CRSSD: A Canadian’s House Music Paradise
Review | CRRSD Festival | Waterfront Park, San Diego | March 14 & 15 2015
PICTURE THIS: You wake up, it’s Monday morning and you are dreading the beginning of what you know will be a jam-packed workweek. Groggy-eyed, you slip your fingers through the cold blinds, wishing that the looming grey-scale, Westcoast December-skies, will have been swapped out with sun, and a warm ocean breeze. Unfortunately that is not the case, so back to your everyday morning routine. You open up Facebook Messenger and the first thing you see is a little bubble floating around the screen; looks like another group chat; lets be honest … no one enjoys a group chat. You open up the message and the title reads CRSSD FESTIVAL – SAN DIEGO. Intrigued, I called my Editor and requested to be sent to this brand new festival in sunny SD. Here is the story of my experience at the first ever CRSSD Fest.
When asking people what brought them to CRSSD, and what their expectations were, most answers we very similar. “CRSSD will be the like a mini, super intimate Coachella-esque vibe. I am really stoked for an older crowd and a smaller venue of only 15,000.” Almost every single festivalgoer that we interviewed shared this similar response; that they were looking for a super chill, tropical vibe. Several artists enthralled in the music scene (some even performing at the festival), could not stop raving about the festivals co-production, and how could you not rave about it?
The venue choice is by far the most unspoiled, organic festival settings I have ever laid eyes on; a picturesque landscape of clear blue skies, pirate ships and sailboats lined up along the newly developed waterfront. Fresh green grass and twinkling water fountains, intermingled with towering palm trees and buildings like the County Administration Center, and AMTRAK Station, instantly setting the tone for a chill downtown vibe mixed with a bohemian California style.
Legendary production company, Goldenvoice (notorious for Coachella, Stagecoach, FYF, and Firefly), teamed with the local San Diego promoters and party planners, Fingers CRSSD to bring us CRSSD Festival in all it’s glory. Festival organizers, and stage hosts like KCRW‘s Jason Bentley, all came together to create a festival removed from the “rave like, drug influenced culture,” with the genuine intention to hone in on what truly matters; the music. We bumped into the oh so handsome Kill-Frenzy and asked him why he was stoked to play for CRSSD; “It really reminds me of Europe. A clean open space, people are older and the line-up isn’t filled with a bunch of douchebags, the atmosphere is super chill and laid back.”
Almost everything about this festival had forward thinking written all over it. The lineup to get through security was literally flawless, it took no longer than 5 minutes for 8 of us to have our bags checked, and our wrists stamped. When you first walk through the gates of the festival there was a massive beautiful banner with the CRSSD letters set on an orange and blue backdrop, the festival colors of choice.
As groups of sun-kissed people came filing into the festival grounds, it was clear that the message of discouraged ‘rave attire’ had been well received among the masses. Fuzzy leg warmers, and plastic candy raver bracelets were overruled by people dressed in an almost progressive festival look; black on black, ranging from mesh bodysuits, baggy t’s and rolled up trousers, pantsuits, topped off with your classic high tops. The black on black was balanced out throughout the festival grounds with beachy-bohemian babes rocking leather necklaces with crystals hanging down to their navels. Denim short-shorts, colourful crop tops, brimmed hats and sandals were also a common theme.
Overall, CRSSD’s attempt to eliminate the rave-culture atmosphere and attire made for a new found appreciation for the unique approach to simple, progressive and posh like styles. Who needs nipple pasties and a thong? Am I right?
Anyway, enough about fashion…let’s explore the grounds.
The first stage you see when you enter the festival was The Palms, and to be honest the name literally fits the stage itself. The entire structure was covered in leaves; if you could describe The Palms in one word, it would be tropical! As I walked around, I was starting to think that the tropical house master, Thomas Jack himself, played a large part in the main feel of the festival. Everyone was wearing Hawaiian shirts and beach shorts. The 80’s throwback Miami-style theme was everywhere, and I’m pretty sure I even saw a few pineapples in people’s hands on the dance floor. To the left side of the stage, there was a single beautiful palm tree towering over the dance floor. To me, it was a visual reminder of where I was- on vacation in the blistering sun of SoCal. On either side of the crowded dance floor there were two identical large cubic domes that provided shade for festivalgoers, and as I spent some time under them I appreciated their presence.
Hanging from the ceiling of each structure were rows of orange and blue umbrellas, lined and strung from a blend of what looked like fish netting and large palm leaves woven through the netting. Aside from the live stage, I had a feeling throughout the festival that The Palms was place to be. I won’t go into details quite yet, but the talent definitely fit the mood. We already mentioned Thomas Jack, the king of tropical house at the moment, then there were names like Aeroplane, Viceroy, Bixel Boys, Treasure Fingers, SNBRN, and Wax Motif; these are the ‘party time’ dudes. Of course, the stage also had some amazing house talent such as house honchos Jamie Jones & Seth Troxler, who ended up playing a tag team set on Sunday night for a few hours. Overall, I felt that if you were at The Palms you were having a good time. I mean that goes without saying for all the stages, but at The Palms the vibe really took you over.
Welcome to The City Steps. In one word: House. This is where all the house heads meet. Whether it be the award-winning tech house sounds of Maceo Plex, or the all-around NYC underground party styles of the legendary, you-wish-he-was-your-dad James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, from the technical wizardry of the brilliant duo Simian Mobile Disco, to the refreshingly new disco dwelling sounds of Amtrac, to BBC’s iconic house and radio frontman Pete Tong; The City Steps had it all. The beautiful backdrop of this genre-pushing stage is the Civic Greens, a multi-use landscape and platform for everyday park use, and to the immediate right of that, the historic landmark San Diego County Administration Building. The backdrop really added that downtown feel to the festival, and the county steps provided a space for festival goers to sit and relax in the shade of the front awning. I’m a dedicated lover of house music and throughout the weekend I’d find myself tuning into whatever house music was in earshot.
I remember that at one point, my ears perked up and I realized “Oh shit! Tensnake is on at The City Steps!” If you know house music, you know Tensnake. His track “Coma Cat”, with that disco soul feel, found itself on fifteen compilations in 2010. Another performer, Amtrac played one of the best sets that I was able to catch in full on the Steps; Caleb Cornett is quickly rising as one America’s sought-after house producers. His sets are a mixture of tech house, Detroit house and progressive, and he’s remixed everyone under the sun from Zhu, Duke Dumont, Treasure Fingers, The Swiss, The Knocks, and Ellie Goulding. His remixes and original work infuse classic old school scattered vocals, nineties-style piano keys, infectious house beats, and deconstructed samples. His set at CRSSD was all of that and then some. Playing by the old-school house rules, it was a flawless DJ set and it really took myself and everyone else on a transcendent feel trip.
And now: The Ocean View Live Stage. At night, this stage was in one way or another the most condensed area at CRSSD. The number of live acts and amount of talent that came through this stage was absolutely astonishing. From Hot Natured to Chromeo, ODESZA to Robert DeLong, and from Flight Facilities to CLASSIX, almost every live act that I witnessed blew me away. To the left of the Ocean View Stage sat the Hornblower in the harbour – the boat that got a party overhaul on Saturday night (we’ll talk about how amazing that boat was later). To the right of the stage was the Civic Fountain, a focal point of the weekend. Because of the heat wave, the fountain was packed full of partygoers, all of them dancing, relaxing, playing volleyball or recovering from a long night of debauchery.
Even by night, the fountain was over flowing with exhausted youth just taking in the warm SoCal night vibes from a distance. During the breakdown of acts, Ocean View’s host Jason Bentley, a well-known and very successful DJ and producer, would play for half an hour to 45-minute sessions of music literally chosen by a member of the audience from the huge wheel projected onstage. Like a musical Wheel of Fortune, every piece of the wheel represented a different style of music. From daytime disco to all G Jones (a well-known trap artist), to drum & bass, to all David Guetta (yes, that’s correct), to EDM anthems, and even country chart toppers. The chosen audience member, hoisted on stage by security, would press a button to spin the wheel and choose the style of music for Jason to play. This was awesome at times, creating a solid dance floor during switch overs; at other times, it wouldn’t catch the crowd’s attention and youth would fade off to other parts of the festival.
Let’s get to talking about what’s on everyone’s mind: the MUSIC. I’m going to talk about some of the individual artists that really personified the feel of the festival, but before we get into that, I want talk about FOMO. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, it means ‘Fear Of Missing Out’. Even though he was exhausted, John’s FOMO got the best of him and he went to CRSSD. I think everyone can agree that John is a smart guy. FOMO happened a few times for me, because sometimes I had to take a break from the blazing hot day. I missed Maceo Plex because I wanted to experience Chromeo live, something that has been eleven years in the making. I ended up missing SNBRN and Slow Magic because I was still sleeping on Sunday afternoon, exhausted from the Hornblower party the night before. I guess I’m not the seasoned partier I was in my twenties. I missed Aeroplane, something that I swore would never happen, but CLASSIXX was playing live at the same time; I had to choose CLASSIXX and I have no regrets. CLASSIXX is Michael David & Tyler Blake – two kids with four first names who’s band name came out of a combined love for classical compilations. They played back-to-back – literally – on keyboards, guitars, and controllers, feeding off each other as they pounded out all their nu disco gems. It really was something else to experience their dance classics live and the energy they propelled off stage was infectious and we couldn’t get enough.
See, this is where the Ocean View Live stage really stole my heart by night. When Hot Natured performed, it blew my mind. Jamie Jones & Lee Foss, with recently added Hot Creations boys Luca C & Ali Love of Infinity Ink, comprise this forward-thinking house collective with recent addition Anabel Englund and her new hit “Reverse Skydiving.” If you’ve never heard the song “Forward Motion” featuring Ali Love, who just happened to be on stage (I was astonished; I lost focus in the moment), you need to listen to that track immediately. Ali Love hauntingly telling us that he “can’t go back in time” sent shivers down my spine every time, but live it’s a whole other story. When Annabel Englund came on stage and sang “Reverse Skydiving,” again my heart soared. All the men were drooling, intoxicated. Everything about their performance was flawless and their stage dancers didn’t miss a beat. Their performance was priceless; I would’ve paid for a ticket to CRSSD just to witness them again.
Please don’t forget to buckle up and thank you for choosing to fly… with Flight Facilities. These two electronic-driven gentlemen, who have successfully been able to capture our attention with their gorgeous disco-infused house music, go by the names of Hugo Gruzman & James Lyell. Previously known as Hugo & Jimmy, these two have remixed everyone under the sun, from Cut Copy to Holy Ghost, The C90‘s to Sneaky Sound System. Their performance live was nothing short of spectacular. They came on stage wearing old-school aviator outfits and the booth they played in had their classic Double F logo shining a mesmerizing blue and white throughout the set. What really blew me away was that every guest artist to appear on a Flight Facilities track since 2010 showed up on stage that night; they brought Grovesnor on stage during “With You”, a classic that was released in 2012. Another original, “Crave You“ was performed live with Giselle Rosselli, “Clair De Lune“ was performed flawlessly by Christine Hoberg, and then – out of nowhere – Talib Kweli showed up and performed with Flight Facilities. No one expected that and it pushed their performance over the top.
Chromeo was another solid highlight and a great ender for Sunday night. I have never seen these guys do their live thing so I had no expectations. Super Canadians David “Dave 1” Macklovitch – with the vibe of Prince or Michael Jackson and the vocal charisma of Justin Timberlake, and Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel with his charming and enticing talk box vocals, formed Chromeo in 2002. Considering their backgrounds, the two have jokingly said that they are “the only successful jew/arab collaboration since the dawn of human culture.” All jokes aside, these two have their electro funk gig down to a science, including synthesizers, talk boxes, keyboards, guitars, and flawless vocals. They performed all the classics, including my favourite, “Jealous“ which just is, in my opinion, the ultimate dance jam of all time. The crowd was soaking it in and eating it up; girls were shirtless atop shoulders, men were screaming like fan girls and everyone was sweating in the heat of the night. If I only had three words I could use to sum up Chromeo’s performance, it would be ‘seventies dance party’ – but with a distinctly eighties sound and a modern lyrical aesthetic.
We need to talk about Odesza. Harrison Mills & Clayton Knight are a non-stop force of melody and bass. Despite a few technical errors they had during their set, the performance was on point and at times, beautiful. The backdrop of visuals during the set was nothing short of jaw dropping and reminded me briefly of when I saw Sigur Ros live at Sasquatch; images of floating candles, woman’s lips, eye lashes – all your regular dreamy visual stimulations. They jammed out all the classics and the remixes live including the newer ones of Sia, RAC & Zhu. I first saw them just do a DJ set at Sasquatch in 2010 and they’ve come so far; the two are so in key with their live drumming its almost as though they’re telepathic.
The Palms, was the only stage at the festival that constantly felt like a 24/7 party. Let’s start off by talking about the nu-disco & party electro kings at the moment, Viceroy & The Bixel Boys. These three gents played B2B on Sunday afternoon and it was nothing short of the most party feel I’ve felt all weekend besides an exclusive set by Wax Motif on the Hornblower the night before. Viceroy goes by two rules, 1. Summertime All the Time and 2. Jams, not Bangers. With this in mind, he has created some of the dreamiest beach tunes and turned some of today’s iconic pop tunes into nu-disco anthems. The Bixel Boys are a whole other ball game. These dudes are a driving force not only in the party electro scene but also with their #freelife clothing line which is an old age expression of living free. What a better way to express it than to be absolutely destroying a stage and getting more people moving than I saw all Saturday. Talk about a party. Super soakers, spray bottles, flamingo beer bongs and the best nu-disco you’ve ever heard. These three dudes played some of the best discotheques in the biz and their set was packed with huge bass lines and captivating melodies. Forty-five minutes into their set, they decided to drastically switch over to classic R&B anthems. I wasn’t there for that; however, when I left the photo pit 20 minutes in, I was soaking wet and smiling ear to ear.
Thomas Jack, the tropical man of the hour played a really great house set but I felt that for the hour that he played, he should’ve pumped it up quite a bit more. However, it was dreamy and tropical and he had the entire Palms Stage moving, well… in the palm of his hand. His track of choice and the tune that definitely stood out the most of his set was a Tailors remix of Tracy Chapman‘s infamous “Give Me One Reason”. The whole stage went off. You would’ve thought that it was his tune cause it sounded like a TJ official remix, complete with tropical drums and progressive keys but in fact, the remix is over two years old and belongs to The Tailors, a Netherlands duo. Later on, in the Hornblower, he pretty much played the exact same set so that also was kind of a let down. However, at both his sets he had everyone moving, just a little low on the energy side of things.
A performance that really stood out was Giraffage. This man is a Fool’s Gold Records connoisseur and a steady remixer of classic R&B songs. What made his set stand out more than others you ask? It takes some balls to do what this man did. The last 3 tracks of his set were in this order: ATB‘s “Don’t Stop,” some epic Nero-style dubstep anthem and for his finale…Darude‘s “Sandstorm.” Now I used to be a huge fan of ATB so when he dropped that tune I was losing it. The front line new kids had no idea what was happening but that was an OG move and there were probably tons of old school kids soaking it all up. As for Darude, you can’t be too bitter about the past, unless it’s the 90’s and “Sandstorm” was made in 1999. Go figure. The entire crowd lost their shit. I wasn’t surprised in the least. Thank you Girrafage for being daring, your set will be remembered for times to come.
All Aboard The Hornblower! FNGRS CRSSD x SOUND Present: All Gone Pete Tong – On A Boat. Midnight to 4am. The Headliners: Thomas Jack & Pete Tong. We got our tickets to this immediately, I had mine even before I knew I was covering the festival. They sold out so fast and presales went from $50 – $100. Probably the most epic, and what felt like the most exclusive after-party of all time. Even when we left the festival at 11pm and made our 15-minute walk over to the boat, people were coming up to us asking how they could get on. “It’s sold out bro.” Not the words anyone wanted to hear. Just like the festival, it was a smooth, organized entrance, getting onto the boat. As soon as you boarded on the main level, it was just solid tunes right away. Dr. Fresch was delivering up a solid set of booty and ghetto house to get everyone started. The drink lines, much like the festival were long. However when I got to the front, the girl that was just crushing it behind the bar hooked me up with a free double shot of tequila cause I was being super patient; now that’s service. Karma level 10.
The boat was split up into three levels. The top level was the open-air deck for smoking and no music made it a place to get away from the madness and party mayhem. The middle level was the main level and the music was Thomas Jack and Pete Tong. The bottom level was going off. Wax Motif was crushing it for at least 2 hours. He was the highlight of the night and even my whole day to be honest. The whole bottom of the boat every 10 minutes would be chanting “Holy Ship! Holy Ship! Holy Ship!” – there was a huge amount of ship family support there from all over. Every tune Wax Motif played was an absolute bomb and everyone was having the best time of their lives. I hadn’t felt excitement like that in a while, even at the festival during the day on Saturday. We left the boat just before 3am, we were exhausted. When we left to catch an Uber, Thomas Jack was still playing. I can’t even confirm if Pete Tong even played on the boat. Everyone started to fizzle off around 2:30am and they only really drove around for an hour or so and then were docked since around 1:30am. Still, we all had a really great time and I definitely would agree that was one of the best after parties I’ve ever attended.
CRSSD is the first festival I’ve experienced in an inaugural year. Did I think that everything ran smoothly in general? Yes. Were there some issues that could be corrected for next year? Definitely. Let’s talk about the facilities. They were located at opposite ends of the festival grounds. There were around 100 stalls, but they were nowhere near the front entrance or even near the City Steps, and there were no other public facilities. This got a little frustrating, as you can imagine, in the 95˚F sun, when we were chugging water to stay hydrated but then walking 10 minutes out of our way just to relieve ourselves. After dark, it was painfully worse; crowded and unorganized, festivalgoers stumbled towards the port-a-potties en masse. Just getting to a washroom stall from wherever you were was a 20-minute debacle; adding insult to injury, there was often no toilet paper to be found.
The sound from the stages was flawed; we felt that The Palms and The City Steps stages were too close to each other. I got feedback from several festivalgoers complaining that there was a lot of sound bleed from the stages. People that wanted to just lie on the grass between stages and listen to the music were getting feedback from both sides and couldn’t enjoy themselves. Additionally, the sound at the Ocean View Live stage wasn’t on par. The bass was muddy and the treble was very scratchy at times; this was quite noticeable especially during Empire of the Sun and ODESZA‘s set. I can understand it may not be practical to resituate the physical stages but in terms of quality and sound, improvements need to be made. However, the sound during Flight Facilities, CLASSIXX, and Hot Natured was fine and at times, amazing. As The Sights & Sounds festival blogger and San Diego resident Em Sawdy quoted: “They needed to minimize sound bleed from the stages and have more bathrooms, but overall great talent, good vibes, attractive people; very San Diegan vibe.“
The funny thing about festivals is that despite the hedonistic climate, the overindulgence, the all-consuming musical performances, is that there is real potential for some meaningful human connection. It was Sunday night, 9:45 pm, and I know this because I was hustling my crew to get to the Ocean Live Stage in time for Chromeo. We had been stuffing ourselves silly with pulled pork grilled cheese sandwiches and sides of teriyaki noodles. I was staring at my feet when I noticed a wallet on the ground. Anyone who has ever been in a crowded space and lost a cell phone, a wallet, a bag, or a purse knows that feeling of sheer panic. I know that feeling, and I wanted to do whatever I could to get it back to its rightful owner. The first thing I noticed rifling through the wallet were a stack of business cards bearing the words Child Of Wild in large block letters; I flipped it over and there was a name and a number. I found her picture ID and bankcard bearing the same name – Ria Rodriguez! I texted her immediately: Hi – I’m at CRSSD! My name’s Xavier and I found your wallet! We met the next morning and I returned it to her, good deed done to repent for the excesses of the weekend. She had been at CRSSD selling flash tattoo’s of the festival’s logo to partiers. In a perfect example of synchronicity, it turned out she’s Canadian too, from Vancouver just across the strait.
It’s those perfect moments of synchronicity that make you wonder at how small and amazing the world really is. The time I had at CRSSD was eye-opening, beautiful, musically stunning, exhausting, creatively inspiring, socially expansive and everything else under the hot SoCal sun. I met amazing people, ate amazing food, drank the freshest juice, consumed more water than I thought possible, danced to house music, lost a lens cap, took a selfie with Treasure Fingers, partied on a boat with my friends, found my lens cap, drank free tequila, ate shrimp ceviche, took not enough photographs, hugged a palm tree, got molested by a puppet dressed as a doctor, took a selfie with Jeff from Goldroom, got sprayed with hoses, drank beer out of a flamingo, heard “Sandstorm”, gave out 200 business cards, lost my friends, got heat stroke, drank some mezcal, found my friends and lost them again. My honest wish is that CRSSD could be three days instead of two, because the good times seem to slip away. San Diego is a city that I’ll be coming back to again and again; I’ve been to California before, but just LA, and this time will be remembered for years to come. From drinking excessively in the sun, to being inches away from a giraffe, from hearing the best house music I’ve ever heard in my life, to meeting some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, San Diego and CRSSD will always have a place in my heart. By the way, we’re coming back for you next year, but this time, with a bigger crew. Thank You CRSSD, Much Love.
WORDS: Xavier Walker & Evelyn Easton
PHOTOGRAPHY: Xavier Photography
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