AMF’s FriendShip sails sophomore waters with poise [Review]
In an event age when festivals are folding faster than laundry, between liability, vacuous digital promises, and under-execution, a four-day festival cruise should be a downright ludicrous feat for a newborn event brand. Right? But Gary Richards—known musically as Destructo—has had lofty goals from the get-go. One doesn’t seam together the most in-demand destinations for dance music (HARD Summer, Holy Ship!, even what’s now known as Electric Daisy Carnival) with nothing at stake. When he left his hallowed holdings at HARD, he clearly had no intention of setting up camp on a neatly curated bed of parking lot stages and sipping mai tais from a box suite.
FriendShip implores an intimacy lost on festivals stifled by circuitous divisions of backstage hierarchy, artist-attendee estrangement, and an altogether fragmented nature of the experience. Where else can you bump into your favorite DJ at 3am at the 24-hour dining hall or while skating at the festival’s makeshift disco on ice? Setting sail out of Port Miami, FriendShip organizers had starry eyes for their sophomore effort.
FriendShip’s playfulness and untethered spirit offer a sense of awe that’s typically lost on more seasoned, even jaded festival frequenters. Its all-for-one ethos is realized in its one-of-a-kind Dial A Dj feature, wherein attendees are selected to receive a DJ, some turntables, and the madness that comes with them—setting up shop in the attendee’s hotel room for a semi-private set.
What’s more is the curation rectified the proverbial schedule conflict conundrum. With a wealth of double, triple, even quadruple bookings, a festival goer could do as much perusing and getting lost aboard the boat as they pleased, and still see their favorite artist later on. Missed GRiZ take the stage with Destructo out on the main deck? No problem. The strategic attendee may have found him spinning alongside Golf Clap and Masteria the night before in a hotel suite. Missed TroyBoi’s worldly twerkability from the first night? No worries. A long walk off a short pier would land you on his beachfront display on the secluded, Royal Caribbean-owned island of CocoCay Wednesday afternoon. From all-encompassing dance floor ensembles on behalf of Boys Noize to whiplash-inducing early morning drum ’n’ bass from Mija, all were accounted for at least twice over the course of the week.
While certainly a spectacle, it wasn’t solely the Navigator of the Seas providing the unique affordances FriendShip had to offer from January 6-10. AMF may be still be in infant stages, but the brand learned to run before it ever needed room to crawl. Under Richards’ leadership, ostensible catastrophe, like torrential winds rendering outdoor stages untenable, only gave way to droves of haphazard (but not half-assed) renegades sets in hotel rooms, casinos, and any and all elevated surfaces. While the second of the two scheduled CocoCay stops also flopped to tenacious winds—which made the pier impassable—DIY fun and moment’s notice DJ sets frenzied and filled its place.
In line with Richards’ perennial pedagogy of “keeping things fresh” in a persistently monotonous sea of DJs, FriendShip’s artist agenda also emphasized, well, actual friendship.
“I always bring people who want to be on the ship and who would vibe the best with each other,” Richards tells Dancing Astronaut. “Artists who are actual friends with each other and have each other’s backs. The spirit of this event is to get immersed in it. If it’s just another gig and another check then FriendShip may not be for you.”
These aren’t just well-chosen words for the former HARD/Holy Ship! captain. One of dark dancefloors’ most promising young guns, Detroit’s 27-year-old Stephen Bakarich, otherwise known as Masteria, took it upon himself to fashion a FriendShip-themed track, as if only to say, “Happy Ship” to his audience. Hear track below:
“Before this festival, I heard a lot about ‘Ship Fam’ and how cool these events are. And I never really understood it,” says Masteria. “But today I was listening to him talk about why he chooses the artists he chooses for this: people who want to hang out and bring a family vibe, not who’s hot or trending right now.”
Wax Motif, just one resounding notch in the Night Bass-friendly belt of four-on-the-floor ne’er-do-wells aboard FriendShip, echoed this sentiment.
“[Gary is] really encouraging of DJs to hop on each other’s sets to make a unique experience,” Wax tells Dancing Astronaut. “I got to play on the island this year and had Solardo, Latmun and Noizu jump on B2B with me, which would probably never happen at any other festival.”
Aside from an ineffable sense of simply being “in it together,” attendees had no issue leaning into whatever curatorial quirk the festival threw their way, be it outlandish theme nights or 4am face painting. It seemed an impossible task to dodge the openhanded and omnipresent swag festival-goers brought along for their fellow shipmates: stickers, bracelets, light-up rings, paper airplanes.
With the spirit of FriendShip in mind, the experience can be rounded out with the event’s sovereign sermon set, compliments of Destructo himself, with a little help from his friends (Danny Daze, Jimmy Vallance of Bob Moses, and some sunrise-sanctioned sax from GRiZ). By the incipient stroke of 7 am, all hands seemed to remain on deck to pick up a piece of what their fearless leader was laying down. Weary smiles and a prophetic sunrise painted a sublime foreground as Destructo imparted the newfound energy he’d been storing. Stream the fervid four hours below.
Featured Photo: Oh Dag Yo/ Jason Fenmore