Photos and words by Noé Loyola
Every year, the unassuming Nicola Valley area hosts Bass Coast, a mid sized electronic music festival that welcomes all of its visitors with warmth. With live music that makes your body vibrate, enchanting art installations and an audience that is equal parts ridiculous and respectful, Bass Coast captured the heart of T&E contributor Noé Loyola in its 2018 edition.
I am a city boy. I thrive in urban environments, enjoying the convenience of having access to food, shopping and entertainment at the reach of short walks and bus rides. I have attended several festivals in my life, but they have always resided in the heart of the metropolis, allowing me to go back to a comfortable bed by the end of the spectacle.
When one of my friends invited me to attend Bass Coast, I was a bit indecisive. I wasn't sure if attending a camping festival would be an experience I would enjoy. Despite of my hesitation, I decided to take the plunge and experience this popular style of musical gathering.
Needless to say, the hippie lifestyle has found its way into my heart thanks to Bass Coast. Compared to the mental image I had of most camping festivals, where tens of thousands of young people got together and traversed obscene amounts of kilometers to get wasted, Bass Coast showed me a welcoming, tightly knit community that felt immediately familiar despite me being a first timer.
What becomes evident when exploring Bass Coast for the first time is how intimate it is. Only letting in 4,000 attendees, the festival fills itself with enough people to make it a festive environment packed with energy without making the actual task of exploring and wandering one of survival. It only took me fifteen minutes to walk from my camp to the festival grounds, allowing me to go back frequently to eat and take much needed naps.
Bass Coast started as a gathering of friends and still remains one. It didn't take long for me to meet some of my camping neighbors, strangers that found the attire I was wearing amusing or random people that approached me and my friends in need of a hug. I felt accepted and safe, and realized that the likelihood of meeting an asshole was almost non-existent.
On the second day, I started recognizing people I saw before. This became more and more frequent as time went by, paradoxically making me want to stay longer as the end date approached. The same thing happened with the artists. A DJ I saw doing an insane bass drop at the stage ended up next to me in the crowd a few hours later.
The festival goers showcased a variety of attires that made the gathering a delightful pastiche of styles and cultures. While walking around I saw steampunks, ravers, hippies, wizards, succubi, lamps, cheetahs, crossdressers, kings, desert raiders and many more. Nothing felt too out there, and the goofiest one's costume was, the more celebrated they were.
Bass Coast feels like home, and that is thanks to the way it promotes safety and respect. The organizers are very serious about promoting a culture of consent, friendliness and self care. Both the festival's website and social media constantly shared informative videos to make the adventure safer for everyone. A harm reduction tent offered free drug tests and utensils to reduce the risks many party goers commonly face.
As most Bass Coast attendees are seasoned regulars, they are a key part of maintaining this culture of camaraderie. As a newcomer, being surrounded by so many positive individuals made me adopt the customs of the festival in just a few hours time. The festival also has a leave no trace policy that is religiously followed. Every single piece of trash is picked up. By the end of the festival, the campgrounds remain pristine and natural.
Bass Coast takes place in the Nicola Valley, a beautiful natural escapade three hours away from Vancouver. The campground is surrounded by towering mountains; a constant reminder of natural beauty even when lost in the sea of tents. The festival area is connected to the camping site by a bridge that sits over the Nicola river. This body of water is enjoyed by all the heat overwhelmed fans, who refresh their feet by its side or raft down its current with extravagant floaties.
On the other side, a wide open area hosts the main stage, the cantina (a small stage that sells alcohol and plays chill forms of music to wind down or get started) and food trucks. The decor was surprisingly simple but shined with delicacy at night, giving the section personality without making it feel overwhelming.
This section also hosted The Studio and The Brain, two spots that offered workshops and talks. After a heavy day of partying one could wake up their body with a yoga session, learn the basics of contact dancing, have a discussion on government surveillance, or understand how to make one's own fermented goods.
From here, one can venture into the forest where the other two stages are located. Radio evoked Bass Coast's unofficial pirate theme with its charming wooden structures and a generally more intense musical selection. On the other hand, Slay Bay offered ampler leg room and more toned down frequencies for those that wanted to take a break from the booty shaking.
However, what gave these stages the most of their vibrancy was the colorful forest area where they were located. If things got too overwhelming, one only needed take a look upwards to admire the beauty of the trees covered in a myriad of neon lights.
The forest also housed dozens of art installations, ranging from vibrant sculptures, ample nets where one could lounge in relaxation and interactive curios that made me feel like a kid again. I picked up a glittery pink phone that ringed a matching one on the other side of the forest. I was soon offering customer service and completing an order of an unbelievably delicious food item for my anticipating patron. Other installations provided wacky beat making machines that were a joy to try to figure out.
I have talked a lot about the location and the camping experience and not much about the music. This is a music festival after all, right? The thing is, that at Bass Coast, this is not the sole focus but rather the vehicle that drives the community to have a good time, explore the location, and disinhibit themselves.
Unless one is deeply connected to the British Columbia electronic music scene, the Bass Coast poster showcases very few familiar DJs. Taking a look at the poster, there is slight hint of headliners, but most names appear as equals to each other. There is a focus in deglorifying DJ culture, boldly opting for making every one of the artists a key piece of the lineup.
The festival sells out fast, and most attendees don't really care about knowing what the roster of DJs is before purchasing their tickets. This feeling of overall quality allows one to fully experience the festival as a whole instead of worrying at the possibility of missing out on some key performance.
The musical offering is varied, waltzing between most electronic music genres, though keeping the power of the bass as its connecting theme. Drum and Bass, Dubstep, House, Hip Hop, Grime, Dancehall, Disco and Techno were some of the most present musical genres. Thanks to the powerful soundsystem, the vibrations flowed through my body and commanded me to dance.
Some memorable sets include Mat the Alien's powerful mix of basslines that masterfully flowed within a plethora of genres, The Librarian's (also cofounder and organizer of Bass Coast) intricate and fast paced beats seeped in grime and TMSV's slow but powerful aural massage that was a sublime accompaniment to sunrise.
The journey took three days, but it felt like a longer experience. Thanks to the welcoming and natural environment, I became part of a celebration where the rules and demands of the city were non existent. Bass Coast doesn´t take any corporate funding, removing branding from the festival grounds and making the urban detachment even more pronounced.
Back at civilization, having taken a long shower and resting on my sofa I felt glad I pulled through the quest I once thought daunting. I am now a new fan of Bass Coast, seriously considering coming back next year for a much needed bath of dirt, bass vibrations, and love. More than a festival, it is a wonderful community that only leaves energy and smiles at its wake.