WORDS: Lauren DeGaine
PHOTOGRAPHY: Phoenix Flash Photography
Being a part of Astral Harvest’s remote, intimate environment is an experience that travels with you like a bright comet, radiating from your heart to touch your life beyond the festival. The weekend is a colorful supernova that can blast away any self-doubt, ego-trips or other cobwebs that might be clinging to your soul. “Power Take Off” was a fitting theme for this year: the event’s focus on personal transformation created beautiful moments from take-off to landing. Here are some of them.
NO EDGES, JUST LOVE
It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting on a bench by the main stage, making notes on my laptop from the weekend. “Would you ladies like to join us for some Wild Greens?” I hear behind me. “Sure!” someone answers. After a few moments I abandon my computer to join the group and chat about their experience.
“Nobody has an edge here,” one man, who calls himself Cricket, tells me. He’s right, and it’s the most quintessential thing about what makes Astral Harvest special. Sure, it’s got incredible production and a great lineup. Sure, PK Sound rocks your body all weekend. 100% the vendors are killing it and the daytime workshop lineup is on point. But the culture of community, compassion, kindness and respect takes the universe of Astral Harvest, straps it onto a rocket full of love, and blasts it off into another dimension.
BODY, MIND AND MUSIC
On Friday morning, I had the honor to teach a yoga class at the main stage, accompanied by a live set from Collectivision. The perfect playlist of steady rhythmic bass music combined with the peaceful dedication of the students manifested in a vibrant and powerful class like none I’d ever taught before.
Before the class began, I was on my yoga mat drinking tea with honey and warming up in the sun. Past nervousness and into a state of equanimity with whatever the experience would bring, a sweet joy began to trickle into my soul as I saw sleepy morning faces begin to enter the stage one by one. People without mats, people who had never done yoga before, people who had committed to 4 classes a day: I was incredibly impressed by the strength of the culture of self-care at the festival, evidenced by how many showed up to the 10am class. People knew it would be good for their bodies; they knew it would make their festival experience more rich and meaningful.
At the end of my class, I gave and received thank you’s to some of the students, and when almost everyone had dispersed I saw my friend Scotty approaching. As he got closer, he held his arms out.
“Just come here,” he said, and pulled me into a giant bear hug. I began to feel him shaking and realized that he was having an incredibly emotional experience. “Thank you so much,” he said, with his face still buried in my shoulder, “I’ve never moved my body like that before. The breathing, the meditation…”
We walked from the stage with our arms around each other, talking about the mind and the ego. He had stayed up all night having brand new experiences and had never felt so open or accepted for who he was.
Later on in the weekend I found myself in child’s pose on my own mat, listening to another yoga teacher’s voice, with tears streaming down my face. Trying to remember the things I myself had told my students earlier in the weekend, I allowed the emotions to pass through unimpeded without judging where they were coming from or why, realizing that sadness, too, is a part of transformation.
JPOD’S SUNRISE SET
After a Friday of music, yoga, dancing, mud, vodka & juice, and making friends, my Team and I were sitting around the fire, giggling like schoolgirls about god-knows-what, when the sky began getting light.
“Oh shoot!” I said, “JPOD’s set! What time is it?!”
It was ten to five AM, which meant the set was almost over, so we abandoned our hot dogs and sprinted to the main stage.
When we got there the sun was really starting to brighten the morning, and JPOD was onstage beaming his huge, happy smile at an adoring crowd of muddy dancers.
After a few songs, JPOD’s set should have been over – but the crowd was begging him to stay, and they continued to beg even after a few encore tracks as well.
“I don’t have anything else to play!” He said, laughing incredulously.
“Figure it out!” we yelled, “Play something from your iPod!”
At some point during this ruthless display of fandom, JPOD jumped down into the crowd and danced with us while continuing to mix from his iPad, and started one of his signature group hugs. After heading back to the stage for a song, the man of the hour attempted a stage dive, but while it was graceful as ever, the crowd was a little too far back and the Podster was met with the Interstellevator mud lake, a giant mud puddle at the front of the main stage dance floor that sucked and spat out many a good man and woman over the weekend.
Embracing the moment, he realized that resistance to the Mud Lake was futile and instead did some flat-on-your-back mud dancing before a few burly men picked him up, slung him over their shoulders, and replaced him on the stage to continue playing for his relentlessly loving crowd.
Finally (probably realizing that we would never let him go if it was left up to us!) he told us he really had to leave because his ride was waiting for him, hopped off the stage once more and skipped off the back of the dance floor into the morning mist, leaving Everyman to close the set down and leaving us with uplifted hearts and tired dancing feet as we headed back to our tent to fall asleep smiling.
LADIES OF THE HARVEST
I am constantly aware of the occurrence and roles of women in the local electronic music scene. When I see an article on the subject, I read it. When I hear someone discussing the topic, I lend my ear (and, okay – maybe an opinion or two). When I watch festival promo videos I notice the ratio of females to males that are interviewed or featured. Let’s just say it’s something that is constantly in the back of my mind, especially because I know and fangirl over so many incredible female musicians and producers.
At Astral Harvest – more than any other festival I have been to – my partner and I would find ourselves following our ears to a stage where we were really excited and impressed by the music rumbling out of the speakers. We’d make our way to the dance floor and find a woman standing onstage, like Shylow Love, Mistress Mangladesh, one half of Nada Deva, Wadjit, Tianna J and Kali Yuga just to name a few.
The amount of times this happened was notable, even by someone who refuses to be surprised when she discovers a new talented DJ or producer that also happens to be female. All of these women, gorgeous and inspiring in their stage presence, were incredibly empowering and I was impressed by the culture of equality at Astral Harvest.
NADA DEVA AND TIMOTHY WISDOM
After walking from stage to stage on Thursday, feeling out the sounds and energy of the festival and getting accustomed to the layout of the grounds, we made our way to the MainStage by following our ears to where the packed dance floor was getting down to some dope, banging deep house.
Aboard the stage we saw Nada Deva, a duo consisting of Edmonton locals Francesco and Jen. Previous to this moment, the party had generally been pretty chill, and it was clear that this was the spark that the festival needed. Making our way to the front we saw for the first time the incredibly talented flow performers of Transflowmation, who were spinning everything from poi to dragon staffs to batons to a giant cosplay sword to a new one I had never seen that the flow artist called a “force leash” (a modified LED light saber/levitation wand). Their skills and stage presence were next level. The lighting and stage design were in full effect. Nada Deva was absolutely slaying it and the sound production team had their game on lock. All of this together created this huge party at the MainStage that unleashed the momentum of energy and fun for the weekend.
Timothy Wisdom harnessed the hyphee that Nada Deva’s set had created in the crowd and ran with it, carrying it into the wee hours of the morning. As J and I headed back to camp get some rest before my yoga class in the morning, I turned to him and said, “Now it finally feels like a party! I am so stoked for tomorrow.”
THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN THE RAIN
- E-Say Doing the Dishes
At Astral Harvest, it rained at least once a day. Normally, we would wake up to a half gray/half-sunny sky, and then around 2pm it would start to come down. After a couple hours of steady fall, it would dribble off and then we would get on-and-off sprinkles for the rest of the evening.
It really was quite perfect, because that 2-4 hour window of rain was the ideal part of the day to attempt waking up and then lay back down, nurse our hangovers, make food, sit under the canopy and giggle about random stuff, and get ready for the evening.
It was during one of these rain-induced team huddle sessions that we were all sitting around when one person said, “Where is E-Say at?” and we all look out around the curtains of the canopy to see E-Say, shirtless, frantically washing dishes in the pouring rain. And when I say wash dishes I am being generous because really what he was doing was picking things up and putting them down in different places.
We all burst into laughter. “What the hell is he doing?” “E-Say! Stop doing that!” “E-Say, why does this seem like the best time to do dishes?” “E-Say! Actually just let the rain do it!” “Get in here out of the rain, man!”
We shall never know why E-Say thought the cold, windy, rainy stretch of the day was the moment when the dishes needed to get done. Eventually we got him to come in and hang out with us. I’m not sure what we bribed him with, but it had to have been something good cause he was truly dedicated to that moment.
- Saving Elmer from Hypothermia
Our friend Elmer, whom we met on Thursday of Astral Harvest, was… let’s just say he was ‘on one.’ Okay… maybe more than one… Anyway! At one point during the festival, he came back to camp after one of his MIA sessions (I can’t tell you how many times throughout the weekend I said, “Actually, where the F*CK is Elmer?!”) and his shirt, shorts and hair were completely soaked. He also wasn’t wearing shoes.
“Elmer!” we said, “Man, your lips are blue! Where’s your jacket, man?”
“Hm…” Elmer replied.
“Okay well where are your shoes?”
“Not sure,” he said calmly.
“Hm, okay, well – you really need those things.”
After about 10 minutes of us being like “Elmer you’re getting hypothermia” he got sick of us and headed out for another MIA session.
“Not this time!” we said, switching into superhero mode. Our buddy John was ignoring us from the tent that he and Elmer shared, as he was in the middle of a ten hour nap during which we nicknamed him John the Body because he was basically just being a body (we re-nicknamed him John the Present when he came back to the land of the living). I went and opened their car, which was (unsurprisingly) unlocked. Lo and behold! Elmer’s jacket and shoes were dry and laying there, waiting to be useful.
By this point Elmer had made it halfway to the stage with our buddy trailing after him half-heartedly calling out bits of advice, so I had to run after them.
After sifting through the main stage crowd a bit I found Elmer behind a large structural post (probably hiding from me) and handed him his shoes. Then I watched while he put them on. Lastly I wrapped a blanket around his shoulders, tousled his hair dry with a clean towel, and told him to come back for tea later.
Elmer did not get hypothermia.
- Much dance, very mud
I have never seen so many people revel in mud before. Whether it was barefoot dancing, playful wrestling, or full-on splashing, it became totally normal to see people covered in mud or at the very least with a permanent layer of dried mud caked up to their knees.
Personally, I couldn’t get into the mud dancing, but some of my favorite moments were dancing through the starry evening with my head thrown back, feeling the misty drizzle on my face and skin.
When we arrived at Astral Harvest on Wednesday, the campground was filling up at a leisurely pace and the stage and art crews were putting the finishing touches on their installations.
As Thursday passed by, we grew surprised that no one had filled in the campsites around us. We had a prime location, grassy and close-but-not-too-close to the main stage.
Finally, late in the afternoon, we came back from a walk and saw that we had 2 new neighbors, 3 young men from Vancouver. After introducing ourselves, my partner, J and I went back about our day as they set up their camp.
On Friday in the early afternoon, it began to rain. We were making breakfast under our canopy when we noticed that all 3 of the boys were sitting in their camp chairs around the unlit fire pit between our campsites in the pouring rain.
“Guys!” I called out to them, “You can come sit under our canopy you know.”
“Aw, that’s alright,” one of them replied, “We’re fine.”
About 20 minutes later it really started to come down and one of them, T-Shawn, sidled his way over to us and kind of hovered just underneath the very edge of the canopy. We had moved our wagon full of firewood underneath it so there wasn’t much room in the 10×10 space.
“Hey man!” I said. “How’s it going?!”
“Good! I don’t know what those two are doing,” he said, pointing over his shoulder to his buddies, “But I will take advantage of your gracious offer to get the f*ck out of that rain!”
The rain steadily got heavier, and the wind started to pick up.
“Hey guys!” I called out to them again, “If you have an extra tarp, you should throw it over this firewood, and then we can move all your chairs in here! The rain’s not going anywhere!”
I think maybe having something to contribute in exchange for the shelter was what finally convinced them. And it was just in time, because as soon as they were all under the canopy it became a full-on rainstorm.
“It’s like friggin Sharknado up in here!” T-Shawn exclaimed.
“More like Astral-nado!” I replied, thinking I was supremely witty.
It stuck like glue.
Any time the weather got bad over the weekend, and eventually even when something weird or annoying would happen, we would refer to “Astralnado,” exclaiming that only the fittest would survive.
It was pretty much at that moment in the rain on Friday that Astralnado brought all of us together. We learned that the boys were all members of a production company called The Hype in Vancouver, and that one of them was a rapper and would be performing at the festival under his moniker Bdice. T-Shawn was there as his hype man and E-Say his videographer.
The few hours huddled together under the canopy throughout the weekend, weathering the storm in our sweet little zone of warmth and laughter, solidified our bond of friendship. Since Astral, we’ve gone to Bass Coast and Pemberton with the Hype boys, and we’ll be attending Motion Notion and Shambhala with them as well. We are all part of the same rave family now, all thanks to Astralnado.
IT WAS LIT
Other highlights of the weekend included: Skiitour’s set at Wakah Chan (and their surprise second set at the MainStage!), the hip-hop showcase, the incredibly uplifting Pumpkin Tribute (we’ll be rocking the heart-shaped sunglasses they passed out all summer long)…
….that one night we saw two planets, the ladies of Illusia and their incredible costume design and talented dance skills as well as the Transflowmation fire show and the fire flow jam space (Astral Harvest is one of the only festivals that offers a safe space for attendees to flow with their own fire props)…
… the super sweet little cuddle zone slash art installations all over the grounds, the fact that they had a Sanctuary (The Haven) AND drug testing (with a mass spectrometer! – that’s that next level shit), the super cool and unique stages (my favorite was Angelica’s Basket, which was lined with benches on the walls and had a giant alter at the front with animal skulls and massive crystals), the incredibly gorgeous landscape, and the fact that most attendees respected the land enough to clean up after themselves, the paper mashe pumpkin you could put wishes into, the variety of music from house to trap to dub step to psytrance to hip-hop, and everyone saying “YOU LOOK GOOD” to each other all weekend.
Basically it was lit like a flaming ball of fierce star power blasting through the heavens where the rave gods looked down on us and nodded their regal heads in gratified approval.