2016 was full of important stuff that deserved to be put into words. Most of it, about music. Despite passing the bulk of the year sequestered in my parents’ suburban basement, confined to a city dismissive of dubstep and where sound systems tend to be an afterthought, I witnessed some cool shit. Like: after watching Hatcha DJ up close & personal & b2b with Youngsta at the Electronic Tuesdays 5-year anniversary in Denver, I caught his two-hour session with Megalodon in the suburbs of Chicago (thanks, XDI Events). The young (high-school young), kandi-clad suburban crowd was refreshingly unmoved by tracks like “Abattoir” and “Sinker” — none of em even knew who Hatcha was in the first place — still, they must’ve learned something about dubstep that night. I damn well did.
I met Sectra irl, in the flesh for the first time when he opened a party presented by Notion headlined by Joker. Sectra is my one and only dubstep friend in Chicago. So in a city that doesn’t turn out for, like, Compa at Smart Bar (smh) it was pretty wild to hear tracks from guys like Trisicloplox and Repulsion over Soundsystem Cultures’ Funktion-One rig. That was a very cool party. The venue was a house/warehouse inhabited by nine delightful hosts. We spent the night smoking cigs in the kitchen and shit. Whoever you fine people are, thank you, and I hope you managed to keep your space.
Most significantly — as far as non-Denver shenanigans are concerned — was Infrasound. Oh, my god. Infrasound was divine. Not everybody was so enchanted. While the vibes among the Beach stage family were on point all weekend, the festival was framed by incessant bitching. The entitlement of some people! The designated parking lot flooded hours prior to the first night of the festival, so the weekend began in a state of pseudo-crisis. Okay, a parking lot flooded. It’s summer in the northwoods. Bummer that you missed Ganja White Night’s first set waiting for parking, but shit happens, and there’s not much anyone can do about it. In the midst of this controlled chaos there was absolutely no chill. Lots of screaming about refunds. Lots of unfounded criticism of the Infrasound team, whining about the failure to cater flawlessly to the sacred “festival experience”. Hey, nobody ever said the festival experience is invariably a good one, right? Take responsibility for your own experience. But some of these kids missed the memo. The refrain of the evening was “I paid for this, so it’s your responsibility to make sure I have fun.” Please. From the crossfire of one particularly exhausting moanfest (“I paid $200 for this. TWO HUNDRED WHOLE DOLLARS! How dare you allow the rain!”) I chimed in — “If you don’t like it, throw your own party.”
Everybody paused, and I was promptly chewed out, like I was the one being an asshole. I was serious. Take your $200, and $200 from all of your friends, and instead of entrusting your beloved “experience” into someone else’s hands, make it for yourself, designed to your exact liking. People do it all the time. But apparently, the notion struck these folk as sarcastic fantasy, because now their outrage at such gross injustices was aimed at me. Sweet.
But honestly, that’s what Infrasound felt like: less of a festival than a concentrated endeavor between friends to throw the kind of party they wanted to attend. The lineup was biblical, featuring many independent musicians styled in direct contradiction to the conventional festival doctrine. The largest print on the poster was delegated to Noisia, if that tells you anything. I spent the murky, muddy weekend skanking around the Beach stage to Roommate, Saule, The Widdler, Goth-Trad, Dubamine, Sukh Knight, Squarewave, Joker, AxH… the list goes on. It was fucking profound. Each set warrants a paragraph of its own, truly, but mostly I remember falling to my knees when Goth-Trad opened his all-vinyl classics set with “Babylon Fall”. The craziest thing was the crowd. The Widdler played directly before the don of darkness, and his set attracted slews of fans who took a break from their glitch hop or whatever to make the 3/4-mile trek to the Beach for the American artist and culture conductor extraordinaire. Especially through ankle-deep mud, the journey was quite the effort, so when The Widdler was finished with his masterful “opening” set, most of them stayed. When the weekend came to a close I found texts on my phone from friends I never saw, asking — “Who played after the Widdler? What was that stuff?”.
Dubstep, my friends. That was dubstep.
At the festival’s entrance stood a modest handful of food vendors… and that was all. Most festivals are insidiously designed to separate “customers” from their wallets, which is why I hate them, as a rule. Infrasound was blissfully void of the pop-up vendors, visual spectacles, “transformational” workshops, massage tents, merry-go-rounds, and various faux-utopian bullshit that experts of headiness have come to expect. Shit, there weren’t lights at the campgrounds, not even a sign or two to indicate the general directions of the stages. Just three powerful Funktion-One setups dropped in the Wisconsin northwoods, and a collection of genuine talent to flex ’em. It was so awesome.
The funniest part about some of the scathing post-Infra rantings was the presumptuous attitude about the festival’s vision and goals. This year, the event took place in a new location, a few hours northeast of its former Highbridge home. This site is bigger. It can accommodate more partygoers. So, naturally, the assumption is Infrasound’s attempt to “expand” and what such an evolution entails. I guess some people expected this to be the next Electric Forest.
Some people were incensed. Online, they tried to shame the Infrasound team with their self-appointed expertise, explaining with a condescending wag of the finger that the festival wouldn’t attract “bigger” artists or a higher-paying national/international fanbase with such a lack of attention to spectacle. Now, I don’t work for Infrasound, but I have a hunch that their move wasn’t made in the spirit of throwing the same party as everyone else. Think about it. Instead of a spot adjacent to state roads and within a reasonable radius of airports, they made a conscious choice to head north, into one of the most remote and inaccessible corners of America. Simply attending the festival requires some serious effort — and then there’s the brutal northwoods conditions, soggy and foggy and home to mosquitos the size of your hand. You gotta try, you know? It’s a sound system adventure for the people who urgently and wholeheartedly give a shit.
So if you’re reading this, I oblige you to get your ass to Infrasound next year. Artists, especially!
Okay. I’m off to Asa’s Denver debut at The Black Box. Keep it locked?
Soundsystem Cultures: https://www.facebook.com/soundsystemcultures