Nestled in a grove of Aspens and Cottonwoods on Clear Creek just outside of Georgetown, Sonic Bloom created one of the most unique festival experiences in the country this past weekend. A self-described “transformational festival” organized by musician Jamie Janover now in its 8th year, the getaway united a community of 3,500 people with visual and performance art, yoga and workshops, and a whole lot of electronic bass music. For three days (and three very long nights) the festival grounds were alive with laugher before being struck by disaster and controversy on Sunday.
For such a small festival, Sonic Bloom Festival had three exceptional stages this year that featured music from early afternoon until sunrise. The main stage was an elaborate set-up that included multiple large LED projection panels, an aerial performance tower some 60 feet above the stage, and a designated area in front of the DJ booth for additional performance artists (a floating ball, fire fans and hula-hoops included).
Much improved from last year, the Dome Stage was home all weekend to many in attendance. The geodesic dome created an intimate enclosure of a party–large enough to allow for a rowdy dance floor while still making the sound system and projection mapped visuals that wrapped into your peripheral vision feel like they were there just for you. Playing host to many of the festival’s heavier bass acts, the dome was also the home of afternoon yoga and the much-hyped Sunday sunrise set by organic downtempo artist Random Rab.
New to the festival entirely, the Buddha Lounge of 2012 was replaced and expanded with a wooden Hummingbird Stage. The intricate stage was filled with hand-carved wooden sculptures of Sonic Bloom’s signature hummingbird and sunflower graphics. While it was surely the road less travelled, the stage saw standout sets by many up-in-coming Denver acts including Late Night Radio and Bass Physics.
Sonic Bloom is often perceived, perhaps legitimately, as a festival of dubstep—but leaving it at that does not do it justice. The festival did an excellent job of showcasing many emerging genres of electronic music. From uplifting nudisco (Luke the Knife, Orchard Lounge) to dark psytrance (Andreilien, Future Primitive), downtempo (Bluetech, Ilya) to dubstep (Vibesquad, Ill.Gates), the festival offered something for just about every electronic fan.
Crowd-favorite sets ranged heavily from camp to camp, but few argued about the light-hearted house party put on by the Polish Ambassador on the main stage (his synthy remix of Blackstar’s “Definition” was very inventive) or Wick-it the Instigator’s animated set of bass-heavy mashups in the dome (the producer repeatedly stopped mid-drop to yell out comedic references like “Cannonball” or “I’m a Golden God”).
Though dominated by EDM, Sonic Bloom Festival did not entirely abandon the beauty and power of a live band. Denver trio Sunquabi kicked the festival off with a grooving set on Thursday and live sax, flute and trumpet by Russ Liquid during Opiuo’s Friday night set added much to the Australian producer’s performance. While loosely rehearsed supergroups like Zilla were expectedly hit or miss, the tight funk and musicianship of the Werks on Saturday was a welcomed change of pace.
More than just a celebration of music, Sonic Bloom Festival was a celebration of art and thought, no matter how bizarre. Attendees could attend classes throughout the day on topics ranging from botany to painting to meditation. Art exhibits abounded: formal galleries, live painters, amateur campsite displays, and most everything in between. It was easy to be skeptical of the merits behind many presented philosophies rooted in abstract terms like consciousness, paradigm and spirit, but it was impossible to deny that the message was consistently one of community and positive change.
The community was abruptly challenged on Sunday when an onslaught of horrible events transpired on the festival grounds. An unknown man was found dead (a large public ceremony ensued), a windstorm left the grounds without power, and aggressive police intervention on a naked man left hundreds visibly upset. These unfortunate situations will continue to be widely discussed, but they should not overshadow or demean a Sonic Bloom festival that once again united a rich Colorado electronic music scene.
Nate Etter is a Boulder-based musician and a regular contributor to Reverb. You can reach him at Nate@EcoVessel.com.