Word by: Kevin Schwartzbach | Images by: Dave Vann
Camp Bisco 8 :: 07.16.09 – 07.18.09 :: Indian Lookout Country Club :: Mariaville, NY
It's occurred to me that Camp Bisco has a completely different mentality than any other festival I have ever been to. Now of course, every festival has its idiosyncrasies, but more and more festivals seem to be converging on related themes. In addition to the music, festivals these days often attempt to have a broader focus; most have not been shy about promoting progressive ideals regarding society and the environment. Camp Bisco, now in its eighth year, on the other hand seems to be all about immediate gratification. No think tanks about how our actions today will affect the world in the long-term, no green-themed concession stands, hell I don't even remember seeing any recycling bins. There were a handful of extra-musical activities present focusing on various social issues, such as the Marc Brownstein founded Head Count and Strangers Helping Strangers, but these were inconsequential to the overall Camp Bisco experience.
The Disco Biscuits :: Camp Bisco 2009|
But that's not necessarily a bad thing (though recycling bins would have been nice). You may not learn about societal problems or the environment but what you do learn at Camp Bisco is how to live in the moment, how to really grab life by the balls and have a good time – this festival truly has an emphasis on the here and the now. It's not a perfect template – obviously focusing on the 'greater good' has its importance, but this shouldn't stop you from living your own life to its fullest. And well, that's evidently just what the folks at CB8 came to do. They came to get down.
Our hosts, The Disco Biscuits put together quite the lineup in an attempt to fulfill the best mode of immediate gratification – music. Each year Camp Bisco seems to gravitate more and more towards the electronica and hip-hop scenes and away from its jamband roots. With the likes of hip-hop great Nas and the electronic masterminds Pretty Lights and Shpongle amidst a multitude of other DJs and rappers, this year saw a lineup that was pushed even farther in that direction, while maintaining an eclectic mix of other artists.
For the third year in a row the sprawling fields of upstate New York's Indian Lookout Country Club served as our playground. It's high time that this formerly nomadic festival found a place to call home. And on these familiar grounds an opportunity to string golden moments together slowly presented itself over the course of the weekend.
Aside from an early Bisco soundcheck that included a "Shem-Rah Boo" and "Caterpillar," the first band of the festival to be heard was Beautiful Small Machines over at the Tent Stage around 4 p.m. In fully white-clad garb this band sounded like Bends-era Radiohead if they had a female singer and were a tad poppier. Frontwoman Bree Sharp let out passionate wails in what sounded like an attempt to recapture that grungy sound of the early to mid '90s.
Asher Roth :: Camp Bisco 2009|
Torrential downpours stranded us at the (relatively) dry Tent Stage so I held tight until Dr. Fameus. The side project of Bisco drummer Allen Aucoin, this was an opportunity to see a creative side of Aucoin that rarely shines through in the Biscuits' music (not to mention the only time you'll ever get to hear him talk). While in previous years Aucoin was often joined by DJ Drizno, this year he was flying solo. With a familiar look of diligent concentration, Allen hammered out mesmerizing beats often bordering on breakneck drum-n-bass tempi on top of trancey bass and synth samples manipulated by his laptop.
The eighth Camp Bisco was one of the most hip-hop heavy in years. After my appointment with Dr. Fameus I ventured back to the Main Stage for Kid Cudi followed by Asher Roth, each with a completely different style of hip-hop. Cudi had bumping club beats that he smoothly rapped over with tight lines, while Roth had more of a college rock meets hip-hop feel. I have to be honest; when I first saw Roth's name on CB's lineup I thought it was some practical joke that the Biscuits were trying to play on us. And though he seems to me mostly a novelty act (particularly during the song "I Love College") parts of it weren't half bad. Steven Ellison, otherwise known as Flying Lotus, sat behind his turntables mixing an array of hip-hop samples in an impressive showing of DJ talent in the slot right before the headliners.
Say what you will about The Disco Biscuits during the year, but when it comes to their own festival, Bisco habitually bring it. This is their kingdom and they reign over it with a trance fist. Jon 'The Barber' Gutwillig's syncopated guitar matched Brownie's bass to start Thursday night off with "Morph Dusseldorf." "Morph is who a boy you see, he's changing as we speak/ from Adavan to ale man in twenty-forms a week," sang Brownie – no Tractorbeam nor Perfume this set. One of the main things that make Bisco sets so great is the uncertainty that looms once they start jamming. It was not before long that teases of "Cyclone" began to surface but the band quickly pulled the rug out from under us, segueing into "Digital Buddha." Symmetric LED lights flashed in synch with Brownie's pulsing bass as they began kicking out the untz, slowly transforming the "Buddha" into "The Great Abyss." Barber was hitting all the right notes, but this was undoubtedly a Magner dominated set, his wraithlike synthesizer captivating most of my listening attention.
Jon Gutwillig :: Camp Bisco 2009|
A plodding crescendo reached "Cyclone" at its apex, fulfilling those shattered expectations from earlier in the set. "Cyclone" indeed got my feet moving but I've heard this song peak so much harder than this particular rendition. Aucoin, now in a spiffy paisley shirt, meticulously banged on his kit while the band took us into a powerful "Buddha" ending. With puddles of sloppy mud scattered all across the once grassy field, we were treated to an appropriate "Wet" and "Above the Waves." Despite being unfinished, "Waves" was the highlight of the set. A rushed "Morph" ending closed off the first of six Bisco sets a bit haphazardly.
While the first set was good it certainly left something to be desired. On paper this looks like an amazing set but they simply didn't nail the songs like they could have. That being said it was miles ahead of the first set at Camp last year. Luckily, we still had five more Bisco sets coming our way.
A sheath of darkness now covered the grounds as I wandered over to the Tent Stage, now dubbed the "Twisted All Star Tent" to kick off the first late night with some Prometheus. When I arrived, however, I found Ott spinning some of his chilled-out, psychedelic dub music that infused reggae with a heavy backbeat and synthetic noises from another planet. Ott spun a stellar set but the late night party didn't really get kicked into high gear until Shpongle took the stage.
Prometheus :: Camp Bisco 2009|
Shpongle is a master of timbre. Unearthly synthetic sounds that have only ever been conjured by the demented mind of Simon Posford swirled around in my head – we're talking sounds that are just simply unimaginable to the average human being. Aided by the mysterious Raja Ram on flute and various other instruments Posford mixed these timbres with tribal rhythms, ethnic samples manipulated in the most ingenious and, of course, a lively entrancing backbeat. "Let's get shpongled," quipped Posford in his delightful British accent before spinning out Shpongle classics such as "Schnitzeled in the Negev" and "Divine Moments of Truth," though it's hard to say how much of what Posford does is "spinning" and how much of it is just hitting a button and dancing.
Continue reading for Friday's coverage of Camp Bisco...