They weren't kidding when they said the Wooks invade Hampton, Virginia.
There were a lot of ways I could have spent my Labor Day weekend. Electric Zoo, Made In America, laying on my couch with my dog bingeing Ozark Season 2 with a case of Leinenkugel. But, I chose to see what all this fuss was about with one of Bassnectar‘s annual gatherings, Bass Center, and I've got to say it didn't disappoint.
This year it was held at the Hampton Coliseum, essentially a giant spaceship looking structure with space to fit over 9,000 attendees. This is the 11th Bass Center event, an annual ongoing series taking place all over the US, with Bass Center XI being the 2nd time at Hampton Coliseum.
Bass Center XI: Day I
I arrived to my hotel Saturday afternoon after a leisurely 6-hour drive from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, stretched my legs, and hopped out of the car only to find the Bassheads had long since arrived. It was very clear that the area hotels capitalized on the event – almost every hotel in the area was sold out with pashmina-clad, Poi wielding Nectarlings. Even my hotel was 15 minutes from the Coliseum and was not exempt.
I checked in and caught my bearings and then nabbed an uber. I made my way out to The lots to check out the vendors lined along the path leading up to the entrance. Here, vendors sold pins, clothing, body art – the typical festival fare. people gathered and talked, swapped stories of their travels and jammed to a pop-up stage. This was a nice feature and one of many that were clearly well thought out in advance.
Security and logistics were average – the lines were long. I saw no major issues here – though it would have obviously been nice not to stand in line for over an hour. A few more people walking around with megaphones giving people instructions might have been nice. By the time I made it in it was around 8:30 – Hatcha was spinning some heavy, dark bass music to a halfway-full spaceship of attendees. I found there was ample room to move for the most part. As the night progressed, Barclay Crenshaw was a welcome treat, I found him to be a very fitting act to lead up to the launch of the first night.
Nectar on night one went hard and heavy. It was clear the first night was meant to relieve tension and stress and it showed in the crowd. Headbangers whipped their heads in a hair flinging fury. Attendees bobbed and swayed, “Heavyweight Sound” thumped, the energy was high. Bassnectar gets a lot of credit here – he planned his set to capitalize on this energy and he went for it. It was also nice to hear PK Sound's involvement, they have quickly become the premiere audio experts in the EDM scene, being supported by other heavy hitters such as Excision. The quality and intensity of the music was incredible, which was no doubt unexpected.
I'll admit I was caught up in the day that I may not have fully followed the entire journey – but part of me felt like that was planned. It was a sensory overload of hard, heavy bass. The night was only interrupted once with Lorin taking a quick pause to ask the security up front to “chill out.” I couldn't see what was going on from my vantage point but did not find this surprising given Bassnectar's strong stance against aggression from police and security. Otherwise, The night went fast but it was a great one.
Now for the “Afterparty.” All I have to say is I am glad I didn't have to work nights at one of the area hotels. The best I've heard it summarized is that it was the animals running the zoo. I met up with some friends at The Embassy, the premier hotel for Bassheads – 10 floors of yelling, screaming, wubs and chaos – all night long. Groups of people hung out in the lobby, in the lots, in the hallways with their hotel doors wide open. Everyone I encountered was extremely nice, but man would it have sucked to be staying in that hotel on a business trip.
I walked to a nearby McDonald's to grab some late-night food. We walked past the Day's Inn which having earlier read “Welcome Bassheads,” now had been rearranged to say “Mad Hoes Fam.” It was still that way when I left. I'm sure you can guess how getting a McDouble and fries went – more chaos. Eventually, I made it back to the hotel and laughed while overhearing a conversation in the lobby. A guest asked a concert goer where they heard of this event and he just responded, “The Internet.”
Bass Center XI: Day II
I woke up Sunday morning feeling wrecked – I went hard the night before, letting the sounds control my movements. My crew slowly came to life and talked about our plans while picking at the hotel's continental breakfast. I had heard about the Dub Bus on Facebook and from some friends; basically, a roving mini school bus that features DJ's spinning throughout the day. They had linked up with area hotels and on this day, in particular, set up shop behind the Red Roof Inn. We all agreed this was the move and made our way out. Sure enough, we arrived and followed the wubs and stumbled on the bus parked out back – DJ's spinning, people dancing on the roof – it was a sight to behold. We vibed here for a while still dazed from the night before.
Eventually, we made our way back through the lots. I grabbed a sandwich from Gouda Boys. It was nice to see them still roaming their way through the festival scene – I can recall a specific experience grabbing the same delicious grub from Electric Forest 2015. We made it in line earlier this go-round and got in for the opening lineup.
Ill Esha was the real star of the beginning of the night. Wielding a key-tar and her own vocals she did a great Job of incorporating some live elements into an otherwise beat frenzied lineup. I caught myself stuck in the music a few times unresponsive to my friends. Stylust was also a great addition – sticking to the heavy and dark sound that was the norm here.
Now personally, I may have been almost more excited to see Nosia than Bassnectar himself. Having lived in the UK for a year and attended drum n' bass shows overseas, this was sheer joy for me. Nosia are masters of their craft and it showed in this performance. Hard-cutting choppy bass which swapped tempos and structure frequently within the course of the same drop. By the feel of the crowd – they seemed out of place. I heard many say afterward they didn't like it – but I was in heaven.
After the performance was over – while getting water and cooling down, I wondered why Bassnectar chose an artist that was clearly so jarring to his fanbase. Because of how premeditated he is as an artist it felt like it had to be planned – and I feel like it was. What followed was a 20-minute long aural palette cleanse of soothing meditative music. It went on for what felt like forever and I remember talking to a random guy standing next to me – we both agreed that this was all purposeful – preparing us for the chaos to be unleashed next.
However, what I don't think any of us expected was a tribute to Aretha Franklin. Out of nowhere, pictures of the beloved singer filled the Hampton Coliseum screens as “RESPECT” filled the air. It was a beautiful moment – I looked around to see everyone smiling and singing. It reminded me that she was an artist who brought us all together, lovers of all different types of music and from all generations.
Eventually, the music faded, the lights dimmed and it was time for the final set of the weekend. It began with the all to familiar chime from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, hooking the crowd and bringing us into a magical world. The lights got brighter the bass got louder and we were off. The show was chaos – but also beautiful and thoughtful – poignant at times and of course hard hitting at others. His set featured tons of classics as well as a bunch of new tracks from the recent release of Reflective 3.
The production was top notch – I counted at least 75 individual light fixtures, on top of the video wall on stage and the giant square floating above our heads. At one point it became the Hampton Coliseum, spinning like a UFO with the bottom of the video panel acting as the tractor beam. Bassnectar also provided a lot of interactive elements on both nights – inflatable butterflies, spacemen, giant black balls, confetti, fog – he went all out.
The show went till 12:30 both nights, leaving plenty of time to detox and navigate to various afterparties, or in our case, bed. On the drive on my way back, I thought about the weekend in perspective to other events and festivals and I was struck by the fact that this crazy long-haired bass freak is able to get over 10,000 people to the middle of Virginia from all over the country. While it was clear he brought his most dedicated of die-hard fans, I also saw people wearing “Anti-Basshead Basshead Club,” t-shirts, alluding to the fact that even those who don't like Nectar's fanbase knows he brings a good time.
I wouldn't consider myself part of either club – I was just along for the ride. But it was one heck of a journey from start to finish, and I would gladly do it again. There is something magical about a Bassnectar show that I can't quite put my finger on. It really felt like all of the little details were thought through – the venue was perfect, the area was laid back enough to support the horde, the Lots, the police officers handing out novelty wristbands, all the way down to the finely crafted music journeys I experienced. Love or hate Bassnectar, he won my respect as a true artist.
Oh, and by the way, if anyone has the letters to the Day's Inn Sign, I think they'd like them back.
Writer – Austin Whitlock
Featured Photo Header: alive Coverage
Featured Photo Footer: Guy Harrington