Symbiosis Gathering, as the name suggests, successfully synthesized sweeping soundscapes with transformative spirituality, amazing art, and incredible people in a strikingly beautiful setting. The synesthesia of sound, color, and joy will undoubtedly hold a special place in attendees’ hearts until the next Autumnal Equinox. Here are some takeaways from my stay at Woodward Reservoir.

At your typical music ‘festival,’ say, Coachella, there is no real ‘experience’ beyond the music. There might be a few art installations, but they’re negligible. Not so at transformative festivals like Symbiosis Gathering. The music is more like the glue that brings people together and allows them to create their own adventures in a fertile setting ripe with a variety of different experiences. For example, a three-hour stretch might include sitting at the fire meeting new people and discussing philosophy, art, or Burning Man, heading over to one of the intricate stages (which looked like Temples of Dance) for Yoga of Bass with Freq Nasty, swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the Reservoir, climbing on a giant metal Coyote, and dancing to great music. By the end of a day, it feels as if you’ve travelled around the world, gaining new perspectives from your fellow attendees as your journey continues

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Of course, the Symbiosis experience followed the Goldilocks effect. The festival grounds, large enough to fit four stages (the Pantheon, the Big Island, the Empire of Love, and the Cove) and small enough to navigate comfortably, extended as a peninsula into the Reservoir. There were just enough attendees to warm up the crowd at night, and so few that you were sure to run into friends new and old many times throughout your stay. And that wasn’t the only magical thing about the weekend: On Saturday, an afternoon thunderstorm cleared just in time for a conflagration of color as the sun met the earth, also coinciding with the Moment of Silence for peace, and a wedding by the lake. The weekend was never short on whimsy; if you wanted to believe in psychic will, it was certainly the place to practice.

And while we’re on the subject of whimsy, it’s time to talk about one of my favorite parts of the festival mindstyle: playfulness. The entire festival was geared towards the boundless energy of young souls, from climbable art installations, to music so weird that you had to get weird, to the availability of swimming, running, singing, and so many other activities that are a rarity out in the ‘default world.’ Combine this with the incredible openness that individuals brought with themselves and you get quite the joyous picture. Then there are all the little things: the spot-on setup music, the friendly security guards, the festival staff riding around in carts that meowed and held signs like ‘No Drowning’ and ‘Don’t Ruin the Festival,’ the children playing in the water, the campfire tended by Native American storytellers….the list goes on, and so did the fun.

Now we can discuss the music. As expected, it was perfectly curated, with strong old-school vibes and jazz influences felt in nearly every act. And, a huge bonus: the music played all night, on a 24-hour military schedule (the new day’s sets started at 00:00). Here are some performances that stood out during my stay:

 

Thursday:

Rhythmstar played an incredible set at the Pantheon, one of the most intricate stages that I have ever seen. His set covered dark deep house, trip hop, and my personal favorite, drum and bass, starting the weekend off on the best possible note.

Friday was not a day of musical highlights for me, which doesn’t mean that there weren’t any great performances. Mimosa played as a secret guest at 3:15 AM.

 

Saturday:

Dunkleblundt was one of my favorite discoveries of Symbiosis, and his set at the Empire of Love was a delight. He truly defied genre categorization, mixing elements ranging from country and electrofunk to psytrance.

Rising Appalachia played a hauntingly beautiful set at the Cove, with incredible harmonies carrying the music forward.

STS9 was definitely an overall highlight of the weekend, playing a 3-hour long set at the Big Island stage. Before they started, the Vau de Vire society put on an amazing burlesque show, and Saul Williams electrified the crowd by performing part of his poem ‘…said the shotgun to the head,’ which almost brought me to tears. The stage was set for funky spacy goodness. Over the length of the set, the jamtronica group treated the crowd to a fusion of funk, rock, electronica, and even hip hop. Sound Tribe definitely deserves a spot by the top performers that I have ever seen.

Star Slinger mixed old-school house and hip hop into an incredibly groovy, sexual, and well-spaced set that got the dance party started at the Cove.

 

Sunday:

Cashmere Cat proved why he deserves all the attention and more. His future bass set was a showcase for solid mixing, high-quality atmospheric production and unique spacing, all while remaining highly danceable.

Ant-ten-nae kicked off the late morning activities with a surprise set at 9 AM, treating the crowd to his brand of ‘acid crunk.’

Gaudi in Dub: Although Gaudi performed earlier in the week, this ‘in dub’ set was much better, finally serving up the kind of bass that I wanted: Bass that awakens echoes of our reptilian past. Also, all analog, with a rapper who imitated the scratching noise perfectly-completely vocally.

Shpongle: Oh boy. World music, rapped up into a deeply funky set that spiraled through psytrance and experimental music that sounded like an updated take on Pink Floyd. At sunset, I left the dancefloor to dance on a raft in the lake adjacent to the stage. Absolutely ridiculous.

Chet Faker: Another great discovery of the weekend, this Australian artist played an incredibly groovy set, mostly subdued except for some amazing jams that showcased the skills of his drummer, who handled tempo changes in a breeze.

Ryan Hemsworth: A rising star from Canada in the beat scene, Hemsworth excelled at chopping up and rearranging sound, attacking the music at the lowest level, the beat, and drawing on extremely layered sounds to build and change sonic structures. One of the best sets of the weekend, he’s come a long way since I first saw him in December.

Mount Kimbie: Another act with an advanced understanding of sound, this British duo created a wall of noise and wrestled melancholy, soulful melodies from the almost-painful cacophony. Rather than obscuring the music, the wall actually imparted a greater emotional immediacy to it.

Emancipator: After the painfully, confusingly strange set of IAMAMIWHOAMI, Emancipator’s set washed my soul with cascades of sonic beauty. It was the most diverse set I’ve seen them play yet, with plenty of unreleased material spanning from hip hop to drum and bass mixed in with now-classic tunes from their studio work.

 

Well, that about does it for my experience. I highly recommend these artists to anyone who loves music, and even more highly recommend Symbiosis for anyone who loves love. This festival truly deserves the name ‘transformational,’ and I am definitely planning to make it out for the next Autumnal Equinox.

 

Contributing Writer: Adam De Gree