I can’t believe it’s been a year since I was last preparing for Emissions Festival, when Camp Questionmark takes over the small hamlet of Belden with their expertly-curated, eclectic low-end vibes. Camp Questionmark is found each year at Burning Man along the 2:00 plaza; follow the sound of filling-rattling bass and neighborly noise complaints until you’re greeted by the endearing family of heads seizing a year-round opportunity to create experiences centered around bleeding-edge bass music. A few months ago, Nick Needels posted the following sum of values in the camp’s Facebook group:
- Bringing stuff and things to people and places.
- Keeping the smiles on all of the faces.
- Dropping the basses on a regular basis.
- Spreading good vibes and leaving no traces.
While it’s hardly an official mission statement, that pretty much sums up their ethos. It was just announced this week that Son of Kick had to cancel, but considering the density of this year’s outstanding lineup it’s likely I would have missed that set anyway.
It’s actually kind of a shame to condense such a thrilling array of hardworking performers into ten highlights. I meekly offer special acknowledgement to Sugarpill, Indaskyes, The Widdler, Boats, Muppet Punk, Mimosa, and Chiller Whale; your absence from the list below reflects only my own constraints. For example, I know Minnesota and G Jones are going to bring heat, but I just don’t have anything new to say about their music. Last year, they played a public debut of their duo set at Emissions that left a strong impression. Plus, there’s always the surprises you hear for the first time; after being blown away by M!NT‘s set last year, I was bummed he didn’t make the poster in 2014.
Sleep will have to wait until after the three-day weekend; here are ten acts I’ll be sure to stay up for:
10. The OriGinALz – This duo, hailing from Sebastopol, is a Camp Questionmark favorite. Their glitchy originals and unreleased heat are perfectly-tuned for the Belden audience.
9. Cestladore – There are a lot of great acts from the STYLSS label, like Quarry and Eastghost, but Portland’s Cestladore is the one I’m most stoked about. Though none of the newer releases have really caught on since 2013’s ‘Melanie,’ a haunting post-trap bootleg of Melanie Martinez’s take on ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears, Emissions is the perfect opportunity for this airy, sophisticated brand of risk-taking to pay off.
8. Hood Pri$m$ – Another Portland outfit, this group first caught my attention nearly a year ago when the We Got This crew first started releasing mixes. Five songs into Exodub’s mix, they set the bar for hood mashups: Clipse and Slim Thug over a slowed Wicked Awesome beat. Exodub and Tiger Fresh know exactly what fuels this crowd: gangsta anthems over unrelenting bass.
7. Buku – I was so transfixed by Fullagold when it first came out that I listened to it on repeat for four straight hours while I watched the protests in Egypt unravel online. Now for some reason that fat bass puts me in a revolutionary mood, or perhaps just makes me want to rally a crew to jump up and down and shout zealously. At times, it can feel like trap terrain is so saturated with the same tired sample packs, it’s refreshing when someone is able to carve out a niche with a distinctive and creative synth sound.
6. Smasheltooth – The only DJ who consistently makes me blush, Smasheltooth might have the hardest set list of anyone. Maybe it’s my bias as a Bay Area child of the hyphy days, but it seems like I always have a soft spot for homegirl’s hood anthems. Her sets are full of surprises, but expect some thizzed-out classics featuring Mac Dre or Keak da Sneak. Better yet, surrender all expectations, because she gets reckless.
5. Mikos da Gawd – Mikos has been hard at work in the San Francisco Bay Area, supporting some big names and filling clubs with crowds that don’t deserve his cutting-edge production and homegrown taste. With this audience, he won’t have to play the bottle service jams and can cut great to the genius releases he’s known for. I’m hoping more of the Soulection crew and similar movements begin intersecting with the always-interesting yet sometimes-insular Northern California bass scene.
4. VNDMG – I actually dropped Doshy from this list at the last minute after a Thursday night trip to San Francisco’s Beat Church, because I had totally neglected to take note of VNDMG and Balance’s collaboration: Diamond Crates. I’m not even sure that they’ll be playing together, considering they’re billed separately, but my confidence in them skyrocketed after watching them on stage together at F8. With all due respect, I have noticed over the past few years that VNDMG’s sound has become much more accessible and kinetic without sacrificing any of the underground authenticity of his earlier work.
3. Stylust Beats – A true professional, this guy is the Barack Obama of bass music, if the President were a skateboarding Canadian with rap game bona fides. Last year, he rocked both a choice evening set as well as a riverfront classic hip-hop set peppered with some of his irreverent dubstep remixes. Festivals are his forte, and considering Saratonin is also on the bill it seems likely that some live vocals will be featured.
2. Deep City Culture – Not content with their bedroom production prowess, this talented trio has recently re-invented themselves as a hybrid electronic and live instrument powerhouse. Their recent album Party at the Hotel Utah debuted the slick result of their weekly “band practice,” where they fuse their contemporary beat making with guitar, bass, and other rhythms. The best part is that they rotate back and forth, handing off instruments and trading off laptop duty while still executing a cohesive and fresh set.
1. Deltron – At first, I was a bit surprised by Deltron 3030 as a headliner choice, just because I’ve yet to see a superstar hip hop outfit live in this setting. Energetically, it seems like an interesting shift, though their newest album proves that they’re still taking themselves seriously as entertainers. It’s admittedly a bit cliche to feature the major headliner as your #1 pick, but truthfully I’m super intrigued to hear Del and Dan make magic on a PK system in a forest surrounded by bass and bliss.