Downtempo Dream Week & My Favorite Albums of 2019
Downtempo Dream Week, my self-proclaimed moniker for this week's lineup in the Bay Area featuring Little People, FKJ, Jon Hopkins, and Emancipator, has finally arrived. Since nearly all of the artists have released new material in some capacity this year, I figured I would take a moment to share with you my favorite albums and mixes so far this year (and a few from the later part of last year). I think I'm better at telling stories than describing music, so I'm going to share some memories that I have of seeing these artists live. Their sounds are impossible compare so there's no point in trying to qualitatively rank them, so instead I'll list them in order of their release dates.
The only artist I haven't seen is FKJ, so I'll start with him since I don't have a story to share yet. Cercle, a livestream platform that broadcasts DJs and live performances in carefully selected and unusual places, recently produced a livestream of FKJ playing on a small platform in the world's largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. I have no idea how they pulled this off, and I also have no idea what to expect from FKJ since his Spotify discography is rather small. He's playing a two-night run at The Warfield, and because of his small discography, I was unsure whether he's the kind of artist where it's essential to catch both nights, so I decided to go to the second show so that we could have the best of both worlds and catch Little People in Oakland.
Favorite tracks: Evasion, The Golden Mask, Spiral, Rain Dance
I find her music so empowering in general, and I admire her for maintaining what I feel is a unique sound and not acquiescing to the mainstream. Despite my longstanding admiration, I can only recall seeing her twice. I'll never forget her sunrise set to close out FARM Fest in 2015. I was laying in a hammock suspended in a dome, neither of which belonged to me. As the sun rose and glittered on the swamp, she closed her set with Bassnectar's remix of Nina Simone's New Dawn, New Day."
Farm Fest was the quintessential wook fest, and by that I mean that it was entirely funded by the ketamine kingpins of the East Coast, which means that it was extremely disorganized. There was no schedule the year that I went, but they still pulled it off, and there is something special about disorganized festivals free from corporate influence. Never forget the Space Jesus live band.
In my opinion, Clozee should be headlining festivals like Lightning in a Bottle, Envision, and Electric Forest--especially if they are going to have her on the lineup in consecutive years (which I have no problem with, I'm just saying put her where she belongs).
I feel so lucky to have witnessed Pretty Lights history when Michal Menert and Derek Vincent Smith reunited at the legendary Gorge Amphitheater to perform a tribute set to their first album together (while Menert was still part of the project), "Taking Up Your Precious Time," in celebration of its 10-year anniversary. My partner finally got "Wrong Platform," which he had been chasing for years. The two even performed songs from their pre-Pretty Lights project, Listen.
I saw Menert for the first time at Camp Bisco. I candy flipped for my first time for an epic lineup that included the Disco Biscuits > Bassnectar > Michal Menert > Disco Biscuits > Tipper. Menert was the perfect way to come down from that Nectar set, but afterwards, I forced my partner to walk back across the festival to return to the Biscuits because I could not stand how awful Jauz was, and I'm still pissed at Bisco for ruining the vibe between Menert and Tipper.
I remember being blown away by the Biscuits' cover of Muse's "Knights of Cydonia" on our way to finding a spot for Nectar. We ended up next to this nice couple who had never seen Nectar, but had seen the Biscuits 30+ times, which was perfect because it was my first time seeing the Biscuits, and I had seen Nectar a handful of times.
Favorite Tracks: Crossing the Threshold, The Ascent, Unseen, South Face, See You Again
I think this guy is arguably the most exciting producer within the underground bass music scene. There are a lot of sub-genres within this community, and while I can't articulate the difference between then, I can say that CharlesTheFirst's sound is my favorite among them. I saw him with some coworkers when my partner was out of town for the weekend. I asked a few coworkers if they wanted to go out because there was so much good music that weekend. My first choice was Bonobo, but I let them decide because I was more concerned about having someone to go with since I don't feel safe enough to go out by myself. Is that not the definition of male privilege?
They selected the Wormhole show that GJones was headlining, which I wasn't thrilled about, but wanted to give him a third chance. I'm telling you guys, I have tried so hard to like GJones, but his music is just not my style. I can appreciate it from a sound design perspective, but otherwise I can never find the narrative within it. CharlesTheFirst's set was the highlight of the evening, and I basically made my coworkers leave a few songs into GJones' set afterwards, and took one of them to my second choice (since Bonobo was sold out), which was a party at The Great Northern thrown by Do Not Sit on the Furniture, a burner club in Miami, which is pretty much the last club standing of the venues I've been to in Miami now that the Electric Pickle is closing. In classic San Francisco fashion, it was $40 at the door. The moral of the story is to never miss Bonobo.
Favorite Tracks: Cold Facts, Gasoline, Bug Love, MacGuffin, Aquamarine, Stranger Danger, Faceblind, Fortune Favors, Cloak & Dagger
Lotus might be my favorite livetronica band. I come away from their shows feeling the same way that I do from Bassnectar shows: no two shows are the same, and each time feels better than the last. At least that's the way I felt when I saw them three times in NYC over the course of a year and a half at Terminal 5, the Playstation Theater, and Port Chester's Capitol Theater. The Playstation show sticks out to me because I remember feeling like I really had friends. For some reason, my partner couldn't come to the show, so it meant a lot to me that my friends (many of which I made through him) insisted that I put in the effort and take the Metro North down to the city. It was nice to feel like my invitation wasn't contingent upon my partner's after spending years feeling like I was the second choice friend before I met this crew.
I also feel lucky to have seen what I feel like is a rarity as an encore twice, Umbilicial Moonrise: once at Catskill Chill, and once at the Capitol Theater the last time I saw Lotus (which might have been their debut at the venue?). Let me tell you something, bands pulled out all the stops at Catskill Chill. It was a festival that bands loved to be at, and many would stay throughout the whole weekend long after or before their scheduled performance because it was a festival that celebrated impromptu collaborations that led to legendary performances like Dopadosio (Dopapod + Papadosio) and Dopakuaz (Dopapod + Turkuaz) performing Studio 54.
To be honest, this festival exposed me to the Grateful Dead's music thanks to a Twiddle cover set. I was losing my mind a little bit on some strong acid and almost accidentally smoked opium thinking it was weed, but their cover of "Fire on the Mountain" brought me back to reality. This was also the first festival that exposed me to the idea of bringing children to festivals, and if I have children, I fully intend to take them to music festivals instead of Disney World.
This was also a festival that absolutely loved "Star Wars." When "Star Wars" hype was at its peak in 2015 in anticipation of "The Force Awakens," I heard at least five covers throughout the weekend, with one of my all-time favorites being Twiddle's.
I'm surprised that Lotus isn't hitting the festival circuit harder this summer given this album release.
Favorite Tracks: PDX, Skies Turn Blue, Embrace, Tonight, Lozenge Less, Slow Shimmer, Talk to Me
I have only seen him twice, but he is literally the definition of livetronica because you can see him using equipment to loop sounds among other things.
I hadn't seen him since Electric Forest several years prior where we reconnected with a guy that we only recognized from his hat and staff that rescued us from that same strong acid trip at Catskill Chill the summer prior. We were close to losing it during Yonder Mountain String Band's set, and a combination of their iconic Jolene cover and David masterfully twirling and balancing his black hat on his staff kept us grounded. At Electric Forest, he confirmed that he was indeed at Catskill Chill, and we continued to run into him at festivals for the rest of the summer.
Favorite Tracks: Loose, Noumenon, Flight of Flame
I was not emotionally prepared for my first and only time seeing Random Rab at Lightning in a Bottle last year. It was my birthday, and I took some acid a few hours before his sunset set to kick off what would become one of the most profound experiences of my life. It's nearly impossible to describe, but there was a moment during the set where I experienced divinity, God, or some kind of higher power. It was transcendent, peaceful, fleeting, and communicated through light. It was literally lightning in a bottle, and I could not stop smiling for weeks after.
To use some vocabulary that I learned from a MAPS workshop earlier in the weekend, Random Rab was the perfect set and Lightning in a Bottle was the perfect setting for this transcendent psychedelic experience. I finally let myself go and wept for the majority of the set, and I think the unreleased "Flight of Flame," my favorite off the new album, was the catalyst for this experience. I only felt comfortable letting go like this because of what I had learned at that workshop.
After the set, my friend gave me a long hug and wished me a Happy Birthday as I continued weeping. A woman behind us was so moved by our display of affection that she couldn't help but express it, so we hugged her too. There has to be a level of mutual respect and understanding among the audience for this to happen. I truly feel like this set unlocked something within me, and ever since, I have been having profound and cathartic healing experiences when taking acid at music events.
Favorite Tracks: All of them
Cheeba Gold instantly gives you that Emancipator feeling. He is another artist I admire for maintaining his signature sound despite his increasing success. It honestly blows my mind that he's not as popular as Odesza. In fact, I remember seeing Odesza open for Emancipator not too long ago. Not that I'm complaining.
He's clearly popular within the festival scene, either headlining the smaller ones (Lucidity, Serenity, Sonic Bloom this year alone) or securing major time slots at the bigger ones and drawing the crowd that he deserves. Believe it or not, his LIB set might have been more impactful for me than Random Rab's, and I wrote it here. I'm arguably the most excited to see Emancipator this week because I haven't seen him since this experience at Lightning in a Bottle.
While I'm still patiently waiting for Pretty Lights' promise of "soon," there is plenty of good music to keep me occupied.