Posted by: alex – Jun 07, 2011
If this year's Starscape Festival was anything like years past, I feel like shooting myself in the foot for not attending any of the past 12 rounds. This being only my second time to Baltimore ever (I know, I’m sorry!), I knew I would see a new part of the city at Fort Armistead Park, where the festival was being held. However, I did not piece it together that the festival was located on an ACTUAL MILITARY FORT. From what I could gather, we were dancing and taking advantage of an open bar on top of what was, at one time, a munitions camp during World War II. I never thought I would be part of such a setting.
Traffic on the exit from the highway closest to the festival was moving at a turtle-esque pace when we ventured in around 2:30 PM. Littering the sides of the roughly two mile trek into the festival grounds were festival-goers of all shapes and colors. As soon as we were off the exit, you could see the over-the-top neon accessories that have become synonymous with the rapidly growing dance music culture. The lack of parking in surrounding areas, and signs of an ultimate towing death, forced us to pay the $20 parking fee at a nearby car lot. Gathering everything we could to prepare for a 16 hour “work day,” my party and I put on our dancing shoes and took the hike towards the festival entrance. One seamless ticket check-in and security pat down later, I was inside.
Once through the gates, the festival-goers were greeted by a long stream of unique and creative craft vendors. I saw everything from on-the-spot pipe blowing to original beaded attire and even shirts that were graciously printed with everything you needed to know about different marijuana strains. The main stage was allotted the majority of the open space on the “mainland," with the Dance Tent, being the only other competition, located towards the rear of the crowd. Venturing down an unlit jungle stairway, I stumbled onto the back of Dub Nation Beach Stage and nearly dropped my backpack when I saw the sight before me. This stage was located just a few feet from the Chesapeake Bay, and holy hell, was this was sight for sore eyes! Walking along the concrete perimeter, I found the Steez Promo Bass Arena and basked in not only the sun, but powering bass that was already being expelled at three in the afternoon.
After I gathered my senses, I found myself running back to the Dub Nation Beach stage to catch the last 20 or so minutes of Zed's Dead, who seemed to be getting the crowd livelier than the people themselves were expecting. The entire crowd was in sync after Zed's Dead dropped the bass lower and lower. After powering up with some food and Heineken, I split my five to six time slot between two female artists from two of my favorite record labels; TOKiMONSTA (from Brainfeeder) and Star Eyes (from Trouble & Bass).
Both were playing to packed crowds and loving every minute of it. TOKiMONSTA was responsible for dropping the more experimental and hip-hop infused beats, with Star Eyes taking control of everything bass-heavy. Being one of the few time slot conflicts, I was thoroughly happy with being able to catch both.
Up next for me was Richmond favorite Tittsworth. Laying down an impressive set, featuring a complimentary blend of his personal bass music as well as his own productions of the newest genre phenomenon, Moombahton, I was once again reminded as to why Tittsworth can take charge of a crowd of any size. I bumped into Dave Nada (inventor of the Moombahton genre and another Richmond favorite) and congratulated him on his recent success with a compilation of Moombahton tracks being released on the Mad Decent label. We shared stories about the times both he and Tittsworth played the famous Brain Drain parties in our very own Richmond. Small world, eh?
Needing to take a break, I spent my next hour exploring the festival, meeting up with friends and just taking in the sights. With the beautiful Chesapeake Bay as the backdrop to your night, it is truly remarkable to see thousands of people illuminating the water with their neon and glowing accessories. I have been to other festivals that had sections exposed to the water, but this was truly unique; visitors were allowed to gather right on the edge of the walls.
Doorly, fresh off a North American tour with Rusko, was up next in the Dance Tent. As one of the more technical DJs in the game, he utilized three CDJs and an additional controller to perform one of the most unique performances the Dance Tent saw that evening. Hell, I looked away for a few seconds and when I turned back, Doorly was scratching the turntable with his face! Klever was in line to take the stage and I’m sure it was quite a sight for a DMC champion like himself, to see another DJ doing something so dirty unique.
The next few hours were a blur, as I found myself being hit harder and harder in the face with some of the most impressive music from recent months. World-renown champion turntablist Klever was ready to take over for Doorly, and as one of the most accomplished DJs on the bill, I do not think anyone was let down by his turntable tricks and overall live performance. Borgore was coming up soon on the Dub Nation Beach Stage, and I headed over to finally catch him live for the first time.
Borgore is set apart from others by his uncensored dialogue and lyrical style. Nothing seems off limits as he raps about pussy and dildos over bass-laced productions. The shock factor combined with his death-metal background heavily influences his current music production, making Borgore one of the more unique producers to visit Starscape this year. Returning for the second year in a row, the crowd was treated to an amazing late night set showcasing some unreleased Borgore tracks and ultimately ending with his take on a Slipknot song. We headed back towards the main stage for some of Bassnectar, and it was amazing to watch the act that so many of those in attendance probably bought their ticket for. Bassnectar's popularity is a testament to how much bass music has grown over the past few years. I first saw this guy play the NorVA in Norfolk, Virginia a few years ago to probably a few hundred fellow nerds. As is customary with every Bassnectar show, he took a "family portrait" with the crowd. Lucky for Erik Fox (of Dope On Plastic) and myself, Bassnectar’s initial photographer was missing in action, and Erik was asked to snap the shot at the end of his performance. It was a truly remarkable sight to see this one man commanding a group of thousands and thousands to "say cheese" and pose for their picture.
As the time reached one in the morning, I had to convince myself to reserve the little energy I had left to last me until sunrise. This was a lot harder than I was imagining! Continuing on, I soon found myself on stage for Flux Pavillion, whose debut in North America had occurred just a few days prior. As one of two acts that evening that the Steez Promo staff had worked for months in advance securing visas for (the other being Doctor P), I knew Flux Pavillion would unleash some true magic on what would inevitably be one of the largest crowds he would see on his current North American run. It was truly special seeing the guy who made all of the dubstep “bangers” spun by every other DJ you’ve seen perform his own songs live. Towards the end of the set, I spoke briefly with the cover star of the newest issue of RVA Magazine, Steve Aoki, on his way to his headlining performance at the Dance Tent. He was delighted to see the results of our hard work (by the way, Richard Perkins: Steve loves the cover shot!).
This was going to be Round 7 of seeing Steve Aoki, and he never fails to amaze me. With hit after hit at his disposal, Steve soon found himself going through his usual bag of tricks. Champagne showers, stage diving, crowd surfing, and with the help of his friend Skrillex, taking to the sea of hands in the crowd on a raft! The next day, I was pleased to see that one of his own videographers had captured this epic moment for those unfortunate enough to miss it.
Back to the Dub Nation Beach Stage we went for the rest of the evening, as Doctor P was already making the hundreds and hundreds of people in front of him bleed from their ears. If you did not know what you were getting yourself into beforehand, I would say the bass in his music might have been overwhelming. Luckily for everyone in attendance, they came willing and prepared to get their bass fix. Onstage, there was a gathering of the evening’s performers, all dancing and celebrating a memorable night that would soon be ending. It was truly special seeing everyone together, supporting each other and partying until roughly four in the morning. After revealing to the crowd that this was the largest show he had ever played, Doctor P began his encore. I swear I felt the entire stage shake, as he took us all to a limit not often reached.
Paper Diamond was on deck, and I’m sorry to say it, but I was having a hard time paying attention. The act I was most excited to see was set to come on just after Paper Diamond, and close out the festival. SBTRKT, an anonymous producer and DJ, rarely comes to the United States. Having just released a single featuring Yukimi Nagano (of Little Dragon) from his soon-to-be-released self-titled debut album, I was anxiously awaiting what was in store for his closing set. As SBTRKT only performs with a mask on, I was surprised to see a gentleman who had been around on stage during Paper Diamond put on a mask and take command of his MIDI controller when five o’clock struck. The next hour was a mixture of me standing with my mouth open and shaking my head in utter disbelief, confused as to what exactly I was seeing. SBTRKT’s mixture of genres, and his ability to stay off of the steady rotation of festival tracks, left me utterly speechless. As the sun began to rise over the Chesapeake Bay, the bass was multiplying as SBTRKT, having not looked away from his set-up for almost an hour, was going stronger than ever. It was amazing to see this gentleman perform, as the technicality of his mixing was blowing the minds of everyone on stage, including me.
After he was finished, I shook his hand and walked straight to my car. I did not want to talk to anyone or look at anything. I just wanted to drive home and think about making sense of what the hell I was just witness to. With a 16-hour festival day under my belt, I felt a rollercoaster of emotions. Relief that my day was over collided with the anxiousness of knowing that there’d be another one of these next year. The setting, combined with the wide array of performers, made Starscape stand out in my history of festival-going. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. Unfortunately, now I must return to my real life--at least for the moment.
Words by Alex Rose
Photos by Erik Fox of Dope On Plastic