Words by Rigo Ruta
Shambhala, now nineteen years running, does away with the empty pretentiousness that corrupts and corrodes most other electronic music festivals. Rather, it curates a deep and talented lineup, spread evenly across six distinct stages. Each stage has its own production team and tastemakers in charge of crafting both a sound and experience.
The legend of Shambhala has finally dispersed and musicians worldwide are eager for a chance to slot in at one of the stages. It is all too commonplace in the industry for DJs to play standard crowd-pleasing sets, but Shambhala spurs creativity and originality – and they come in with something to prove.
Shambhala manages two separate issues that plague the EDM scene – drug abuse and gender inequality – in a progressive manner. Rather than taking a heavy-handed approach, Shambhala’s many volunteers and safety teams use “harm reduction” as the primary means of improving safety and well-being. The gender imbalance seen in the mainstream electronic music industry is prominent, but that does not reflect differences in talent. This year’s lineup featured an impressive array of female producers and DJs; including Rezz, Nora En Pure, Aluna Francis (of AlunaGeorge), CloZee, and Morninglory, along with Ladies Night at the Living Room headlined by The Librarian.
Combine everything with a sublime setting in B.C.’s Kootenay mountain range, the best speaker systems the world has to offer, and an entirely optimistic and creative crowd, the result is a total experience that is yours to live.
The Pagoda, the closest thing Shambhala has to a main stage, is where the world’s biggest acts and budding stars alike congregate. The wooden enclosure, outfitted with two viewing towers, rumbles along with the endless bass spewed by PK’s proprietary speaker system all weekend long. This stage is truly a spectacle with a breathtaking light show and more than enough high quality music to make eager for more.
Nora En Pure laid down some beachy deep house with her hits ‘Come With Me’ and ‘Better Off That Way’ before she dropped Friend Within’s banger ‘The Renegade’. SNBRN gave deep house a harder tone supported by his brand new tracks ‘Gangsta Walk’ and his massive collaboration with Shaun Frank and Dr. Fresch, ‘The New Order’. Justin Martin, who has long been throwing down some of the filthiest house sets Shambhala has seen, has grown tremendously as an artist over the years. He dropped his new album ‘Hello Clouds’ in 2016 – representing a distinct shift in sound. He did not disappoint this year throwing down oh-so contagious party tunes ‘Chunky’ and ‘The Gettup’ and closed with Jamie XX’s enchanting ballad ‘SeeSaw’.
Boys Noize’s innovative take on German techno had the Pagoda rocking. Unforgiving at the decks, he unleashed bangers from his stacked 2016 album ‘Mayday’. Not to mention, he dropped ‘Pursuit’ by his French counterpart Gesaffelstein. Birmingham native, Chris Lorenzo, justly followed with an deep and intense set – highlighted by his massive collaboration with Hannah Wants, ‘Rhymes’.
Hotel Garuda eased everyone back into a party mood the next day with a deeper take on tropical house. Despite lacking any major album or EP release, they have started to gain mainstream traction remixing major pop and EDM tracks that are easy to enjoy and dance to. Autograf continued the vibes and proved to be the more impressive act comparatively, given their live instrumentals. The three-piece arrangement blissfully balanced strong vocals, various instrumentals, and deep bass rhythms that were a surprisingly good fit for the Pagoda and its PKs.
Rezz paid respect to her forefathers in a genre-spanning set but ultimately set herself apart with thick and gnarly production that was truly next level – making it the set of the weekend. On top of dropping an array of her own original productions, including ‘Lucifer’ and ‘Lost‘, Deadmau5’s protégé blessed the crowd with hall-of-fame tracks like Zeds Dead’s ‘In The Beginning’, Boys Noize’s ‘Overthrow’, Bassnectar’s ‘Bass Head’, and Noisia’s remix of ‘Raise Your Weapon’ before putting herself over the top by dropping my personal favourites, ‘I Know The Truth’ by Pretty Lights and ‘Vessel’ by John Hopkins. With her decks as her dragons and bass heads as her loyal following, 20-year-old Niagara Falls native Isabelle Rezazadeh looks poised to rule the EDM Iron Throne.
Mat The Alien, the technical wizard and West Coast resident, played his fourth set of the weekend to warm up the Pagoda before The M Machine played a dreamy and enchanting set. The rest of the night gave way to popular opinion with dubstep monsters Getter and Marshmello, and trap god What So Not. The fanboys-and-girls were out that night with plenty of costumes and topical totems. Blessed by a thick cloud of natural fog, Getter and Marshmello reigned the pagoda at its peak and provided the best visual and light shows of the weekend. Now that Flume has moved on from What So Not, Emoh Instead is in total control of What So Not’s direction and sound. He took an interesting approach with an wavy set supported by Branchez’s remix of ‘High You Are’ and Ekali’s remix of ‘Gemini’. He clearly formed an emotional connection with the crowd and closed with Kendrick Lamar’s anthem ‘Alright’.
Closing out such an epic lineup is not an easy task – but there is no better choice than industry veteran Gary Richard, aka Destructo. Dubbing his hour-and-half set the ‘Sunrise Sermon’, he went with a deep tech-house vibe as the sun slowly started to rise behind the thick mist that had encapsulated the area. As the crowd started to dwindle, he chose fight over flight and played an extra two hours. He ignited what was left in the crowd with Maceo Plex’s ‘Conjure Drama’ and Daft Punk’s ‘Around The World’. Restraining himself for the bulk of the set, he finally rewarded his fans with his own productions ‘Dare You 2 Move’ and ‘Party Up’.
If only for a few days, the Village contains highest per capita density of bass heads in the world and the result is pandemonium. Approaching the Village creates a nervous excitement and courses adrenaline through your body as one is eventually engulfed in the heaviest stage Shambhala has to offer. The atmosphere is best described as carnival meets horror film.
Friday night was headlined by dubstep veterans Caspa & Rusko. It was a nostalgic and booming set as they dropped Rusko’s ‘Pro Nails’ before they closed with Skream’s remix of ‘In For The Kill’. West Coast Bass legend and Shambhala regular Excision followed with a set that we have grown to expect. Ephwurd and Liquid Stranger played crazy sets that solidified a strong first day. The Village’s Saturday lineup was stacked from start to finish, but ill.Gates and Sub Focus stood out amongst the haze of bass in your face. This marathon of a day is made complete with the Sunrise Liquid Jam – maybe a little too liquid this year as the night turned into a moist Sunday morning.
Sunday’s evening lineup had a funkier flavour with Haywyre and Manic Focus on the docket. Haywyre is a supremely talented performer as he does it all live on his piano and sampler. Manic Focus, in the same echelon of future-funk and electro-soul artists like GRiZ and Big Gigantic, is known for his crisp and original songwriting. Playing the Village allowed both artists to do the lower frequencies in their productions justice.
Snails was absolute mayhem with some of the snailiest sound samples in his possession. If the Village wasn’t loud enough already, Andy C & Armanni Reign unleashed an A-bomb of drum and bass unlike any other. G Jones had no option but to follow suit, ensuring every single eardrum in the crowd permanently damaged with an onslaught of sound. The adage is certainly true for these two: if it’s too loud, you’re too old.
Shambhala’s most creative stage is set in the thick of the forest and outfitted with a plethora of visual stimulation like lasers (hit me, hit me, hit me), flashing lights, and animated decorations. Combine that with lineup dedicated to get you to move and groove – it is easy to lose track of time here.
Friday was filled with funk, funk, and more funk. Fractal favourite Freddy J got it started right away with a faced-paced and bouncy set. K+Lab and Neon Steve kept the momentum going before Opiou played one of the best sets of the weekend. He was relentless and energetic, playing fan-favourite tracks from across his deep discography; including 2010’s ‘Robo Booty’, 2014’s ‘Quack Fat’, and his 2016 releases ‘Sneakers’ and ‘Flanjitsu’. Need more even more funk? Well Stickybuds, The Funk Hunters, and Defunk all played impressive sets for the forest.
Talent at the turntables dominated Saturday’s lineup. Questlove, a key member of The Roots, was on my must-see list and still managed to play one of the surprise sets of the weekend. He clearly enjoyed putting his DJ skills on display as he played an unpredictable array of throwbacks and pop tracks – he even dropped Entourage’s theme song ‘Superhero’ by Jane’s Addiction. The Gaff & Mat The Alien, A. Skillz, Z-Trip, Cut Chemist, and Skratch Bastid all displayed their unique approaches and styles to turntabling. The funkiness continued the next day with the five-hour Fractal Funk Jam which allowed everyone to get their fill before the Forest entered a metamorphosis at nightfall. There was something ominous in the air with some serious artists on the schedule. Excitement steadily rose with Skiitour’s first Shambhala primetime slot followed by deep funk artist Purple Disco Machine before the Forest threw it back to where electronic dance music all began: Chicago.
Curtis Jones (Green Velvet/Cajmere) and Felix Stallings Jr. (Felix Da Housecat) were key figures in transforming a fading disco scene into something new and accessible. Synthesizers and drum machines became the means of producing music and disseminated into the many streams of dance music we have today. Two of our most anticipated artists of the weekend, their experience and class set them apart from the rest of the lineup. Felix played an intense set, dropping Skream’s remix of ‘Euphoria’, that culminated with an awesome rendition of his 2001 classic ‘Silver Screen (Shower Scene)’. The man raised by robots, Green Velvet, was a perfect fit for the Forest as he fabricated an atmosphere unlike any other. He laid down a range of tech-house tracks, from throwbacks like ‘Flash’ and ‘Lazer Beams’ to his more recent collabs with Dirtybird artists like ‘Snuffaluffagus’ and ‘The Duster’, and everything in-between.
The Grove is any audiophile’s wet dream. Instead of blaring low frequencies to their max, it is outfitted with a Funktion-One system that balances the full range of sounds through the use of high-quality components and an intelligent spatial arrangement in order to create a distinct sound environment. Lush and spacious, live instrumental acts are the best fit here – but do not discount DJ sets which bring high-quality production to the table.
Russell Scott, aka Russ Liquid, has long been part of a vintage yet progressive electronic sound, pushing original instrumentation and experimentation. I was excited to see his live collaboration, The Russ Liquid Test, early on the Friday schedule. It was a great set to start off the weekend, but unfortunately fell victim to technical difficulties. While Russ did his best to salvage the set by whipping out his trumpet and jamming with his bandmates – it was time to move on. Missing out on hype sets from Hermitude and Troyboi, I found myself early in the morning back at the Grove for a psychedelic and expressive set by Goopsteppa.
The Truth stopped time itself at the strike of midnight the next day and entered a new realm with their downtempo dubstep. It was a magical fit for the Grove’s Funktion-One system that truly exemplified the range and detail in their sound design. I now know the truth as they wove endless dark and brooding instrumentals with UK grime vocals to construct an ebbing atmosphere that seemed to last an eternity.
The Grove stacked their Sunday lineup with Shambhala favourites along with a few newbies. Kootenay-bred bass-folk band Moontricks have truly made their home at Shambs. They combine an interesting collection of instruments with a ripping bass sound – giving an antiquated genre an exciting new life. Five Alarm Funk, Vancouver-based 9-piece band, followed and gave it their all with an energetic and endearing set. Then it was Jpod, “The Beat Chef”, and his golden cape who kept the positive vibes going with uplifting song selections, all remixed by Jpod himself live.
Forgoing the rest of Grove’s Sunday lineup is a decision I’ll regret for a long time. The established virtuoso Emancipator and young French phenom CloZee played genre-defying sets. Xxyyxx, playing clubs by the age of 16, seamlessly bridged the gap between hip hop and bass music production, resulting in a sound that was almost unrivaled in its richness, clarity, and volume.
The Living Room is home to everything house and its many inspirations. A relaxed and inviting environment, the technical talent of artists lined up for this stage are put on display – up-close and personal. Morninglory, mother of the Village Stage, played an awesome set by pushing Dirtybird tracks new to 2016, like ‘Hello Clouds’ by Justin Martin and ‘Thunderdad’ by Ardalan, as well as Claude VonStroke’s classic ‘Who’s Afraid of Detroit?’ – in recognition of its 10th anniversary. A strong Thursday night was supported by Breakfluid and An-Ten-Nae.
Kicking off Ladies Night at the Living Room stage was the all powerful Andrea Graham, a.k.a. The Librarian. As one of Basscoast’s head co-ordinators, she is deeply in touch with the West Coast Bass scene, which has become a palpable aspect of her booming sets. The Living Room was quickly transformed into the Babylon of Shambhala as Andrea unleashed a perfectly curated mix of jungle, deep dubstep, and just general original “dawnce”. Tracks like Kahn’s ‘Badman City‘ and Magugu’s ‘Confam‘ ripped deep into the soul of her endearing students. Book club was promptly in session, and by the time it was over, the bookshelves had been thrown to the wayside and attendee’s mouths were watering for the next sitting.
Although a gloomy Sunday morning threatened to dampen a stacked Sunday lineup, Nightmares on Wax allowed the sun break through with his smooth downtempo house and funk selections. His three-hour set provided a fantastic soundtrack for an afternoon relaxing by the river, until he ramped it up for the final hour or so, slowly drawing out some of his best tracks and closing with the legendary ‘You Wish’.
The Amphitheatre wins the award for Most Improved Stage of the Year with a robust lineup that ensured a packed house throughout the weekend. Like usual, Skiitour got the Shamba-party started early Thursday afternoon as they dropped banger after banger including the boisterous track ‘I Do Coke’ by Kill The Noise and Feed Me.
Skiitour bringin’ out the booty on day 1
Brother-sister duo Tennyson, Luke and Tess Pretty, played an adorable yet impressive set. While Luke is the mastermind behind the production, Tess absolutely slayed her drum set outfitted with an endless supply of samples and beats. Their conceptual approach to song creation, as evidenced by the tracks ‘Lay-by’ and ‘7:00 AM’, was refreshing to listen to.
The Gaslamp Killer, eclectic as he is eccentric, ensures a different set every time he gets behind the decks. Let’s just say he didn’t disappoint the Amp (hint: it was LIT). The stage continued to blare and bang all weekend long with sluggers like Space Jesus, Bleep Bloop, and Greazus.
Each rendition of Shambhala is representative of the entire electronic music scene – and it’s looking good. The breadth and depth of sounds and styles is impressive and proves that there is a lot under the surface of “mainstream EDM”. Just look at some of the artists on their way up to Vancouver in the coming months: the enigmatic live act and Vancouver-bred duo, Bob Moses (Sept. 3, Commodore Ballroom); Feed Me’s alter ego, Spor (Sept. 4, Celebrities); G-house God, Destructo (Sept. 22, Celebrities); Montreal-native and mastermind behind my album of the year (99.9%), Kaytranada (Sept. 30, Vogue Theatre); a completely stacked Blueprint19 event (Oct. 7-9, various locations); eerie singer-songwriter and post-dubstep producer, James Blake (Oct. 13, The Orpheum); as well as doctors of deep house Lane 8 (Nov. 5, M.I.A.) and Dusky (Nov. 10, Celebrities).