Camp Bisco :: 8.26 & 8.27 | Skyetop Festival Ground | Van Etten, NY

Words & Images by: John Smrtic

DAY ONE :: 08.26.05

"As you ascend this hill under a canopy of summer green, you are about to enter a very unique space. Noble Hills is a quiet, peaceful, magical, bountiful, inspiring place, and you have been called to be part of its offerings. You are welcomed here. You are invited to open your mind and spirit to an awakening, a remembrance, a transformation under this star-filled sky. We thank you for honoring our home with your respect for our clean land, personal boundaries, and abundant fresh air. May your experience here be like any other. This is not just another festival. May we all bring the world, through our experiences during this festival, to another level of transformation.
The Noble Hills Nation of Love and Light"

Camp Bisco IV: The Tranceformation
At the crossroads of the jam and rave communities, dwells a strong and significant pulse... a counterculture, a movement, a musical trance-formation. There, a handful of bands come to mind when discussing the live, improv, electronica vibe, but for many, that discussion begins and ends with The Disco Biscuits. As gracious hosts of this glorious weekend of music, The Bisco Boys are single-handedly doing their part in keeping the live, dance culture alive.

Outside their home base of Pennsylvania for the first time, Camp Bisco IV: The Tranceformation, took to the beautiful, inspiring hills of Van Etten, NY, just south of Ithaca, at the Skyetop Festival Ground. Boasting a stellar lineup of the finest jam, electronica, and international DJ society, The Tranceformation, produced by Meatcamp Productions, was one hell of a well orchestrated, sleepless, rocking good time.

The Disco Biscuits :: Camp Bisco IV
Well... to be fair, there were aspects of the festival that left something to be desired. VIP Camping, which has quickly grown to be a major festival option and money maker, was completely oversold, as was car camping. This left many folks who paid a heck of a lot more dinero for the luxuries shit-outta-luck, so to speak. Beyond that, the four hour wait to get up the mountain caused this (unhappy) camper to miss a hot and growing act, Brothers Past. The folks at Will Call weren't very accommodating as I had to search for and find my own credentials after they told me there were no more left, and it would be an undetermined wait. The initial police-supervised car searches were relatively chill, and the phrase "personal use" was thrown around liberally. After that though, the further ascension to Skyetop was guided mostly by swilled-out freaks, which was totally fine except for the fact that most had no idea what was going on or where to send the oversold campers.

Jon Gutwillig :: Camp Bisco IV
It didn't take long though for any weird feelings to dissolve along with the quickly fading sun-bursting sky. As dusk settled in, I skipped setting up camp and bustled down to the stage to be sure to catch every single Bisco moment. The turnout was great, and the crowd was growing denser by the moment as the hosts took the stage around 9:30 pm. This was a very special weekend for the Biscuits because drummer extraordinaire Sammy Altman would be performing his final two shows with the band, before heading off to medical school.

Over ten minutes of "Astronaut" space funk would get the party started, and "Shem-Rah Boo" would segue out of it. Aron Magner on inspired, soaring keys and Jon Gutwillig on guitar took solid leads. Then, they went back into "Astronaut," and over a half-hour later, after some mesmerizing, trance guitar work from a fierce and bold Gutwillig, Altman masterfully worked the skins back into a frenzy. A soft, subtle jam ensued marked by Star Wars-type effects on keys, which sounded like lasers shooting through the evening sky. "Stone" would continue the segue, as the repetitive nature of electronic music became clearly apparent. With The Biscuits, the jams can at times drone, the repetition indeed trance-like, but every now and then, the groove can stagnate or flatten out.

But one thing is for sure, the hybrid, dreadlocked ravers don't seem to mind. We all know what we're getting into, and we pay good money for it. Honestly, what more could one expect from a band whose name was street slang for Ecstasy in the UK and for Quaaludes in the US (and no kids... those 'Ludes aren't real).

Magner & Brownstein :: Camp Bisco IV
Nearly ten years in the making, The Bisco evolution is noteworthy, as the fearsome foursome started out playing mostly Phish and Dead covers. What a long way they've come to the DJ-inspired, synthesized grooves. Though first set songs like "The Devil's Waltz" still sound like Phish-wannabe material, the ensuing twenty minute jam would clearly demonstrate the band's tranceformation. Gutwillig's remarkable, constant, and persistent guitar lines were wooing, spinning the audience into a cocoon of bliss. Bassist Marc Brownstein would shine coupled with Altman's rhythm on the drum and bass of "Save the Robot." This solid foundation would give the guitar and keys much room for exploration throughout the weekend.

"Mindless Dribble," making a Set II appearance, would be the highlight of the night as the distinct and dirty dub would resonate into the midnight skies. Trippy, delayed key strokes, heavy, rich bass, and Sammy riding the cymbal and kick would take the listener on a psychedelic journey exploring all genres of electronica, including trance and down-tempo. A nice "Sister Judy's Soul Shack" would be the filling in this delightful "Dribble" sandwich. Other highlights included a twisted "Digital Buddha" played uncharacteristically U2 style. There was also a stand-out funk jam amidst Brownie's "And the Ladies Were the Rest of the Night."

Brownstein & Omen - Conspirator :: Camp Bisco IV
Conspirator wouldn't take the stage until around 2:00 am, but the mood only grew progressively more freaky and amped as the late night seconds ticked away into the bliss abyss. Brownstein's latest project includes Magner on keys and DJ Omen on the wheels of steel. Jake Cinninger from Umphrey's McGee probably summed up this music experience best as "a chance to get outside the box... Conspirator kicks holy hell on robotic stomps, melodic flourishes and daring DJ improv... where the DJ is the template, or the root of the idea, and the real time instrumentation floats around the idea of the pre-recorded notion..."

Indeed, Conspirator is both dark and soaring and loud and psychedelic. DJ Omen seems to work in great collaborative understanding with both Brownstein's booming bass and Magner's meandering musical whimsy. Hopping on Umphrey's current tour for a few dates, expect this trio to ride the wave of electronic glory to become a solid touring attraction, particularly with the Biscuits losing Altman.

The New Deal :: Camp Bisco IV
Alright, alright - if all this mind-blowing, preconception-shattering live music wasn't enough, Toronto's "live, progressive, break-beat, house" threesome, The New Deal, would sonically shatter the air waves of the early morning hours. With the concert area nearly as full as when Bisco played, now after 3:15 in the morning, never was it more apparent that "The Freaks Come Out at Night." And whether you had a clear head or one filled with man-made toxic fuel, the Deal laid down the law and made sure not a single soul was resting.

Much like Altman is the Biscuits glue, multi-talented and multi-tasking drummer Darren Shearer is the octopus-like beat banger that sets The New Deal's pace. Superior musical communication allows bassist Dan Kurtz and Jamie Shields on keys to mutate and transform a highly danceable house groove at the drop of a hat, or rather a Shearer-inspired break-beat. These boys laid down a blistering, festival-stopping performance that stretched out over two hours, as the dawn danced playfully on the horizon and the kids danced playfully in the fields.

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