By: Al Jacobs and Aaron Gi
Layers. We didn’t get that memo before packing for Snowball. Loosely-tied shoes don’t work for sloshing through the muddy festival entrance. But, like a trip to any moderately-successful non-denominational church, we left feeling that our (ill-conceived clothing) transgressions were redeemed by the music. And we weren’t alone. Amid the nighttime wind chill, Snowball’s sounds stirred attendees’ primal rage, far bundled beneath our ski jackets.
Day one started off brisk and sunny, the cool air making for a literally chill vibe. Doors opened right around 2PM and ragers poured in from every angle; wearing everything from t-shirts to sweaters to ski jackets. Snowball sported three stages, the Groove Tent and the Ball Room were smaller tents and the Main Stage was a much larger production that featured the headliners and bigger names performing that weekend. There was a heated bar area, a raised VIP section, and an entire corner of the venue was lined with vendor booths. The stage was set and the rage was wet, or at least icey.
Early afternoon is a strange time in a festival, the energy is still in an anticipation level and most people don’t even know who they are going to see yet. Robotic Pirate Monkey started things off proper in the Groove Tent. The Colorado trio is known for their heavy 808’s, organic production style, innovative remixes, and crispy funk-step. They brought out a younger crowd and the place got rowdy early. Throwing it down, RPM spun the crowd into movin’ and groovin and slippin and slidin. RPM is steadily on the rise, and currently on tour for their newest EP, “Booty Snatch” make sure to catch these guys if you get a chance, they definitely rage on.
Coming on at around 5:45 was Zion I, the Oakland hip hop duo came out and did not disappoint. It’s always hard to tell how a hip-hop show is going to go live, but they definitely played a great set and got the crowd into it. Having collaborated with notorious EDM artists such as Bassnectar and Minnesota they definitely know about dropping bass and playing crowd energy. Zion I started the evening off nice, and really got the party started.
Friday night’s dusk signaled the onslaught of night’s bitter cold. And the simplest way to avoid frosty eyebrows involved gyrating to Orchard Lounge in the Ball Room, the more modest of the festival’s two tents. Hats and gloves came off in an almost ceremonial routine upon entering. The chill’s bite subsided and we began to marvel at the sensation of opening and closing our numb hands. The crowd bobbed and swayed to Orchard Lounge’s emotive arcs and melodies, thawing the tent to a temperature matching the music, a mild and leisurely groove.
This set appropriately segued into Kendrick Lamar’s thundering outdoor performance. He spit verses that resonated through the cold air, conducting the crowd’s rhythm, generating motion into energy with words. Roaring at the beginning of each selection, the crowd sang along to every song as if the lyrics were scrolling across the back screen. But everyone there had educated themselves about Kendrick’s indelible words before showing up, a telling mark of fanhood.
Given about thirty minutes between sets, there was just enough time to run to the nearest warming zone, drink some whiskey, and regain circulation in your fingers. From there it was a stampede of what seemed like the entire Colorado music scene scrambling to find their respective spots in the crowd. Big Gigantic came out to a cold, yet oh-so-warm ovation and took it from there. They have made their home in Colorado, but forged their niche in the nationwide music scene. Their jazzy sax-step has become a staple in today’s EDM and their name has floated to the top of virtually every festival bill in the country. Playing new bangers and old classics Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken dictated the crowd’s movement with the raise of an arm or the slap of a snare. The energy was at an all time high for the night whilst the temperature was at an all time low. Big Gigantic brings ROWDYTOWN to wherever they’re playing and it’s always a pleasure to rage a set with them. Their triumphant rise to stardom has been incredible to be a part of, and it was truly a wonder to see them bring it all back for their home state. Great end to a great day.
Day two was a blizzard. Snowing half a foot overnight and still coming down in the morning, it was not your everyday festival setting. Slushing from stage to stage, trying to stay warm and not wipeout on the ice can’t help but affect your energy and mood when you’re trying to enjoy a show. We had no choice but to rage on.
Run DMT heated things up with his early evening set in the Groove Tent. His heavy dubstep melted snow and faces. The machine heavy metal bass drops rocked the tent and chipped the ice. People were raging hard and, in doing so, warming up. It was a fun set and a good way to get the blood pumping.
Playing just before sundown was LA native, Shlohmo; known for his smooth slow melodies and captivating rhythms, his set had the crowd swaying from start to finish. His lo-fi-sounding productions have an 80’s groove to them and can’t help but make you want to close your eyes and let go. His set invoked emotion and was one of the weekend’s unique performances. In electronic music’s current state, it’s hard to separate yourself from the pack but Shlohmo does just that.
One of the simple pleasures of music festivals is finding new acts to admire. Rubblebucket’s Saturday evening performance made me a believer. Although I stumbled into the middle of the set in the Ball Room tent, once the horn section rattled off uplifting riffs peppered with Annakalmia Traver’s vocals the crowd was sold. On this night, the group’s dancey element acted as a defrosting mechanism, summoning dwindling body heat to reanimate my hands and toes. Many people are still enjoying their extremities thanks to this set.
Each night at the fest ended with a headliner closing out with a set all to themselves. Being an electronic festival in Colorado, it’s hard to think of anyone more fitting than Pretty Lights. The man has created a standard for electronic soul music that has taken this nation by storm. His label, Pretty Lights Music holds true as both a revolutionary group of neo musicians and a movement; the fan base is exponential and has helped create a thriving music scene in such a short period of time. Coming out to a massive roaring crowd, it’s hard not to think of Derek Vincent Smith as the king of Colorado. As he took the stage no one knew what to expect, and he brought it hard for the hometown crowd. Playing tons of new material, PL has a way of incorporating old samples, soulful jams, and jaw dropping bass frequencies that truly captivate crowds, and awe audiences. Playing and touring as much as he does it’s difficult to keep with people’s ever-rising expectations, but drunk as ever and mumbling, it didn’t matter. He threw down an epic performance and left everyone, young and old, talking about the showcase with pure excitement and joy.
Day 3 was finally here, upon arrival it was clear that staying warm was the overlying theme of the weekend. We slipped and we shivered and saw some music in between. It was time to close out the weekend with a bang, and with an exciteful lineup of new and old acts the time had come rage whatever was left in the tank.
An early afternoon time slot was given for PLM producer, Michal Menert, but that’s not to say that people didn’t come out and show their appreciation. Playing to eclectic crowd of dedicated fans, Menert’s crisp melodies take you to a sunny place, and briefly made us forget we were on the side of a frozen mountain. Playing with a live drummer, Menert’s beats evoke happy emotion, the cause for everyone’s head-bobbing and hip-shaking. He was one of the gems of the weekend, as everyone who showed up early enough to enjoy his set clearly understood.
When the sun returned on Sunday afternoon, it’s convenient to think that Robert Randolph and the Family Band’s bright set was a mere coincidence. The quasi-Zydeco sound is defined primarily by Robert Randolph’s slide-guitar acumen. Seated behind the instrument — strung horizontally as if on a small table — Randolph picked and swoop across the strings, spinning the crowd into soulful jubilation tinged with a steel rhythm, anchored throughout by a wet bassline. Randolph blew into his hands between songs, keeping them limber enough to send us on sprawling melodic ascents into the twilight.
As the sun began to set we packed our way into the Groove Tent to run the trap. Trap music is the new electronic genre that has become the new craze in the EDM world over the past year, and right in the thick of it all is where you will find Flosstradamus. So stop asking yourself, “Damn son, where’d you find this?” because clearly Flosstradamus already found it. With their massive 808’s and gangster synth leads they produce banger after banger and continuously build the hype at the core of this growing fad. Their set was rowdy and I couldn’t tell if I was dancing more or simply trying not to slip on the ice. Nevertheless, it was entertaining.
Up at seven o’clock was Grizmatik, the collaboration project between two musical pioneers, Griz and Gramatik. Both are on the forefront of EDM progression and production. Fusing the gap between funk and electronic one drop at a time, their set was highly anticipated and did not disappoint. Joined onstage by guitarist Eric Mendelson, his funky riffs and Griz’s bluesy sax lines made this a captivating musical performance. It ranged from groovy soul music that could’ve easily been a pre-recorded live band to jaw dropping bass lines that would make Bassnectar himself cringe. Grizmatik tests the boundaries of electronic music and spawned a new style that everyone is talking about. The two touring artists are extremely busy at the helm of EDM and it’s hard for them to get together for these special sets, so when it happens make sure you are present because these guys know how to throw it down.
Likely due to the previous night’s clock adjustment for daylight savings time, Flying Lotus arrived on stage a half-hour late. His mixing table is situated in front of a solid projection screen and behind a transparent screen. Add projection mapping to both screens, and he appears immersed in the videoscape, grooving with the projected shapes and floating boxes. Although he looked a little too cold to really feel the crowd, FlyLo seemed to warm after launching into his signature hovering beats. Half-interested parties gradually drained from the crowd, which diffused the sense of urgency and expectation built out of the shortened set. The eclectic sounds didn’t seem as welcome in the large tent where the weekend’s crowds became accustomed to pulsing bass drums and hyperactive synthesizers.
Closing the weekend off, STS9 took the stage with glory as always. Missing their percussionist Jeffree Lerner, it was clear that it would be a different type of night from Tribe. With a blossoming fanbase, they are at the zenith of Jamtronica music, continuously inspiring crowds. Always having a message behind the music, the performances from Sector 9 are a consistent spectacles. They played a heavy electronic set to court new fans but still threw in some classics for the loyal followers spersed throughout the crowd. Tribe always leaves us with a feeling of joyous fulfillment and that was just what we needed after a bone-chilling weekend in the snow.
Although trying to dance in an icy-floored tent isn’t ideal, the people’s enjoyment of Snowball wasn’t dissuaded. Despite the primally uninhabitable meat-freezer environment, the festival was a worthy experience. Its lack of grime was a function of its lack of camping. Were we the only ones who didn’t have twenty-degree nights in mind before going to the festival? Perhaps, but braving the cold in the name of Rey Jing necessitates a warrior’s spirit.