“Seems like a lot to go through just for some house music,” someone might say. And they wouldn’t be wrong, technically. After a week of anticipation, preparation, coordination, successfully getting paid time off approved, a 7 a.m. flight, a rental car, a four-hour road trip up to Bradley, California, me and my handful of friends finally found ourselves pulling up to a charming young lady who handed us our wristbands for the third annual Dirtybird Campout.
It was Dirtybird’s first time hosting the Campout in Bradley, at the same location where Lightning In a Bottle was held (which was also hosted by the Do LaB). Nobody knew entirely what to expect. What I did naturally expect was a couple security checkpoints, and some festival employees to funnel us into the campgrounds. Nope! The girl who gave us our wristbands was actually one of the only employees I saw all weekend. We proceeded casually down the dirt road and realized that this event was a total free-for-all. This may pose a problem for some folks, but I had no issue with it. Besides dealing with a bit of confusion, my friends and I were able to easily secure a spot right next to the entrance, even though we arrived pretty late.
We frantically set up our site, as the clock was ticking. We only had about an hour until the music started, and we did not want to miss Mikey Lion go b2b with Porkchop (aka half of the Desert Hearts Crew), to open up the festival. We had a short, but sweet, pregame with our lovely neighbors while multiple renegade stages around us were already bumping house music.
As we made our way in, we realized that we would have a worthy adversary that was going to put up a fight with us the entire weekend: the dust. Even as we approached the Bass Lodge from a distance, it was clear that Desert Hearts was throwing it down. We could barely make out the tunes they were playing, but there was a massive cloud of dust that was billowing up from the ground. Folks were dancing. Hard. All the anticipation of the week prior had finally made it’s way to the sweet release of the groovy tech house Mikey and Porkchop were laying down. The two brothers playfully passed a tequila bottle back-and-forth while campers took turns jumping up on the stage, showing off whatever ridiculous dance moves they had.
After Desert Hearts completed their foolishly fun two-hour set, we knew we had to make some moves on some bandanas. It was only 7 p.m. on the first day and I was already pulling dirt out of my nose. Thankfully, our campmates brought plenty of extras. I actually never gave mine back … whoops. We headed back to camp to crush as many beers as we could before catching another highly anticipated act at the Birdhouse (the mainstage): Will Clarke b2b Kill Frenzy.
It was here where I realized this festival was going to be something special. Not only did it look like Will and Kill were having the time of their lives up there, but I could spot nearly every Dirtybird heavy-hitter up on stage with them, drunk as fuck, dancing their butts off. There are no gimmicks to Dirtybird Campout. There’s no heavy lighting production, no crazy art installations, none of that. The main stage is literally the front porch of a log cabin. This festival is purely about filthy house music. There are, of course, the dozens of awesome activities that you can take part in, but the meat of these mostly takes place during the day. When night falls, be prepared to dance your legs sore.
After the epic Will Clarke & Kill Frenzy b2b (which paired nicely with my Sprite b2b vodka), Danny Daze took the stage. I’ve never really dived deep into the techno scene, so I really had no expectations. Luckily for me, I had two knowledgeable campers beside me who gave me listening instructions so I was able to really appreciate what he was doing up there on the CDJs. What really impressed me though, was when he slowed down an acid house track and started scratching over it, eventually transitioning into “Blow the Whistle” by Too $hort. Keep in mind that Dirtybird is a Bay Area record label, so everyone lost their shit entirely, myself included.
The boss himself, Claude VonStroke, came on after Danny to close out the night and threw it down like he always does. Claude had more stage presence than usual that night, jumping up and down throughout his entire set while he put down unreleased banger after unreleased banger, finally ending with the highly coveted “Stop It” by Fisher, which was easily the track of the weekend. I must have heard it four separate times.
After a very chilly and restless night, I found myself bursting out of my tent with a hunger only satiable by one thing: BBQ. The wonderfully temperate morning was already shifting into a 90+ degree afternoon, and the sun began sucking out whatever electrolytes I had left in me on the walk into the venue. I finally reached the empty BBQ line (thank god) only to see that a plate was going to cost me $22. I paid for it, because it looked and smelled heavenly, but this is one of the few complaints I had with Campout. The food and drinks were outrageously priced. Good thing there was nobody stopping me from walking into the venue with a backpack full of snacks, beer, and booze all weekend. Anyway, I did end up getting a stacked plate with juicy tri-tip, baked beans, mac & cheese, delicious cornbread with honey butter, and a salad. It really did the trick, but sadly that was the only day I was able to shell out for some vendor food.
I was hoping to participate in some dodgeball and other nostalgic, competitive games that afternoon, but the BBQ plate put my sorry ass into a food coma almost instantly. All I was able to do was walk back to my camp and pass out so I would be able to have enough energy for the evening. “Tomorrow,” I told myself.
It took a three-hour nap and two bottles of pedialyte to get myself back into action, but by 6 p.m. I was a new man. We had rallied most of the troops and walked right back into the dust storm that was Sonny Fodera’s evening set. Sonny went back-and-forth between his groovy disco house tracks and dirty deep house tunes, keeping the crowd on their toes. He also continued to work in sample after sample of other tracks too. I was thoroughly impressed by his DJ skills and, based on what I heard from other campers as well, he ended up putting forth one of the best sets of the weekend.
Between the onslaught of quality house music I was hearing not only within the venue, but also at the dozens of renegade stage setups by our camp, I was itching for a change of pace. After Sonny’s set we moved over to the Bass Lodge to see Tennyson. Tennyson is a brother/sister duo who I knew little about before coming to see their set. I could only describe their music as future jazz. Luke supplied brilliant work on the keyboard and sang, while Tess absolutely murdered it on the drums. It wasn’t until I saw them live that I realized that all of their recorded music is not produced through software, they actually play that shit. I was glad I could give my legs a rest from dancing and just sit back in awe as they entranced the entire crowd with their technical skill.
Denver bass producer kLL sMTH followed Tennyson, giving them much due praise and then warning the crowd to brace for something a bit different. The crowd quickly adjusted to his wonky, west coast bass set. I was simply astounded at the quality of music that was put on by each and every performer. There was not a single bad set. Hell, there wasn’t even an okay set. Everything was pure fire. Props to whoever booked the talent this time. I was slightly familiar with most of the names, but now I’m a fan of nearly all of them. We had to duck out of kLL sMTH’s set a little bit early to make sure we could secure a spot for what ended up being the set of the weekend: Walker & Royce.
Walker & Royce are the Brooklyn tech house duo that have been on an insane hot streak lately. Little did we know that we were going to be treated to what felt like a viewing party for their forthcoming album, Self Help. A majority of their tracks had these distorted, fuzzy bass lines that ran chills down your spine. As much as I wanted to pull out my phone to capture every moment of that set, I couldn’t do it. I was too busy having my mind and body assaulted by heater after heater. Most of the set was spent looking at my friends with complete disbelief. Walker & Royce were making a legitimate claim for the Dirtybird throne. We all promised each other we would get together on October 20th to bump the shit out of Self Help when it drops. I suggest you do the same.
Check out their brand new music video for “Rub Anotha Dub” right here.
Before we could even tell that they had switched, the Dirtybird Prince Justin Martin was on stage mixing in. Walker & Royce may be the new kids on the block, but Justin had a look on his face like he was going to remind everyone what they all came there for. J-Mart is infamous for holding onto unreleased edits, not even handing them to his fellow Dirtybirds to play out, so we knew it was going to get rowdy. It got more than rowdy. I was lucky enough to capture Justin’s heartstring-tugging closer, a remix of Bjork’s “Anchor Song,” which he has explicitly said will never get a release. I would be lying if I told you tears didn’t well up in my eyes during this track. Justin Martin has an unmatched skill with combining musical elements that fundamentally don’t work together and turning them into gold. Take a listen to it right here:
Day three was a rough one for most of our camp. We “woke up” at a reasonable hour, but did nothing but eat, drink, and nap until 5 p.m. My hopes of participating in some summer camp shenanigans were shattered by my fatigue. My only goal now was to rally my enthusiasm to make it out for the rest of the night. Thankfully, I did just that and was able to catch a handful of even more great talent that included Sacha Robotti, Chris Lorenzo, Bleep Bloop, Shiba San, Eats Everything, and the up-and-coming Fisher.
What came next was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. Claude came up on the mic and told everyone that it was time for the family set, and that “every DJ that was still alive” (honestly there weren’t many) was going to drop one track. Once again, it was bombs away in what was probably the most epic b2b2b2b2b2b2b2b2b2b2b2b set I’ve ever seen. It was here that I had the realization of why I loved this festival so much. It wasn’t even a festival. It was like all the Dirtybird fam hit up a few thousand people and told them they were having a huge three-day party at their collective lake house, and that we should all come. There was no barrier between artists and fans. It even felt weird to call ourselves fans. We were all friends. There was nobody around telling you what you could and couldn’t do.
Like every music festival, there were people who were spun out of their mind, but it was a 21+ event, so people handled their shit accordingly. I didn’t see one medical emergency because someone didn’t know how to take care of themselves. That’s how it should be. It was also SO refreshing not to be bombarded by drug dealers coming to our camp every 15 minutes with a fake friendly greeting, asking if we want to buy something.
Based on what I heard from returning Campers, this year was much more packed than the last year. There were, of course, some complaints about the venue, the dust, the long walk to the venue, etc. I’ll be honest and say that the staff could have done a much better job letting people know what to expect as far as logistics go. I, personally, didn’t have any complaints besides the ridiculous vendor pricing. Me and my crew had such a blast that we’re already making plans for the first-ever East Coast Campout in February, which was announced during the festival.
See you again soon, you Dirtybirds.
Dirtybird Campout 2017: 8/10
Top 3 Sets of the Weekend:
- Walker & Royce
- Justin Martin
- Sonny Fodera