Freestyle Sessions: You Have the Power
There are some unwritten rules of the Bassnectar experience. One of the most important is to go in with no expectations. Even Lorin Ashton himself (the man behind the Bassnectar project) regularly emphasizes this. I didn't go into his Freestyle Sessions event in June with expectations, but I definitely had some casual song predictions.
Bassnectar didn't play a single one of my song predictions, and I couldn't have been happier. In fact, I didn't recognize the vast majority of the tracks that he played throughout the weekend, and I think I tend to prefer Bassnectar sets that are like this. I did get a handful of personal gems, though. I never thought I would hear Bassnectar play "Underground Communication" during a set. I figured that I had gotten into the scene too late, and should consider myself lucky for occasionally hearing some tracks from the eponymous album during his pre-set music. I also finally heard "Bass Down Low" after five modest years of actively following Bassnectar. Despite it not being a Bassnectar song, I still associate it with him because it's one of the first tracks that exposed me to his music, so it has a very special place in my heart.
Since I live on the West Coast, I figured I could only afford to attend one of Bassnectar's four seasonal curated events. I've been to one of his warehouse-style raves, I have been to a couple of Bass Centers, but I hadn't yet seen him "label" the style of his sets. While I appreciate the amorphous nature of his sets, I love when DJs/producers like Tipper label their sets as "tip hop," uptempo, or downtempo, etc. The first night was "freestyle," the second night was my highly anticipated "dreamtempo," and the third night was "wildstyle." I love Bassnectar's downtempo tracks and albums, so I knew I wanted to take advantage of rare dreamtempo set.
Freestyle Sessions was also my first three-night Bassnectar run, which inspired me to attend the first night sober. I hadn't been sober at a Bassnectar show in nearly three-and-a-half years, the last one being night one of Basslights in 2014. I am so happy that I did this. It was a nice reminder that music is indeed the drug, which is arguably one of Bassnectar's main messages these days given the tendency of his following to regularly overdo it with the party favors.
I was pleasantly surprised with the crowd at this event. I haven't felt good vibes from a Bassnectar crowd since Lightning in a Bottle last year. I think the crowd is less aggressive (in terms of both drug use and space) the further West you go. I literally cannot fathom seeing Bassnectar at an East Coast festival again like Camp Bisco after the absolutely pleasant experience I had seeing him at Lightning in a Bottle. The pre-set vibes were amazing. My crew and I were in a cuddle puddle (yes, we were lying down before a Bassnectar festival set), and the pre-set music was on point. He was playing tracks from Mesmerizing the Ultra and his Dreamtempo mix.
Speaking of pre-set music, I have never seen anything like the pre-set music he was playing at Freestyle Sessions. He played these ethereal euphoric beats that made me feel like I was ascending to heaven or beyond. The bass was tangible. It was almost like a sound bath. I always wonder whether Bassnectar is mixing this live, if he pre-records it, or if it's someone else entirely. It often seems like you can feel him coming. Obviously I tend to be peaking during his pre-set music, but thinking about this always trips me out that much more.
Nothing has ever fucked me up as much as what he did after his dreamtempo set the second night. After the set "ended," the house lights turned on, and he started slowly teasing sounds and noises. At one point my crew and I were convinced he was going to play another track. It was incredible to look around and feel the crowd's energy. I later posted on reddit out of sheer desperation, and u/thereisdwarf kindly pointed out that Bassnectar was playing the opening track from a movie I've never heard of called "Baraka." It was honestly one of the trippiest moments I have ever been a part of.
As always, there were moments outside of the music that positively impacted my experience. I think my favorite might have been getting spotted by fellow Pretty Lights heads as we exited the venue after a wild night two. My crew and I were all casually wearing Pretty Lights gear. A guy in the stands called out to us, lifted his shirt to reveal a Pretty Lights tattoo, and whispered "one time:" a reference only true heads would know. We all started cheering.
I think my "thing" at shows is finding and holding onto those glowing tye-dye balloons, or at least my friends insist it's my thing. This goes back to Camp Bisco in 2015. At the end of the night, I would always wander back to our campsite (in RV camping, THANK GOD) clutching one of those balloons. And my friends were confounded by how I managed to get one every night. The funny thing is that a friend from a different group would give me one everyday. Ever since then, a balloon almost always manages to find its way to me during Bassnectar and Pretty Lights sets. I find it really sweet that my friends associate me with these balloons. They'll even send me pictures of them holding these balloons at events that I'm unable to attend. A friend managed to get one for me within seconds of the show starting on the first night, so I knew it was going to be a good weekend.
There was one moment during Bassnectar's dreamtempo set where he played one of his newer Naux Faux (his downtempo side project) tracks with these lyrics that repeated "East to West" over and over again. I remember that a few members of our group registered this message at the same time, and a few people came over to dance with me and my partner. Even though this group has East Coast roots, some of us have moved away over the last few years (my partner and I moved to San Francisco a year ago). But the best thing about the Bassnectar experience is that these events give us a reason to see each other a few times a year, despite the distance.
I was also happy to experience The Haven for the first time. I know Bassnectar has had this at his events for a while, but it usually isn't a priority for me for whatever reason. I think it helped that my crew and I decided to get to the venue early each day to secure floor wristbands. The Haven is an interactive and collaborative chill zone for when fans need to escape the chaos. I think you can really feel Lorin's intentions and the kind of environment he seeks to foster. There are wind pouches to relax on, collaborative art, and a gift altar. You can also register to vote, get face glitter, and get a massage or free (!) reiki.
At first I just surveyed The Haven. I was unsure of where to begin and needlessly nervous to interact. It wasn't long before I came back for a free five-minute reiki session from this wonderful amBASSador from Madison, WI (I think her name was Rachel).
To clarify, amBASSadors are fans who volunteer to assist with the event in various capacities. I don't know how the Bassnectar community officially defines them, but I always see them handing out water during the show. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of their efforts are usually focused on assisting fans who need urgent medical attention (at least at East Coast shows). That wasn't the case at this show.
I have to say that I have never been more impressed with the amBASSadors than I was at this event. I don't think I ever went more than ten minutes without someone offering me and my crew water during the set. I was even given cold grapes at one point. I imagine this venue was more conducive for their mobility than the Bassnectar events at massive convention centers.
Believe it or not, I haven't even gotten to my favorite moment of the weekend yet. Surprisingly, it wasn't when I finally heard one of the songs that I had been chasing, which is what I would have expected. It was when he played a song I've heard live a few times, "FSOSF," which is one of my favorite Bassnectar tracks. It has a message that I think has helped me be a better friend these last few years: "The best way to be happy is to make the other person happy."
The song resonated with me differently this time because of Bassnectar's special edit. There's a vocal in the song that says, "you have the power... to change things." This time, the message was simply "you have the power" repeated several times. And it was so FUCKING empowering--especially after all of the personal progress I've made this year.
As I mentioned in my last post about Lightning in a Bottle, this last year has been particularly empowering for me. I resolved my chronic pelvic pain by acknowledging and working through repressed sexual trauma for the first time. It wasn't a completely solo effort. I had some tools at my disposal: acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and a profound psychedelic experience. But even my incredibly generous acupuncturist insisted during our final session that I had healed myself.
I didn't always feel this way. I lived with my chronic pain, unsure of its source, for years. I trivialized my experience because it didn't fit my regrettably asinine definition of rape. I internalized the trauma, and it manifested in the form of borderline alcoholism and chronic pelvic pain. I spoke about it for the first time while I was on acid. After that profound experience, I started speaking about it more regularly, and accepted it as something that is part of me but does not define me. Bassnectar's message during FSOSF corroborated the notion that I do indeed have the power to change things. I changed the nature of my pain, and therefore my quality of life, by making the decision to finally confront my problematic past.
I live for moments like this during Bassnectar's sets. I might not get to see him perform as often as I would like, but when I do, it's always an opportunity to check in with myself and my friends, and acknowledge the progress we've made in various capacities since the last Bassnectar set. I like to think of the Bassnectar experience as chaotic catharsis. Merriam Webster defines catharsis as "a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension." Every time I see Bassnectar, I feel like I am releasing all of the bull shit that I experienced since the last time I saw him. It's why I try to see him at least twice a year. But I also feel like I return with a clean slate and an inspiration to improve myself and my situation.
I'm not sure if it was because of the music, my friends, or maybe both, but my cheeks were sore after the weekend. And this isn't the first time this has happened after a Bassnectar event.