Column by Ofelia Legaspi
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Switching gears as a traveller from idyllic to psychedelic can be a shock to the system. Toronto’s VELD Music Festival this month, for one, was all volume, vigour and vascularity. We’re talking about die-hard dancers in day-glo on the brink of a beat dropping. If you’ve seen the Great Wall of China but not this groovy wall of chest-thumpers, drop your guide books and get thee to an EDM festival.
If the electronic music culture you know is trap music, neon shirts and dilated pupils, you need to stop hanging out with the eat-sleep-rave-repeat crowd and meet the real … “movers and shakers” of this highly expressive and deeply creative culture. Though synths and sequencers are not exactly as romantic as, say, the Spanish guitar, a studied machine sound can be true soul music. It’s a pliable genre and its artists are like sound scientists experimenting with complexity in noise manipulation, digital samples and technological layering.
But it really goes beyond the music. My pulse rate at VELD raced with the DJs’ BPM. There was also a real tribal vibe in the group’s polyrhythmic unison, their costumed ways, the gradations in gaudiness and their shared affinity for bare skin and musculature.
To catch Iggy Azalea in the smaller stage, I tail-shook, head-bopped and fist-pumped my way out of the writhing mass like a phlegmy unborn EDM child that I was. The wall of flesh was about as solid as Fort Knox, and also liquefying like a neon ersatz fruit popsicle in the heat. Not only did I come out alive, but I came out revivified and magically in possession of 50 candy-coloured bracelets. I believe my blood sugar spiked just by looking at them.
I hadn’t seen a crowd this big — about 85,000 people strong — since I attended Pope John Paul II’s World Youth Day in Manila as a child. Except in the place of God-fearing Christians were roof-raising machines of dance.
While EDM parties can be notorious for “sex, drugs and dubstep” (as a piece of rave kitsch so squarely put it), they can be quite the religious experience.
You don’t need to be under the influence of drugs for your mind to melt at the artistic value of the whole production. The stunning, innovative LED displays, interactive installations and cohesive themes tie together the party many dismiss as delinquent and juvenile.
Don’t let the typical cast of characters at raves (“the drug dealer,” “the shirt-allergic,” “the gravity demonstrator,” “the sprinkler system”) deter you from partying with a growing community of music and art lovers.
The EDM culture exists outside the sprawling fields of big music festivals. They exist in the desert (Burning Man), they sail the seas (Kajama Midnight Sail), they are tucked away in abandoned warehouses (German Sparkle Party), they are crammed in narrow streetcars (NXNE), beaches (Promise Cherry Beach), cathedrals (Detroit Dirty Motors), gardens (Promise Garden Party, Ambient Cherry Blossoms), farms (Playground Weekend) and castles (Harvest Festival).
Though electronic festivals are massive, they are intimate affairs. The EDM crowd is notorious for their friendliness. Exchanging rave bracelets are a ritual. If you’re a vertically challenged individual, this community’s got your back. I, for one, got asked if I’d like to be taken up front and another stranger hoisted me up on his shoulders unasked. It is mandatory that you mingle; it’s part of the EDM experience. I met some great people like human totems Abdullah Hotaki and Kourosh Sheidaei who crowned the crowds with their balancing stunts, Marcelle Lauzon who started a business making bejeweled rave outfits and 20-year-old raver Lance Dufault who crowdsurfs like a rock star in his wheelchair. So, eschew your preconceived notions about rave parties and rage with the machines before the summer ends.
Canada’s next electronic music festival is MEME (Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition), which takes place August 14-17, 2014 at The Cube in Old Market Square, The Winnipeg Art Gallery and The Pantages Playhouse.