BC's Bass Coast Gave Their Community Protection from the World's Disasters
Featuring Mat the Alien, the Librarian, Claude VonStroke, DJ Shub, Tim Reaper
Published Jul 13, 2022A lot has happened since the last installment of Bass Coast, one of the largest and safest festivals in Western Canada. Like everything else, the pandemic took its toll, but its host city of Merritt, BC, also suffered greatly from extensive flooding in November 2021. Atmospheric rivers rerouted bodies of water across the province, and this quaint little town was hit hard. Campgrounds, bridges and various infrastructure were destroyed or eroded into nothing.
Yet, as much as the scene missed the festival, so did the town miss the scene. The organizers, artists and everyone involved put in the effort to pull off one of the most explosive, immersive, respectful festival experiences ever to hit these shores. It may have only lasted from July 8 to 10, but it made up for years of lost time.
A small army of around 500 volunteers helped wrangle a crowd of approximately 7,000 joyous partygoers bringing what they bring to the traditional territories of the Nlaka'pamux and Syilx nations. The damage caused by the torrential power of water was apparent long before arriving at the grounds, as large sections of the Coquihalla highway were still washed away while crews actively attempted to restore it. With the lingering effects of the brutal winter still obvious, the river was too fast and high to float in, as had been a Bass Coast tradition in previous years.
In another bummer, telecommunications giant Rogers suffered an epic meltdown on the first full day of the festival, which had made the unfortunately timed decision to go almost entirely cashless this year. Debit was out for the entire day, leaving vendors and patrons in a make-it-work moment. But they did. Nothing was gonna stop this thing from happening. It was just too important.
Sliding into Slay Bay on Friday night, JPS laid down a respectable set of old-school-tinged beats. The Melbourne-based producer, promoter and DJ, born Jerry Poon in Singapore, is the big cheese behind multifaceted Australian collective the Operatives and Flying Lotus's longtime tour manager. This set drew on all manner of funky business, laced with vintage garage and junglist riddims.
The delightful affair was momentarily interrupted by a partygoer who needed a little attention, but the response was swift and instantaneous. Stacey Forrester, co-founder of Good Night Out Vancouver, has been managing harm reduction at Bass Coast for the last decade, and her strategies have evolved and improved every year. The safety team had over 120 volunteers alone, constituting the largest of the volunteer crews. With lifeguard stations posted at every stage ready to dive in, it could hardly have felt much safer.
The man, the myth, the dirtiest of birds… Claude VonStroke had a perma-grin throughout his Main Stage set that made him look like he would have happily played for free. He dropped science, the kind of quirky leftfield house that he probably would have wanted to hear himself had he been on the dancefloor, and he promised to join the crowd there immediately after his set. He meant it too — he'd turned 51 that day so he had extra motivation to celebrate, and the joyous festivalgoers sang him "Happy Birthday" before welcoming him to their ranks.
While the Cantina was peeling off a few Boiler Room sets in the Saturday afternoon, many sun-weary festival goers found their way to the Cabin in the comfortably shaded woods to see Lion-S. Known to her friends as Sara Spicer, she has spent two decades curating the Living Room stage at Shambhala, the one down by the beach where you can dip your toes in the water, so she knows how to chill. Her set of stoned grooves percolated and bumped along, distilling the essence of the afternoon and measuring it in roaches and empties.
Hussein Elnamer (a.k.a. Handsome Tiger) turned the heat up as the sun went down at the Cabin. Blending influences from across time, space and his Anishinaabe Métis and North African heritage, his grimy powwow-step set included his highly anticipated collaboration with DJ Shub, but more surprisingly, the most astounding remix of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Fishin' in the Dark." At first, it was, like, what?, but then it was, like, WTF?!
Recognized as the godfather of powwow-step, DJ Shub treated the Main Stage with the extravagant showcase for his 2020 album War Club. The album eventually earned him a Juno Award for Contemporary Indigenous Artist of the Year, and his set showcased why it was well deserved. With his sizzling DMC World DJ Championship-winning turntablism and propulsive rhythms at the core, the former Tribe Called Red member was flanked by Tribal Dance Vision, a pair dressed in gorgeously bright and flowing traditional Six Nations outfits who duked it out in an old-school dance battle. On War Club, the artist born Dan General used music as a weapon to enact positive change on a communal level, and taking it live realized that vision vividly.
The '90s are coming back hard. Many consider 1993–95 to be the golden age of jungle, with the genre peaking commercially by the end of the decade before receding under the wave of UK garage, grime and dubstep. Jungle is the high-flying dub-tinged genre that London-based producer Ed Alloh produces and mixes under the aptly foreboding name Tim Reaper, and he is one of the best to ever do it. Informed by the classics while shaping the scene's future, he absolutely killed it with his midnight Saturday set. He dropped such relentless throwback hardcore fire laced with booming sub-bass and shredded Amen breaks that he almost burned the Cabin to the ground.
Capping off a second consecutive afternoon of Boiler Room sets at the food court-adjacent Cantina stage on Sunday, Atlanta-based knob-twiddler Nikki Nair went hard into electro, footwork, breakbeat and beyond. As the relentless afternoon sun dropped behind the arid hillside, he mixed hard, techy sounds that threatened to put it down permanently with enough old-school flavour to compel the crowd into deep lunges.
With a stage name referring to a street crossing in his birthplace of Montreal, Philippe Aubin-Dionne made his way onto a Polaris Music Prize longlist with his 2019 hint-of-shoegaze house and garage album Dawn Chorus, and explored more chillwave and Eurobeat fancies with his 2022 EP, Fantasy. His hypnotic live laptop performance at the Cabin helped contrast the abundance of uptempo DJ sets. Perhaps a smidge hungover from one of his best friend's birthday parties, from which he essentially travelled directly to the festival, he seemed to lose a touch of momentum as he broke down into relatively ambient sections between songs, but he brought it back to the brain with his cerebral, moody atmospheres and compelling basslines.
The Librarian & Mat the Alien
In addition to all the other unfortunate happenings that impacted this beautiful event, Whistler scene legend Mat the Alien was left paralyzed from the waist down after a severe mountain bike accident in October 2020. At the time, it was unclear if he would ever perform again.
Utilizing a specially lowered rig, his tag-team set with festival founder and curator Andrea Graham (a.k.a. the Librarian) at the Main Stage marked Mat's first in-person performance since the incident, and it was everything one hoped it would be. They tagged off a snappy set laden with drum and bass that was one of the most meaningful successes — if not the all-time greatest — of either's careers. Their care for each other was as apparent as their love for the music and the moment.
The various performance artists, particularly the geometric rope work of aerial entertainer Julia Grace (pictured above), put a cherry atop that Sunday. Despite everything thrown at it, Bass Coast 2022 turned out to be one of their best editions yet.