This past weekend, XLR8R attended the annual New Forms Festival in Vancouver, Canada. Here's what we saw...
Now in its 11th year as an organization, the New Forms Festival set up shop for the first time this year in the Eastern part of town (think used car lots, check-cashing windows, and non-descript convenience stores) at the Waldorf Hotel, which has over the decades gone from upper-class (and, might we add, Hawaiian-themed), to completely run-down, and, in more recent times, the place has been re-imagined as a hub for youthful resorting, casual dining, and, most importantly, a new platform for forward-thinking art and music alike.
The night started off with a curious exploration of hotel room art installations. Stripped of their usual amenities (a bed, towels, desk, etc.), the rooms were transformed into cryptic messages that proved to be thought-provoking, entertaining, and at times hilarious. Combined with a nice dose of drinks, chatter, and a wash of subliminal sounds, the festival warm-up served as an appropriate sonic palette cleanser before diving into the night's musical offerings, which would be divided into three separate spaces—the Cabaret Room and the Hideaway (both on the basement floor), and the Upstairs restaurant area (which for some reason doesn't come with a cool name).
Some impressive local talent kicked off the evening's performances with Vancouver's own Resorts gradually taking over the Cabaret Room (the largest space the venue has to offer) with a dynamic, orchestrated dub-techno-inspired set that pitted a main laptop/knob-twiddler with a clarinetist, who also utilized a woodwind midi-controller at times, and a French horn player. Meanwhile, another British Columbia resident, Cloudface, inspired the night's first palpable dance party with a punchy set of hardware house in the dark, secluded Hideway room.
The night's highlights were many, with more beat-oriented sounds emanating from the upstairs venue, including the hyper-textural synth-pop of local Evy Jane and LA beat-scene staple Take, who made one of the more intense connections with festival goers via his solid set of visceral, heavy-handed beats. All the while, Brainfeeder's resident visual magician, Strangeloop, had no shortage of spell-binding and mind-fucking moving imagery of the highly-detailed, drug-inspired variety.
The downstairs area quickly turned into a bustling center, with a bar in between the Cabaret and Hideaway rooms acting as the buffer and deciding point between sounds. Recent Hemlock-signee Nautiluss captivated a small but focused audience of bass fiends with a set of ultra-percussive, UK-influenced sounds. Sprinkled with some deliciously re-pitched female R&B accapellas (think Aaliyah, Mary J Blige, etc.), the Canadian utilized his controller prowess to fill the speakers with lush, futuristic chords, propulsive drums, and some of the night's most poignant bass. Just past the bar and down some stairs, the pair of DJs behind New York's Mr. Saturday Night party (Eamon Harkin and Justin Carter) weaved in and out of slick, glistening disco-tinged house tunes as the last act to grace the Cabaret Room. Being the only act to use any sort of vinyl on the opening night, the duo cultivated the appropriate vibe for the hour (which was post-1:30 AM by then), smartly refraining from dropping anything that resembled an over-the-top selection and instead picking through an array of inescapable rhythms marked by tastefully funky bass and touches of dreamy melody.
Justin Carter of Mister Saturday Night
The night's most stirring performance came from the Upstairs' final act, Mike Slott. The LuckyMe co-founder seemed to put his all into his set, moving in grand sweeps from meandering ambiance to intricate beatwork with a palpable air of focus. Armed with a seemingly always-blinking controller hidden behind his laptop and a standard DJ mixer, Slott pushed and pulled the (admittedly) whittled-down crowd into a state of awe, jolting us awake whenever he felt like it with an onslaught of larger-than-life, hyper-detailed drum programming.
The second night of the festival saw a bit of a later start, setting the tone for what would be a much more party-oriented mix of performances that would last well into the early morning. After a few solid opening acts, the night really began to take hold when Canada's own Teen Daze took to the stage upstairs. Armed with the usual laptop/controller combination and a humble yet enthusiastic stage presence, the young producer filled the room with warm, friendly vibes, gliding between mature slices of arpeggiated chillwave and pop-infused, blissful house. His closing number, a playful re-edit of Earth Wind and Fire's "Let's Groove," provided just the right amount of cheese and, well, groove to have the crowd excitedly attempting to clap and sing along.
Shortly thereafter, West Coast beatsmith Shlohmo lulled a large gathering into an altered state of mind with the help of Strangeloop, whose otherworldly visuals were relocated to the Cabaret room for the night and displayed on three large screens spanning two walls. Deftly moving between dubbing out and reworking his own syrupy tracks to simply DJing some choice cuts, Shlohmo maintained complete control over the crowd with his calm confidence and endearing stage antics, which involved moving his hands along to the tracks, lip-synching the set's vocal numbers, and asking the crowd things like—paraphrasing here—"You guys want to hear a hip-hop beat I made?" Between the usual stoney, textured beats a Sholhmo set is bound to entail, not to mention the good amount of his more recent UK leanings that also found their way into the mix, it was virtually impossible for onlookers to not nod their heads in unison, especially when the most memorable track of his almost-hour-long performance burst through the speakers in the form of an absolutely nasty beat from fellow Wedidit Collective member RL Grime.
The Cabaret room proved to be the place for the night's more intense offerings, capped off by Superisk's closing set. Properly representing his hometown of Bristol, the DJ moved through the grimier side of UK bass via the Bristol decks of choice—two CDJs. With no shortage of buzzing synths, funky riddims, and slap-you-in-the-face percussion, the crowd was basically helpless to resist, leading to a flurry of stomping and stepping with Superisk presiding over the happenings like a stoic master of ceremonies.
But for all the highlights to be had throughout the evening, the core of the festival's energy was concentrated in the Hideaway, where two Midwest DJs proved capable of inspiring the most rewarding of dance parties with just two turntables (and a sparsely used CD player). Beginning his set like a monk (albeit from the funkiest church on earth), Detroit veteran Marcellus Pittman appeared in deep concentration as he moved from forgotten retro cuts to deep, soulful house amidst a constant trail of incense smoke. Pulling pieces of vinyl from his bags like a biologist examining a favorite specimen, Pittman felt the crowd out perfectly and moved through his early set with an enthralling dynamic.
Eventually, Pittman's Midwest counterpart Specter took over the proceedings, pushing on in much of the same vein while gradually picking up the momentum thanks to a slightly funkier track selection, incorporating the pounding house from his hometown of Chicago and no shortage of incredibly appropriate cuts from decades past. As his hour-plus set voyaged into deeper and deeper territory, a steady influx of attendees joined the core group of folks who seemed to never leave the dancefloor for the entire night, but who could blame them?
After a particularly bass-heavy cut filled the room, Specter looked back at Pittman and nods were exchanged, signifying the night was about to become simply magical. Rumored to have never done this together live before (at least in a planned scenario), the two like-minded DJs traded off behind the decks for the rest of the night, electing not to go back-to-back but rather switching every four or five tunes in a set that was spontaneous, fun, intriguing, and completely fluid. As the men pushed each other to reach deep into their respective crates, a wide range of soul-infused, percussive house met with vintage disco tracks and everything in between, resulting in an all-out dance party that lasted way beyond what was scheduled, most likely due to the fact that no one wanted them to stop. As the late-night turned into early morning, the lights were eventually raised and the moving and shaking came to an end, but not without Pittman sharing a concisely strong opinion concerning his place in the modern electronic music world, "We play records." Yes they did, and, really, that's all they needed to do.
New Forms' final day moved things outside—to the parking lot next the venue to be exact. With a picturesque Vancouver summer day at hand, the mountainous jams of V. Vecker and the Sun Araw Band began the afternoon on a note of psyched-out sonic exploration. More dance-friendly vibes were dropped shortly thereafter by Vancouver's own No Gold, a three-piece dance-pop group consisting of drums (with v-pads), guitar, keyboard, bass, and sampler. The performance evoked simultaneous comparisons to the percussive songs of El Guincho and, at times, a more modern version of The Police (at least their good songs, of which, come on, there were quite a few).
As the sun was beginning to show signs of its eventual exit, the dance-music takeover began with a set from Danuel Tate and Tyger Dhula (of Cobblestone Jazz fame). With Dhula at the controls laying down a series of infections tech-house beats, Tate was free to improvise on his keyboard and accompanying sampler/effects unit. Hitting on a plethora of jazzy chords and melodies, as well as the occasional vocoded message, Tate flowed with ease over Dhula's rhythmic pilings, resulting in a smooth, soulful set that seeped through the festival grounds, inspiring the mass of bodies to start moving in no time.
Danuel Tate and Tyger Dhula
The festival's closing honors were bestowed upon Deadbeat, a man who has been somewhat of a regular over the course of New Forms' 11 years in action. The formerly Montreal-based, now Berlin-based dub-techno producer moved the proceedings to a more intimate part of the outdoor area, and began pushing ultra-low frequencies just as the sun had disappeared. Beginning in familiar territory, Deadbeat's set seemed poised to be a vast, textured exploration of his more recent catalog, but as he moved along, the focus changed from rich, sparse tones to deep, dense techno and house, which touched on some unexpected contributors—even pulling Matias Aguayo's "Dance Machine" seamlessly into the mix. Chain-smoking coyly behind his glowing laptop throughout the entire performance, Deadbeat shifted the momentum in grand, elongated gestures until the pavement, which had formerly served as the eating grounds for those indulging in the day's barbecue, was transformed into an ebullient dancefloor.
And with that the weekend's festivities ended on one of its highest notes, a closing performance that, no doubt, insured Deadbeat will be invited back next year, and, with any luck, so will we.
top image: Marcellus Pittman