Road to Camp Bisco – Scotty Zwang
Drummer Scotty Zwang has been a long-time Camp Bisco attendee, with 8 consecutive years under his belt. In those 8 years he went from passive festivalgoer to actually performing on the Camp Bisco stage with his previous band, Sonic Spank. Scotty is formally the drummer of Greenhouse Lounge and BangBang. Currently Scotty is the drummer for Dopapod.
Camp Bisco has been a “Must Go To” festival for me the past 8 years. No matter what is going on in my life, I make sure to take off for that weekend. I have witnessed the amazing evolution of the festival, from the intimate “Livetronica” to the powerhouse full-on electronic throw down that we all know as Bisco. To me Camp is more than just a summer festival; it’s a living dream. But it wasn’t always that way for me.
My first time hearing the Disco Biscuits was in the very beginning of 2003. It was a “Crickets” jam, which would later be on the Trancefusion Radio discs, and I didn’t get it. I skimmed through the track waiting for something to happen and said to myself, “How can a band play the same thing for 22 minutes and call it a song?” It just wasn’t for me. I had heard great things from friends and almost went to see them a couple times but just didn’t want to spend the money.
In May of 2005, a friend I was working with had convinced me to come to The Jammy’s in NYC with him, stating that I would “have the time of my life.” As with a lot of the shows I saw when I was 18, we made sure to get there nice and early to catch all 6 hours of the show (or however long the event ended up being). The Jammy’s was an amazing experience. I witnessed some amazing collaborations from some of my favorite musicians and even got to hang out with a superstar bassist who probably wouldn’t want me to name drop (hint: he’s from Vermont). When the Disco Biscuits finished their set, which was only two songs (a pretty stellar two songs, I might add), Marc Brownstein announced Camp Bisco IV. The lineup was awesome. The New Deal (which is my favorite electronic act), as well as Umphreys McGee, Benevento/Russo Duo, and Simon Posford would all be playing. All of these were acts that I had recently fallen in love with. Maybe it was the just the amazing entrancing atmosphere of the night, but I decided I would make the trip to Skytop in Van Etten, NY (just outside of Ithaca).
When I got to Ithaca the night before the festival, I realized I had left my ticket thumbtacked to my wall, 4 hours away on Long Island. Not a great way to start off the weekend. Luckily, back then tickets were only $85, so I figured I would just have a friend bring my ticket up and use it the next day, and I would buy a new one at the gate. When I got to the gate and purchased a second ticket, I started feeling pretty weird and had to lay down in my tent. I told my friends “I will try and sleep whatever it is off and just make sure I’m awake for The New Deal‘s set at 4am.” The lights shinning through my tent, which was only a football field’s length away from the stages, were only making this feeling more and more intense. I was awakened at 3:30am by my friends and heard the first notes coming from Jamie Shields signature Moog synth. Feeling a little bit better, I tried to dance but the feeling was coming back.
As I was finally feeling better around noon, sounds started coming from the stage. They were playing “Big Fat Fuck” by Ween over the speaker system and I decided it was a great idea to just start slamming down beers as fast as possible, to catch up with everyone from the night before. After a set of Benevento/Russo Duo and 2 sets of Umphreys, I started crashing and went to pass out in the tent. I later woke up, while the Biscuits were playing their last show with original drummer Sammy Altman, to my friends, wasted, asking me if I wanted to leave. So, we did. That’s right, people: I saw 3 sets of music that weekend, none of them were the Disco Biscuits, and then I left.
Even after possibly the worst festival experience ever (mostly due to my own decisions), I decided to go back. This time not only to see The New Deal but finally Simon Posford was bringing a Shpongle set to Camp Bisco. This year, Camp Bisco V would be held at Hunter Mountain, in the Catskills, just a couple hours outside NYC. I made sure that this time I didn’t leave my ticket at home, which is a good thing since I went with only $100 in my pocket. I met some friends at SUNY New Paltz the day before to get a little pre-party going and to buy all the food and drinks for the weekend. By the time I got to the festival gate, I had $2 in my pocket. The fact that I had pretty much no money didn’t matter. My friends would take care of me the entire weekend, making sure that I would have fun.
That year I was determined to have an awesome weekend, and so far it had been going as planned. Even though the weather was shitty and the security was even shittier, it didn’t matter to me, the music was all just so good. This was the first year a hip hop act would be introduced to Camp Bisco. Philadelphia’s own The Roots had started a trend that would continue for years to come. This was also the first year new drummer Allen Aucoin would be playing with the Biscuits. Right from note one, I felt differently about this band. As a drummer, I couldn’t believe how fast he was playing and how crisp his tone was. The band I had once hated was slowly becoming a favorite.
In 2007, the festival moved to its current “home,” Indian Lookout Country Club. Since I had been taken care of so well the year before, I had decided I would have to do the same and bring lots of fun for everyone. The festival was going great and I was so happy I could finally pay everyone back for such an incredible year before. Nothing could go wrong. And then it did… A tornado hit ground just miles away. I know what you’re thinking, because it was the same thing I was thinking. “A tornado in NY? That can’t be.” As Amon Tobin was raging what is now the Local/Silent Disco stage, the dust started blowing and the wind just got stronger and stronger. The rest of the night was mostly large groups of people holding down their easy-ups and sitting in their tents, to make sure nothing would blow away.
The next day we woke up to what looked like a war zone with tents and campground necessities everywhere, but at least the sun was shining. I spent the majority of that day enjoying the festival the same way most underage kids do — irresponsibly — which, for me, had fortunately led to a great day of dancing. I made sure to catch every set of music that day. By the end of the last Biscuits set, all the dancing that came with them had finally taken its toll. The walk through that field had never taken so long. Anyone who saw me walking back probably had a good laugh or two. I was not too worried, considering there was a naked dude getting chased by security 100 feet away from me. I finally made it back to my campsite to sit and watch The Join featuring Jamie Shields and Darren Shear of The New Deal, with Tommy Hamilton and Clay Parnell of Brothers Past. They played an incredible set of all improvised electronica that I can almost still hear in my head. After it was over, I went to sleep and the next morning made the journey back to normal life.
2008 would mark a different experience all together. This year would be more of a family vacation, as I traveled with my brother and cousin. Being that it was my 4th year, I had learned some things about surviving Camp Bisco. It was also the first year that they stuck with the same campgrounds. It had finally found a home. Instead of rainy weather and tornadoes, that summer we had been going through a heat wave, and it was a staggering 105 degrees. We made frequent trips to the car for what is now known as “AC Sessions” to try and stay cool. Every once in a while someone would tell us to turn off the car, the fumes are going to kill someone in the tents. We totally understood what they were saying but didn’t care. I felt the heat was going to kill me if we didn’t indulge in our car sessions. Of course that didn’t last too long. We had a nice little rain storm come through and cool things down a bit, but all that rain somehow just collected in the dance tent (which was at a different location than now). And so began the first ever “Swamp Bisco.” Mud was everywhere in the tent and there was nothing you could do to avoid it. You just had to live with it and try not to land face first in it.
I hope you’re still with me… 2009 would be the first major stepping stone in my career as a musician. Most people didn’t realize I was a drummer until I started working for YouTube sensation and DnB madman KJ Sawka. Sawka had taught me a lot about the music business, drumming, and things you can do to get your foot in the door. He was (and still is) my biggest mentor. KJ was playing a set right before BioDiesel feat. Johnny Rabb and Clay Parnell and then was going to join them on stage. I got a front row seat to watch two of the best drummers in the world, one of whom I was working for and was playing my drum kit with ZWANG written across the kick drum for everyone to see. The other, who is one of the fastest drummers in the world, is the reason I purchased the Roland SPD-S electronic drum pad and started playing live Drum and Bass. I was truly in heaven and it didn’t stop there. After Sawka had sat in with the Disco Biscuits on their last set of the festival, he had informed me of a little campground rager known as “The Rage Stage.” Some friends had set up a sound system in the RV section and were having BioDiesel and Orchard Lounge play ’til the sun came up. I was told that I could sit in with the guys for a little jam and got to play with Johnny Rabb, Allen Aucoin, Clay Parnell, and Ian McGuire, who would later become my bandmate. After the BioDiesel jam session, I stayed on my drum kit and got to play along with Ben Silver. Things would never be the same for me again.
By 2010 “The Rage Stage,” although not part of the festival lineup, was a fan favorite. At this point I had joined Philadelphia-based band Sonic Spank, featuring Ben Karp and Ian McGuire previously of The MJ Project. I had gotten a chance to play with McGuire the year before at the Rage Stage and was very excited to have a set of my own this time. I got to the festival early Thursday to catch the first set of Biscuits as well as other late night acts. Our set wasn’t starting until 3:30am but I got to the RV early to set up and relax. As I was hanging out in the RV, a loud knock on the door welcomed in Derek Vincent Smith AKA Pretty Lights. He asked, “Is this Sonic Spank?” I answered with, “I’m in Sonic Spank but my bandmates won’t be here for an hour or so.” He replied with, “Can you go on earlier? I heard you guys are the act to see and I brought 20 people with me.” I was shocked and so happy to hear that he was recommended to a set that wasn’t even a part of the actual festival. On top of that, one of the main influences for Sonic Spank playing electronic music was the sound Derek was creating. Once again, Camp Bisco would take things to a whole other level for me and become another stepping stone in my career.
2011 presented me with “The Dream.” I would finally be billed on the Camp Bisco artist roster. Sonic Spank would be one of the acts opening the festival, early Thursday afternoon. I had planned a special surprise sit-in from Darren Shearer of The New Deal. This would be the last time The New Deal would play a Camp Bisco before calling it quits. Knowing this, I thought it would be cool to have the drummer that started it all for me sit in at the festival that started it all for me. I normally don’t get nervous before I play but this time was a little different. Not only was I playing in front of a lot of musicians and crew members I respect, but, 20 minutes before our set, our keyboardist was nowhere to be found. I sat backstage smoking cigarette after cigarette and what do you know, Ian shows up with time to spare. As I took the stage, my nerves settled. I thought to myself, “You are home and with your family, there is nothing to be nervous about.” We crushed it and Darren’s sit-in was very well received. I could feel the excitement from the crowd and, most importantly, my friends were all there to tell me how proud they were of me. From that moment on, the place that I had called home for so many years now finally was home: a place where you can be yourself that you hold close to your heart.
At this point, the Disco Biscuits crew had become like family and in 2012 I worked for my dear friend and mentor, Allen Aucoin AKA Dr.Fameus, making sure that whatever I could do to make his weekend as easy as possible was taken care of. This would also be the start of what we now call TEAM FAMEUS. This consists of a much-needed crew of support and love, which includes but is not limited to Scott Shapiro (Manager/Uncle Shappy), Will McCosker (Tour Manager/Class Clown), Rich Hartranft (Front of House/Earl Enthusiast), Sandra Aucoin (Wife/Support System), Eduardo Pesante (DJ/Fruity Loops Master), Mike Desmond (Guitarist/Chillest Man Ever), me (Stage Manager/Enforcer) and of course Allen Aucoin (The Doctor/The Nice Guy/T1000). My job/day went something like this: Wake up on the RV with an egg sandwich in my face. Down a whole bunch of water, wash my face, and make my way over to the main stage to take whatever parts are needed off of Allen’s Disco Biscuit’s kit and pair it up with his backup drum kit. Then load everything up on a golf cart and take it over to the Dance Tent. Once I get to the backstage area at the tent, I then set up the drum kit and wait until I can take it on stage and put everything in place. While waiting I must gather water and towels for Allen and the musicians he will have sitting in with him, as well as help them with loading up their gear on stage. Working for Allen is such a great job to have. He barely needs any assistance while on stage and always helps. He doesn’t expect his crew to take care of everything for him. He always meets us halfway when needed. After the set, I will break down all of the gear and load it back up on the golf cart. Anything from the backup kit will go right back to its cases and anything from the main stage Biscuits kit will be put back in its place and ready for the Biscuits sets later in the day. The rest of the time, before and after, will be spent enjoying the company of my family and the musical talent of my friends.
I’m looking forward to just relaxing and catching some of the best EDM acts in the business this year. No work. All play. Make sure you purchase your tickets for this year’s Camp Bisco here. As always, I’m sure this year will be better than the last and you will not want to miss it. See everyone there and please, please, please remember: rage responsibly and take care of your neighbors.
Read an interview with Scotty about BangBang here.
Sensible Reason is looking for submissions to our Road to Camp Bisco (RtCB) series. Please submit posts to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on how to write your own and examples of last years posts check out this link!