Sonic Bloom 2012: Festival Recap, Review, and Recovery

After long flights, drives, and a few hours slightly dozing to beats by Akara -ironically an artist we were destined to meet and converse with that weekend- we embarked on the short 45 minute drive to Shadow’s Ranch in Georgetown, Colorado (8,500′).  The LiS East/West Coast connection spot was Colorado this year, the destination SONIC BLOOM 2012.

As we approached the protozoa like line attempting to breach the entrance of our own personal Rocky Mountain paradise over the next 4 days, we started our cheeky shenanigans in the form of introductions and admiration of one another’s rage gear and clothing acquisitions.  As we continued meeting our fellow bloomin’ spunions, alcohol (as this might be our last opportunity to consume what we brought) was being consumed and passed around amiably.  A bag of wine was slapped, gulped, and passed while the wacky acid puns and catch phrases were beginning to circulate with glee.  As the wait became hours the need for more staff was obvious; however, we cared little as we met some amazing people from Montana and abroad whom we made sure to see again.  Smiling faces were everywhere, and this trend would continue until the very end and beyond.  The sheer number of teeth seen all weekend, happily displayed through sun battered and chapped lips, was enough to make even the most desperately depressed manic crack a weekend long smile.  If there is anyone who is hopelessly down out there I would highly suggest a trip to Sonic Bloom next year… doctor’s orders.  Truly an unmatched sensation at any gathering I’ve ever been to, the smiles were enough to call it success without ever thinking about the music.  With one thing on our mind, the trees, river, and hidden art installations all had to wait while we raced to find the last open camping spots large enough to hold our 10+ tent crew.  And we thought we arrived early! [To skip straight to our video playlist featuring 9 videos]

We immediately realized that this festival was going to be “intimate” based on the manner in which tents were stacked on top of each other.  As time went on the various tents, hammocks, tarps, e-z ups and coolers were popping up like weeds.  The landmarks we originally made a mental note to remember were constantly evolving into a more complicated array of rain flies and brightly colored domes.  EVERYONE was a camp raider; there was no choice; there was no need to apologize for encroaching on space.  By the end it was more fun than anything just trying to find our spot.  Our small area near the river reminded me more of a refugee camp than a campsite, the crowded inhabitants instead of fleeing war or famine were fleeing the perils of school, jobs, responsibilities, and outlined expectations of squares.  A GREAT thing to be a part of.

The Sonic Bloom Main stage was outfitted with some of the most impressive LED screens we have ever witnessed.  With almost 1080p clarity images, video and fractalized mind funk were displayed across the giant back and two side panels.  Although there were no Funktion-One’s present -as was originally promoted- the sound was loud enough to shake your core while also maintaining pleasing acoustics in hammock town about 75 yards from the dance floor.  Well shaded around the edges by snowlike fluff spewing Cottonwoods, which also provided well deserved resting spots, this area provided comfort and entertainment on many levels, as it was a good 15 degrees cooler than under the parachute shade structure at camp.  The falling fluff balls, jokingly referred to as tree sperm, provided a pleasant natural ambiance and visual treat during the day.

The stage was well managed and on time with unlisted guests playing surprise set breaks on a platform off to the side, otherwise used as a performance/dancer grandstand.  Most notably, Spectre played an extended surprise set dropping some gangsta DnB and hip-hop remixed Dubz.  Well known Denver DJ/Producer Fisk also utilized the side stage to its max much to the delight of his local fans.  The Malah and Ott both threw down impressive sets; Seth Fankhauser of the former showcasing some of the most bad ass drumming there is, the latter obviously having a great time doing what he loves.  Adham Shaikh was a tremendous surprise, whose worldly EDM riddims forced me, Dyaphonoyze, through the wall of fatigue I was experiencing at the time and into one of the most frenzied non-drug fueled dance sessions of my life. The always/forever mentionable Eskmo battled a bad cold to showcase his expert use of Ableton as a program and live percussion looping, and again as Welder the following day. Always keeping things interesting, watching him up there makes you think about things while the next performer you see is “air-mixing” while checking their email.

Tipper!!! (Friday Night Set)
I did not think it was possible for me to have my mind blown by the same man twice.  A couple of years ago at the Bounce Fest this man, who some believe is no man at all but a robot of cosmic influence, showcased his four dimensional sound experience in a successful effort to shatter what I thought was sonically achievable.  Sets since then, although top notch in their own right, have come just short of impressing me with such vigor to force hours and hours of reflection and analysis after the performance.  At Sonic Bloom, I can safely say that Tipper out Tipper’d Tipper.  His use of sonic wavelengths is so advanced, it keeps the mind racing in order to process the ongoing auditory onslaught.  The digitally created bass lines that stutter along with the ever evolving melody can only be compared to a jumbled monologue from a space ship’s onboard computer that got sucked through a black hole, only to return devoid of a crew with a story to tell from the galaxies beyond.  The language of the story is not from this world, however despite how foreign and obscure it may seem, it still conveys the message perfectly to the listener as if there is an ESP like message that triggers our biological systems to react with frenzied dance and cheers.  Truly a musical GENIUS. To the blind, this set would still be one of the best of the weekend; however, to us with the blessings of working eyeballs, it got even better.  A 3D mapped stage – one piece of the near immaculate production spectacle The Tipper Sound Experience, which when fully formed involves Funktion-One dance stacks featuring a 5-way crossover sound system in a Quadraphonic Array – was visually orchestrated by eye-candy extraordinaire Android Jones. (Jones also performed twice during the weekend with his wife as the inspiring music, art, & dance outfit, Phadroid). The perfectly timed movements, energy, ever evolving flowering serpents of light, and what our mind can only deem as “unknown,” paired with the music in an unbeatable combination that left us all sensory-struck and stupefied.  Armed with the incredible knowledge and insight of other festival goers opinions, this set might have been a unanimous favorite, and ultimately we were all blessed to have witnessed such a rare treat.  His set included elements of midtempo, 2step, dubstep, electro house and others…..However, Tipper drum n’ bass is a drug all by itself!!!!!

Karsh Kale and Jamie Janover triumphed technical difficulties, eventually having to launch tunes off of iTunes in an impressive showing of live percussion accompaniment.  Jaw dropping visuals and the beautiful and petite Lezlie “Sunshine” Chang aka reSunator contributing beautiful vocals, Raq’s Sharqi-esque dance moves and brief monologues in a foreign language (possibly Mandarin or other Chinese language) topped this outer worldly performance with a super trippy cherry on top.  Karsh Kale, an expert percussionist, made his Tablas produce tones of which to that point I was unaware could be created by a hand drum.  Janover’s Hammer-Dulcimer created a signature ancient sound… his melodies of the old world coaxed nicely into harmony with the electronic tones of the future.  A truly inspiring showcase of raw talent and the epitome of two performing percussionists who love their trade.  The vibe emitted from Janover – who is the head of Sonic Bloom’s production team along with Aaron Holstein of Zilla – could be picked up by all.  This was his party for all of us, and we at LiS thank him immensely.  ZILLA, including Michael Travis and vocal cameo’s from Kyrian & reSunator, played an impressive, though super chilled out set on Saturday. This and the Sonic Bloom Orchestra on Sunday allowed Janover to share his skills each night.

The Sonic Bloom Orchestra:
This Sunday night powerhouse was the ultimate combination of live instrumentals and digitally created sound; an obvious act to close out the festival’s Main Stage.  The combination consisted of: EOTO, Jamie Janover, Govinda, Dave Watts (The Motet), Sasha Rose, Hopscotch, Lafa Taylor, Kyrian (The Fungineers), and Ill Esha, plus more!!! This two hour power set included vocalists and emcees revolving on the mics while the myriad of talented instrumentalists improvised along in a jam like fashion.  Michael Travis (String Cheese Incident, EOTO, Zilla) utilized his EOTO setup of an impressive mix of digital/analog synths, a korg KP3 Kaos pad, USB controlled SVTs, guitars and bass guitars all rack mounted and routed through Ableton to sequence and loop. It is because of this that I would consider him the “maestro.”  He would drop new melodies and basslines, which cued all members to follow along, adding in their specific parts in improvised harmony.  On multiple occasions throughout the set, I enjoyed closing my eyes and dissecting each element that I heard, tracing it to its source, relishing in the raw talent before us.  Govinda utilized a wah wah, among other FX pedals, to tripperize his violin; Jason Hahn added and looped his voice, transforming it into that of a dance hall emcee straight out of a sweat box club in Jamaica (welcome to Jamrock!!!). Vocalists harmonized with stunning precision and Lafa spit wittingly with messages of love, dance, motivation, and consciousness.  Kyrian intermittently showcased some animated beatboxing to give Travis’ basslines a run for their money with organically created vocal whomps and breaks.  (Kyrian Bobeerian also made an appearance with Zilla and his DJ based puppet troupe The Fungineers.)

At one point all the performers one at a time snuck off stage while the attention was on Lafa, whose mic skills were very impressive.  Upon completion, the MC prompted the crowd to show some love for the two-headed beast of the unparalleled live electronic monster that is EOTO, who was not listed on the bill for a set of their own.  For about 30 minutes the dominating duo power mixed HEAVY dubstep breaks that have evolved into the gray borders of brostep, all the while maintaining their signature and unmatched live sound, tapering into other genres.  I believe the use of digital SVT’s that are used by heavy dub producers of the day have recently been added to Travis’ arsenal, and lend to the transformation of note from the last time I saw them play.  The Grande Finale of this star studded performance involved all members back on stage with Janover taking over the role of the conductor.  As the final song rallied into a crescendo and rolled into a crashing finale, Janover initiated a call-and-response with the audience and performers, engaging all left in attendance.  This symbolic act cemented the bond between performer and audience for the weekend and reinforced the overwhelming sense of community that a “heady” fest evokes from the soul.  The crowd hung tough despite the falling Rocky Mountain temperatures and diminishing satchels of personal party supplies and remained diligent through a set that was impossible to walk away from. (Although Tipper was on the Orchestra roster and there was an unused CDJ and mixer on stage he never came out to contribute.  Maybe his space ship took off early to take him back to his studio in the skies?  Either way a minor disappointment to a mind blowing performance that ranks up there in the history of time.)

This absolutely enormous Geodesic Dome, probably 50’ in diameter, was closed to the festival on the first night, however once it started on Friday at the daily start time of 2pm, it maintained a nearly flawless lineup.  Although the sound system was not as potent as the main stage and a lot of heavy hitter bass artists were scheduled to shake the steel tubing, once within the boundaries of this monstrosity of an installation the acoustics were absolutely perfect.  A carpeted floor and myriad of LED panels, lasers, and digital projections made this bass-circus atmosphere a welcoming destination for all bloomin’ spunions.  Notable acts in the dome included Ill-Esha, Thriftworks, Govinda, Minnesota, Prophet Massive aka Jason Hahn from EOTO, and a killer morning set to end the festivities by Kaminanda.

Kaminanda was a perfect selection to end the scheduled artist lineup.  His stage presence was ultra engaging, achieving eye contact at least once with every single person in attendance, performing yogi like maneuvers in time with his mind expanding bass drops.  Although he was purely showcasing his beats, mixing minimally and not creating live, he was not pretending to do more than he was in terms of getting technical on the knobs and buttons.  Compare this to the morning set by Of Porcelain, Ooah’s downtempo project, from the morning before.  This talented and well known (though appropriately hated on) producer displayed his sleepy beats in the most obvious and transparent display of fake knob twisting and button smashing.  A disappointing and ghastly moment for Dyaphonoyze & DizzUrt, your author’s and a live hardware producer & performance critique (which we were clearly on top of our critique game a lot more than most people at 7am) this dishonest performance left our jaws dropped in disbelief over the blatant “air-knobbing” during one of LostinSound’s favorite post-sunrise time slots.  With much restraint we held back from screaming for some good ol’ vinyl Drum and Bass to kick the party up a notch.  (More on “live” vs. “fake,” plus other in depth coverage of various elements of festival culture in an upcoming essay rant by Dyaphonoyze.)

Lotus Drops opened the festivities on the festival’s last full day, Sunday, with an amazing dirty durrty durrr-tee CDJ set.  Her tunes were deep, subby and expertly mixed.  Her stage presence was appropriately motivating for an opening 2pm set, which can be considered a normal person’s 5am in festival time.  As a huge fan of deep dubs, I associate most with the UK original dub scene and the additional and relatively unrealized skill involved with computer free DJing.  Lotus Drops served my ears proper and was up there in the ranks of most enjoyable for this dyaphobot.  Goddess whomps…. Get some!

Although he was one of my original favorites whilst getting into electronic music a few years ago, up until his re-Blooming at Shadow’s Ranch, I had been rather unimpressed with his live sets. Everything almost seemed as though it would fall short of the bar setter of a set at Raindance Campout a few years back.  As we attend an astronomical number of shows and festivals, the dilemma we face is the strong desire to catch that one unique, special, and always to be remembered throwdown, but then nothing short of phenomenally spectacular and mind blowing will leave you walking away satisfied. However, his set at Sonic Bloom closely matched, if not surpassed, that aforementioned Raindance banger and had us all moving tough the entire time.  The burbly liquid squenched basslines flubbed their way out of the subs into our ears; processed instantly by our brains.  Energy was shot through our nervous systems, tingling inner human highways throughout our extremities to produce wobbling, shaking, and popping movements similar to one who is possessed.  It’s moments like this when the entire crowd has risen their groove talents to the likes of professional dancers you’d find in bird cages at luxury clubs and B-boy style flattened cardboard boxes on subway platforms.  Melodies of an interstellar circus… not to be missed!

The hydro dome was bumpin with energy when this Texas native took the stage with a myriad of bangin’ biddies at his side.  The world influenced dubstep is the perfect mix of beauty and beast, and animated movements and live violin accompaniment is a unique added touch that make his performances very memorable.  At one point an absolutely stunning vixen appeared donning an impressive get up of tail feathers; her costume was one of the more intricate of the weekend.  It’s flawless design accentuated her gypsy like dance moves, her eyelashes fluttering with temptation inducing lust.  We were all temporarily transplanted onto a magic carpet, whisked away to a desert dub palace lined with subwoofers and golden plates of cocaine and exotic fruits; the herem of dancers quick to supply all with the goods of this generous sultan of sultry sounds.  At the end of a special encore we were zapped back to the Rockies into a frenzied appreciation for that stunning performance.  One of our favorites for sureee.

A quaint common place to hangout as well as call your nightly resting spot, the area was a nook where a couple of different paths came together and served as an access point, leading you from the front of the grounds in any direction you wanted to go.  The Buddha Lounge, the same place many Use Your Headers find themselves spending time chilling at Lightning in a Bottle and Burning Man, successfully provided the crowd with exactly what every festival needs: a chill satellite stage to go and relax whilst not missing out on any beats or surprise DJ sets.  For this constantly positive experience we have to share much thanks and gratitude to SoulFood and DJ Free who ran the stage.  The setup, consisting of a well kempt AirStream functioning as a combo backstage/green room area plus backdrop to the DJs, was well organized for a “renegade” setup and it was run with tender care, which kept the vibes right where they should be.  A carpeted dance floor underneath a shaded canopy served us, while funky chill/lounge downtempo grooves bumped both day and night.  A slew of festival artists (surprise & scheduled) throughout the evenings kept this place with just the right amount of people while also providing great grass space for hoopers and similar performers to play underneath the stars.

On Sunday, I caught word from a LiS homie and great up-and-coming producer, David Krantz aka Futexture, that he would be playing a surprise downtempo set immediately following Kaminanda’s un-announced set.  Plantrae was another super memorable act from the Buddha Lounge that had us wishing we had came a tad earlier.  Only catching the end of his set, we were glad to move and groove along to his intelligent bassisms and angellic violin.  Unlike Govinda who uses violin intermittently, Plantrae’s violin was a staple for every one of his songs.

In addition to The Buddha Lounge in this nook between the vendors and the porta-potties/water truck was The Seed “Comfort” Dome. As one of the festival’s four domes, clearly this geodesic trend has caught on and in my opinion when constructed properly, works great.  The Seed Dome provided full refuge from the blazing sun during the day and the frigid mountain air of the first night.  Littered with mattresses, pillows, and yoga mats, you could find bodies sprawling about at any point. Once the sun had risen and the last bit of scheduled music had completed, a quick and smart decision had to be made about what to do next. This is where the river became a saving grace for the weekend allowing us to bathe and cool off twice daily.  To keep yourself from shriveling up into a dehydrated, weak muscled, wobble-factory is super important at a fest to prevent a zombie-ified state.  (No relation to bath-salts).  The heat can confuse and stupify a weak minded rager, who when trying to find their way to their tent may find themselves passed out in an awfully awkward camp chair, and then being revealed into the unforgiving sun and the laughs of all around.  Ahhhh, thank you Seed Comfort Dome for assisting us not ending up being that guy!

As Sonic Bloom’s biggest attendance mark to date, it is sure to continue to gain serious notoriety as the electronic music world and festival movement continue to take shape.  Overall, Sonic Bloom was a good testament that a festival does not have to be some massive attraction that brings 40,000+ people.  With 2,700 of our closest friends (whether we knew them or not the connection that brought us all together was enough to unify) and art installations that felt rooted to the earth, this was a gathering that only felt right to be at. It was reassuring to know that no matter what type of wild and crazy behavior one chose to participate in, you wouldn’t feel frowned upon or questioned. Colorado and its people are welcoming to anybody with a smile on their face who visits to enjoy CO’s offerings in the performing arts while the Rocky Mountains are welcoming to anybody who can acclimate to the extreme elevation.  A scenic and almost perfect place to enjoy music and mother nature, this was a campout filled with incredible people who had incredible smiles.  (We know ours were!)  We hope to see you all again, at Sonic Bloom 2013! (2003)!!

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Sonic Bloom experience documented & captured by your friendly rage reporters: Dyaphonoyze & DizzUrt.
Also a very special Thank-You to Yantra Photography for the use of her photos!


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