It is no secret that Dirtybird Records, based in San Francisco, has risen to prominence in the US tech-house scene. The infectious allure of the quirky, bouncy, and downright grimey Dirtybird sound has enticed a loyal following of dedicated party people, spanning a diverse range of cultural and geographical origin.
In recent years, the label has been awarded the distinction of "Underground Label of the Year” multiple times at the Winter Music Conference in Miami. Comprised of a tightly knit, yet ever-expanding network of artists, Dirtybird has scaled their savory BBQ concept parties nationwide in an effort to supply the global demand for delicious beats, with the added enjoyment of delectable barbecue food, and a mellow atmosphere for those in search of a diverse festival experience. Drawing from the conceptual validity of the highly successful BBQ parties, Dirtybird has upped the ante considerably with the launch of the Campout festival series
The thematic elements of Dirtybird’s Campout stem from the vision of an adult summer camp experience where campers and camp counsellors comprised of the label’s artists and staff can get down and dirty to fat booty basslines, and revel in a curated array of team-based activities and competitions. One has the opportunity to enjoy all of the amenities of a traditional summer camp, while in the midst of an uber-inclusive community of music-loving savages who happen to party harder than an 8th-grade gym class with a substitute teacher on a Friday afternoon. As if that wasn't enough to justify the modest ticket price, it would be a mistake not to mention the quality of the lineup awaiting campers this year, as it was stacked to the gills with both local and international talent.
Soon after the third installment, of the west coast campout on Lake San Antonio, Dirtybird announced that its next venture would be on the opposite coast, providing a much needed early start to the festival season. The venue: Florida Forever, a 4600-acre nature preserve located in St. Cloud, an hour south of Orlando. The campsite featured a veritable cornucopia of flora and fauna including alligators, squirrels, and an as-yet unidentified species of small blackbird that would appear overhead en-masse when things were getting wavy at the Bass Lodge. With the stage set, the lineup was an ensemble of cornerstone Dirtybird artists such as Claude Vonstroke, The Martin Brothers, J Phlip, Shiba San, Walker & Royce, Will Clarke, Fisher, Justin Jay, Billy Kenny, Sage Armstrong, and Worthy. Rounding out the lineup were newcomers such as Dateless, Gawp, Sven Lochenhoer, and Lee K to name a few. From coast to coast, thousands of bass-deprived individuals crossed this week off their February calendar, in anticipation of the debauchery promised to all those willing to venture to the middle of a swamp in central Florida.
In addition, there were planned label ‘showcases' intended to feature the likes of Keinemusik, This Aint Bristol, Green Velvet's LaLa Land squad, Crew Love, and last but not least, the spicy Brazil Team - obrigado a todos. The proposed schedule read beautifully. Personally, I was looking forward to getting down with the late-night eclectic atmosphere provided by the Bass Lodge and renegade parties which would inevitably materialize at various locations across the main campgrounds. Featuring a nuanced infusion of percussive elements drawing from Jungle, Garage, House and Tech, the Dirtybird sound is an ever-evolving cache of ear-candy with boundless potential for growth.
From the very moment the gates swung open, a diverse array of Dirtybird campers descended upon a decked out campsite-compound about an hour south of Orlando built by The Do Lab. The two main stages are equipped with husky Void sound systems which packed a punch. So much so that their power would take over headlines for the noise complaints that ensued following the Seth Troxler welcome party on Thursday, when only the smaller stage of the two was in operation.
Awash in a spectral infusion of lights and lasers, beneath the effervescent glow of this year’s first supermoon, the voracious resonance of the birds, tweeters and subwoofers shook local residents from their beds as far as eight miles away. This apparently unforgivable barrage of womps was met with an outcry from the sleep-deprived local population, who managed to have the festival’s permit revoked for what would have been the first official day of music. While there was a momentary lapse of enthusiasm among the campers when confronted with this reality, there was little chance that any state or federal authority would be able to shut down the East Coast Dirtybird Campout without inciting a third world war.
The idea of a Vonstroke b2b Troxler pre-party scenario was such a monumental indiscretion on behalf of the organizers, that I was honestly not surprised when the following day was fraught with legal trouble. While my friends and I managed to retreat to our camp in the early hours of the first evening relatively unscathed, the local residents took great offense to the fact that the relative solitude of their rural Floridian residences had been compromised by the unrelenting sub-frequencies reverberating beyond the campsite’s perimeter. It quickly became apparent that feathers had been rustled.
The collateral damage was evidently so significant that in a moment of candid confidence, Justin Martin spoke in whispers about a cheese factory just down the road had exploded, and apparently, all that was left was “de brie”. (get it? de BRIE?)
Having distilled the various accounts of the egregious affront on the local population’s good night’s rest, the local authorities made the decision to pull the plug, and the festival was thrown into limbo. One revelation became ominously clear - at this point, only the likes of Pitbull or Marco Rubio would be able to get those crazy Void speakers kicking again. Wait… who?
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Friday morning. After waking up surrounded by the thick, palmy brush native to the central Florida landscape, I dust myself off and navigate my way back to the artist’s camp across the grounds, which had become eerily silent by 8am. The previous evening’s renegade afterparties (of which there were many) had left a residual energy that hung in the air until the early hours of the morning. These unsanctioned after-parties were distinguished by sound systems of modest amperage, some in courtyard-like enclosures of RV’s, another stage notably took the form of a bi-plane. The renegade stages created an atmosphere of anarchical freedom unlike any that I have previously encountered. It seems as if the West Coast campout rule indicating that “no amplified sound sources” would be allowed through the gates had been all but abandoned judging by the multitude of pulsating party locations scattered across the campgrounds.
After a Texas-sized disco nap, I managed to regroup with my predominantly Canadian party squad. We discussed the evening’s highlights over a frisbee sesh with Brazilian DJ Ciszak, who had the uncanny ability to read the frisbee’s flightpath better than I can read my own handwriting. Our unbridled anticipation for Canadian artist Sven Lochenhoer’s set, who is scheduled to perform at the Birdhouse at 2:45, is coming to a climax, yet something seemed amiss.
Fast forward a few hours, we’re backstage at the Bass Lodge, enveloped by a couchy oasis of relaxation. The vibe is complemented by the Florida sunshine and a cool breeze from the west. Thankfully, the cloudless skies had been a blessing to all but one of my Canadian comrades, who suffered the misfortune of developing a horrifyingly distinct tan line across his forehead as a result of having worn a bright yellow Gucci headband the previous day (epic).
But still, no music.
The Bass Lodge is entirely empty. At this point, most campers in the vicinity are socializing, smoking darts (Canadian slang for cigarettes), and enjoying libations to keep the party moving.
After a little Deep Eddy's vodka and a few shared smokes (while we still had em) we were informed by the festival’s staff that all music as scheduled was on hold indefinitely and that most of the artists scheduled to perform who had not yet arrived had been advised to cancel their travel plans. Rumors regarding the the source of the delay echoed through the campgrounds, with no clear indication of what was going on. Word circulated that the local authorities, having responded to numerous noise complaints from the area’s citizenry, may have pulled the plug on DBC East indefinitely. One can only imagine the emotional turmoil that confronted campers arriving on that fateful day.
My fellow campers and I proceeded in the only way we knew how. After regrouping at our campsite and updating our festival attire to better reflect our newly adopted renegade mentality, we followed our ears to the main campgrounds. Weaving left and right through a maze of tents and R.V.’s, we finally located a suitable venue for Gawp, Dateless, Omnom, Lucati, Steve Darko, and Sven Lochenhoer to take command of the surrounding airwaves with their own brand of retaliatory tuneage.
After a few hours of unsanctioned debauchery, a message of consolation and hope was conveyed to all those within earshot of our speakers by none other than Counsellor Claude himself. He advised us that the festival may, in fact, rise from the ashes the following day, so long as he was able to personally shut down every major speaker system within the campgrounds. The majority of the surrounding campers reluctantly pledged their allegiance to Claude’s cause, although I did overhear one frantic individual demanding that the tracklist for the Vonstroke / Troxler B2B set, which effectively shut down an entire music festival, be released in exchange for our compliance. Still waiting for that tracklist...
To make a long story short, the proper permits for Saturday and Sunday were safely obtained via the now infamous act of goodwill on behalf of Pitbull, his legal team and Marco Rubio. With the fate of the festival in their hands, this monumental achievement was only possible due to the quick thinking of festival staff members, one in particular who was presented with the highly coveted Camper of the Year award during the final hours of music on Sunday to acknowledge his contribution.
Following this episode, the weekend’s scheduled performances were shifted in accordance with the terms of the newly reinstated permit, with the first artists firing up the Voids at around 7 a.m on both Saturday and Sunday. The Dirtybird crew of artists took it all in stride. Determined to make up for lost time and restore order within our small community of tent-dwelling maniacs, Sven Lochenhoer and his fellow bassline ambassadors lit the pilot light on the main stage, with their signature brand of sweltering toe-tappers. It was at this moment that the party truly began. I must admit, it is at this point in my recount that the details get a little hazy. Fragmented memories of the purple strobe lights, smiling faces, and soul-penetrating subwoofers are melded in a unified stream of transcendental celebration. Having avoided the calamitous fate of the festival being permanently shut down, it was obvious that the birds would indeed be allowed to get dirty. And dirty we got.
After a few phenomenal days (and nights) of incredible music, the time finally came for us to dismantle our tents and say our goodbyes to our fellow campers. The memories of laughs, tunes, wandering, "borrowing" smokes, celebrating with new friends and old created a watercolor of experiences, which captured the love and defiance and positivity of the event. The experience of exiting the festival was bittersweet and slightly disorienting - it would be at least seven months before the next campout event on the West coast, and we had become accustomed to feeling the ground rumble under our feet. To try to draw a comparison between the other festivals I have experienced and this one would be an exercise in futility. While there are many large-scale electronic music events across our nation from which to choose, there truly is no comparison when it comes to the inexorably positive, goofy, and friendly atmosphere that I experienced at DBC East. With this season’s event coming to a close, the avian-house community’s insatiable appetite for bright lights and bouncy basslines will only be satiated by the seasonal western migration across the nation, to the next Dirtybird Campout.