“Wait. Where’s the drop!!!?!?!”
My friends are all passed out hard in a row inside our tent on Friday morning. Apparently the five of us spooned for warmth all night. That’s so goddamn cute.
I jump outside into the morning hilltop breeze. The ground in front of our tent is littered with half-empty water bottles, Cliff Bar wrappers and burnt out glowsticks and there are already 300 girls in line for the showers just beyond the hill we’re camped on, looking down at the Silent Disco stage beneath the blazing sun.
Walking around the camp grounds that afternoon looking for Ben Gray, my only clue being, “We’re in Camp 9 in the row across from the light post,” with both of our phones dead, I give up and sit on a grassy knoll and suddenly hear shrieks.
“HOLY SHIT IT’S A DUST TORNADO!!!”
Right before my eyes, a pillar of spinning dust rises from the ground. It’s about ten feet high. Kids on the path jump aside as it rips through camp sites, chucking sleeping bags and Nylon chairs every-which-way until it shoots one tent 40 feet into the sky, whipping like a massive bat having a seizure above hundreds of upturned heads. These tornados are apparently due to “updrafts of warm air.”
What the fuck!
I wander through cars encased in dust with messages to friends and obscene things written on them and stick my head under the water spigot, the shock of miraculous icy cold is exactly how it felt seeing Amon Tobin’s ISAM live show that very night.
It takes a lot of guts for a musician like Amon Tobin to play a festival headlined by Bassnectar and the Disco Biscuits, two acts that have solidly signature sounds. Their performances every year at Camp Bisco are more like traditions for cult-like followings of ragers—in other words, they supply the annual demand for exactly what the crowd expects. Yes, thousands of minds are blown every year, but whether that has more to do with the quality of the music or the quality of … other things … I will leave up to your discretion.
Amon Tobin, one of the major producers on the Ninja Tune label, climbs inside the central cube of his ISAM contraption at 10:15 on Friday night, and shows the Bassheads and Biscuit Clan what mind-expansion should be. And he does it through music and art.
Listen to this:
Now think about how that is made from Tobin layering recordings of all sorts of random things: I picture a Giant tip-toing across the field, crunching the hundreds of water bottles and beer cans that litter the ground; conveyer belts of xylophones; alien clocks; bubbling hot springs on distant planets; a thousand chimes dropped from 50 feet above onto a trampoline, all layered and looped in each wondrous track. Sometimes projections of clouds of bright orange smoke fall downward, settling from top to bottom of the stacks of blocks, as if blown by an invisible wind above a pixelated, Matrix-looking orange coding, or maybe a futuristic city skyline. Then all of a sudden it bursts with deep blues, cooling us off.
But the beauty is that there is no definitive anything about Tobin’s music: each person around me is imagining their own story for each track.
At times, smooth vocal samples and bouncing melodies soar over cranking beats or undulating bass lines—over the voices of several confused neon-clad kids asking each other,
“What happened to the dubstep?”
or searching desperately for the drop.
I watch as droves of people flee the scene, looking disappointed, but walking around, I come upon hundreds of kids sitting Indian-style in the grass along the sides of the field, looking up at the stacks of cubes on the stage, which are now covered in gliding geometric patterns and neon beams criss-crossing along with the music. They’re totally mesmerized, as if watching a movie that actually teaches you something about life.
The soundtrack is a set of preternatural lullabies that paint pictures in the dark.
Tobin keeps the breathtaking symphony going for an hour and a half, until the Disco Biscuits come on the other Main Stage and start playing over him, cutting him off. It’s hilariously characteristic of the differences between he and the band: while the Brazilian producer chooses to disappear within the music, his head only sometimes visible, neck bent down in concentration, the Disco Biscuits couldn’t possibly assert themselves any more. Even though they literally just played at 9pm before Tobin’s set and are starting their fourth set of the festival.
Possibly the only artist who contrasts more with Amon Tobin than the Biscuits is Big Boi, who hops in all his blingin’ glory onto the left Main Stage at 7pm … 30 minutes late.
He then proceeds to rap only three songs, two of which are Outkast throwbacks, “Miss Jackson” and “I like the Way You move.” I’m not gonna lie, I’ve always wanted to dance to “Miss Jackson” at a show, so that is extraordinarily fun for me,
but Big Boi blew the big one.
Especially since his set follows the explosive duo of electronic and percussive mastery, Break Science, whose hip-hop/dubstep blend tips the scales even further towards the rule-breaking side this year when joined by MC Chali 2na of Jurassic 5.
As usual, drummer Adam Deitch makes sure to say “Whaddup Camp Bisco, give it up for Chali 2na!” before Chali says the same for Break Science, followed by mass applause.
Even in the 90+ degree heat of a scorching afternoon, when world-class MC Chali spits his rapid-fire flow over Deitch’s dubstep beats, both with huge smiles on their faces and loving making music together, some girls around me get down low, shaking their hips to the dancehall vibes, as the majority of the crowd throws up their arms and pumps them along with Borahm Lee.
The sky is darkening. And to me, that’s exactly what Emancipator sounds like. After the Big Boi disaster, it’s time to chill out in the laser-filled B.I.G. tent for some spiritual electronic music. Violins, the top notes of a classical piano, all carried along by infectious, gloriously-produced beats.
Listen to this song. At approximately 3:02 you will understand why I fucking love Emancipator.
This is my shit.
This is the kind of music I listen to to calm myself down. And a show where I nod my head to the kids to my left and right and swerve glowsticks in front of my face, entertaining myself with the trails of light and finding solace in another dimension.
Coming out with his first album in 2006 at only 19 and playing his first live show only three years ago this month, it’s like Doug Appling landed at Bisco to save people’s souls from the likes of Porter Robinson—to show them that some talented producers have created fascinating music at a young age.
Plus Bonobo, Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic and Molly Kummerie of Paper Tiger sat in with him for some tracks, which proves that age and genre are not a factor for forward-thinking producers. This is the music of the future, and the perfect precursor to Amon Tobin.
When we go back to our tent, Mikey immediately passes out, and my friend Mel is the only one who’s down to keep dancing into the night.
“This is the least amount of clothes I’ve ever worn!” she shouts, throwing her arms up. “Whatever, I’m totally festying out this year.”
“Fuck yeah, let’s go,” I say, and we skip toward the Label Tent for Bonobo.
The dance party has already started, fittingly enough my hands are up, eyes facing down through the whole first 20 minutes. All the guys around us keep trying to grab us and dance, until one of them makes the mistake of handing me an orange glowstick gun, which I use to fend them off as Mel and I get diggity down.
“YOU HAVE TO HOLD IT ABOVE YOUR HEAD AND SHOUT BRRRAP BRAP BRAP!!” Dude yells to me literally every 40 seconds.
“Brrrap? Brap brap?”
Super fun set so far, as usual, though we run out gasping for fresh air for a quick break.
“I will give you. My SOUL, for a cigarette,” I ask some hippie chick standing by the wall of hay bales in front of what I’ve been calling the “Tripping Area,” three large screens projecting morphing colors with about 30 kids sitting in front of it in the grass.
While looking for a lighter I run smack into my friend from high school, the only one with five-foot dreads, Dan O’Brien. Two seconds later I finally run into Ben.
An hour of dancing to Bonobo later a giant boom is heard in the sky—so much for no rain for the first year in the past six years of Camp Bisco.
We run back to the camp grounds through sheets of wind and rain, between disco RV parties continuing under tents, ten feet away dubstep DJs are somehow blasting their music from speakers hidden nearby their RVS that is ten times louder than the acts we saw that night.
Sopping wet and freezing cold, we sit talking to the random hippie couple who came to Bisco with zero camping supplies and are sleeping at Ben’s campsite, telling us stories of festival and Furthur adventures late into the night, or early into the morning. At one point I crack up at the total ridiculousness of it all. You always do end up running into people at Bisco, and it’s always only when you’re not looking. I ALWAYS end up with 50 glowy things, though I come with nothing. And though whatever god might exist smites us with dust tornadoes and thunderstorms, the dancing never stops. I mean, there are still three kids dancing in front of the Silent Disco the next morning at 9am.
STAY TUNED FOR REPORTING LIVE FROM DAY III OF CAMP BISCO XI, FEATURING ATMOSPHERE, MOON MATS, HOLY FUCK, BASSNECTAR, MORE SQUISHY GLOWY THINGS, FERRIS WHEEL RIDES, AND SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO. READ OUR DAY I COVERAGE HERE.