Getting Rowdy on the Ranch: The Retelling of Backwoods 2016 [review]
Tatanka Ranch, Stroud, OK – Memorial Day Weekend
The sun slowly dips behind a mask of fluffy clouds as the skies bleed a kaleidoscope of burnt oranges and pinks, casting sharp silhouettes upon the laser tower at Backwoods Music Festival. At this moment, serenity falls upon the plains of Tatanka Ranch, and for a few minutes, the wonderful whirlwind of chaos subsides as thousands of patrons adore the natural beauty within our presence, leaving us speechless.
September 1st, 2016, around 6 or 7 pm.
We arrived to the festival grounds, exasperated and spent after the long haul from Florida to Oklahoma. The first breath of sweet, crisp country air refueled and revitalized us, perfecting the mindset for the Thursday night talent ahead.
Label mates and Brooklyn beat-heads Esseks and Space Jesus kicked things off on the Meadow Stage, dishing out some Wakaan-worthy tunes on the newly improved, double-decker treehouse stage sponsored by The Untz. Esseks cut right to the chase, dropping tracks from his most recent EP, ‘Ego Altar‘, including “Radiate“, a low-tempo piece with an oldschool hip-hop twist and outer-worldly sounds trickling in the background.
“Won’t Stop” by Space Jesus ft. Esseks has quickly escalated to a crowd favorite since it’s release a few months ago, and things were definitely popping off when Space Jesus pumped this jam on the Meadow Stage. We knew things were about to get serious when the he switched into his signature black-and-white SJ logo jersey and released his long locks, whipping in synchronicity with the grimy basslines.
If you haven’t heard the name Honeycomb floating around lately, it won’t be long until you get word of the beatbox mastermind who’s been sweeping the nation with his eclectic, unique style of producing. Using his mouth as his only utensil, the one-man-band spits a blend of genres, seamlessly switching from house to trance to dubstep to classic hip-hop all within a moment’s notice. Honeycomb is preparing for his first ever headlining tour as direct support for Moon Hooch, which begins October 3rd in Philadelphia, PA.
Yet another New York native by the name of Donnie D’Albora, aka Krooked Drivers delivered some seriously soulful vibes when it was his turn on the Meadow Stage come Friday evening. His hip-hop roots are the very basis of his glitchy, melodic form of electronic music, thus ensuring a timeless sound that soothes as it excites.
The Diskoportal was on fire the whole weekend, literally and figuratively. The Burning Man-inspired stage is a giant disco ball that opens up into a lotus-shaped structure and shoots fire out of the top, with fire-blasting pillars encompassing the entire dance area. Seriously, who doesn’t love some killer pyrotechnics, especially when there are giant disco balls in the mix?
Things got hot and heavy when Big Chocolate melted the Diskoportal, tossing in some wavy trap with massive basslines, igniting the trill tone throughout the festival grounds. The crowd was going wild as Big Chocolate mixed in tasty tidbits of housey electro tracks keeping things fresh and unpredictable.
The Globe Theater is a traveling stage composed mainly of recycled material, giving it a crafty sense of character and a homey feel, and it even has a ducked-off speakeasy-style room behind the stage that overlooks the Backwood’s pond. Textured tapestries and sheets created a cozy overhang above the stage, which were perfectly illuminated come night time.
Whether Backwoods was your first or fifteenth Zoogma set, it’s impossible to deny that these guys bring it every time they hit the stage. The Globe Theater provided the perfect house-party environment for the occasion as Zoogma lifted hands and spirits through their energetic stage presence, keeping things funky as they produced live instrumental forms of EDM, for an organic take on dance music. The Nashville superstars didn’t skip a beat as they serenaded the crowd with heaters from their most recent EP ‘New Era‘ and other Zoogma favorites.
Electronic-fusion trio Sun Squabi from Boulder, CO, stirred things up at the Kumbaya Stage, one of Backwood’s hidden gems nestled between the Globe Theater and laser tower. Possessing traits of rock, jamtronica, and funk, Squabi has a sound like no other. Needless to say, the All Good Records members certainly made a lasting impression at Backwoods.
Featuring a plethora of up-and-comers and well-known acts alike in the EDM circuit, ThazDope Records curated a stage located in the heart of the campgrounds, where things were getting extra weird all weekend long due to performances that lasted till the early hours of the morning – including an 8 am Yheti set- at which we spared a few extra hours of sleep at the expense of some serious wubs and dubs. During some sets, musicians were accompanied by a live visual artist, enhancing the listener’s experience by adding even more sensory stimulation to the mix. Created to showcase some of the dopest names in the underground bass music scene, the ThazDope stage did just that, including some super-psychedelic goodness served up proper by Alejo (with live painting by Lincoln E. Rust), who dropped some dirty downtempo dub and trip-hop, sending ambient vibrations far and wide throughout the ranch.
Another rising star within the ThazDope community goes by the name of Toadface, a youngin’ with a highly-developed taste in tunes and a fiend for swampy, slimy bass music. Affiliated with Liquid Stranger’s Wakaan record label, Toadface has been attracting more and more fans with every appearance.
The Motherland Stage hosted the headliners for the weekend, and the subtle castle-like decor made a bold statement but didn’t divert any attention from the spotlight acts. Jam-band moe. fed their fans some feel good rock-n-roll, playing classics like “George” and gaining some well-deserved recognition from a festival where most of the focus was centered around DJs and producers.
Many a revolutionary artists have reigned from the Midwest region of the US, two of which go by the names of John “Jmac” McCarten and Jake Barinholtz, but you might recognize them by the name Manic Focus. These cats have delved headfirst into a modernized era of live electronic music – the monstrous mash combines keys/ableton (McCarten) and drums (Barinholtz) with roots that are deeply embedded in hip-hop and funk. With a sound that is equally flawless in studio as it is live and direct, the dynamic duo truly knows how to captivate a crowd through mesmerizing melodies and glitchy grooves, not to mention a stage presence that simply radiates from start to finish. Having upgraded to a main stage (Motherland) appearance for 2016, Manic had all sorts of tricks up their sleeves – including a wildly wacky Willy Wonka remix that sent a nostalgic whim through the air. They also kept things fresh with favorites such as “Snap Like This” ft. Artifakts and Jesus Coomes, “Funky Style” ft. Lettuce, and some of their ingenious edits and remixes as well. Things popped off even more when a very special guest and close friend joined Jmac and Jake in the mix, the birthday boy by the name of Wick-it the Instigator.
Elephante had his fans rocking smiles for miles as he hyped us up with happy, progressive house tunes, inflicting quite the dance storm at the Meadow Stage.
Spankalicious, the founder and face of ThazDope Records took to the associated stage for his highly-anticipated set, stirring things up with slapping basslines and devious drops, which caused the bassheads to swarm like moths to a light.
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. And just as every festival goes, this end comes far too soon. The inviting grounds of Tatanka Ranch had just started to feel like home (again), and just like that it was Sunday. From the depths of the forest, decked-out with enchanting artwork and dazzling ornaments, to Shakedown Street, where patrons purchased goods and grub, and of course festival merch to commemorate their Backwoods journeys.
Moon Men Creations are anything but strangers to the Midwest, in fact, they’re the opposite. This Kansas-based movement has been crushing it coast to coast with the help of their hard-working team, delivering top-quality hats to festival goers across the nation. These aren’t any ordinary hats though – each Moon Men cap has a wooden bill, engraved with one of their unique styles, or customized to your liking. With more and more support flooding in and official artist collaborations in the mix, it comes as no surprise that nearly half the people at BMF were rocking these fine designs, including the official Backwoods bills seen below.
The man, the myth, the legend, and coincidentally the birthday boy Andrew Owsley aka Wick-it the Instigator reinstated everything we’ve come to know and love about him over the years. The “straight outta smashville” superhero is equal parts iconic and innovative. He has produced an impressive amount of original hits, but is arguably better known for his tendency of constantly sampling different clips from OG vocalists/rappers back in the day, all while flawlessly blending multiple tempos and tracks upon one another, thus forging the perfect mash-terpiece every time he gets in his zone. During one moment of his Backwoods set, Wick-it was tossing in some snippets of Wu-tang, and the next he was chopping it up with Pretty Lights’ “I Know the Truth”. Owsley’s impeccable intertwining of classic party tunes and heavy electronic music creates an atmosphere fit for any occasion, be it a get-together with homies or in this case, a festival stage with a giant flame-shooting disco ball as the centerpiece. Whatever floats your boat.
Hailing all the way from the UK, Nero has been masters of the EDM game since back in day, becoming known on a worldwide scale for their unique forms of electronica, DnB, and dubstep, all hinted with a retro feel. The London-based trifecta took us on a listening journey to the roots of their work, playing reminiscent tracks like “Innocence” (VIP) and “Promises“, and some newer material as well for good measure.
During Backwoods 2015, I had the pleasure of experiencing my very first SoDown set – and believe me, it did not disappoint, and this year he shattered expectations yet again. The Boulder-born sax connoisseur brought his A-game yet again to the Meadow Stage, bringing with him funkloads of fresh material for his fans, such as his thunderous, bass-heavy track “GTFU“, an edit of the oldie but goodie “Simon Says” by Pharoahe Monche. SoDown mellowed out the mood via some sexy future-bass, precisely paired with soulful sax, and at one point, special guest Ryan Viser joined the equation with his trusty trumpet in hand, taking things to the next level.
We were spoiled with even more sax when Big Gigantic took to the stage to close out the Motherland acts for the weekend. Dominic Lalli and drummer Jeremy Sulken are always a blast to see live; they ended things with a bang when they played their remix of Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us“, leaving everyone craving some more of their irresistibly jazzy bass bangers.
The countdown to Backwoods 2017 has already begun, and so have the withdrawals from 2016. If you missed this year’s music-and-art filled escapades, I highly suggest you tighten up for next year, because who knows what the Backwood’s team will have in store by then. Visit the Backwoods Facebook and Twitter for more 2016 memories and stay updated with info for 2017. Also, check out our full photo gallery from BMF via the Sensible Reason Facebook. Until next year!