Review & Photos | Symbiosis Gathering 2013 | California

Words by: B. Getz

Images by: Kauai Ric and JMH Mixed Media

Videography by: Lost In Sound

Symbiosis Gathering :: 9.19.13 -9.23.13 :: Woodward Reservoir :: Oakdale, CA

Now in its eighth year, Symbiosis Gathering was a living, breathing dragon of pagan synergy, an event filled with spiritual confluence and an electronic-sonic paradise — a rigorous program featuring dozens of the best intergalactic yodas in EDM, yoga and sustainability practices. This was a transformational festival, and despite some disorganized infrastructure, the event broke new ground for what can be created in this type of community gathering.

[Photo by JMH Mixed Media]

Symbiosis boasted four workshop stages by day, classes from mycology to mysticism, yoga to making yogurt, and organic farming to improv comedy performances. One may have gotten lost in the workshops all weekend and felt fulfilled. Another crucial component is the variety of different visual art on display. Symbiosis is a music, ART and conscious lifestyle event. Per square footage, they had more art than any other festival in the U.S. besides a certain event in the Black Rock desert. It is also a festival that strived, with the help of WasteBusters, Inc. to leave the grounds that host to this year’s event (Woodward Reservoir, Oakdale, Ca.) in better condition that when Symbiosis first gathered there.

Symbiosis is based around the Bay Area, a vibrant community of artists, builders and magicians that test the bounds of what is possible to create at a five-day event. Art comes from people and places, in the spirit of random acts of creativity and selfless expression. This review will focus on the plethora of monumental music on the stacked lineup cards. Rest assured many of the festival’s best performers may not be featured in this article; we could only be in one place at a time, and also did our best to take in the countless activities (like swimming and Yoga!) that were plentiful about Symbiosis. The following is one writer’s verbal account of the best of the symbiotic best in sonic exploration of the realms of intelligent dance music and crunkalogic science.

“Symbiosis is an art project. We have no corporate sponsors, incredible workshops, art, yoga, dance, organic food, ceremony, healers, and masseuses. We are a full spectrum experience.” -producer Kevin KoChen

Dub Kirtan All-stars, led by Freq Nasty and David Starfire with special guests J Brave of the Luminaries, Srikalogy and Caitanya, set it off proper on Thursday night at The Cove stage set lakeside, dripping in bamboo and psychedelia. The Kirtanic enchantment within “Hari Krishna” sent people into a mystical procession of Zen aerobics, while “Sita Ram” captivated and enchanted, a mid-tempo dub-ridah and mesmerizing pulsation filled with bombastic drums and soundsystem rudebwoy swagger. Tracks from dreamlike EP Subsonic Devotion were recreated with live chanting and vocals drenched in a lathering of bass buoyancy. Later, emcee collaborators hailing from Brooklyn drove the carpet ride decidedly to the streets, and the New York chants met the Yoga of bass. Kirtan channeled its inner b-boy from the corner of Paul’s Boutique and a new style.

[Photo by Kauai Ric]

DJ Laura Low (of LowRiderz) took to the DJ booth, platinum blond mane wildin’ out, and laced the people with her Bay Area-infused trap, deep hyphy 808s and rolling melodic dub styles. Laura Low has been DJing for over ten years, getting love on the West Coast underground. Her massive takes on Kanye West’s Yeezus material and an absolutely raging remix of the classic “Zombie” by The Cranberries stirred the audience into a frenzy.

[Photo by Kauai Ric]

Sasha Rose was a revelation all weekend, be it with Liberation Movement or her own phenomenal DJ set on Friday evening following Ganga Giri. She incorporated luscious melodies burrowing through thick bass grooves, thoroughly enhanced by her earthly, original lyrics and mellifluous singing atop her electronic creations. Adding an ethereal and soothing flute to the mix, Sasha explored the realms of Peruvian Shamanism, spice to an already eclectic stew. She incorporated some of the sacred songs from various traditions associated with Ceremony, as well as hymns and melodies derived from various Native American church ceremonies she has participated in for nearly 15 years.

Ganga Giri personified the sound of Traditional Australian Didgeridoo, whilst he led an exciting ensemble through a mix of pumping tribalized breaks, dubbed-out bass lines, worldly percussion and technological advancements to create an uncanny, indigenous, supernatural sound all their own. Welcoming the flute of Sasha Rose for a perfect sit-in (on a song written for Giri’s father), and having recently added live drums to his stage mix, this Australian band took the Cove crowd on an emotional mind-bender, and we all joined into a deep earth-dance experience.

One of the most moving, mind-blowing musical experiences in recent memory was the séance that was led by the Liberation Movement. Taking place in the grand Pantheon, a stage area and art installation that was built into a futuristic vision of an undisturbed Tibetan freedom; it went deep into the dark of Shabbat. Led by the Resurrector (of Heavyweight Dub Champion) and Sasha Rose, they vigorously fused Ancient technology with modern ritual into a creation of a new communal rite; Liberation Movement used sonics and translucent chanting to tap the inner psyche.

[Photo by JMH Mixed Media]

Their potent alchemy of analog synths, acoustic guitars, emceeing, live vocals and vocal samples, warm and fuzzy filters and distortions, all of which were infused with recordings of Shipibo Shamans derived from the Peruvian Amazon. This was the living story of the Jungle, transmitted through Ikaros, the Sacred Song of the Plants. Just when you were meeting the God within yourself in the midst of a two-hour hajj to Amazonian healing modality; the entire ensemble unites in a sublime, somber-yet-uplifting rendition of the sweet, serene Bob Marley hymn “Soul Rebel.”

One must acknowledge to stunning and grandiose performance from dancer/sorcereress Ka Amorastreya (of Serpentfeathers and Visionary Arts Foundation). Her enrapturing sacred dance and her elegant serpentine feather ensemble were positively breathtaking. The entire Liberation Movement experience at The Pantheon could be describe as a personal human awaking, focusing on the potential of the complete sound spectrum, and reminded us all what it means to meditate through the might of music and performance art.

Liberation Movement is a collective founded on the concept of bringing together archetypal masters from different traditions in an effort to raise vibratory awareness and experience within spaces, and communally with participatory audiences. Uniting with Symbiosis on this grand vision is always one of the highlights of our musical expression. -Grant Chambers aka Resurrector of Liberation Movement

DJ Final, aka Magnus August Høiberg, aka Cashmere Cat was a DMC finalist as a turntablist. However, he has reinvented himself as an in-demand, magnetic and unique producer of modern electronic music. The Oslo native was buzzed about all weekend, and by the time he took the Cove stage at Symbiosis Saturday night, the legend had already grown substantially. Warm and fuzzy EDM rhythms were spiced with tasty R&B vocals and some of the freshest hip-hop of the past couple years, as he took his drum-cue far more from the annals of Timbaland than any ATL trap-set. Cashmere set it off properly with his remarkable remix of the 2Chainz/Drake collabo “No Lie,” with its prodigious drums and dynamic interplay; later he smoothed out the grooves superbly with his mouth-watering version of Miguel’s “Do You,” the latter of which was also featured in BELI3VER’s afternoon set. Cashmere Cat set the tone and the vibe for a tremendous run of post-trap sonics from later acts Lunice and RL Grimes.

[Photo by Kauai Ric]

Lunice, one half of buzz-duo TNGHT (alongside fellow Symbiosis performer Hudson Mohawke), is rapidly redefining the art of the trap hip-hop remix. A Montreal-based producer born to Filipino and Haitian immigrants, Lunice is a b-boy at heart. He has stated he was inspired to make beats by the early work of 9th Wonder of Little Brother, and the dude lives, eats, and breathes hip-hop. Opening with an incredible take on Jay-Z’s brand new banger “Church,” Lunice unleashed an excursion in bass gymnastics that was positively trap-tastic! R&B vocal samples drenched in gutter-bounce 808 bass thunder, he had more than enough exclusive acapellas to make his entire set fresh to def! Like Laura Low, Lunice implanted vicious versions of Kanye West Yeezus tracks, his emboldened by a manic gloom, as Lunice raged like a man possessed. Dark and dirty versions of ASAP Rocky’s “Pretty Flocka” and Pusha T’s Kingston shout “Blocka” established a current force to be reckoned with. Alternately swilling from a handle, running around his tables rubbing his dome like a raving lunatic, headbanging along with his drums, or coming front-stage to uprock in a new style, Lunice was nothing if not demonic, and most of all, enthralling.

Ott set up at Pantheon and manufactured what was another of the finest displays of artistry over the Symbiosis weekend. He kicked things off with a solid forty minutes of mind-blowing psychedelic dub reggae, mining the Kingston yards for the finest in rudebwoy soundclash. The monster Function-One speakers didn’t just hold the rolling bass lines; they propelled them beyond the stratosphere; and it was Blunted in the Bomb Shelter, live from a new Nepal. Classics from the annals of King Tubby, Mad Professor, and Augustus Pablo were underpinned by the spastic low-end calisthenics. His patented mixture of Psybient Dub arrived late in the set, the lengthy, interesting “Rogue Bagel” shining through; yet his return to the island was overstood with authority. Ott. forwarded a massive “No, No, No” by Sister Carol that set the dancehall ablaze in the dirtiest skanking the evening would provide. The Pantheon nearly burnt down as we screamed “More Fiyah” and howled into the night.

Ott.’s lengthy dub-tastic rager caused this writer to miss a large portion of Emancipator, but so it went with the stacked lineup at Symbiosis. Playing an almost two-hour long set, Emancipator dug deep into the catalogue, and looked into their present and toward the future, playing classics like “Kamakura,” selections from his most recent record Dusk to Dawn, and debuted new music. Ilya Goldberg’s live violin work was thrilling and exquisite as usual. He and Doug Appling demonstrated why Emancipator’s live performances are the stuff of lore in a variety of scenes and regions. The ending of their set was especially moving, calming, ambient, and ultimately left one with a sense of ease, as they gave way to Michal Menert. The Pretty Lights Music, Ft. Collins by way of Poland OG delivered an energetic and lavish set of mid-tempo dance music. His unique stylings separated Menert from the crowd, the steez confidant and unabashedly celebratory.

STS9’s return to the NorCal environs was the subject of much buzz, both in the 9 community, and to a lesser extent the festival itself. The huge-by-comparison Big Island Stage was host to many of the weekend’s headliners, but it was definitely the place to be for Soundtribe’s three-hour tour de-force on Saturday night. First and foremost, Saul Williams took to the mic and delivered a fifteen minute opus, a stream of consciousness free-verse from one of his long form poems, and left the audience slack jawed, and teary eyed. Then, after a moment to breathe, STS9 took assumed their position, and “Hidden Hand Hidden Fist” came first.

[Photo by Kauai Ric]

On the heels of their near-universally revered Red Rocks run earlier in September, the stage was set for a return to watermelon tourmaline-tinged, interplanetary roots. This was partially accomplished, mostly during the first set text-book run of “Simulator, Grow, Vibyl, GLOgii, Move My Peeps” and to close the first set “Kamuy.” All of which were performed collectively, yet still vigorously. The Tribe was often assisted on trumpet by Russ Liquid, to an enthusiastic dancing crowd mix of 9 fans and Symbiosis-goers. The second set served a different purpose, as the band was not immune to the notion of the myriad of electronic music styles on display at Symbiosis. They chose to offer a sampling of their own kaleidoscope of sounds and ideas, as they have sonically traveled over the past six or seven years. Though this writer is firmly encamped with the school of Sector 9 who seek what Set One provided, kudos to STS9 for treating the Symbiosis massive with respect and providing a taste of their entire menu, from the lowdown to the “Vapors” and several points between.

Hailing from SoCal and New Mexico, the amazing ensemble Desert Dwellers first welcomed the new Monday morning with a ritual de lo habitual dripping in meditative beat-science and angelic dust. Bringing an electronic bass music cross-pollinated with the Yoga scene, and like Dub Kirtan All-stars, employing the global sounds of both galaxies in an eclectic stew. Sacred bass treaded the modern edge of electronica with ancient and organic soundscapes, this was a set of genre-bending at its finest. Hosted by the apropos Pantheon, Desert Dwellers delivered one of the single most engrossing sets of the weekend, taking the massive on a journey to the core. Main members Amani Friend & Treavor Moontribe hosted a squad of guest collaborators in a procession of earthly percussion, ethereal voices, and culture-crossing instrumentation; the downtempo’d dance grooves were impeccable way to greet the morning. The steady stream of guests, live dancers, and visual arrangers were a tremendous accompaniment to Desert Dwellers entire two hour epic breakfast blessing.

[Photo by JMH Mixed Media]

There is nothing quite like a Random Rab sunrise set. The mysticism and supernatural energies are alive and afloat as the people congregate and exude a certain brand of reverence, a symbiosis between artist and audience I’ve never witnessed at any other gathering. Ably assisted by Emancipator violinist Ilya Goldberg and percussionist Jason Cedar Miller, Rab followed Desert Dwellers over at the Cove stage, by upping the ante on what can truly transform. Captaining this delicate and admirable mission, Rab Clinton worked his magic to a near flawless perfection at the wheel of an 18-track mixing console and live sampling software, amidst a myriad of different acoustic instruments.

Rab puts emphasis on forward progression, a style that makes songs feel looser than your standard build-tension, drop-bass one-two step. Without the lavish percussion it would be difficult not to get mired in temperate noise. Rab’s music doesn’t rely on simple looping or repetition, and instead assemble patiently, arching its way into a beautiful vocals and dancing to and from by pulling bass in and out of the mix. Even at the nearly two-hour mark, the producer/composer/savant keeps it ever-so-fresh, accentuating a tiny drop with a musicality that makes it clear he’s unwilling to rely on simple tricks.

Mixing in the most effective handclaps since D’Angelo’s seminal Voodoo sessions, a positively tearjerking version of “The Plastic People” was especially cherished, as were many of his new songs from a forthcoming album later this month. Selections from aRose and Vissurreal were received like a sonic manna from a new Heaven, newer compositions like “Clairvoyer” resonated with profound meaning and an emotional connection. Groups of friends, old and new, rejoiced and reveled in a heightened sense of community, and dare I say…love, was present throughout the entire one hundred minute priestly benediction of bass and benevolence.

Incredibly fortunate circumstances manifested us an invitation to join Random Rab, an-ten-nae, Sidecar Tommy and other friends and well-wishers for gourmet mimosas and conversation, backstage at The Cove after their morning sets (or in Tommy’s case, before his.) To be a fly on the wall, in the geodesic dome whilst Rab, Tommy, and Adam talked shop was riveting. The topics mainly revolved around reproducing bass-driven music interspersed with midrange and treble elements, live instrumentation and vocals in the live element. Each artist offered various opinions, examples, and their own tricks-of-their-trade. The visual artist/phenomenon Professor 8000%/Thee John E. took all the arte in alongside us, and we were all pinching ourselves at what a treat it was to have such cutting edge artists discussing their respective creative process in our midst.

Shpongle was listed as a headliner at Symbiosis, and his late-afternoon/sunset performance was one of the better-attended of the weekend. During the daylight hours, Simon Posford DJ’d mellifluous tempos and energetic melodic elements, employed by the recreations of various acoustic instruments. Posford could be seen all over the place at various other artists’ sets, and the influence of this assortment of styles could be felt within his own selections, especially that of collaborator OTT. As the sun raced behind the horizon, Sphongle dropped more psychedelic, groovier explorations, sped up the BPMs, and supplied more atypical mixes that were fervently lapped up. Shpongle played “My Head Feels Like a Frisbee,” and the festival-goers regurgitated with spastic dancing from the teaming mass of revelers. When he completed his passage, Posford graciously thanked Symbiosis for letting him “Sphongle in your earholes.”

[Photo by Kauai Ric]

Thriftworks assumed his position in the cramped DJ area at The Pantheon and offered a definitive transition. Unmistakably in his patented style, Jake Atlas’s walloping purple bass lines plunging and bucking through wall-to-wall synths, Thriftworks had his East Coast swagger and West Coast G-vibes on swole. Incoherent Southern hip-hop chants were like a metronome as he worked OutKast “Rosa Parks” anthem into a luscious and celebratory jam. Thriftworks’ melodic keyboard work gave his music a fundamental feel and emotive threading often omitted in bombastic glitch-hop jams of the like. “Greenie Beanies” set it off huge with its computerized vocals and neck-snapping boom-bap, as did the harpsichord tweakage within “Pillow in the Woods.” Yet appropriately enough for the Symbiosis Gathering, Atlas used his most recent psychedelic sound explorations like those found on EP Deviation as a perfect counterpoint to the raucous energy of his roaring drums and dynamic hip-hop influences.

I caught up with Jake Atlas after his massive set, as he was swimming in fans, friends, and females. After giving him props on such a proper performance, he offered a short, simple yet serious quote for JamBase: “That was one of the most satisfying musical experiences of my life.” -Thriftworks

an-ten-nae is one of the Bay Area’s most sought after DJs, and two sensational sets at Symbiosis cemented that notion in spades. He has taken the art of live remixing to imaginative new heights, delivering his innovative Acid Crunk to teaming masses on two occasions at Symbiosis. His customized mixing setup and choice taste in pop and R&B tracks make for a stimulating, indecent exposure. Like any proper selector, an-ten-nae knew the time, and chose the perfect moment to drop a downright erogenous remix of AlunaGeorge’s “You Know You Like It” (sounded like the DJ Snake version but may have been original.) The 808s stayed popping and the drummer-boy snare rolls gave rise to some of the most outrageous dancing of the weekend. He then followed with another huge forward, lacing a remix of Jackal’s “Bubblegum.” To top things off a few hours later, during an-ten-nae’s surprise 930am set Sunday morning, the Acid Crunk maven delivered titanic spins of his new music that was highlighted by a fantastic original edit of Lorde’s ecstatic carnival in song “Royals.”

The Edwardian Ball Roadshow had many curiosities to explore, beginning with a traditional circus-style midway, buffoon dancers playing croquet, steampunk creations and swirly-collared stilted characters abound. The event within Symbiosis got underway on Sunday night and was an elegant, whimsical celebration of art, music, theatre, fashion, technology, circus, and the beloved creations of the late, great author Edward Gorey. Vau de Vire Society, Rosin Coven, Delachaux, Dark Garden, Shakti Bliss, Fou Fou HA, Shovelman, and The Klown Korps provided a world within a world, an immersive magical place filled with theatrical entertainment, acrobatics, electro-swing musical styles and ballroom dancing. It was indeed as advertised, a site to behold, and was so wonderfully different than anything else on display at Symbiosis 2013.

[Photo by Kauai Ric]

The Human Experience, David Block, provided yet another mammoth performance to greet Monday morning and close Symbiosis. For nearly four hours, Block offered his entire catalogue of music, literally, to a breathing and throbbing crowd who assembled at the Pantheon to send off Symbiosis in a righteous display of Zen aerobics, sky and sun worship. Block welcomed longtime friends Rising Appalachia for a complete run through their astounding album Soul Visions. This portion of the recital was highlighted by their spirited take on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The Human Experience brought singer Lila Rose onstage for an emotive, cosmic reading on their ethereal collaboration “Dusted Compass.” Tears began to fall down my face, the cathartic marathon dancing on pause, as I reflected on the vastness of the enlightenment I had been blessed with at Symbiosis on the lake for five days… I had a truly human experience and the music that David Block performed spoke to me in that moment, at that certain soulful place. Surreal and yet totally present, the synapse in time and space was not lost on anybody who was at The Pantheon that morning. It would have been a perfect ending to Symbiosis Gathering, yet there was one alien who needed to be heard.

“Symbiosis has always had a special place in my heart amongst festivals. 2009 was my first west coast festival. Symbiosis 2013 felt like the culmination of 5 years of exploring the world of festivals around the world. Playing a 4 hour set Monday morning sealed one of my favorite performance experiences of my life. Symbiosis has unparalleled musical diversity of the highest quality. I left glowing with inspiration.” -David Block/The Human Experience

[Photo by Kauai Ric]

It has been reported that the artist formerly known as Heyoka “was abducted, cosmically mind-probed, upgraded and reconfigured into an extra-terrestrial lab on the planet known as Marklar. Fortunately he has returned almost entirely unharmed, and now shall be the artist currently known as Andrelien. “

Andrealien (Heyoka) was the very last to perform at Symbiosis, and this came on the heels of The Human Experience’s four-hour emotional odyssey at the Pantheon Monday morning. Andrei’s reggae-tinged, glitchy, fat-bass rollers spiced with dancehall fused bangers were a nod to the past and a look toward the future. Invoking the creativity and ingenuity of his former self within this newfound promised land, Andrealien retained the cosmic levels of dopeness that he had acquired performing as Heyoka. His staggering knack for spicing raga-verse betwixt the illest rub-a-dub, glitched-out, bass gymnastics made for an outstanding set, and also focused the myriad of symbiotic sonic energies on the potential and promise of tomorrow, a driven resolution to create and manifest, a tenet that is the core of this entire Symbiosis Gathering community.

Video Playlist featuring STS9, Shpongle, OTT and more:

B. Getz For JamBase | Levitation Station

Go See Live Music!