[co-written by Theo Newhall]
A little over two weeks ago, we had the privilege of attending one of California’s premiere gatherings of bass heads and crunk-junkies: Emissions Festival. Hosted by long-running Burning Man group, Camp Question Mark, this event always has a vibe unlike any other. It’s a non-stop, high-octane, bass-fueled party; in fact, the crew’s goal is to ensure that you never want to leave the dance floor. Anyone coming unprepared to boogie until they can barely move gets left in the dust (until the next round of psychedelic mood enhancers kick in, that is). Read on for our full experience!
To be more accurate, this was ‘Night 1’ for me. While the music had kicked off at 6:00pm with Northstar and Treemeista opening up the festival, unforeseen delays put my arrival time further into the evening. Emissions is hosted in the mountains northeast of Chico at scenic Belden Town, a mining site turned biker lodge and recreational campground, and the trek took up a solid chunk of the day. I wasn’t too worried about it though. Once the music starts at this party, it literally does not stop for the next 72(ish) hours. As I wound my way up the Feather River, an overwhelming excitement took hold of me; the gathering has a special place in my heart and this would be my 3rd year straight year in attendance.
When I finally made it to Belden, things were definitely in full swing. I could hear the music from across the river and my body was itching to dance. Fortunately, serendipity struck while I was checking-in; my fellow writer, Theo, found me and quickly showed me to a campsite filled with new friends waiting to be made. Parking can sometimes get very chaotic as the venue is fairly small, but it was a breeze this time around. In fact, as I walked around the familiar roads of the site, it seemed as though the Camp Q crew had everything 100% dialed in. The Frequency (main) stage had been completely upgraded to look like a cross between a mystic temple and a UFO, while the Vision stage had been redone with the trappings of the former main stage. And, of course, both areas were completely decked out with all manner of lighting, lasers, and 3D visual mapping.
After organizing things in the campsite, the Vision stage is where we found ourselves really starting to get into the spirit of the festival. A VOID Audio sound-system was pounding away with crystal clear bass and other wonky frequencies courtesy of Oakland beat-smith, SAYER. Though the night was chilly, the dance floor was hot and filled with whirling bodies. We stuck around and got extra ratchet for MiHKAL, then made a brief detour back to camp to grab some supplies for the rest of the night. Once we returned to the stage, Truth had taken up the decks. The New Zealand phenom absolutely blew our minds, delivering some of the heaviest low-end rhythms we’ve ever had the pleasure of feeling. Needless to say, we were glued to the subs like it was our first dubstep show.
After that, a bit of wandering ensued. We ran into some familiar faces, checked out the small art gallery by the Frequency stage, and caught a bit of Champagne Drip. Though the 50,000 watt PK Sound system was steadily bumping, his style seemed a bit out of place, so we mobbed over the vendor village and took in the various wares; everything from laser-etched wooden hat pins to fur hoods and trippy t-shirts was available to any would-be space gangsters. Once we’d finished window-shopping, we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves. The thing about Emissions is that the focus is almost entirely on music and sound, so you won’t find any workshops or yoga classes or anything like that; entertaining yourself while away from the stages is up to you. I don’t mind that too much though; what better excuse is there to just kick back at camp and bond with friends both new and old?
Our venturing came to a hard stop once VNDMG took over the Vision stage. His unearthly style of bass music sounded as prime as could be on the Voids, shaking the ground and making the air sizzle with sonic frequencies. After he finished up, our whole campsite high-tailed it back to the main stage for the set we’d been anticipating all night: Trevor Kelly. With his new album rattling around my ears and memories of his renegade set from Serenity Gathering floating in my head, I had lofty expectations for his performance. Long story short, he utterly smashed them; the energy he generated was absolutely indescribable. It was easily the set of the weekend, for me at least.
We danced until our bodies were aching for a break, which conveniently coincided with the end of Trevor’s set. Le Moti hopped on afterward, switching up the vibe with their unique blend of laid-back, low-end poetry. Then, as the sun started to rise and mist rolled in from the river, control of the decks was given to Santa Cruz’s favorite swashbuckler, The Pirate. It was a fantastic way to cap things off; though I was far too tired to dance, I definitely got my sway on for a bit. Soon it occurred to me that the fact I was still awake was quite surprising, so I headed back to camp and curled up in my sleeping bag for a few hours.
DAY 2 (Theo)
After a hectic first night/morning, I emerged from a fog of shenanigans to find myself back at our campsite; staggering out of a tent I can only assume was mine. It was early morning, and chilly. A cursory glance around our campsite revealed I was the only one awake, so I grabbed a few beers, along with some leafy medication, and strolled out to the infamous Beach stage to see what was up. As I made my way down the main road I saw a smattering of people on the same page as I was, including some new friends I made last night. Together, we moseyed down the hill to the left of the main stage and settled in by the water to recharge our batteries; leaning against the rocks as the early morning DJ’s and the gently refreshing fog mercifully caressed our hangovers into nonexistence. I swam out of my wonderfully relaxed state of mind around 11, feeling like I could tame a grizzly bear with my vibe. Selby was already in full effect, and his set was exactly what I needed to motivate me for the day’s antics.
Recharged, I left my new friends and headed back to camp for some food and more beer. I found everyone balls deep in both when I returned, and quickly jumped into the mix. After a healthy amount of campsite party time, we assembled our team and made our way down to catch Pressha at beach, with a pit stop at the Wormhole cabin’s renegade stage. I was unfamiliar with Pressha until now, but I was thanking the homies for introducing me to his style after the set was over. We then stayed for My Pet Monster & VGNX, who both got us super stoked for the evening. On the way back up the hill we wanted to catch Stylust Beats, but things were running a bit behind schedule so we returned to our camp for more party accessories. Soon, we found ourselves dancing in our campsite as Dastardly & Skulltrane kicked off the Vision Stage with a bang.
Drawn by the music, we ventured forth once again to catch the end of Skulltrane before hitting up Bogl on the mainstage. Things had been running a little late on that end, but it seemed like everything was all set now, with only a slight delay in schedule. After the first night of tooth shattering bass, it now seemed like the PKs were too quiet, but Bogl made up for it with some seriouslt gnarly tunes. After he finished up, Soohan took the stage and it seemed the festival was in full swing once more. Smiling faces, fuzzy hats, handmade clothing & glowing crystals were everywhere. The fog had also returned, but this was a different type of cloud.
Now felt like the perfect time for some Intellitard, and it actually was, so we headed over to the Vision stage to catch the man in action. I have never been dissapointed by a set of his, and this one was no different. His unique, glitchy grooves have a grittiness to them even while maintaining a smoothness that can’t really be defined. It was impressive to say the least. After Intellitard was BOATS, one of our favorite producers in the game at the moment. His crispy, 808-influenced bass music has a bright, digital, West coast flare to it that hits just the right spot with each and every track. His music starts parties in the most crunked up and energetic way; it’s incredible. BOATS is a digital gangster with just a touch of goofball and I love it. His set got things turned up quite a few notches, and for that, we thank him.
We then went over to Slow Magic for an incredibly powerful experience. If you’ve never heard of him, I’ll do my best to explain: he’s an artist who wears a furry mask that is a combination of Majora’s mask and the mask of the Wolf Princess in Princess Mononoke. He uses a computer and multiple drums to create a beautiful, exciting, moving and intensely tribal experience for everyone involved. And you do feel involved; it’s hard to explain, but when he jumped off the stage and began beating his hypnotic drum in the crowd as we all gathered around him, it was one of the most intense experiences I’ve had in a very long time. This is one performance you cannot afford to miss if you have the opportunity.
While we waited for Aesop Rock & friends to set up, we wandered over to Chase Manhattan‘s set and got stuck there for quite a long time. When I told my boss I was going to Emissions he said,”You have to see Chase Manhattan.” After witnessing him hold it down for 2 and a half hours, I will never doubt my boss’ taste in music again. He was one of the few performers that didn’t play all original tracks as well; while he played plenty of his own tunes, the extended set time gave him lots of room to play around. He combined the best of ignorantly large main stream hip hop and epically fresh trap beats into an intensely gnarly party that had everyone going nuts from start to finish. We barely made it to any of Aesop Rock‘s set, but we were definitely glad we did. With Rob Sonic and DJ Abilities at his side, the nostalgia factor was extremely real. Eventually though, we found ourselves back at the Vision stage partying with Chase and dipping into our nearby campsite to revitalize ourselves.
Soon, it was time for the main man, Mr. G Jones, to take over the main stage. We made our way over there with the throng of bassheads that had been partying their asses off at the Vision stage; Aarab Musik had found out what happens when you play hardstyle at a Camp Q event the hard way by clearing the dance floor. He was playing some decent trap when we returned but that’s not why we were there. When G Jones started I was pretty close to the stage, and my head almost exploded from the sound. It wasn’t that it was too loud, it was simply too bass heavy. Saying that sounds like crime, but it’s true. It was almost impossible to hear the mids and highs the way the system was calibrated. Not to say it got in the way of our fun though; after the initial shock of near death by bass, we retreated to the edge the danger zone where our eardrums weren’t being punished too much. The bass was still shaking our faces up, and we proceeded to rage our little hearts out. G Jones is always fantastic, and this set was no different. His fun, dirty, 808-driven style of music had us all going bonkers from start to finish. ‘The Krabby Patty Secret Formula’, one of his newer tracks, almost blew my face off. He was definitely a crowd favorite that weekend.
To our disappointment, Noer the Boy came on next. We’d been expecting Losco, but Noer went on to crush our skulls with some very weird, gritty trapstyle that definitely grew on us as his set progressed. We left about halfway through to re-up on party supplies, only to get stuck at Atomic Reactor as he laid down some seriously filthy dubstep for our trap-exhausted ears. Once we made it back to camp we proceeded to get exceedingly turnt and before we knew it, it was time for Tsuruda, one of LA’s most beloved underground artists, to take the Frequency stage on a journey.
However once we made it back to the stage, we found (to our great surprise and joy) that Losco had made it after all. Ecstatic that we hadn’t missed our #1 artist to see, we settled in for the rest of his set. And by settled in, I mean danced like idiots to their incredible Carmack-esque trap music that hits you right in the chest in the very best way. We were loving it, and we weren’t alone. It might have been 4:30am but the party showed no signs of stopping. They appeared to have fixed the sound a bit as well. Do not miss Losco if you ever have an opportunity to see them; I promise you won’t be dissapointed. We sure as hell weren’t.
Finally, it was time for Tsuruda. We were beyond faded and the sun was coming up, shedding an eerie and magical predawn light upon the world as his beats began to hit the speakers. This was the perfect sunrise set if I’ve ever seen one. It was ambient, it was heavy, it was beautiful, and it was gangster as a mother. All with that intangible shade of secrect sauce that only Tsuruda can provide. We swayed, we raged, we grooved, and we felt. It was amazing, and a perfect note to end the night/morning on.
They say it’s a festival not a restival, but I allowed myself to sleep in as long as I could on Sunday morning. As a solid chunk of the crowd is burnt out or have other obligations to attend to, the 3rd day at Emissions is reserved for the truly dedicated partiers; a space gangster family day of sorts. As such, the crew had a few surprises in store.
Since nothing official was really popping off until later in the afternoon, we cobbled together some breakfast and grabbed an energizing blend from RaveFuel Juicing; I can’t quite remember all of what was in there, but it was like drinking a real-life health potion. After that, we headed over to the Wormhole cabin where our boy ChopsJunkie was holding it down on the crew’s personal PK Sound rig. Good vibes were flowing in and around the cabin, with both new friends and veritable family members kicking back, chatting each other up, and imbibing heavily. By the time 2:00pm rolled around, we were all pleasantly sauced and ready to head for the Beach stage.
It was time for an extra special Sunday treat: a four-way versus set featuring G Jones, Bleep Bloop, Tsuruda, and SAYER. Go ahead and read that again, give it a second to fully process; we’ll wait. Yes, this really did happen and it really was like nothing I’ve experienced before. At one point, Huxley Anne hopped into the mix as well! Each of the artists brought their own distinct flavor to the overall mix, playing both their freshest creations and tunes from some of their favorite up & comers. It was an eclectic mix of grime, trap, and wonky forms of bass music I’m not even sure how to classify; which is always a wonderful feeling. Whatever it was, the crowd ate it up with unrestrained excitement. I’ve never once seen that strip of beach on the Feather River so packed.
Humboldt bass poet Hypha took to the stage once the versus set came to a close and kept things rolling without missing a beat. My first year at Emissions, he played on the Beach stage at a similar time and it was one of the most intensely psychedelic encounters with music I’d ever had. Seeing him on the Beach again this year was like déjà vu of the very best sort; it was absolutely magical watching him rock the decks for such a thick crowd. We boogied hard and continued to do so once Psy Fi stepped into the mix with his alien bass-lines and crunchy synth rhythms. After awhile, we retreated to our camp for a brief lunch (or possibly dinner?) and some tea. I picked up a lamb gyro from the wonderful people at the Ultimate Souvlaki booth, which was easily the best decision I’d made all weekend.
Once we’d regained what little energy we had left, we made a beeline for the main stage to catch another of our highly anticipated sets: ONHELL. He came nowhere close to disappointing, effortlessly setting up the vibe with his intelligently turnt beats and sensual yet somber melodies. Listening sent shivers down my spine; the air was almost electric with everyone’s communal energy and everywhere I looked I saw smiling faces. A cloudburst dampened the mood (literally) for a few minutes, but it passed without any major issue and the excitement returned. We could all feel it: the final night had begun.
After ONHELL stepped down, it was time for The OriGinALz. They cranked things up to 11 with the quickness, dropping crunked up bass-lines like it was nobody’s business. Then, the wonk messiah himself took a turn at the decks: Space Jesus. He’s got a one of a kind sound that truly felt at home on the festival’s dusty dance floor. His music enveloped us completely, shaking our skin and rattling our teeth. Up next was an Emissions family favorite; I can’t even put what happened into words, but that’s simply what occurs whenever Ohio madman Yheti comes out to play. The only thing I can say is that he composes some of the most intensely creative tunes in the scene.
I returned to the camp to grab another sweater and what little beer I had left, but ended up making the mistake of falling asleep. Fortunately, the schedule got a bit delayed and I woke up just in time for Bleep Bloop. He was in rare form for this performance too, dropping the grimiest tunes in his arsenal. With the grogginess from my unintended nap competing with a natural high from just how amazing life can be, I found my friends and we proceeded to party down as Bleep Bloop finished up and NastyNasty began putting the sound system to the test. Last but far from least, 6Blocc appeared for a late night set of classic, sub-fueled dubstep. A blast from the past felt like a truly appropriate way to bookend a weekend of champion music, even though we hadn’t truly processed the fact that the party was coming to a close. Exhaustion got the best of me sooner than I would have liked, but sleep came easy and was filled with surreal, musical dreams.
Morning came far too quickly and before I knew it, we were headed home. To call us haggard at that point would be an understatement, but we left with tons of fond memories, new songs to identify, and more friends than we came with. All in all, it was an utterly epic weekend and we’re already looking forward to what next year has in store. We strongly suggest keeping Emissions on your radar for 2016; come see what West coast bass culture is all about!
EMISSIONS WEST COAST BASS CULTURE
[Photo Credit: Kenny Hoff, Kiki DeVille]