Another year gone, another million memories created. A thousand new friendships cultivated amongst the trees, smoke and pounding bass blasting from stacks of PK speakers. Rolling into its second decade in undisputed glory and success, Shambhala Music Festival continues to set the bar immeasurably high when it comes to planning and executing a world class festival experience. From the plethora of talented artists, the army of staff who give up weeks of their time planning and running the festival, to the eager and loyal attendees keen to experience the incredible and unique setting that is Shambhala. Despite the ever present danger of wildfires this summer, Shambhala stood ready to tackle any issue thrown its way ensuring the attendees had the festival experience of their lives in a safe, caring environment. My own experience, returning for a second year, was one that I would never take back – as a lover of all kinds of music, I tried my best to attend as wide a variety of acts as I could at the 5 glorious stages of Shambhala.
The indisputable main stage of Shambhala, and home to some of the loudest PK speakers around, the Pagoda retained its legendary status by hosting some of the worlds best DJs. Friday offered arguably the strongest Pagoda lineup of the weekend including Birmingham born sound design wizard Chris Lorenzo who returned to deliver a tremendous set of bass and house, featuring an array of tracks from his 2016 album “Destroy The Image”. Following, Justin Martin presented a groovy set of deep beats, selecting cuts from his “Hello Clouds” album amongst a myriad of others.
In contrast to the basshouse vibes that typically permeate the Pagoda, Black Tiger Sex Machine attacked the crowd with visceral dubstep and electro house – these cats’ high energy set was a definite favourite of mine that evening. Throughout the rest of the weekend the newly remodelled Pagoda, fitted with bigger laser systems and brighter projection screens, played host to a multitude of truly inspiring scenes, sometimes psychedelic and dark but always world class showmanship. Coupled with the eerie smoke created from nearby fires, the mood was heavy throughout the weekend. Nonetheless it seemed as if the haze only fuelled Shambhalites: they danced up a storm throughout the nights into the early hours of the smoky mornings. In a distinctly Tolkien manner, the trees overlooking this massive pagoda would emerge from the grey light as if they were one with us: dancers desperately attempting to soak in the final moments of Destructo’s sunrise sermon.
The 20th anniversary called for huge names. World class performers answered that call to deliver their message and music to the crowds of eager fans and music lovers. This year, the Pagoda truly became a shrine dedicated to groovy bass heavy sets, its pilgrims shuffled energetically till the sunrise called them to sleep even if only just enough sleep to prepare their bodies for another sweaty night of revelry.
Fractal Forest is with out a doubt my favourite stage at Shambhala. Deep in a unique forest setting, with hanging silhouettes and more lasers than you can shake a stick at, this stage is considered home to some of the worlds glitchiest and funkiest performing artists. Kicking off the festivities, Freddy J brought bouncy beats and glitchy bass grooves setting the bar high for the upcoming performers. K+ Lab and Neon Steve led to a truly magnificent Slynk set, returning as per usual to deliver glitchy goodness upon the forest. His cheeky drop of I Do Coke was a set highlight, and watching him smile to the lyrics as the forest erupted into laughs and howls only added to the euphony of Shambhala.
11pm rolled around: Opiuo emerged. Bass was unleashed at insane volumes as he opened up with his newly released remix of GRiZs’ PS GFY. What followed was easily my favourite set of the weekend, banging tracks like Flanjitsu and Jelly rolling into one another in waves of glitchy wobbly bass goodness. You could tell by the smile on his face that he was enjoying himself just as much as his audience. The forest doesn’t stop with the funk, and thus upon the conclusion of the Opiuo madness Shambhala resident dj Stickybuds seized that bass and transformed it into fat rolling waves of breaks, glitch, and DnB for us foresters to surf on. Indeed, there was more groove in the leaves of the trees that night than anywhere else on the planet.
The Funk Hunters along with their friend and collaborator Chali 2na can be considered funk ambassadors in their own right. The duo brought more toe tapping and shoe shuffling to the fractal canopy, with Chali 2na augmenting their funk rapping his rumbling baritone over tight percussion and funky synth stabs. I was a little disappointed not to see any live brass or woodwind instruments being played on stage, a usual occurrence in Fractal, but the level of bass I sustained in that forest well made up for any brass instruments. I was truly fulfilled, my heart was home under the boughs of that magical place.
As with any major festival, conflicts are inevitable. While it is truly easy to travel from stage to stage within a few minutes, many fans, myself included, prefer to experience full sets start to finish at Shambhala as artists always have something special up their sleeves for their fans. For this reason, I did not attend many sets at The Village Shambhala 2017, my heart set on the Pagoda and Fractal for most of my evenings. That being said, The Ragga Jungle Rinse Out was just what I needed to start off my Friday right, offering four hours of reggae inspired DnB and breaks to a quickly growing crowd of howling dancers. I managed to catch a decent amount of Ganja White Night at 2am on the Friday, which blew me away. Literally. Great waves of dubstep and bass, shook the foundations of that Village’s structures.
I may not have been in the village crowd as much as other devoted bassheads but one of my favourite things to experience at The Village is lounging with my best friends in the nooks and crannies behind the wooden walkways. Much of Shambhala is devoted to music and art, yet the people you end up dancing, chilling, loving and chatting with truly make the festival a brighter experience. There is so much love to be discovered hanging out in a tiny tree platform with your best friends, laughing and smiling away the night underneath the cozy blanket of the nearby rhythms.
Like the Village, the Grove hosts more areas to chill and relax with your friends: a place to recharge from a sweaty set before diving back headfirst into the Funktion-one subwoofer. The Grove stood out for me on the Saturday night especially, when those Funktion-Ones were flexed to their heavy limits by the likes of Lazy Syrup Orchestra, The Polish Ambassador and CloZee.
I was very excited to see The Polish Ambassador, and boy did he deliver! Performing with a guitarist shredding well phrased solos, the dapperly attired groove master danced and mixed his way through a myriad of tracks from his deep discography. However, CloZee stole the show and the hearts of all that evening, smiling shyly as she addressed the adoring crowd. I almost died of happiness when she dropped Kiara by Bonobo. World inspired themes shone through in glitters of flutes, stringed instruments and harps over the unstoppable percussion and basslines. The intricacies in her songwriting and production were perfectly suited for the Function-One system and the inviting atmosphere of the grove culminated into what can only be described as pure sonic bliss.
The Living Room also received a make-over for the 20th anniversary. Adding additional viewing platforms accompanied by easy access to the river to swim and chill wile enjoying some great music. This stage quickly became a favourite of mine because of its artist selection and beachy, laid back vibes. Foxy Moron kicked off a great weekend of music on Thursday, followed by Adept and Meowmix. Amazing vibes were felt when Soohan took to the stage, bringing a primal force conjured up by his unique percussion and eastern inspired samples and then to top it off with a vinyl Dubconscious set! Truly amazing and inspiring for all the farmily gathered dancing into the night. My heart danced until it was content surrounded by the novel design of Shambhala’s living room. When my feet could dance no more a dip in the river to get the dust and sweat off was an amazing (if not chilling!) experience in itself.
As always, the fun kicks off every year in the Amphitheatre, the masses streaming underneath its canopied hood to start the party. Mat the Alien and The Librarian, west coast legends in their own respective rights, blasted the crowd with heavy, dub inspired bass music. The crowd loved every minute. I was surprised at the amount of talent put on at the stage, as I did not recognize too many ‘big’ names set to perform there. Shout outs must be made to um.., for providing one of the heaviest, darkest sets I have ever been to. The passion that Crywolf put into his performance was refreshing to see, and as every year, SkiiTour played a raging electro set to a very packed crowd. Withal, my favourite Amphitheatre set of the weekend was Pomo – funky silky keys over wonderful beats, bass stabs and live electric guitar created an incredible atmosphere, a merging of flashy funk with a modern electro twist. To top it off, Billy Kenny, prolific UK producer, threw down a captivating tech house set to the utmost pleasure of all present. A personal favourite track he mixed into his set was House and Pressure by Route 94
As with every iteration of Shambhala, half of the fun of the weekend lies in the music, the other with the people and place. The downtime around the farm is absolutely wonderful, walking through a sea of campsites and bustle, down to the river to swim or float for a while – its all at once a relaxing yet energized atmosphere. As much as I loved sweating in the Forest with my best friends, and dancing around the Pagoda in the early hours of the morning, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fun if not for the amazing people I met there. This community that pops up in this little corner of the world each August is truly unique. It is one that should be cherished by all those who get the chance to enjoy it and craved by those who can’t make it. See you soon Shambhala, I’m looking forward to the next 20 years of dancing in your magical forests, swimming in your idyllic rivers and cuddling in your mystical groves.