Arriving at Bass Coast when the sun was setting was almost frighteningly overwhelming; after being forced to fumble around in the dark to find the right campground, descending into festival proper was like entering a portal into some eerie forest saturnalia. As the music thrummed on past crowds of glowing people alternately dazed and dancing in eccentric patterns, the woods held a distinctly demented carnival atmosphere that felt unapologetically decadent. An alcohol-free policy (complete with vehicle searches) meant that most people turned to other party enhancers in droves, and to say that it was quite blatant would be an understatement. Walking down the path towards the main Bassment stage past strange people in stranger costumes was enough to feel like you'd somehow picked up a contact mushroom high.
The setting was remarkable: inhabiting the Squamish Valley campground about an hour north of Vancouver, the grounds were bounded by a formidably rapid (and freezing cold) river. That proved essential during the unbearably hot daytime hours, where seeking respite from the heat and lounging in the shade felt like a communal undertaking. The shroud of trees that surrounded the stages made for a surreal and beautiful backdrop, particularly for moments like Calgary duo Sanctums' Sunday afternoon set, where the resonant chimes seemed to ricochet off the rich tapestry of trees around the Radio stage.
Despite the preponderance of colourful west coast hippies, Bass Coast's impeccable programming meant the music was consistently forward-thinking, even challenging: there was very little of the usual festival fare of pounding dubstep or chugging psytrance. The music was split across three stages, including the smaller Radio stage (home to everything from drum & bass to boogie) and the tucked-away Slay Bay, which featured energetic acts like Machinedrum. The lineup meant a good variety of genres were well-represented, from Scott W's hypnotic techno to Eames' bumping "body music," Christian Martin's groovy Dirtybird house and Librarian's elegant dubstep/garage pirouettes, plus a surprisingly prominent drum & bass contingent headed off by Autonomic kingpin dBridge.
Though the headliners performed well (including Justin Martin's storming Sunday night set), something about the Vancouver-area locals' performances was especially triumphant: they were given prominent slots and did not take them lightly. Self Evident preceded dBridge with a wildly diverse set criss-crossing grime, dubstep and his own melting-pot productions, Taal Mala appropriately slayed Slay Bay with a rambunctious concoction of breakcore, jungle and other bits and bobs (including heart-stopping Aphex and Wiley selections), while Max Ulis played the best set of the festival at the Bassment 2:00 AM on Saturday night, refining his dark, pulsating house to a razor point with selections ranging from Mike Dunn to Instra:mental.
Bass Coast celebrated the unique landscape of the West Coast as much as it did its ever-bustling musical scene, an event whose awe-inspiring setting was both its bane and biggest selling point. With no showers, less-than-pleasant plumbing facilities, few food vendors, huge lineups for drinking water and the closest town a 30 minute drive away (not to mention the unforgiving climate), Bass Coast took a lot of investment to get through. Those who made the effort were rewarded with a weekend of some of the best dance music this side of the world has to offer.