The Best of CRSSD Fest 2016
When FNGRS CRSSD and Goldenvoice partnered for the first CRSSD installation last March, their aim was to create an iconoclastic electronic music festival. Intending to become the quintessential “anti-EDM” event, CRSSD has quickly ascended to a state of great repute by breaking the standard dance event mold through two unique means: its biannual scheduling, and more importantly, its fundamental decision to feature respected “underground” talents over commodified hit-makers.
Following two critically successful executions of this stratagem in 2015, CRSSD has retained its modus operandi of rostering acts with musical ingenuity over trite popularity for its tertiary edition. However, more so than any preceding year, the festival seems to be heading toward a techno-exclusive direction, á la Detroit’s Movement Festival. While Ocean View (the event’s main stage) hosted a variety of calmative live acts like Odesza, Chet Faker, and Tycho, it also played host to the likes of Gesaffelstein and REZZ — techno talents who have hitherto not been equitably positioned at any of CRSSD’s more mainstream-inclined counterparts.
FNGRS CRSSD further evinced their motive to focus their philosophy toward achieving techno purism rather than ticket sales by booking major acts like Eric Prydz and Oliver Heldens under their warehouse-welcomed alter egos, Cirez D and HI-LO. Throughout the secondary stages, City Steps and The Palms, techno heavyweights like Loco Dice, Jamie Jones, Maceo Plex, and Tiga received two-hour headlining and penultimate slots, with support from a staggering array of underground bellwethers. It is difficult to pick diamonds from the rough when the rough themselves are diamonds, but amidst the stellar selection hosted by CRSSD, we have elected to highlight some of the acts and organizational facets of the festival which shone most brightly.
Gesaffelstein resurrects the spirit of Aleph
Gesaffelstein fans were all but inconsolable when the artist announced in 2015 that Coachella would be his “last live set,” meaning that he would be retiring his Aleph show, wherein he crafted a musical experience based upon an arrangement of exclusively original music melded in perfect synchronicity with his simplistically complex lighting design. Following his discontinuation of Aleph, Gesaffelstein’s live endeavors have consisted of a series of aggressive DJ sets, wherein he has returned to his pre-Aleph roots. Though Mike Lévy’s skill to invoke terror and primal energy from behind the decks is perhaps unparalleled, his role as a DJ has, hitherto, not come close to matching the magnitude of his live set.
CRSSD may mark a new era in the story of the iconic artist. Filling Saturday’s penultimate slot at the Ocean View stage allowed American audiences a new opportunity – to witness what Gesaffelstein is capable of achieving in a mainstage performance.
As Gesaffelstein claimed his captaincy of the main stage, the night’s first rain begun to fall, offering prescience to how significantly his performance was going to alter the tone of the day. Channeling the macabre spirit of his heralded Aleph performance, Gesaffelstein resurrected the stark white lights that characterized his live show as the visual component to his harrowing set list.
After providing Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathrustra” (the iconic musical theme for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) as his overture, Monsieur Lévy deftly traversed through his back-catalogue and a litany of caustic, industrial techno, rapid-fire percussion, and deeply cerebral acid house. Amidst this musical progression, Gesaffelstein’s accompanying lights assumed a sort of sentience. As raindrops struck the extended white beams, their collisions mimicked the effect of holographic static – as if the inclimate weather was itself a part of Lévy’s Gesamtkunstwerk. Though the speakers of the Ocean View stage were not quite equipped to handle the onerous bass of Gesaffelstein’s performance, those who braved their way to the front of the crowd were blessed by an experience unlike that provided by any other DJ.
Jon Hopkins invades our cerebral cortexes
Jon Hopkins’ musical vision is inconceivable, incomparable, inimitable, and sits on the cusp of being simply indescribable. As the final ruddy rays of the fading sun subtly retreated behind the clouds, Hopkins stepped onstage to bid farewell to the day and welcome the impending nightfall with an awe-inspiring rendition of his “remix” of Disclosure’s “Magnets.” Following his most accessible piece, no one in the audience could imagine what was about to transpire. Wide-eyed philistines and nonchalant techno veterans alike are likely still unsure of what they witnessed during Jon Hopkins’ mystifying set. Certainly, the entire audience was stupefied by the somber producer’s ability to purvey such a diverse and innovative experience over the course of merely an hour.
At times, Jon Hopkins achieves ethereally melodic mystique, while other times he submerges into the darkest depths of atonal techno, creating a chaotic convolution of sounds that characterizes him as a modern iteration of a psychotic John Cage. As starkly diametric as his soundscapes may seem, he often melds his convoluted creations into a combination that is simultaneously mellifluous and maddening. Stylistically and aesthetically aberrant from his peers, Hopkins proffers a pleasantly discordant array of sounds previously unsounded. Hopkins’ live score is comprised of inherently disconnected compositions that seem to pay no regard to established tempos and song structures. However, his performance is more mature, cohesive, and fluid than those of practically anyone else in the industry. Considering Jon Hopkins’ visual components were limited to minimal lighting and recurrent shrouds of fog, he implicitly declares that his utterly unique conceptualization of music should be the sole focal point of his onstage opus. In short, Jon Hopkins is ludicrously legendary.
Prydz shows off his subversive side as Cirez D
Before delving into specific details of Eric Prydz’s exceptional Cirez D set, compliments are due unto FNGRS CRSSD and the rest of the event organizers for booking Cirez D in a headlining set. As Prydz is currently involved with his momentous EPIC 4.0 tour, the temptation to add “Eric Prydz In Concert” to their bill most have been unprecedentedly tantalizing. However, in form with CRSSD’s booking philosophy, the dark techno essence of Prydz’s Cirez D identity ultimately fit the festival’s mold more appropriately.
Where Eric Prydz’s EPIC 4.0 performance permeates celestial music across one of the most complex and pioneering visual setups of the modern era, his set as Cirez D centers around the most energetic variety of techno and minimal tech house, complemented by the homogeneously simplistic lighting design that pervaded the City Steps stage throughout the weekend. In his anagrammed pseudonym, Eric Prydz shuns euphoria to favor creepily mechanical but ultimately buoyant assembly line beats, enervating only to dive into temporary musical nadirs from which he can once again ascend to culminate in a zenith of electrifying energy. Though Prydz’s Cirez D brand is diametric to his primary characterization, a noticeable commonality lies in his deftly executed and wildly manifested aural undulations.
Skream is ubiquitous
Oliver Jones is arguably considered to be the most important progenitor of dubstep. Howveer, as dubstep began to gain mass appeal in 2009 and onward, Skream retreated from the spotlight. A musical chameleon, Skream has morphed as wildly in his production as his former genre, but in a significantly divergent direction. Recently, Jones has returned to notoriety with an extensive barrage of releases, stemming from his new, techno-driven direction. Perennially unique, Skream’s new music ranges from dark, to sultry, to melodic, to arcane, but is always founded in an overpowering, driving bass rhythm. With the frequency of his new releases, Oliver Jones is just shy of ubiquitous.
At CRSSD, Skream channeled his key traits of ubiquity and adaptability to an astounding degree. Acting as the festival’s resident Steph Curry, Jones was truly CRSSD’s VIP. In the lineup’s first iteration, Skream was the only artist to be booked as a solo act for both days, but he refused to rest after fulfilling this obligation. When travel delays prevented Loco Dice from arriving for the beginning of his two-hour set Sunday evening, Skream shouldered his burden by proffering a magnanimous set to not interrupt attendees’ revelry until Loco Dice’s eventual arrival. Later in the night, Jones assumed control of the decks once again, as a guest at Jamie Jones’ official after party at Bang Bang.
Skream’s mixing altruism aside, his musical selection during his assigned sets aptly reflected his chameleonic nature. Given the nature of Skream’s recent releases, concertgoers expected a dark, melancholy selection of deep techno cuts. While he did indeed progress to such lugubrious aggression over the course of his performance, Jones surprised fans by leaning toward a vibrant tracklist and energetic stage presence, almost more akin to that of Diplo than his own. In his choice of music and selfless action, Skream’s at CRSSD festival controverts – or at least temporarily transforms – the British dubstep legend’s aloof persona.
Photo by Skyler Greene
Maceo Plex far transcends his substitute duties
CRSSD ticketholders were deeply saddened when Tale Of US had to cancel their Sunday headlining set at City Steps due to Matteo Milleri’s ongoing health issues. However, while fans’ sympathy remains strong for Matteo, their sadness for the duo’s significant absence was largely alleviated after CRSSD managed to swiftly fill their slot with perhaps the most qualified applicant: Maceo Plex.
Photo by Skyler Greene
Barcelona-based techno visionary Eric Estornel was evidently quite at home closing out the City Steps stage for the weekend, reprising his acclaimed performance in the same setting at March 2015’s inaugural CRSSD. The festival veteran spun a tale with his music compelling enough to rival Tale Of Us themselves. Just as Carmine and Matteo are by no means replaceable, Maceo Plex is by no means a mere substitute. Throughout his grandiose, two-hour performance, the DJ wove ambient aural spheres and imposed surreptitiously formidable reverberations, punctuated with elephantine synth shrieks, all ubiquitously flecked with melodically percussive arpeggios. Most importantly, Estornel never skipped a beat for the duration of his lengthy set – an unsurprising development, given his proclivity for exhaustively lengthy filibuster performances. Perhaps as mesmerizing as his musical odyssey was Maceo Plex’s animated stage persona. Constantly swaying with enraptured vigor, the producer seemed to be as spellbound with his performance as the crowd itself. Though Tale Of Us were sorely missed at this installment of CRSSD, Maceo Plex transcended the role of a stand-in to assume that of a star player.
Gorgon City Electrify the main stage with live instrumentation
After a collaborative DJ set with Kidnap Kid at The Palms, Gorgon City’s core members Matt and Kye hustled over to Ocean View to join their band – including vocalist Lulu James – for a stunning live performance. Throughout the show, the group traversed an enrapturing soundscape of deep house, tech house, soul, funk, jazz and a number of variations in between, all heightened noticeably by the irreplaceable backbone of live drumming. As Gorgon City’s musical current progressed, it was backed by an illuminating visual production, bolstered by hyperactive spotlights and germane iconography, including Greco-Roman statues and architecture, and of course, the continually occurring presence of Medusa.
Green Velvet joins Claude Von Stroke for a ‘surprise’ set as Get Real
Green Velvet joined Skream and Gorgon City’s elite society of acts with multiple festival appearances when, midway through Claude VonStroke’s closing set at The Palms stage, he joined the Dirtybird don for a buoyantly bizarre B2B. While Green Velvet’s matriculation into Claude’s set was unannounced, his presence elsewhere on the lineup suggested that fans of the jaunty techno super-duo Get Real would likely be treated to such a convergence. Against the rainforest-themed backdrop of The Palms Stage, Get Real drew upon the darkness and daftness that are critical to the musical philosophy of both acts, creating an impishly intentional incongruity that was delightful to witness.
Damian Lazarus and Loco Dice excavate the Underground
Housing the most industrial acts of the CRSSD roster, the City Steps stage became the de facto warehouse of San Diego’s waterfront park. Though they faced stiff competition, techno legends Damian Lazarus and Loco Dice managed to rationalize the discrepancy between their mechanical stylistic signatures and the venue’s breezy, balmy essence. In broad daylight, Damian Lazarus purveyed his dark, metallic music from atop City Steps’ woody aesthetic. By lightly raising the tempo of his standard performance without compromising its fundamental traits, Damian reconciled the oppositional relationship between his music and his setting with effective aplomb.
Conversely, Loco Dice invited his audience into the nighttime on the second day by remaining steadfast to his roots. Though travel delays incurred a late start to his performance, once Loco Dice recused Skream of his stand-in duties, he transported the crowd deeply into his underground vision for the full duration of his set. Once darkness fell, Loco Dice bolstered grittily pained noises with a perennially pounding percussion to create an experience of harrowing danceability, which neither faded nor faltered as long as he stood behind the decks. Where Damian Lazarus brought the warehouse to the water, Loco Dice brought the beach to the basement.
It may be tempting to view CRSSD’s supposed mission statement of being “anti-EDM”as fundamentally negative, or to dismiss it as pretentious. However, to spend a weekend experiencing its end result is to realize that the festival’s stance isn’t rooted in hatred or pompousness. Rather, their mission is to change the axis around which electronic music event production revolves. Without favoring big ticket names over thematically appropriate, but lesser-known talents, CRSSD managed to sell out with demand to spare. By booking artists based on the quality of their work instead of the revenue potential of their brand, the festival was able to achieve a number of feats not realized by “mainstream” festivals.
Ultimately, CRSSD afforded underground savants the opportunity to showcase their fullest potential in main stage sets and fostered a community environment, wherein like-minded talents were willing and able to join in or fill in for their compositional compatriots when appropriate or necessary. As FNGRS CRSSD continue to develop their model over the coming years, it will be interesting to see if larger festivals follow suit.