All That Glitters: Adventures at Bass Coast 2016

There should be some sort of thermodynamic law illuminating the pervasive nature of glitter, that it was never created nor can it be destroyed, and instead is an ever-circulating constant.   Seriously though.  That stuff gets everywhere.  It’s still falling out my backpack, clothes, eyebrows, and hair, even though it’s been a week since my return from Bass Coast.  Somehow flecks of it have migrated, and now glimmer from surfaces in my house and clothes I didn’t even bring to the festival.  Glitter = forever.

Bass Coast, which also responds to the respective monikers of Space Toast, Babe Coast, and Bass Coaster, saw its 8th season over this past weekend of July 8-11 2016 in Merrit, BC.  A brain-baby of two besties and musical soul sisters, Andrea Graham (AKA The Librarian) and Liz Thomson, Bass Coast is well regarded in the Pacific Northwest electronic scene for its cutting-edge music, art, and ridiculously good-looking people it attracts (I can confirm, these are all accurate.)  As if those things aren’t already enough of a feast for the senses, the theme of 2016: GOLD.

Electronic festival-culture is experiencing a renaissance these days, with new, niche gatherings popping up like lil’ myceliums every year.  Et pourquoi?  What is it about festivals that has the world hooked, that is so much more than just camping out, dancing to some live tunes? Festivals are so very intense and immersive.  You are plucked from familiarity, dissociated from logic and habit, and thrown into a surreal environment of sensory overload.   Somewhere inside that rabbit-hole journey, filled with ego shedding, blissed out peak experiences –  unity within oneself, the humans around you, and especially with the music – you shed some skin and transform into another version of yourself.  It’s a rite of passage of sorts, an alchemy of the psyche where one returns to the real world altered, even if ever so slightly. It seems the secular nature of mainstream Western society provides few opportunities (i.e. completely frowns upon) experiences for us to lose our minds (just a little bit), connect on deeper levels, and come back changed.  Humans need those shifted experiences from time to time, and so perhaps festivals are the answer to this deficiency.  Everyone returns from a festival with their own magical tales to tell. And if, as Jung suggests, there is something hard-wired in humans to experience our own lives as archetypal and symbolic, as myths and stories, it is most certainly maximized in the festival environment.  So many moments I experienced last weekend resonated with my Folklorist crush Arnold van Genneps’ and his coined “phases of the ritual process.”  (Sorrynotsorry.  I’m about to nerd-out all anthropology on y’all.)

The following is a participatory account of the 2016 Bass Coast: GOLD experience:

Phase #1 Separation:

In which participants withdraw or detach from their current selves and prepare to move into another status.  Usually contains symbolic actions involving objects or clothing to represent transformation.  (In my case, glitter) 

Two pals and I, both of them Bass Coast vets, grab the late Thursday ferry from Victoria, sleep an entire 7 ½ hours (the most consecutive shut-eye I will get for days) in a full house of fellow festival pilgrims outside Vancouver.  We set out for Merritt Friday morning, stopping for roadside stretches and groceries (its fun to spot visually discernible Bass Coasters scoring snacks amidst regular folk), and arrive on site around 2 o’clock.  We are delighted to find the rumored few-hours lineup non-existent.  We are greeted by some super-stoked, golden security who address us in a kind manner that imply we are decent, trustworthy humans, briefly scan our trunk, tell us to play safe, and within twenty minutes we are at our camp site.

Festivals are second nature to the crew I am camping with, and our spot is equipped with the essentials like a large shade structure, lawn chairs, and coolers.  Genius.  A few of my fellow campmates are here on art grants, meaning they’re the mad scientists behind some of the installations comprising Bass Coast’s weird and wonderful adult playground; a laser kaleidoscope, fluorescent wolf’s head, and an interactive beat-making cash register to name a few, and that’s just my camp! I set up my freshly purchased tent, choosing a spot along the river slightly away from the action of camp.  Incredibly, the stage sounds don’t carry this far.  In case I lose my mind a few times this weekend, this will be a nice place to hang out.  My one concern is how I will fumble through the pitch-black woods each night and find this place.  However this, as it turns out, is a useless worry.  I never end up making it back before sunrise any of the three nights.

My camp are pretty cut and in full-on party mode when our car arrives, and it’s a bit overwhelming.  My last electronic fest was Shambhala of at least five years ago, and I’ve kind of forgotten how to go about them.  Here is facepaint, fur, hoods, shades, pasties, masks, gemstones, and gold in all its incarnations. I’m still dressed like my real-world self, ie. baggy, shapeless, unassuming earth tones.  Someone teases that I look like I should be at a folk festival and I kind of want to cry because it’s true.  I have a backpack filled with some fuzz and lace, and a few gold accessories, but I’m not quite in the mood yet.  Hindsight: some actual rain gear, blankets and warmer clothing would have also been helpful.

I power-nap and split a pot of coffee with the friend I travelled here with.  The sun is just setting.  To commence our night we each select a tarot card from her deck.  Artemis and Aphrodite.  Both goddesses of love, wisdom, and good times.  Excellent omens for sure.  The plan is to begin the night at Slay Bay, one of three primary stages of Bass Coast.  Glitter explosion # 1 occurs in my attempt to crack open a golden packet in the near-darkness.  It’s ok though because I have five packets left, clean tents are more hypothetical fantasy then a reality, and also I have vowed to have no expectations.

Phase #2 Liminal:

A phase of unraveling, crossing over, in which the ritual participants stand at a disoriented threshold between their previous old way of structuring identity, time, or community and the new, not yet formed.

Crossing the bridge at night into the festival grounds is like entering another dimension, an experience with both medieval and space-alien qualities.  The bridge is lined with warm, pastel lights and stoic white flags cascade in the evening breeze.  A Longwalkshortdock mix that can be manipulated by holding-down buttons staggered along the railing guides us to the other side.  No matter the time of day I choose to cross, there will always be at least one person having the time of their freaking life with this activity.  We make it to Slay Bay to catch the last half of California’s Danny Corn, a sound pegged with bubbly texture, tribalesque percussion, and a cavernous bass you can feel in your core.   Danny has been hailed as definitive of “West Coast” bass sound.  If I had perchance been hoping for a set to gently ease myself into Bass Coast (and I wasn’t), this would not be that set.  I got slammed!

Midway through Philthkids our crew breaks from Slay Bay and heads to the Main Stage to check out Ekali and the first bit of Smalltown DJs.  Ekali is Nathan Shaw from Vancouver, who creates tracks of slurring synths and sultry instrument samplings with a distinct emotional core.  His sound perfectly matches the seductive gorgeousness of the main stages aesthetics.  Above us hang thousands of thin, pale ribbons, the effect of their collective flutters like the in-flight wingspan of some great mythical bird.  We detour to monkey around some net/hammock structures then hop back to Slay for Machinedrum.

It’s beginning to rain, hard.  And there is chocolate back at camp.  My friend and I decide to voyage there for a brief revival.  Not surprisingly, a few others have come back for breathers as well.  The constant percussion of rain on the shade structure insinuates we may be in for an entire night of this downpour.  I’m already freezing.  The only hope of staying warm is to keep moving.  As we move back to bass land, the voice of a campmate guides our impish crew through darkness, reciting a poem he wrote and memorized, a legend of sorts on the origins of bass culture.  The poem begins with stanzas that describe a great void, cosmic mingling, planetary dancing, and ends soon after a line where the beat drops.

I catch a bit of Sabre’s set (I think its maybe 3 am?) but feel the urge to walk around instead, and depart from my crew to retrieve water, resulting in a collision with my cousin from Vancouver.  We’ve both dyed our hair the same shade of blue, which seems magical and meaningful in the moment.  She is with two friends, one who is experiencing the night through his camera lens, and whom I feel instantly drawn to, which also feels magical.  Somehow my cousin and I quickly lose the other two (oops) and find ourselves climbing a rope ladder to a crows nest lookout, where we catch up on news within our strange bloodline, and witness the beauty and chaos of the night.  The rain thickens and we part ways as she goes to assist a friend struggling in one-piece astronaut suit, and I follow whispers of The Tailor, a badass banjo player/beat sampler from the Kootenays, being moved to The Brain stage.  The Brain, an unassuming yurt across from the Main Stage, is where Bass Coast’s daytime workshops, which include everything from healing, yoga, dance, and lucid dreaming, are held, and where tonight a compacted crowd has gathered to escape the wetness.

I spot many of the camp crew I lost hours ago at Slay, and also collide with my new photo-taking friend from earlier and a compadre of his whom I learn is one of the Toronto-based Burners responsible for the giant Lite-Brite installation just outside The Brain.  In my head I’m convinced these two are old college buds with a few years worth of crazy nights and inside-jokes locked into a shared history, but as it turns out, they too have just met.  That’s one of the most beautiful things about festivals I think.  You find common ground and friendship in people so easily.  Rain aside, the three of us feel the need to be in motion.  We hop around the glowing grounds for awhile (time is getting harder to gauge at this point) then take shelter inside a tent structure where sensors have been rigged to register peoples dancing bodies, which then trigger a sound/musical response.  There are a few theories regarding what the sensors are registering, and how the room is divided up.  What’s clear is that in order to produce a satisfying tune you have to flail hard.  We intercept another familiar there, who actually does know one of my trio from the previous “real world.”  Now a solidified 4-pack of best friends/strangers we press onward.  The rain continues to pour, but upon exiting the tent we notice the sky has lightened.  Somehow, morning has crept up on us.

Taal Mala closes the night (now morning) at the Slay Bay stage with some, glitchy downtempo stuff, perfectly suited to the hour of 5 am.  But the music is barely enough to distract from the drops seeping through Slay Bay’s glorious but not exactly weather-protective ceiling.   We dance until our rain-soaked skin won’t budge any more.  The time has come for the merry 4-pack to move on, and the mission becomes one of heading “home” while taking as many shelter breaks as possible.  After a slight detour beneath a tent housing Fibonacci mini golf, we cross the bridge (a lone raver in sunglasses is shaking his tail feathers to Longwalkshortdock) and shuffle along a nearly liquefied road.  By the time our shoes reach camp, they are caked in sludge and soaked.  Everything in my tent is damp at best and the possibility of a cozy sleep has been extinguished.  A few more hours are spent drenched in dampness, cursing my choice of skimpy clothing and single spare pair of socks, half crying, but also half giggling, because miserable situations are sometimes hilarious and cute.  At some point, somehow, sleep does come.

My transformation into solidified basscreature takes place, I think, in the early afternoon hours of Saturday.  I awake to warmth and brightness and the shadows of branches clawing through the tent.  Realizing the next 48 hours may not be spent in perpetual sogginess, I emerge from my tent-chrysalis feeling fresh and energized in that uniquely loopy, unmistakably sleep-deprived way.  My heart is so full with the experiences of last night.  My usual social introversion, and self-consciousness have washed away in the rain.  I feel lighter.  Two hand-sized moths are having freaky, symmetrical moth sex on a branch above where I hang last night’s clothes to dry.  Doesn’t even phase me.  The world is new.  A river dip with my next-door tenting neighbor (who I without fail will lose and find time and time again) a meal, water, caffeine, glitter explosion # 2 onto some sliced avocado, and I’m golden, and suddenly its early evening again?


Stay tuned for Bass Coast adventures Part 2!

Photos by Milo Knauer