CRSSD Festival, the biannual Southern California event celebrating house, techno, and live electronic music, returned for its Spring 2018 edition the first weekend of March. Set within the palm-fringed, bayside confines of Downtown San Diego’s scenic Waterfront Park, CRSSD has formed its own distinct identity amongst the plethora of dance music weekenders on the West Coast of California. Organizers have done this by consistently booking exciting, diverse lineups, while still keeping the event at a manageable size—two elements that have naturally attracted a musically mature yet relaxed crowd. This spring, the festival easily sold out, another testament to the effectiveness of CRSSD’s formula and its status as one of the best kickoffs to festival season in California.
For its latest edition, CRSSD’s “hybrid” vision of combining live electronic bands with underground house and techno selectors was poignant and absorbing. Kicking things off on Saturday at the main Ocean View stage was French house maestro Rodriguez Jr. As proceedings were ramping up, the Mobilee mainstay dropped a dreamy live set that reminded folks why he's considered one of the best live performers in dance music. Later, at the always bumping City Steps stage, veteran DJ Mark Knight capitalized on the unexpected sunshine (rain was initially forecast) with track after track of polished metallic techno.
Afterlife member Patrice Baumel followed with a melodic yet formulaic set of big-room tech house. Truthfully, the Amsterdam-based producer’s appearance was evidence of his increasingly homogeneous sound—a slight disappointment considering the elegance and eclecticism of his early Kompakt productions. The real highlights of City Steps’ programming was yet to come, and the energy shifted as Dense & Pika stepped up to the decks—their highly anticipated set, which was chock full of infectious basslines and mesmerizing hi-hats, exceeded expectations, and was the perfect segway into the most impressive performance of the day from up-and-coming Belgian selector Charlotte de Witte. The buzzing producer and DJ (who initially rose to prominence via stellar releases on Suara and on Andre Crom’s OFF Recordings) laid down a top-notch set of rowdy but accessible techno—the first performance that spoke to the strength of the female artists on CRSSD’s Spring 2018 program.
While MK played a slightly dull mix of vocal bangers at the house-oriented Palms stage, Swedish electronic live act Little Dragon pleased the crowd at the Ocean View stage with their performance of the widely-loved song “Ritual Union.” Afterwards, Eric Prydz' underground alias Cirez D finished things off at City Steps with an enveloping journey of extended drops and high-BPM breakdowns, reminding attendees why he is still coveted.
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On Sunday, the general vibe was noticeably more relaxed; the recovering crowd streamed into Waterfront Park a bit later than on Saturday and congregated at the more eclectic musical options on offer, including standout sets from Berlin-based producer Man Power and rising alternative/indie-dance artist NoMBe. By 3.30 p.m., however, attendees seemed ready to party again. Rising Dallas-based producer Medasin exploited this shift in mood, dropping an engaging mix of trap, bass, and hip-hop-infused beats during his performance at the Palms stage. Back at City Steps, UK-based DJ duo CamelPhat also tried to profit from this shift, but their set felt somewhat flat due to a mix of repetitive run-of-the-mill tech-house.
Alan Fitzpatrick, the seasoned Drumcode and Cocoon selector, followed at City Steps, playing a sharp set of gorgeous techno that was especially powerful as the golden hour began to fall upon Waterfront Park’s scenery. Next up was the Brazilian DJ ANNA, whose frantic mixing style and energetic selections were an ideal precursor to MOOD boss Nicole Moudaber’s set. Back at Ocean View, Bonobo delivered arguably the most beautiful live performance of the weekend as the sun went down; it’s no wonder his band’s fusion of electronic production and world music was nominated for a Grammy. And yet, in true CRSSD fashion, organizers saved their best booking for last, with legendary Kompakt contributor Sasha closing out the festival at City Steps. The British DJ left the crowd wanting more, pumping out an emotional mix of subaquatic techno that felt simultaneously old-school and contemporary.
For those of us regular festival goers, each year’s season acts as a sort of ritual. As spring approaches, anticipation begins to build and buzz stirs among the dance music community about which events everyone will be attending. The past four years have seen San Diego’s CRSSD Festival continue its ascent as one of the premier kickoff and closing events of the West Coast festival season. With every year, more and more dance music fans are choosing CRSSD as a festival not to be missed in their calendar of musical experiences. This past Spring 2018 edition’s stellar musical programming, seamless operations, and relaxed crowd and vibe effectively solidified CRSSD’s position as one of the few mature and decidedly unique electronic festivals in the US.