Camp Bisco 13: The Disco Biscuits and Their Festival Have Entered a New Frontier
Now that the smoke has cleared and the dust has settled, I feel that I can properly sum up Camp Bisco 13. It was undoubtedly one for the history books, an evolved version of the original vision that the Disco Biscuits had so many years ago. From the expanded amenities to the upscale production, the seemingly original festival has taken another step in the right direction. After five years of attending Camp Bisco, a lot has changed, but many things have also stayed the same. The unique musical experiences and lasting friendships continue to grow as we bask in instrumental inspiration and deliberate bliss; we realize how blessed we are to be able to enjoy these magical days and nights together. Plain and simple, the Disco Biscuits have created something extremely special. The band and their team have experienced a lot of peaks and valleys over the years - I can confidently say that those days are over.
This year's Camp Bisco had a certain vibe, one that I never experienced in the past. Sure, there was still some negativity, but the positivity overcame it leaving a lasting impression. I believe that Montage Mountain in Scranton, Pennsylvania has been declared the official new home of Camp Bisco, and I couldn't be happier. The smiles outstretched upon the faces of patrons, vendors, musicians, security guards, and the band were priceless. Our scene has broken through the darkness of the past and is headed toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Think what you may and say what you want, I know the truth. Five years ago, I came for the party - I'd be lying if I said different. Now, things have finally begun to change; I've realized my true drug of choice, music. If Camp Bisco and the Disco Biscuits have taught me one thing this year, it is to 'Be Kind' - a message that was passed onto them from the iconic individuals that make up the core of the Grateful Dead. If you're a die-hard fan of the Disco Biscuits, you are following a band that has been undergoing a transformation into a new and improved singular unit. If this year's mindful set-lists and crystal clear improvisation hadn't proved this to you already, Camp Bisco most definitely did.
After arriving on Thursday and settling into my hotel room, it was time to hop on the shuttle and head to the festival grounds. I attended Peach Music Festival in 2013, so I was semi-familiar with the venue. The first act on my list to see was Atmosphere; I'm a huge hip-hop head and have been listening to their music for ten years. Slug and Ant are two very talented artists, both have a significant ability to express themselves through beats and rhymes. They had the crowd rocking as they performed some of my all-time favorite songs. I loved it. In a festival setting such as Camp Bisco not everyone is going to love hip-hop, but I definitely saw a large number of people with their hands up. After a passionate performance, Atmosphere closed their set with 'God's Bathroom Floor' and 'Trying To Find A Balance' - two songs that speak to me in a huge way. It was a great way to kick off the weekend.
Next up, I saw STS9 in the amphitheater. I had never seen them play a festival set with their new bassist Alana Rocklin, so I was excited to check them out. It's never easy to replace a founding member, especially a front-man. Many fans were disappointed and apprehensive when the band announced that David Murphy was no longer the bassist of STS9. I don't think that's the case anymore. Sound Tribe Sector 9 has undergone a regeneration; their set definitely exceeded my expectations. It flowed freely with jazz elements while keeping the steady thump of their signature electronic rock. I felt the inspiration pour from the stage as they delivered one of the best sets of the entire weekend. Sound Tribe Sector 9 is back, and playing the best they have in years. The set-list was very well put together, 'New Dawn, New Day' and 'EHM' both resonated with me deeply. There is no doubt in my mind that STS9 will be crushing their upcoming tour dates. Everybody should experience their new and improved sound, do not sleep on them because they're here to stay.
Horizon Wireless threw down an awesome set that overlapped with the ending of STS9. For the majority of DJs and producers at his level, packing out the Steamtown Stage during one of the headliner's sets would be a problem - that was not the case for Horizon Wireless. His set was packed with supporters, all of them getting down to the melodic layers of his various beats and samples. Over the past year, his live show has really grown with the addition of drummer Dan Lyons. Together, they continue to evolve their sound with fresh ideas and a solid rhythmic spine. The production at the Steamtown Stage definitely made this set one of their all-time favorites, they were smiling the entire time. It was filled with live remixes, re-edits, samples, and a steady pulse of drum and bass. Some of the tracks that stood out to me were 'Whiplash', 'Space Jam', and 'Vogue'. It was one big throw-down. They had Manny Newman on lights and Mike Nasser on visuals, both are close friends who have known Horizon Wireless since the beginning. The entire crew was totally amped up after the set. It was the first of many milestones and a definite step in the right direction.
After that killer combo, the Disco Biscuits took the stage for their first set of the weekend. The pavilion was packed out with fans from far and wide. The band came out swinging with a vast amount of energy. They opened up with Prince's '1999' after talking about starting Camp Bisco sixteen years ago. At some points they dug in deep, while never straying too far from the structure of the song. The first set of the weekend proved to everyone that the Disco Biscuits came to play. After re-listening to it, the set holds up as being very solid. The boys came to Camp Bisco with fresh heads and inspired hearts, their soul was in it from the get-go. The set included a monster 'Shadow' - now that the song has been put back into rotation, it has only grown and gotten more explorative. It was the best version of the song that I've heard live. From there, they went into a soaring 'Rock Candy' - although it was unfinished, the jam was pure blissco from front to back. Their sets only got better from there, and there were five more left.
Friday was a brand new day, everyone had settled into the festival grounds and picked out the music that they planned on seeing throughout the weekend. Compared to past years, the amenities were stepped up a notch; there was a shaded main-stage, water park, air conditioned lodge, and more. For it being the first year at Montage Mountain, I was impressed. Although there will always be a few kinks that need ironing out, the Camp Bisco team did an exceptional job. It's not easy to responsibly run a music festival of that magnitude. Overall, the festival was professional and well-done.
I didn't see many acts on Friday, but for me the band that stood out the most was The Motet. The soulful funk outfit from Colorado laid down a heartfelt set that had people moving with light feet and bubbly smiles. The seven-piece band was spreading that Colorado love with grace. Their jams flowed with immense rhythm and native melody. It's not hard to tell that they've been playing music professionally for years. Their set was very fitting for the late afternoon time-slot; the laid back grooves harmonized with the waning heat from the sun. The sounds of their electro-funk swept the main-stage area with pleasant vibrations allowing concertgoers to relax.
I had one thing on my mind, the Disco Biscuits; I knew they were about to lay down two of the best sets that I'd ever seen. There was something in the air. Well, they delivered in an enormous way. The first set had some extreme high-points that had the crowd going wild, the inverted (reversed) 'House Dog Party Favor' and 'Morph Dusseldorf' were both top-notch versions with deep-seated jams throughout. It was actually the first time that the band ever did an inverted 'House Dog Party Favor' which made it instantaneous bliss for true fans. From top to bottom, the entire crowd was locked in and focused; a definitive reflection of how the band was playing. It was as if they didn't miss a note, a display of how synchronized they can be when they're all on the same page. In between the two songs, the band played a very interesting cover - 'She's Gone' by Hall & Oates; Marc Brownstein invited friend Mutlu Onaral on stage to sing. It was the first time that the Disco Biscuits ever played the song, it was pretty peculiar and creatively clever. It's always a good sign when a band is experimenting with new songs and taking chances, especially the Disco Biscuits. 'Morph Dusseldorf' broke down into an awesome segment of space-funk, it was spooky yet seriously delightful; another prime example of how they can command an entire crowd with their steadily crafted trance-fusion. It showcased guitarist Jon Gutwillig's ability to scurry up and down the neck of his guitar before dropping into rhythm guitar styled strumming. The song ended the first set of Friday with a bang. Everyone was anticipating the second set to further move the standard, which it did.
The second set on Friday changed my life forever, everything about it struck a chord with me. It wasn't one thing in particular, it was a powerful combination of many. First off, the song choices flowed very well. Secondly, Tom Hamilton and Jon Gutwillig shredding dueling guitar parts will never get old to me. Both players have such different tones, they really balance each other out. There is something extremely unique yet impeccably righteous about seeing the two of them exchange riffs on a big stage. They opened with a velvety version of the Grateful Dead's 'Help On The Way' into its usual counterpart 'Slipknot'. Both songs showed the bands capability of adding their own twist to classic songs of the past. At times, I found myself screaming uncontrollably with a smile plastered across my face. It was abnormally glorious. From there, the five-piece slid into an inverted 'Confrontation' - a song that Tom Hamilton is undoubtedly familiar with from playing with Electron. On this particular occasion, the song's lyrics pierced my heart like an arrow of polished influence. The song is one of bassist Marc Brownstein's classics, this is a fact. This particular version was pushed forward by all five musicians; the interplay between keyboardist Aron Magner and Tom Hamilton was comforted by Brownstein's strong bass-line and drummer Allen Aucoin's durable beats. Gutwillig exemplified his adventurous style by dragging the jam into the depths of the unknown while never overdoing himself.
My ears, eyes, and mind were fixated on the stage; I carefully watched the band push and pull the notes from each other's instruments. When they jammed out of an inverted 'Overture' and into the ending of 'Above The Waves', all I could do was smile. Out of the numerous songs that the Disco Biscuits play inverted, 'Above The Waves' might be my favorite; I definitely enjoy it more than when it's played regularly. After they started with the ending, the crowd erupted into a long-winded cheer. The song reminds me of friends that I've lost over the years; it also makes me realize how blessed I am to get a second chance at life.
Most long-time fans of the Disco Biscuits don't particularly enjoy when Dom Lalli of Big Gigantic sits in with the band. Marc Brownstein has heard the ridicule time and time again, and has laughed at it. The band invited Lalli on stage to perform the Pink Floyd song 'Us And Them' - it was classy and delicately refined. To be quite honest, it was the best Dom Lalli sit-in that I've personally witnessed; the Disco Biscuits chose a song that was fitting for everyone on stage, the placement was also very appropriate. It showed fans how great sit-ins can be, especially when the right song is executed properly.
When I woke up on Saturday, I had but one thing on my mind - the famed day set that the Disco Biscuits perform at every Camp Bisco. This year, because of the shaded pavilion main-stage it was much more comfortable. Fans could dance and rage as hard as they wanted to without getting completely sun burnt, it was an obvious plus for everyone. I arrived at the pavilion early and had the opportunity to check out The Werks. It was the best set I've seen from them; their jams had me out of my seat and dancing around like the village drunk. One of the songs that really stuck out to me was their live remix of the well-known electronic track 'Sandstorm' - to keep it short and sweet, it was fun.
The Disco Biscuits came on stage for their day set, and the real fun began. The entire set was top-notch Biscuits. It was a five-song set filled with logical improvisation and consistent transitions, beginning with an unfinished 'Astronaut' and ending with an invigorated 'Pilin' It High'. My favorite segment of the set was 'Vassilios' into 'I-Man'. The 'Vassilios' was unadulterated jam-rock; Magner gifted his beauteous piano playing to the crowd while Gutwillig shredded his guitar parts with a calming tenacity. Brownstein and Aucoin held it all together with coherent drums and bass, their concrete rhythm is an absolute necessity to the band. When they jammed into 'I-Man', the majority of the crowd yelled the lyrics with elated energy and euphoric delight. The jam teetered on the edge of dark and light while never falling to one side of the spectrum completely. By the time the band was ready to jam out of the song, it was over twenty minutes long - twenty minutes of well-formulated livetronica, Gutwillig spearheaded abstract improvisation without wasting space with useless noodling. It was impressive.
I needed a break to fully absorb the day set; I relaxed until the Disco Biscuits came on for their second set. Once the set began, I realized that it was going to be very thought-provoking. The Disco Biscuits don't randomly start a set with 'Sabre Dance' and 'Konkrete' - both songs are totally different. After those two songs the band broke into a colossal segment which included one of my all-time favorite songs 'Crystal Ball'. The song depicts most everything that is exclusive to the Disco Biscuits and their music - rapid tempo changes, symbolic lyrics, widespread dynamics, and an all-around improvisational platform to search and explore new territories. Once again, Allen Aucoin showed off his ability to act as a robotic metronome for the band. They drifted into an inverted version of 'The Great Abyss' which fit like the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle. About halfway through the song, they busted into a spacey half-time jam. It didn't stop there though, the following segment was completely different than most anything I've experienced in the past. From the inverted 'Great Abyss' they went into 'Tempest' then Muse's 'Knights of Cydonia' then back into 'Tempest', before finally ending with 'Knights of Cydonia'. It was the first time that they played 'Knights of Cydonia' - like I said before, it's a very good sign to see the band experimenting and trying new things.
The Disco Biscuits had one more set left to close out their thirteenth Camp Bisco. In between their sets, Bassnectar threw down a gigantic set in the pavilion; over the years he has become a main-stay at Camp Bisco. Multi-talented producer Esseks also threw down a sick set at the Steamtown Stage; he is a vital part of the Planet Cognac team out of Brooklyn. This year has definitely been the biggest of his career and I'm excited to see what the future holds for him.
After those two sets the Disco Biscuits took the stage for their final set of the weekend. At this point, I had no idea what they were going to break out next. It ended up being seriously spectacular. They opened the set with a monumental rendition of Gutwillig's classic 'Mindless Dribble' - it set the bar very high but the set continued to push the envelope. It was one big segment of authentic blissco and natural untz. Next up was 'Spacebirdmatingcall' which most fans always love to hear in a set. It peaked with the soaring power of a phoenix rising from the ashes. The Disco Biscuits were motoring through jams like the well-oiled machine that everyone knows they are. 'Crickets' followed as the crowd rocked back and forth like a cruise ship being carried by ocean tides. The band was stirring the sauce together like four master chefs in the same kitchen, on the same page of the cookbook. They landed on the beginning notes of 'Cyclone' with the accuracy of hitting a bull's-eye in a game of darts. The famed build-up got stacked to the sky with the precision of master masons laying a foundation. People were loving every second of the final set. The band transitioned back into the funky ending of 'Crickets' before shocking everyone by playing 'Home' by LCD Soundsystem - it was the first time that they ever played the song. The band looked so happy, they had Kyle Holly of Modern Measure sit in with them on e-drums which was definitely a dream come true for him. Gutwillig sang the lyrics with all his heart; it wasn't hard to tell that he's a big fan of James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem. The Disco Biscuits closed their final set of Camp Bisco 13 with a phenomenal 'Spacebirdmatingcall' ending which left everyone in a positive headspace for the future.
Tipper was the final act that I saw and he definitely threw down a memorable set. The man went through open-heart surgery, recovered, and continued to play music; he is an inspiration to anyone who has struggled throughout their life. His following has expanded in a huge way and I'm eager to hear his new music. If you haven't seen Tipper, he should undoubtedly be put on your list of artists-to-see.
Camp Bisco taught me a lot this year, it was a very beneficial experience that I'll carry with me for the rest of my life. Change is the only constant in life - times are changing, we're all changing, the music is changing. I have faith that Camp Bisco will continue to grow and take positive strides in the right direction. The Disco Biscuits have continued to climb the mountain of success and have exited the valley of disillusion. If Camp Bisco was a sign of things to come, fans are in for a definite treat. The fact is that they've created a lasting scene of loyal fans and enchanted jams. They are pioneers and always will be. Many fans have had their doubts over the past few years - those doubts have now dissipated into the winds of the past. We are headed into the frontier of the future upon the musical wings of the Disco Biscuits. Be mindful, don't get sucked into the glaring negativity that lurks in the music scene; allow the positivity of the musical experience to enter your heart and soul. We're all on this rollercoaster ride together, throw your hands up and enjoy it.