Bass Coast 2017 (a.k.a. Space Toast)
Active Mountain Ranch; Merritt, Canada

In the arms of the angel (Photo: Caily DiPuma)

Last year, I was barred for life from entering the United States. As such, I was forced to sell my ticket to Burning Man and face the reality that I will never be able to experience that spectacle. Lucky for me, there is Bass Coast.

Celebrating its ninth year in 2017, Bass Coast has invested over $100,000 in artists who produce installations over its last five iterations. That’s almost as much as the Polaris Music Prize has paid out over the same period, with the notable difference that Bass Coast has no corporate sponsorship. There were many interesting, often interactive pieces littered throughout the grounds, including a metallic monster drummer by the festival entrance and a giant set of playable mushrooms in the woods.

This year marked my second trip to Bass Coast. My first was in 2013, the year it relocated from Squamish, which is actually on the coast of British Columbia, to the semi-arid tundra of Merritt, taking over the former site of the notorious and blessedly defunct Merritt Mountain Music Fest. There were growing pains. The stages were miles apart, which meant you spent most of the weekend walking across giant, bumpy fields and rarely running into anyone. Even though thousands were in attendance, it felt empty.

Four years later, these cats have it dialed in. They abandoned the faraway barn to put a creatively designed Radio stage in the woods, around the corner from the open-concept Slay Bay, but for how close they were in proximity, there was little sound crossover.

They also moved the food vendors, of which there was admirable variety and quality, much closer to the main festival entrance, forming an inviting line from the Cantina bar to far side of the main stage. The artisan vendors now line the paths through the woods, while the general store and the Brain, which hosted many worthy workshops and panels to enlighten partiers, were both located on the main path. The flow is now smooth and rewarding from one end to the other.

The infrastructure at Bass Coast 2017 was top-notch. Not once did I run across a completely unusable shitter. For most of the weekend, they smelled like cinnamon. They only ran out of TP or hand sanitizer once or twice, and you should always bring those with you to festivals anyway. In addition to the helpful PDFs available on the Bass Coast harm-reduction webpage, which were written on the importance of foot care, hydration, and consent, and the looming public health crisis that is fentanyl, first aid and harm reduction were both easily accessible from the main road between stages. Furthermore, they had roving attendants mingling about to ensure a minimization of serious incidents, of which I saw none. Security was present and professional, yet pleasant. A drug dealer I met also was selling high-quality earplugs; if that isn’t the hallmark of responsibility, I don’t know what is.

The whole vibe was joyous and celebratory. It felt like a safe space. For all of the beautiful bodies gallivanting about in various states of undress, hence the affectionate nickname Babe Coast, I only witnessed a couple of creeps. The artist-owned and -operated festival was founded by women who ground the festival with their work ethic and creative brilliance, namely DJ and curator Andrea Graham (a.k.a. The Librarian) and art director Liz Thompson. A boob-grabbing shit-show, this is clearly not. When HxdB of Greazus told guys who don’t get clear consent to get their shit together, it was one of the best uses of a mic by a DJ I’ve ever heard.

With a small crew, I arrived at Space Toast (this year’s nickname due to the fest’s general theme being space, hence the x-wing fighter on the main stage and the UFO crashed into the Radio’s tower) on Thursday. This being early entry, the programming was light, but highlighted by a tag-team set between perennial BC banger Mat the Alien and the aforementioned Librarian at the Cantina. Essentially a bar, the Cantina hosted mood-setting music throughout the days, then repeated the sound of the main stage when that sublime monstrosity fired up at dusk, so if you didn’t want to brace the big crowd, you had your own spacious, licensed lounge to escape to.

Space Toast really blasted off on Friday. Bass goblins HxdB and Patrik Cure, together known as Greazus, dropped their inimitable blend of rib-tickling beats at the Slay Bay, while festival curator Max Ulis and organizer Robbie Slade brought their fun and funky Sabota vibe to the main stage.

Having last seen him perform with the Quantic Soul Orchestra back in 2003, British-born ethnomusicologist Will ‘Quantic’ Holland was high on my must-see list. He hit on all of his myriad funk, Latin, dub, and assorted worldly influences, though I was hoping he’d stick closer to the trippy, future jazz, after-party house he made circa Apricot Morning.

BBC Radio 1 presenter B.Traits lured me to the Radio for the first time with her deep house explorations, but I couldn’t stay long because the Funk Hunters were hitting the main stage, followed by Longwalkshortdock, so I’d be setting up camp there for the rest of the evening.

The Funk Hunters are fun cunters, as one of their fans pointed out to me. This Vancouver-based duo is pretty much a can’t-miss under any circumstance. They claim to be putting the soul back into electronic music; collaborator and tour-mate Chali 2na (Jurassic 5) would agree to that, and after catching this kitchen sink set, I would too.

I’ve seen Longwalkshortdock live too many times to count over the past 15 years or so. Dave King has a style like no other, gnarly yet playful, and he’s a joy to watch. Unfortunately, he’s been battling some serious health problems lately, so this wouldn’t rank near the top of what I’ve seen from him, but he gave it all he had, as ever.

I wasn’t expecting much on Saturday, then ended up having my brains blasted through the back of my skull. All I had on my schedule was JPOD, a fine beat chef whom I’d seen many times before, and his performance wasn’t what I was expecting. JPOD has been known to throw down entire sets of roots and gospel remixes at Bass Coast, playful deviations heavy on bass warbles to tickle whomp glands, but his early evening set this year started uncharacteristically mellow and stayed that way. From there, I caught some of Swamp81 boss Loefah’s bass in my face, followed by some slabs of heavy dub-laced wax from Baltimore’s Joe Nice, but it was Russian junglist Enei who gave me a bass lobotomy.

I’d never heard of Enei before he dropped the best drum-and-bass set I’ve seen since Photek at the 2003 Tribal Gathering in Manchester. He spun science, a barrage of soulful, techy uptempo tunes that turned me onto the likes of Phace, S.P.Y., and InsideInfo, among others. He gave me the buzzing feeling of musical discovery that I haven’t felt in some time. Mid-set, some guy in a fur vest said he liked my bass face, so my ecstasy was apparent to strangers.

I had to get back to reality on Monday, so I turned in early on Sunday, but not before seeing San Francisco dirtybird Justin Martin’s soothing yet re-energizing three-hour afternoon set, Brooklyn resident Doctor Jeep’s open-minded bass worship, and most of the Librarian’s sultry main stage set. Up-and-coming British rapper and current Gorillaz tour-mate Little Simz was the highlight of the night, though. Her intense style of soulful hip-hop worked well on the main stage. Her dedication to her next-door neighbor who never called in a noise complaint about her while she was honing her craft, about whom she wrote one of her most impactful tracks, will stick with me for some time.

You can’t see everything. Among others, I’m sad to have missed Ora Cogan, J.Phlip, Special Request, Roman Flügel, and Call Super, the latter of which was a no-show, but this turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise as I would have missed Ben Tactic & Graintable altogether, and I dug what they threw down in his stead. It turned out that Call Super was accidentally flown to Salmo, but I’m told he arrived at Bass Coast a day later, and snuck in a surprise set on Sunday before Max Ulis’ solo selections. Even if you miss something, you’ll see something at Bass Coast.

There may not have been the big-name headliners one expects from Live Nation festivals, but the breadth and quality of Bass Coast’s 2017 lineup was undeniable. Even within individual sets, it was common to hear someone throw down funky house one second and drum and bass the next. Regardless of what EDM is doing in the mainstream, the melting pot of styles and influences going down here will keep the fires burning for years to come. It has me inspired again, and I’m a cynical old bastard.

Photo: Caily DiPuma
Photo: Caily DiPuma
Justin Martin (Photo: Caily DiPuma)

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