Over the past decade we’ve witnessed an explosion of popularity in festival culture. New events have been popping up faster than you can figure out how to say “Shambhala”, with at least one fest booked nearly every weekend on the west coast. It’s a time when production crews have to create a really unique experience in order to stand out among the crowd. One new event that is thriving in these conditions is Northern Nights Music Festival. Located on property straddling both Mendocino and Humboldt counties, this festival offers a proper taste of Northern California. While the state is full of different ecological environments, there’s something about being surrounded by sequoia forests that I identify so strongly with the area. NN has all the right ingredients for a fantastic festival; unique musical lineup, diverse range of visual arts, amazingly friendly people, and a beautiful venue.
2015 was Northern Nights third year in operation, and my second year attending. After having an epic time last year, I had high expectations for this one, all of which were exceeded. The festival made some leaps forward, nearly doubling in attendance from 3000 attendees last year to over 5000. I was a little concerned when I heard they were growing the numbers because I loved the small intimate vibe previously, but they managed to maintain that feel.
For me, the performances are really what make Northern Nights such a powerful event. The NN team guarantees an eclectic experience, bringing together a combination of House, Bass, Funk, Hip Hop and more.
The music is still very much focused on dancing while the performers typically bring more to the show than just a DJ behind a laptop. As a lover of bass, I also appreciate that NN recognizes quality of sound is almost as important as those who are performing, featuring Void sound systems on all of their sound stages. I was also really impressed how Northern Nights worked around the constraint of noise permits. Every band that closed the main stage was a perfect balance of fun and energetic but also transitioned well into the silent disco, a burlesque show or a party back at camp.
Favorite Performances of NNMF 2015
The Polish Ambassador and Friends
I’ve seen TPA a handful of times in the past, and had a blast every time, but I must say this was the most engaging and solid set I’ve seen from him yet. He played a grip of new material as well as favorites from the past few years. Throughout his performance he brought out collaborators, Mr. Lif, Alya Nero, and Ryan Herr who were all major contributors to his last LP, Pushing Through the Pavement. I really liked the feel of bringing on more live musicians and the chemistry between all members was remarkable.
Later that evening, after the main stage sound went off, Ayla played an intimate set at the Grove stage. The whole crowd was either seated or in the mists of a cuddle puddle, surrounded by trees illuminated with colorful lights. Differing considerably from her set with TPA, she sang in soft acappella vocals while projecting her beaming smile across the crowd. It was an unexpectedly mellow moment from a large event.
In what could have been a major disappointment, Yasim Bey was unable to make the event. Not missing a beat, Talib Kwali started by admitting his disappointment “as I’m a Blackstar fan myself”, and then proceeded on with a killer set of his own. He even dipped into a few Blackstar tracks to appease us, although it just didn’t quite feel the same without Mos.
The Wedidit boss-man brought out his new live band to close the stage Saturday night. The band took a much more minimalistic stage presence compared to most other acts, decked out in full Health Goth swagger and hardly interacting with the crowd, their music and light show was all that was needed to capture the audiences attention. Growing up I enjoyed a lot of noisy and sludgy music you could bang your head to, and while my tastes have greatly moved away from that, I always enjoy something that will scratch that old itch, and boy did this. The eerily dystopic compositions were enhanced by the loud punchiness of the drums and gritty vibrations from the bass.
I ended up going into this set somewhat blind, knowing only a little about Slow Magic. In fact, little is known about the rainbow animalian masked creature’s identity. Hearing his music for the first time in a live audience was the perfect way to experience it. His dreamy synths were both groovy and emotional. Incorporating live drumming into his set brought up the energy and really got the crowd going. At one point he grabbed a single drum, hopped off stage and planted himself right where I was photographing, as a crowd encircled us, he had everyone drumming to his solo in the middle of the dance floor.
Shout out to
Goldlink, A/O Beats, Librarian, Psy Fi, and Amp Live, G Jones.