This past weekend, a small group of Dirtybird superfans gathered in Orange County for a weekend of summer camp filled fun led by none other than tech house music legend Claude Von Stroke.
For years Claude and the crew have been throwing epic barbecue parties in their backyard of San Francisco Bay in Northern California slowly growing into other cities like Brooklyn, and culminating in its three day long event in Southern California. Festival goers get dirty camping, sweaty in epic kickball and ultimate frisbee competitions, lose their minds to fantastic house and techno, and make friends that will last a lifetime.
Upon arriving at camp I instantly felt that release I feel when I walk into any of these festivals. The West Coast has become a bit of a festival utopia featuring events like Dirtybird, Symbiosis, Lightning in a Bottle, What the Festival, Desert Hearts, Woogie Weekend, and many many other small boutique festivals. This creates an intense festival community of people who come together over and over to share in this atmosphere of bright love, laughter, and fun. It doesn’t matter if you go with friends, go alone, or get separated from everyone you go with: in the festival everyone is open and there is a new friend around every corner. Dirty bird truly felt like returning to the summer camps I had gone to year after year as a kid, it felt like I was returning somewhere I’d been over and over summer after summer. Immediately I felt at home and there was a silliness that could only come from this being a Dirtybird event.
This creates an intense and fun energy that permeates through the entire crowd. One of the best examples of this sort of feel good funky set was from the youngest member of Dirtybird family Justin Jay. The sun had just begin to dip below the mountains that surrounded the intimate wooded venue as JJ began his new and funky live set. His collaboration with live guitarists and other musicians allows for an intensity of energy more similar to a rock concert; but with the chill groove of a genuinely “dope” house party — to use the perfect California phrase. When he played “Karma” featuring Josh Taylor and Benny Bridges we could all feel that karmic energy flowing through the musicians and back through to the crowd.
Then suddenly things started to get a little off. Firstly, J. Philip failed to show up for her set, for reasons which are still undisclosed. Then they did not announce that anyone else would be going on to replace her. Instead a couple DJs I did not recognize took turns playing b2b and at moments it looked as if no one was on the decks at all. People started talking. The energy shifted away from the cohesive energy that had been curated throughout the afternoon. Justin Martin attempted to bring us back together through techno. But his brief hour and a half set he barely managed to coral the mismatched crowd before everything went seriously wrong.
Reggie Watts came on next and this set literally ripped the rug from underneath all of us techno fans. It literally made no sense, which may have been the point. Reggie describes himself as an artist who seeks to disorient his audience. The music had no flow. His freestyle rap lyrics were completely nonsensical and to a music fan the joke just did not sit. Other than the few people who knew who he was and mobbed right to the front everyone went back to camp or lay down on the ground depressed. I spent the entire set looking for one person who liked it— and actually had a quite enjoyable time talking to people about how confusing and terrible it was. Would this set have been fun at 14 in the afternoon? Yes, most certainly. In fact it would have been the perfect set to sit in the shade and laugh too when it was too hot to dance. However, making this the headlining act on Saturday was a huge error in judgement. I’ve never seen the energy at a festival fall flat faster — not even when the turned the music off due to wind at EDC in Vegas back in 2012.
Luckily back at camp I did find a renegade party on a mini art bus called Dangle Zone where DJ Slinky Cat was throwing down true to form house music. This party kept us all dancing all night long, which is a testament to why camping festivals are the best festivals: the party literally never stops and can always be resuscitated. However, a lot of people had left early Sunday morning or afternoon so they could return to work on Monday. It is unfortunate the crowd was so much smaller for the part of the festival which was so authentically and musically Dirtybird on Sunday. Although Saturday should have been the peak of the festival, Sunday night became the best night of the entire experience. The energy between the crowd and the artists was completely connected and palpable. Green Velvet’s set into a b2b set with Claude into a Family set in which the whole family had a chance to play their favorite track more than made up for whatever had happened on Saturday night. Finally, it was back to the vibe from Saturday afternoon. It just took a little too long to get there.
All in all Dirtybird was a fun, silly, and magical festival. It certainly was not super as conscious as Lightning in a bottle; however, nor was it as apathetically a party as Splash House was. People were there to connect with people through music and beyond. I made friends I will have for the rest of my life on that dance floor. It was inspiring to watch the slideshow of images on the final night once the sun had set of all the Dirtybird Barbecues over the years. That and the documentary by Smirnoff Sound Collective highlighted how long this group of people has been partying and that as attendees we are not just there to listen to music but to be a part of this silly and beautiful family.
Photo Credits: Watchara Phomicinda