[Co-Written by Matt Wolfe & Theo Newhall]
Hello friends! It’s been a wild couple of weeks for us over here on the west coast. Festival season has truly swept us up in its gloriously relentless embrace as we continue to experience some of the hottest festivals this wonderful land has to offer. In the next few weeks you can expect to read multiple accounts of our high flying festival shenanigans; but for now, let’s start things off with the festival that kicked of these few weeks of insanity – Northern Nights.
After our incredible experience last year, we had very much been looking forward to our second round Redwood debauchery, especially after we saw the wonderfully weird and diverse lineup that Blap & World Famous had brought to the table.
We obviously weren’t the only ones excitedly looking forward to this festival either. Last year NN sold out with 2,500 people in attendance; and this year even with double the capacity, they sold out again; drawing over 5,000 bassheads deep into the Humboldt fog for an unforgettably good time.
Upon our arrival on Friday it was swelteringly hot, and after waiting in line to get our credentials we were relieved to find how close VIP parking was to the campsite. There was a shuttle running to GA parking but it clearly wasn’t enough as we witnessed many a sweltering festival goer stagger down the road from GA parking laden with all their gear.
Once we set up camp behind the vendor booth we set out to explore the festival and check out what was new this year. For those of you who have yet to visit this magical place, let us paint a quick picture for you. Northern Nights takes place at Cook’s Valley campground, nestled deep in the forest along the banks of the Eel River. The venue hosts an epically tall grove of redwoods that serve as ideal camping space before giving way to short cut grass and eventually rocks as you headed downhill to the river. The mainstage, vending booths and a sea of tents sits on the land between the grove and river, where the other two official stages were located. The River Stage was home to a bar, lounge, and most importantly, a carpeted area under a large tent in front of the stage that could serve as the dancefloor when it got too hot, and it certainly did.
The Grove was home to most of the festival campers and artists, as well as the new and improved activity stage and healing area. At this stage you could experience everything from comedy, yoga, & burlesque to massages, freshly brewed teas, and even energy healing if you felt so inclined. They even had a special section in The Grove that you could reserve if you didn’t feel like showing up early to grab a spot.
On thing we could plainly see as returning attendees see was just how much the level of production had improved since last year. There were all kinds of wonderfully tripped out pieces of art strewn throughout the festival alongside brand new stage setups that positively exploded with vibrantly trippy colors when the night wrapped its cloak around us.
After we explored the newly expanded festival grounds we headed down to the river to see Jsun lay down some house music, and got momentarily distracted by the Octopus Garden. This marvelously weird San Francisco based Burning Man camp/lounge had set up right down the path from the River stage and was cranking out groovy tunes and silliness all weekend long featuring some of their own local DJs.
When we finally got to the river we were there until the music was over at around 7pm. The whole area was a madhouse of floaties and dancing naked people as the afternoons DJs proceeded to get things started with a bang. Jsun, Kush Aurora, & Hotel Garuda were each more impressive than the last, but CRNKN really stole the show with his closing set.
One of the pioneers of trap music, this incredibly talented musician has been producing house & experimental bass music for the past few years, and has really found his own sound in doing so. His deep, high energy sound right after Hotel Garuda’s deep bassline house set was exactly what we needed to kick off our first night in Piercy.
After CRNKN wrapped up we headed back to camp, grabbed some party supplies and went in search of shenanigans. We found all that and a whole lot more when we ended up at this renegade stage that was set up on an old basketball court further into the festival away from the Mainstage but on the same strip of land in between the grove and the river. The stage was run by Mad Trees Digital, a production company out of Humboldt county, and featured the talents of several local Humboldt DJs. This stage had no chill, if you came to float around and just sort of groove you had come to the wrong place. Each DJ had an impressive array of music with specializations in trapstep, bassline house, D&B, and pretty much every other high energy genre you could think of (besides hardstyle). They had the whole court packed with people by the time the sun was going down, and we right there in the middle dancing our little hearts out. So much so that we almost missed G Jones’s set at 9.
Tearing ourselves away from the renegade debauchery we made our way into the mainstage area for the first time. It hadn’t changed much but that wasn’t a bad thing, the set up last year had worked out great. The Mainstage loomed directly before us, even more magnificent than last year, and to the left enclosed in a half dome, was the giant Redwood trunk that served as the Silent Disco stage.
G Jones was just starting as we passed the merch booths and hula hoopers on our right and danced our way into the crowd. His set was good, but it was only 9pm so it wasn’t full tilt madness like at LIB, but it most definitely got the party started. As it got darker, the Mainstage came alive like nothing we saw last year. Rainbows of mini lasers & mind bending visual projections were accompanied by ridiculous lighting and teeth chattering speakers that danced juuust on the edge of too hot to handle.
After G Jones, Danny Corn took over at the Silent Disco stage while Polish Ambassador set up. Still buzzing with energy we headed back to the renegade and got stuck there until way past Polish’s set time thanks to the nonstop rowdiness of Humboldt locals Buffalo Pockets and Cassidy Blaze. When we managed to break away it was time for Goldfish to close out the night, so we headed back over to the mainstage to see them get down.
Goldfish was probably my favorite performance of the weekend. This South African duo does exactly what Big Gigantic does, except it’s with house music, and so much better than their American counterparts. Combining EDM with live instruments is a tall order, and most tracks tend to be hit or miss, but this was all outstandingly well executed, high energy house music that rocked the crowd into a state of pure joy that has to really be experienced to fully appreciate. These guys are going to be huge.
After Goldfish closed out the mainstage, the party was really in full swing. Shortly after the mainstage closed out, the rest of the night turned into a heady, multicolored blur of awesomeness, but we can tell you this: The Silent Disco raged all night long with some truly incredible talent, the Grove stage got weird and sexy all at once with its marvelous burlesque show, and all the campsites glowed with life and laughter as we partied under the stars and into the sunlight.
At some point, around 9am I emerged from tent stasis to find the sun shining and my friends drinking. The morning quickly turned into a party in the campsite as we celebrated birthdays and our overall survival after last nights shenanigans. The festival was already very much alive and kicking, almost vibrantly so, and many a friend stopped by our campsite that left significantly wobblier than they came. By the time all the champagne was gone and all the medicinals medicinated, we found ourselves lounging in the Eel river amidst a sea of like minded bassheads as Psy Fi rocked the party with his signature style of west coast bass music.
Saturday afternoon at the river was by far the most consistently turnt that stage got all weekend. From Psy Fi to sundown, every performance was exactly what the river ordered. Amp Live was a great change of energy after Psy Fi, and Luck & Lana absolutely crushed their live performance. Afterwards, Starship Connection shifted gears with us yet again, before Autograf sent us off into the evening with some of their beautiful Kygo-esque bass music.
When we finally dragged ourselves out of the river it was most definitely nap time; but a decision to visit some friends by the renegade stage quickly turned that plan on its head as we walked right into a full on rager that lasted until Rufus Du Sol drew us out to the mainstage for a truly amazing performance. This extremely unique band consists of three incredibly talented guys who rock drums, keys, and vocals to produce some incredibly soulful music that soon had the entire festival under its spell.
From there, it was time for a block of Hip-hop with Goldlink & Blackstar. These two performances were strikingly different; each with their strengths and weaknesses. Goldlink’s performance was all energy, and so much of it. Not only did he perform some of his most popular songs, but his DJ also played a bunch of other tunes from a variety of different artists, and that’s where things got a bit weird. Not to say it wasn’t fun, but let’s just say I wasn’t fully expecting ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in the middle of a hip hop set. That being said, the crowd went bananas for it.
Blackstar was more of an old school hip hop vibe, which was refreshing, and it would have been an outstanding performance except it was missing one thing, Mos Def. Yes, unfortunately the legendary and controversial rapper was no where to be found, and it seemed that Talib didn’t have the rights to any Blackstar songs, either, so he was forced to play his own music. Which was fine; but again, not what we expected.
After a short break for setup, Shlomo brought us all to a very weird and ambient place as they closed out the show with a one of a kind performance. Part of the Wedidit collective, Shlomo has become a legendary figure amongst music fans everywhere. Their performance was an incredibly heavy, spacey and complicated musical journey that had everyone floating around together on a particularly heady vibe until the end of the show.
After their performance, it took us a second to kick back up into turnup mode, but we most definitely did. The next few hours melted together into varying degrees of epicness that culminated in a knockout performance of all originals by Suds at the Silent Disco that could easily have filled a mainstage timeslot. Shlomo had tunrt the festival down significantly, but that was totally fine. Considering just how hard we had partied all day, it was fun to cruise around in chill mode for a second as we got weird under the bright forest moon.
After a surprisingly restful slumber (surprising because we were most definitely not asleep for very long), we awoke to bright sunlight and a campground that was already hustling and bustling. The “oh snap, is it the third day already?” feeling was extremely real; they say time flies when you’re having fun and we had barely thought about it at all. To really drive the point home, the festival exodus had already begun for a solid chunk of the attendees. Whether it was unavoidable obligations, sheer exhaustion, or other less guessable things that were pulling these fellow crunk junkies home, I felt for them. They were looking down the barrel of a long, hot drive while we were preparing ourselves for one last day of pure, unadulterated, bass-fueled shenanigans.
Unsurprisingly, the first half of our day was spent trolling around with various homies down by the River Stage. The heat had been sweltering all weekend and today was no different. However, the high temperatures made for a near constant party at the river’s main swimming hole; and with the stage’s Void rig bumping hard enough to erode the shore, there was no real reason to be anywhere else that afternoon. And speaking of music, Awesome Tapes from Africa had the first stand out set of the day. We’d been looking forward to his performance all weekend and were beyond stoked we’d be able to lounge on rafts in cool running water while he presented the crowd with selections from his extensive collection of African electronica. Though the technical arrangements felt familiar (some house here, some breaks there), the vibe was completely different; it was like we’d been transported to an oasis in the middle of the dusty Sahara. Possibly most impressive is the fact that he stayed true to his namesake by DJing his entire set on a straight up, no frills cassette deck.
For the next few hours, you could find us either in the water, wandering through the campsites of various friends, or catching some farm fresh beats at the locally hosted renegade stage. We were especially pleased to see the Humboldt Bass Crew out in force, making the subs bark like their lives depended on it. Eventually, we wound up back at the River Stage to catch some Dirtybird goodness, courtesy of Justin Jay. It was an excellent way to cap off our time at the swimming hole; while Lane 8 was still to come, we headed towards camp once Justin hopped off the decks. Dry clothes, warm food, and a few cold beers were necessary before we could venture any deeper into the night’s coming ridiculousness. Luckily, we were camped just close enough to the Main Stage to hear Monophonics serenading us with their soulful fusion of funk, blues, and psychedelia. It was easily the most serene beginning of an ending I’ve ever experienced.
After Monophonics cleared their gear off the stage, The Librarian took to the decks. Hailing from Canada, this unassuming bass sprite proceeded to tear open our ears and drill directly into our minds with a buffet of wonky, left-field tunes. The West coast love was blissfully real during her set and we gigged out like we’d just mainlined adrenaline. As far as delivering experimental yet dance-floor friendly tunes, I’d say she even gave G Jones a run for his money. The night was off to a fantastic start and it was only uphill from there.
Up next was the set I’d been anticipating the most: Sweater Beats. His production style is infectious and saccharine sweet, while his performances behind the DJ booth draw a perfect balance between hyphy & groovy, ignorant and ponderous. From the moment he dropped his first track at Northern Nights, I was hooked like a fish. The next hour was spent dancing with tons of friends both new and old while Sweater Beats played track after fabulous, bass-heavy track. About halfway through his set, some of the spectators took things to the next level: a whole camp’s worth of people wielding huge inflatable killer whales stormed onto the dancefloor and, almost in unison, hurled their floaties into the air. While the crowd was caught off guard at first, people quickly jumped into the swing (or maybe, swim?) of things and soon everyone was chucking those orcas around. The whales seemed to be breaching out of a sea of people; it was weird, wild, and absolutely magical. We’ve been to quite a few festivals, but have never seen anything quite like that.
Next up was Slow Magic and he was in rare form. Though we’d seen him a month or so ago at Emissions, his performance there paled in comparison to what we witnessed at Northern Nights. Hopefully the fox mask he wears is well ventilated, because he pulled out all the stops for that set. Everyone in our group agreed: he was finished too soon. It was then time for the final set at the Main Stage: Gold Panda. Though we wanted to be there when things ended, we found ourselves walking away from their set fairly quickly; just not our style I suppose. However, the night was far from over.
Once midnight rolled around, we moseyed on over to the Grove Stage to catch a supremely sensual performance from the lovely ladies of Gold Town Burlesque. If you’re ever looking to have some lascivious fun at a festival, keep your eyes peeled for them; the vibes they bring are otherworldly. Once they finished up, we proceeded to gather as many homies as we could find and mobbed to the Silent Disco; it was time to fill our ears with some LabRat. This homegrown Santa Cruz beat-maker consistently redefines how much fun we think we can have during a performance and this particular set was even more hype than we’re used to. There was ample reason for him to be giving it his all: not only was it the largest crowd we’d seen him play for, but it was the largest crowd we’d ever seen at a silent disco. Needless to say, we got rowdy as all hell in support of his glitchy, mid-tempo bangers. Plenty of our festival family were right there with us and the feeling of connectivity that night was extremely palpable.
We called it a night after LabRat finished up his set. Though there was more to come on the Silent Disco, we felt we should the end the weekend on the highest note possible. Come morning, we all packed up and said our sad goodbyes; the end of a festival is always a ridiculously bittersweet feeling. But, while we weren’t happy to say farewell, nothing could dampen our spirits too much. Northern Nights had blown us away again, a difficult feat after how epic last year’s event turned out. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: this is Northern California’s premier camping festival. See you next year!
Photos by: Stefan Aronsen (SF Intercom)