest in rudebwoy soundclash. The monster Function-One speakers didn’t just hold the rolling bass lines; they propelled them beyond the stratosphere; and it was Blunted in the Bomb Shelter, live from a new Nepal. Classics from the annals of King Tubby, Mad Professor, and Augustus Pablo were underpinned by the spastic low-end calisthenics. His patented mixture of Psybient Dub arrived late in the set, the lengthy, interesting “Rogue Bagel” shining through; yet his return to the island was overstood with authority. Ott. forwarded a massive “No, No, No” by Sister Carol that set the dancehall ablaze in the dirtiest skanking the evening would provide. The Pantheon nearly burnt down as we screamed “More Fiyah” and howled into the night.

Ott.’s lengthy dub-tastic rager caused this writer to miss a large portion of Emancipator, but so it went with the stacked lineup at Symbiosis. Playing an almost two-hour long set, Emancipator dug deep into the catalogue, and looked into their present and toward the future, playing classics like “Kamakura,” selections from his most recent record Dusk to Dawn, and debuted new music. Ilya Goldberg’s live violin work was thrilling and exquisite as usual. He and Doug Appling demonstrated why Emancipator’s live performances are the stuff of lore in a variety of scenes and regions. The ending of their set was especially moving, calming, ambient, and ultimately left one with a sense of ease, as they gave way to Michal Menert. The Pretty Lights Music, Ft. Collins by way of Poland OG delivered an energetic and lavish set of mid-tempo dance music. His unique stylings separated Menert from the crowd, the steez confidant and unabashedly celebratory.

STS9’s return to the NorCal environs was the subject of much buzz, both in the 9 community, and to a lesser extent the festival itself. The huge-by-comparison Big Island Stage was host to many of the weekend’s headliners, but it was definitely the place to be for Soundtribe’s three-hour tour de-force on Saturday night. First and foremost, Saul Williams took to the mic and delivered a fifteen minute opus, a stream of consciousness free-verse from one of his long form poems, and left the audience slack jawed, and teary eyed. Then, after a moment to breathe, STS9 took assumed their position, and “Hidden Hand Hidden Fist” came first.

On the heels of their near-universally revered Red Rocks run earlier in September, the stage was set for a return to watermelon tourmaline-tinged, interplanetary roots. This was partially accomplished, mostly during the first set text-book run of “Simulator, Grow, Vibyl, GLOgii, Move My Peeps” and to close the first set “Kamuy.” All of which were performed collectively, yet still vigorously. The Tribe was often assisted on trumpet by Russ Liquid, to an enthusiastic dancing crowd mix of 9 fans and Symbiosis-goers. The second set served a different purpose, as the band was not immune to the notion of the myriad of electronic music styles on display at Symbiosis. They chose to offer a sampling of their own kaleidoscope of sounds and ideas, as they have sonically traveled over the past six or seven years. Though this writer is firmly encamped with the school of Sector 9 who seek what Set One provided, kudos to STS9 for treating the Symbiosis massive with respect and providing a taste of their entire menu, from the lowdown to the “Vapors” and several points between.

Hailing from SoCal and New Mexico, the amazing ensemble Desert Dwellers first welcomed the new Monday morning with a ritual de lo habitual dripping in meditative beat- science and angelic dust. Bringing an electronic bass music cross-pollinated with the Yoga scene, and like Dub Kirtan All-stars, employing the global sounds of both galaxies in an eclectic stew. Sacred bass treaded the modern edge of electronica with ancient and organic soundscapes, this was a set of genre-bending at its finest. Hosted by the apropos Pantheon, Desert Dwellers delivered one of the single most engrossing sets of the weekend, taking the massive on a journey to the core. Main members Amani Friend & Treavor Moontribe hosted a squad of guest collaborators in a procession of earthly percussion, ethereal voices, and culture-crossing instrumentation; the downtempo’d dance grooves were impeccable way to greet the morning. The steady stream of guests, live dancers, and visual arrangers were a tremendous accompaniment to Desert Dwellers entire two hour epic breakfast blessing.

There is nothing quite like a Random Rab sunrise set. The mysticism and supernatural energies are alive and afloat as the people congregate and exude a certain brand of reverence, a symbiosis between artist and audience I’ve never witnessed at any other gathering. Ably assisted by Emancipator violinist Ilya Goldberg and percussionist Jason Cedar Miller, Rab followed Desert Dwellers over at the Cove stage, by upping the ante on what can truly transform. Captaining this delicate and admirable mission, Rab Clinton worked his magic to a near flawless perfection at the wheel of an 18-track mixing console and live sampling software, amidst a myriad of different acoustic instruments.

Rab puts emphasis on forward progression, a style that makes songs feel looser than your standard build-tension, drop-bass one-two step. Without the lavish percussion it would be difficult not to get mired in temperate noise. Rab’s music doesn't rely on simple looping or repetition, and instead assemble patiently, arching its way into a beautiful vocals and dancing to and from by pulling bass in and out of the mix. Even at the nearly two-hour mark, the producer/composer/savant keeps it ever-so-fresh, accentuating a tiny drop with a musicality that makes it clear he's unwilling to rely on simple tricks.

Mixing in the most effective handclaps since D’Angelo’s seminal Voodoo sessions, a positively tearjerking version of “The Plastic People” was especially cherished, as were many of his new songs from a forthcoming album later this month. Selections from aRose and Vissurreal were received like a sonic manna from a new Heaven, newer compositions like “Clairvoyer” resonated with profound meaning and an emotional connection. Groups of friends, old and new, rejoiced and reveled in a heightened sense of community, and dare I say…love, was present throughout the entire one hundred minute priestly benediction of bass and benevolence.


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