Finding Shambhala: Stage By Stage Highlights
Perhaps the most intriguing element of Shambhala is the unique and potent personalities of the festival’s six stages. Unlike other festivals where the stages are managed and built by a collective production team, Shambhala is invigorated with the creativity and diversity of six stand-alone crews. As a result of this diversified landscape, the energy that pulses throughout this one-of-a-kind party is truly unmatched. While other festivals may try and vary stages by genre or some other arbitrary characteristic, Shambhala allows each stage to create their own vivid vision.
The six stages of Shambhala — the Pagoda, The Village, The Grove, The Living Room, the Fractal Forest and the Amphitheater — combine to create a wondrous world with a rich history and culture. Each stage has its very own folklore, like the fact that Rich-E-Rich’s bus lies beneath the Pyramid in the Fractal Forest or that The Living Room is dedicated to the Shambhala family members who have passed on. These stages don’t feel like the linearly focused grandstands that you might see at your run-of-the-mill festival; instead, the six stages of Shambhala are more akin to interconnected bubbles of music and vibrancy. While they may have their own personas and vibes, Shambhala’s stages work in conjunction with one another to establish a self-sustaining realm of adventure and illumination.
While Shambhala is so much more than just a place to listen to phenomenal music, that is the event’s main objective and the folks who put it together each year are well aware of that truth. The focus of each individual stage is to bring the best possible experience to the audience, and that’s why each one is rigged with a mind-blowing PK or Fuktion-One sound system. No matter where you sit, stand, lay or shake your ass within these prisms of paradise, you’re guaranteed to be enveloped in the most pristine waves of sound.
I honestly believe that artists love performing at Shambhala because it allows them to put forth the best representation of themselves. When an artist plays the Pagoda or The Living Room it’s not because they fit into a genre specific box, it’s actually much more personal than that. These six separate teams build their own stages by hand and book their own artists each year, meaning if a DJ performs at Shambhala they were asked to bring their specific vibrations to a certain stage, making the experience immensely intimate.
In my first edition of this Finding Shambhala series, I opened up on my personal transformation and experience at the farm. Now I’d like to take a look at the amazing stages and dope artists that brought the festival to life. Keep your eyes peeled for highlighted links to recordings and videos from some of my favorite sets of the weekend.
Widely viewed as Shambhala’s main stage, the Pagoda is quite literally a beacon of light. With the atmosphere of a tropical paradise, the Pagoda is a dance music lover’s utopia. Throughout my four day excursion at Shambhala I came to realize that the Pagoda was the stage that possessed what I believe to be the purest party vibes. When it comes to just two-stepping and grooving with your crew, the Pagoda was definitely the ideal location.
On Friday scintillating artists like Nora En Pure, SNBRN, AlunaGeorge, Gorgon City and Boys Noize, got the party started with an array of sexy and sensual performances. The name of the game on Friday night was house music, and Dirtybird hitman Justin Martin delivered one of my favorite sets of the night. Representing the infamous San Francisco-based label, Justin set the Pagoda on fire with a deluge of infectious bangers like “Make A Cake” and “Who’s Afraid Of Detroit.” Friday’s collection of silky smooth beats was the perfect way to whet my appetite for the wildness to come.
Saturday at the Pagoda stage was a truly eye opening experience. I was first illuminated to the fresh and eclectic style of Ontario native Freebound, whose 5 p.m. set took the crowd at the Pagoda on a voyage through multiple genres. On the late night lineup, Autograf hosted one of the most euphoric dance parties that I’ve been to in quite some time. The duo’s clean and crisp transitions, coupled with their stellar song selection had the Pagoda absolutely going off. Matt The Alien turned my head inside out with his heavy experimental bass tracks during his short but outstanding mix. Mau5trap starlet REZZ, stole the weekend with an outrageous set that has caught all the headlines after the festival and has solidified the young DJ as one of the freshest new acts in the world of electronic music. You can check out her titanic set at the Pagoda right here on SoundCloud.
However for me the most inspiring set that I caught all weekend at the Pagoda was Everyman’s heartfelt tribute to his best friend Nick “Pumpkin” Alvarado, who tragically passed away in a car accident earlier this year. Although we use these festivals as an escape from the real world, it is always important to remember that there is so much more to life than simply partying. During Everyman’s incredible set I was able to experience the love and power that Shambhala possesses; Perhaps one of the most moving moments I’ve every experienced in my life let alone at a music festival. Everyman gave a stirring tribute to his best friend while Pumpkin’s parents looked on at a crowd assembled in the loving memory of their son. I will never ever forget the warmth I felt pulsating throughout the Pagoda on that Saturday afternoon. You can listen to that wonderful tribute right here on Mixcloud!
Sunday’s packed lineup made for a hectic day of running from stage to stage, but even with so much amazing music going on I still found time to catch a few choice sets at the Pagoda. The M Machine threw down one of the most unique sets of the weekend, showcasing their uncanny ability to blend electronic music with indie dance elements. Playing songs off of their hugely successful EPs, Metropolis Part I & II, The M Machine transformed the Pagoda into a interstellar shuttle hurtling through space and time. One of my favorite new artists Mija, absolutely crushed her debut set at the Shmabhala. In her trademark renegade style, Mija ripped through a myriad of sonic styles with reckless abandon. You can check out a chunk of her charismatic set here. Australian powerhouse What So Not brought a healthy dose of hip-hop infused angst, while the always entertaining Getter put together the heaviest set at the Pagoda by far.
After three days of dazzling lasers, gorgeous dancers and some of the sickest DJs in the world doing what they do best, my journey at the Pagoda came to a culmination when the infamous Destructo unleashed one of his legendary Sunrise Sermons on Monday morning. Prior to making my way to Shamabhala I had this set pegged as one of my most anticipated moments and it did not disappoint. As the first rays of daylight began to burn away the nocturnal fog from the night before, the crowd gathered at the Pagoda two-stepped liked possessed techno zombies, as Destructo pulled our strings like a masterful puppeteer.
As the crown jewel of Shambhala, the Pagoda underwent some major improvements to get ready for this year’s festival, including an updated lighting apparatus and brand new viewing areas. I cannot wait for the huge surprises and additions that we can look forward to next year at Shambhala 20!
The Living Room
The Living Room is unlike any stage that I’ve ever seen at a festival. With the Salmo River running tranquilly alongside it, The Living Room has an aura and a mystique all its own. Imagine finding a picturesque beach and transporting it a few hundred feet up into the mountains, then get some ridiculous PK speakers and add plush couches, a beautiful shrine, fresh fruit and some bad ass pyrotechnics to mix; that’s essentially The Living Room. During the day sunbathers lounge in the sand while world class DJs and live performers throw the dopest beach party in Canada. At night things heat up as spell-binding 3D mapping engulfs this one-of-a-kind stage.
Throughout the weekend I would venture to the Living Room, just to take in the sights. The vibes at this nautical wonderland were absolutely sensational. While the music was always on point I found myself just wandering over to The Living Room to eat some fruit and kick back. During my leisurely musings I stumbled across some fantastic artists like Fort Knox 5, Val Kilmer & The New Coke, Lion-S and Michael Red. Every artist who I saw play at The Living Room fit into the atmosphere perfectly regardless of the genre they played, which speaks volumes to the effort and attention that each stage team puts into booking their talent.
The four sets that really stand out in my mind most came from four immensely different artists. Baruka Som Sistema co-founder Branko brought his sensational globally inspired beats to the beach. The Portuguese DJ and producer showed exactly why he was the mastermind behind one of the most influential acts in the world of global dance music. Bass Coast Festival co-founder Andrea Graham, better known as The Librarian is my new obsession. On Saturday night the west coast bass legend kicked off Lady’s Night at The Living Room with a set steeped in low end bliss and chalked full of fresh new exclusives. Her ability to splice together vicious jungle tracks with sophisticated and subtle chops, was a wonder to behold. Flamethrowers that lined the stage shot tongues of fire into the air, synchronized to The Librarian’s expert mixing. After catching her masterpiece of a performance I definitely have Bass Coast as one of my must-attend festivals for the future.
Sunday at The Living Room featured two of the dopest and longest sets of the weekend. U.K. native and hip-hop connoisseur Nightmares On Wax handed the crowd at The Living Room one of the most soulful sets of the festival. Accompanied by vocalist Erica Dee, Nightmares On Wax had everyone grooving barefoot in the sand to his sizzling tunes, you can check out this video to get a taste of his swagger-soaked set.
To close out the party at The Living Room the innovative DJ Sabo smashed an outrageous five hour set that left us all dumbfounded. The precision, guile and smoothness with which he performed with was truly wondrous to behold. As he led the crowd at the Living Room on one mind blowing journey, I couldn’t help but see Sabo as a Jedi master educating us all in the ways of the force.
Heading into Shambhala the stage I was most excited about seeing was definitely The Village. When it comes to bass music you can find it all over Shambhala but The Village is certainly the stage where bass-heavy artists go to show off their low end sound. As a huge fan of jungle and drum & bass I couldn’t have been happier with the way that festivities kicked off at The Village. For four glorious hours the team that brings The Village to life year after year threw down a sensational lesson in the ways of D&B known as the Ragga Jungle Rinse Out. In what was my first taste of life at the Village I instantly fell in love with the stages unparalleled grandeur and complexity. Elevated platforms and glowing obelisks create an atmosphere of a metropolis built on bass, while flowing waterfalls and tapestries adorned with the faces of lions give you a sense of primal exploration. The Village is a beast in a every sense of the word.
After spending Friday evening exploring the many stages of Shambhala, I returned to The Village for a once in a life time opportunity. When it comes to jungle and drum & bass, the names Roni Size and Krust are pretty much folklore. After over a decade away from touring the two founders of the legendary Full Cycle record label hit The Village with unabashed fervor and undeniable musical knowledge. Watching these two living myths of D&B do their thing while the insatiable Dynamite MC scorched the microphone, was truly an honor and a privilege. With classics of their own like “Formulate” and “SnapShot along with unearthed bangers like “Mr. Happy” by Distorted Minds and DJ Hazard, the twosome of Roni Size and Krust set The Village ablaze. Do yourself a favor and just a take a taste of what was on display that epic Friday night.
After Roni Size and Krust taught lessons in the way of bass, the nostalgia kept going as two of my all time favorite DJs teamed up for a massive performance. Dubstep innovators Rusko and Caspa came together for one of the most beloved sets of the weekend. Steeped in authenticity and true to their roots, the diabolical duo threw down the type of dubstep that all true bass music lovers have been crying out for. Hometown hero Excision followed up that performance with an earth shattering set of his own. When you venture all the way to Shambhala seeing Excision is an absolute must. It’s been quite some time since I had seen Excision without one of his surreal stage setups, either the Paradox or the Executioner, but Jeff Abel perfectly displayed why he is essentially considered a god at Shambhala.
Saturday at The Village was blessed by monster sets by Stylust Beats and PK Sound CEO Subvert. It was my first time seeing both artist and I became instant fans of these two barons of bass. One of the most interesting things about Shambhala is the fact that you get special sets that only occur at the festival each year like Subvert’s Saturday mix. Check out the PK head honcho’s tremendous set here on SoundCloud.
By the end of Saturday night I was short of breath, but ready for one of my all time favorite artists to hit the stage. Sub Focus is easily one of the most lauded and sought after names in the world of drum & bass and he showed off exactly why he has become so successful. With a slew of new tracks as well as a litany of classics like “Tidal Wave,” “Endorphins,” “Turn Back Time” and of course the soaring hit, “Out Of The Blue,” Sub Focus totally delivered on the massive expectations I had surrounding his set.
Sunday was a rather eclectic day at The Village with Haywyre, Manic Focus, Snails and the always unstoppable Andy C creating a whirlwind of musical textures. One thing I do regret, however, is missing this year’s Liquid Sunrise Jam, but thankfully Shambhala 20 is only a few months away!
While five of the six stages at Shambhala are outfitted with PK Sound systems, The Grove remains as the only black sheep. Rigged with the most phenomenal Funktion-One system I have ever seen, The Grove in my opinion is the spiritual heart of Shambhala. The very air around The Grove seems to be have a different quality compared to the other stages. Shrouded amidst a thick blanket of lofty pines, The Grove is a subdued and mystical haven for Shambhalites to go and recharge their batteries. Hidden tree houses, babbling waterfalls and a spell-binding artist’s cove make the atmosphere within The Grove one of meditation, inspiration and reflection. When you enter into The Grove it’s as if Shambhala is taking you into its loving bosom. Over my four days at the farm, The Grove became my favorite locale.
Friday night Hermitude and Troyboi gave me my first taste of what The Grove had to offer. With both acts employing heavy bass and hip-hop influenced tunes, I quickly realized what makes The Grove so special. The Funktion-One system at the grove literally feels different than any of the PK setups you will find at the other stages. While PK rigs can certainly take a toll on your body physically, The Grove’s Funktion-One’s emit bass waves that literally fall over you like water.
When I found myself wandering through Shambhala in the wee hours of the morning, The Grove called to me and I was drawn to its wooded alcoves by some unseen force. My eyes were opened to the skill of bass music legend Michael Red and the sensational style of Colorado’s own Goopsteppa. As I lay on one of the many seating platforms built throughout the bass-filled hideaway, I found myself drifting off into slumber. It wasn’t because I was bored or uninterested. No, in actuality the Funktion-Ones swaddled me in a cocoon of sonic bliss, so sweet that I was able to close my eyes and slip into a dream. Never have I experienced such a hypnotic and one of a kind sensation at a music festival.
Saturday at The Grove was a truly landmark occasion. Perhaps my favorite set of the entire weekend at any stage was New Zealand dubstep duo Truth slaying at The Grove. With the amount of outstanding bass music prevalent at Shambhala, it’s insane to imagine any artist really setting themselves apart in that department. However, Truth distinguished themselves from the pack with a jaw-dropping display of bass mastery. Giving the Fuktion-One’s a true work out, Truth blew the entire crowd at The Grove away. Entranced by bellowing waves of meditative bass, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to be led away by this audacious duo. Words just can’t describe exactly what Truth pulled off during their 90 minute set so instead I’ll bless you with a link to this unbelievable mix. Check out Truth’s masterclass right here on SoundCloud! Hailing from New Jersey, The Widdler threw down a dope set of his own which rounded out another day of sick music in the heart of Shambhala.
While massive acts like XXYYXX and Emancipator brought their world class talent to The Grove on Sunday, the standout performance for me was definitely delivered by French beatsmith CloZee. Excited to perform at her first Shambhala, CloZee lovingly thanked the crowd before taking us all on an unforgettable journey. Certainly another one of the most talked about sets of the weekend, you can listen to CloZee’s mesmerizing mix right here on SoundCloud.
The Fractal Forest
Nestled deep within Shambhala, The Fractal Forest is the festival’s white-hot psychedelic core. In my opinion the Fractal Forest is definitely the coolest place on earth to throw a party. An unapologetic vortex of sounds, colors and images, the Fractal Forest is as breathtaking as it is bewildering. As a Shambhala virgin I was advised not to look directly at the Fractal until the sun set. Following the almost biblical commandment, I found myself walking throughout the forest with my eyes closed as friends guided me to the festivals other stages. That was perhaps the best advice I’ve ever been given.
When you behold the Fractal for the first time all perception of time and spatial awareness go out the window. The Fractal Forest is a 360 degree stage that makes any other festival experience seem like a sober jog in the park. Essentially its own headliner, The Fractal Forest itself takes main stage during every set you catch there. No matter who is performing it’s almost inconsequential because of the dazzling array of sights and sounds that swallow you up.
Most of the time I had no idea who was even on stage and I loved it. From set to set the Fractal kept the party going and each artist did an amazing job of fitting with the vibe. On Friday the Funk Hunters blew me away with their genre bending antics. Bouncing from funky and groovy to heavy and wild, the duo who started working Shambhala as stage keepers, infused their set with so much love, passion and energy that you could feel it and hear it in every song they played. The Funk Hunters set is a perfect example of the love that artists have for playing this one of a kind festival. Transport yourself to that phenomenal fiesta in the Fractal Forest and listen to the Funk Hunters set here on Soundcloud.
On Saturday hip-hop mastermind Questlove, took the forest on a funky trip back in time. Mixing nothing but classic tunes Questlove curated a set that would make any music lover’s heart melt. More like the type of music you would get at a cookout or a 90’s basement party, Questlove hit the crowd with tracks from A Tribe Called Quest, Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind & Fire, to name a few. As someone who grew up on the hip-hop of New York City from the 90’s it was glorious to see my heritage on full display on an unlikely international stage.
My favorite set from Sunday in the Fractal Forest had to be Skii Tour’s fabulous sunset performance. The duo have become “Shambhalegends” and I was so stoked to catch one of their infamous sets. The Fractal Forest in my opinion is a perfect example of what can be achieved when a festival puts time, effort and most of all, love, back into their product.
While the Pagoda may be considered the main stage at Shambhala, The Amphitheater is the stage where experimental and up and coming artists go to make a name for themselves. Before the festival truly kicked off in earnest on Friday, The AMP was open for business on Thursday night. Brooklyn’s own mischievous miscreant Space Jesus threw together an absolutely ridiculous set that displayed all the reasons why this long-haired merchant of bass music has become such a cult phenomenon. Engaging with the crowd as he is known to do Space Jesus ravaged The Amp with insane tracks like his out of this world “Space Jam” remix and “Won’t Stop” featuring Esseks. With a set characterized by absolutely left-of-center tunes and a healthy conversation about butt-play talk, Space Jesus had The Amp going nuts.
One thing I would like to strive for at next year’s Shamhala is catching more sets at the Amphitheater. With all the amazing acts at Shambhala this year it was tough to spend a lot of time at The AMP. Sunday, however, I had the pleasure of checking out two of my favorite up and coming artists in the world of bass. Bleep Bloop and Yheti tore The AMP up with their brazen brand of experimental bass music. Both DJs had the crowd headbanging and making their nastiest screw-faces as The AMP was closed out in style.
The six stages of Shambhala are all unique and absolutely incredible. I can’t wait to see what each team does to make next year’s 20th anniversary even bigger. Check out the stages for yourself and grab tickets to Shambhala 20 — August 11-14 — on September 1st. Get all your ticket info right here at Shambhala’s official website!