Last weekend, fellow sloth Reid Douglas and I had the privilege of driving up north to attend the biennial Symbiosis Gathering. Covered in dust, we return to civilization – and you, dear reader, to report back as to how our eyes, ears and lungs (but mostly ears) fared in the arid lands of Symbiosis.


A Burner-inspired festival that aligns itself with the same values that events such as Lightning in a Bottle, Shambhala, and Lucidity seem to promote, Symbiosis Gathering is an eclectic “transformative” festival that was held over this past weekend. Celebrating its tenth year anniversary, the event drew over 14,000 attendees and invited top underground DJ’s, bands, and performers from around the world to keep the party groovin’ 24 hours a day – for four days straight. Across the weekend, acts were scheduled at times ranging from 2:00 PM to 4:00 AM, so sleep was definitely not much of a priority for many attendees (all of whom were literally the most beautiful people with beautiful energy I’ve ever been surrounded by).



Some highlights of the weekend included Shpongle, Four Tet, Griz, J. Phlip, Emancipator Ensemble, Justin Martin, Dragonfly, and dozens more. We’ll get into specifics a little later. 🙂


Held at the Woodward Reservoir in Oakdale, CA, Symbiosis Gathering seemed like more of a crazy psychedelic post-apocalyptic steampunk nuclear fallout village rather than a festival. Being so close to bodies of water along with a dry, dusty climate gave it a very unique vibe that is quite hard to encapsulate in words. It felt like Reid and I had been whisked away in time to some Arabian peninsula (with a shitload of nudity involved), and the unique architecture, countless art installations, and lots of bare, exposed boobs that no doubt contributed to this very alternative environment. There were tea rooms, yoga tents, countless places pockmarked with patches of soft, lush, synthetic turf that gave festival-goers a good area to nap or simply sit and take a quick respite from the frantic, alive electricity in the air. The structures included numerous stages, many of which were located right next to water you were welcome to swim in!


Highlights included Big Island (the main stage, characterized by plenty of dance space and purple tarp/sails (?) that aligned the top of the actual stage), The Grotto (characterized by deep/future house and boxes you could sit on/stand on and jive to, hay bales, and weird fucking egg-things that DJs were playing out of), Juke Town (a Wild West-inspired stage characterized by drum & bass, psytrance, and other fast, heavier electronic), Silk Road (walking into this stage, held inside of a dome-like tent filled with lavish carpets and tapestries that made me feel like I had just entered Genghis Khan’s private sex den), and Swimbiosis (by far one of the craziest stages. There were fuckin’ hammocks on the sides of the stage held together by crazy looking installations, the lake bed; where dozens of attendees were chillin’ atop inflatables, little rafts, and psychedelic art boats – next to three climbable structures).  Needless to say, each stage carried with it a unique aesthetic and sound. There were also little areas/spots with art installations that really got cerebral. For example, the ‘Elemental Arts’ section had these trippy little structures that seemed like they were straight out of Avatar: The Last Airbender. All of these little elements (haha) contributed significantly to our experience – four days was not enough time to explore the vast depth that the venue offered.


Specifics with Reid:

Camping: At Symbiosis, camping isn’t just offered, it’s mandatory. Lucky for us, we set up shop right on the edge of the reservoir, ensuring that we were staying cool and our beers even cooler. We had a campsite lined with tapestries, tarps, and plenty of seating area to make sure we had a solid base that we could return to after a night out of hardcore dancing.


These were some specific sets that Eric and I felt like really stood out to us. All the artists at this festival were very much so handpicked, and there was no music that ever didn’t spark our savvy, but here are a couple special peeps.

Nicolas Jaar: Headlining a festival is no walk in the park, even if you’ve been playing Coachella shows since ‘04. Crowds expect headliners acts to be jam-packed with over-the-top excitement; after all, they typically are where most of your ticket purchase went to. Instead of loading his set with drop after drop, the Argentinean slowed it down, playing a 12 minute intro that set the mood for the entire night.  Jaar played a variety of minimal, deep, and disco house using live instruments. His build ups would vary in lengths up to ten minutes, making his unique, Latino-rooted drops even sexier.


Tipper: When any set times for a festival are released, there are always conflicts and sacrifices that must be made. In this case, one of Symbiosis’ headliners wasn’t even featured on the damn schedule! I’m talking of course about boutique festival legend Tipper. After the cancellation of Kaytranada and other acts, we started to worry about the reliability this festival’s talent until we overheard someone saying “Tipper rises with the sun.” Instead of placing the glitch god on one of the six stages, Symbiosis created an entirely new stage for Tipper consisting of two sky-scrapers of speakers pointing directly at the horizon in which the sun was going to rise. Tipper’s downtempo sunrise set was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. His alien-like sounds created a groove so loud and crisp that I needed ear plugs for my ear plugs. Witnessing his sunrise set made me realize how respected he is by the festival community and dedicated his fans are. To describe the music in simple words would be impossible — all I can say is that it was absolutely mind blowing. It was like watching beautiful aliens dance in slow motion.


Ridiculous, beautiful crazy hippies, psychedelic music, beautiful environment, nature, art, – it’s a festival that currently has completely shed the corporate bullshit that usually goes hand in hand with large events (*cough* Coachella *cough*) like these, and it’s very clear. The attendees only improved the venue with their presence, which is something to say because most people frankly suck, and these people didn’t at all.


All in all, Symbiosis was a blast, and we’re absolutely addicted. We’re sad that it only happens once every two years, but for our bodies/general health, that’s probably a good thing…