During the week leading up to winter break, a crazy thing happened: it was warmer in Ann Arbor than in my hometown of Los Angeles. Angelinos and Michiganders alike were awed by this odd pattern, eliciting reactions that only something as mundane yet influential as weather can. Students wore shorts and flip-flops to class while my mom pulled out her down jacket — it was madness. By the time I got back home, things had leveled out again. Ann Arbor’s weather returned to a standard December chill and LA’s weather started to feel like itself again. So why did I choose to sacrifice part of my sun-filled winter break for three days braving the single digit temperatures of Lake Tahoe?
SnowGlobe Music Festival has been ringing in Tahoe’s new year since 2011 with consistent success. Though electronic-heavy — think Dillon Francis, Shiba San, Alison Wonderland — the lineup also included hip hop artists like Lil Dicky and SuperDuperKyle; organizers even threw Chet Faker on the main stage, giving day two attendees the chance to snuggle their friends and sway to his down-tempo tunes. I think it’s safe to say both the snuggles and the variety were much appreciated by all. But of course, before day two came day one, and before day one came an eight-hour car ride I was so graciously included in thanks to some lovely folks I met when The Chainsmokers played The Shrine over Thanksgiving break. Seriously guys, make friends with your fellow ravers — they are very, very cool.
We arrived in South Lake Tahoe a few hours after the gates had opened. Apparently, everyone else was on the same schedule, because the box office line to pick up wristbands looked long enough to reach the top of the nearest ski slope. I eventually passed the last security checkpoint just as Galantis announced the beginning of their set with an echoing “I wanna run awaaaaaay,” just in case everyone still waiting outside didn’t know what they were missing. It was almost as if SnowGlobe was saying, “Hello Ariana, welcome to your best New Year’s ever.”
Stage lights danced along the façade of pine trees that created a natural boundary for the main area, the sight as iconic to this environment as Coachella’s ferris wheel is to its desert skyline. I danced along to Galantis’s uplifting progressive house until it was time to go meet Will Clarke, who had played earlier that day. Though I was still stuck in a car during his live set, after perusing his Soundcloud I can say with certainty that Will’s British accent is almost as delightful to listen to as his music.
Lucky for me and anyone who knows him, the dedication and talent apparent in Will’s work, combined with his normal dude-ness, makes listening to him play and listening to him talk equally as nice. For example, he calls Ibiza, Spain his second home after spending five summers there with a residency at the nightclub Orange Corner, but makes fun of his terrible Spanish. He’s been working with the renowned Dirtybird for a year now, and refers to the group as a family in an industry where people tend to focus mainly on themselves. At Dirtybird, he said, “everyone looks after everyone.” He talked about how he prefers to go with the flow of an evening rather than plan a show, and reminisced about one night on his Australian tour during which a one-hour set turned into a six-hour set that led him to stray from his usual house music into the funky world of disco. And he really likes what he does. “Ninety percent of my sets is my own music,” he said, adding that a goal for this year is to write enough music to pull off a three hour set of just his own stuff. Spoken like a musical purist, he acknowledged that all this music likely won’t be released, but it doesn’t bother him.
Living the life of a true rockstar, Will was off at 6 a.m. the following day to head for Detroit. He’ll be back in our neck of the woods to play The Annex with Billy Kenny as part of the Will and Bill’s Excellent Adventure tour. So if you like good music that happens to be house music that maybe sometimes morphs into disco, you should go. As the name suggests, it’s going to be excellent.
Jack Ü ended day one with just the kind of set I’d expect from a duo whose members have become some of the top authorities in the electronic music world. At this point in their careers, the industry’s most bromantic partners can pretty much do whatever they want, which, in an exquisite display of ego, included having Skrillex work the crowd into an eager chant of “DIP-LO, DIP-LO, DIP-LO…” just for funsies. They seemed to be going for audience recognition, dropping in the screeching “call 911 now” lyric from Skrillex’s “First Of The Year” alongside Diplo’s twerk-worthy “Express Yourself” and working in songs by the likes of Flux Pavilion, Kanye, Icona Pop and Drake. Yes, like everyone and their mother, Jack Ü sampled “Hotline Bling” and “How Deep Is Your Love,” which I’m really hoping are two trends the new year will put to rest.
I wrapped up my day with an after party at a classic ski town dive bar called Whisky Dick’s (and yes, we made millions of penis jokes throughout the evening because it's fun to pretend like you’re 12). Hippie Sabotage, who played earlier that day, went on to a relatively empty room where everyone was having a good time — not necessarily because of the music. That dynamic changed with the gradual realization that we just wanted our ears filled with bass again, and the Hippie Sabotage brothers—who individually go by So Crates and Sour Beats —were giving us just that. By the end of the performance, the whole room felt the hype of their better known remixes of kiiara’s “Gold” and Tove Lo’s “Stay High”, the latter of which earned them international attention after Ellie Goulding posted about it on Instagram … oh, the digital age.
It also earned them quite a bit of record label trouble. The lovely boys of Hippie Sabotage indulged the crowd’s “one moreeee!” chant with a song called “They Stole My Face and You’d Never Know It,” a melodic attack on a label contract gone wrong that was deleted from the Internet three hours after its original posting. Essentially, the story is that the label took all their money after the success of “Stay High” and prevented them from releasing the music they wanted. Anger was more than evident in the way they screamed along to their song: “Sold a million records I ain’t got a cent … BURN IT DOWN!” but I have to say, the transition from vibey to pissed off made for an excellent finale.
The following day began with a comedy/hip-hop set by Lil Dicky who, as I was told by friends who are more avid fans than me, loves to poke fun at his skinny Jewish-boy-ness. In my limited research into his career, I discovered that he went from advertising executive to rapper, which probably explains his move to get out in front of possible artistic critique with songs full of irony about his own position in the music industry. His performance was top notch, performing crowd favorite “Lemme Freak” with the most earnest, Oscar-worthy wide eyes that almost made mine tear up from laughing so hard. I was convinced that he was convinced that getting laid by the girl he’d brought on stage (apparently a common practice of his) was the most important thing in the world, and it kind of made me root for the guy … though something tells me he doesn’t need my good wishes to get lucky.
The whole world seemed to slow down when Chet Faker took over, and his set offered a nice breather before the rest of the evening found me running between various overlapping sets. The whole venue was small enough for my crazy plan to mostly work, catching the beginning of Alison Wonderland, the middle of Kaskade and the end of Autograf. Of course, the problem was that by the time I got to wherever I was going I was confined to the outskirts of the crowd, which was especially torturous during Alison Wonderland’s set. She played a stage that, thanks to a reappearing totem, came to be known as the trap tent … but by the time I got there I WAS TRAPPED OUTSIDE THE FUCKING TRAP TENT. Saying I could barely hear the music is an exaggeration, but I wanted her to make my ears ring and while a relatively small venue makes it easy to hop around, it also forces individual stages to be relatively quiet so as not to overtake the others.
Nevertheless, a wonderfully wide range of styles was heard between the three stages that night. Alison Wonderland was a riot as always, stopping the party for no man or pair of pants. Kaskade got lots of love for his smooth electro house set—even from the painfully all-ages crowd, who were no doubt expecting some big room and ridiculously massive drops. Like a pro, he included enough main stageworthy beats among more refined tunes in a set that kept everyone happy, from the gaggle of 16-year-old girls whose moms would pick them up and make them dinner later, to the listener who’s been with him throughout his 20-year career. Elsewhere, Autograf created a trippy-dippy time capsule that transported the festival’s only fully enclosed stage back to the ’70s with their distinctly Chicago house sound. For Autograf, part of the benefit of coming around post-’70s is that we’ve already been given Nirvana, which allowed the trio to artfully weave a remix of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” into their set, alongside exceptionally popular originals like “Dream” and “Metaphysical.”
I was fortunate enough to start the final day chatting with Jackson Stell, aka Big Wild, who developed the name about a year ago with the idea of being adventurous in the sounds he explores and creates. He’s certainly risen quickly up the ranks, with over 100 shows under his belt from 2015, and plans to release either an EP or an album by the end of the summer.
“I’ve been focusing on making a really special body of work,” he said, excited about his upcoming show-free three months he intends to use to work on the project.
Since he only plays his own music, he has a limited amount of songs he can choose from, and is eager to increase the flexibility of his live performances while looking for new sonic opportunities to give his audience the feels.
“I’m trying to get an emotion out of the listener, but I’m trying to use sounds and a style that gets it out in a unique way,” he said.
Some of those ways include working with vocalists to explore a producer/lyricist partnership that stretches the bounds of the popular formula that currently exists within electronic music.
“You can’t just replicate the power of the voice,” he said, acknowledging the male producer/airy female vocalist pattern he’d like to take somewhere else with the help of a talented lyricist. “I kinda suck with words,” he admits (though after our conversation, I beg to differ).
Others involve taking inspiration from the likes of Led Zeppelin—he owns their entire discography—The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the hopes of channeling the emotion of raw sound, rather than focusing on the specificities and technicalities afforded by computer programs. A little artist background: he’s been making music since he was 13, and connected with electronic music because it enabled him to do a full song, with all its discrete elements, all by himself. He loves classic and psychedelic rock, and tries to avoid getting stuck in an electronic only world, in part by retaining other musical interests and by taking advantage of the natural beauty of his new Mar Vista surroundings. A self-professed outdoorsman, he’s recently taken up surfing and tells me he enjoyed walking through Big Sur and was spooked by the silence of Joshua Tree.
“It’s so quiet out there, you’re kinda just surrounded by desert and mountains, there’s no cars or anything, it’s actually kinda freaky.”
Perhaps he’ll pull a John Cage and turn his experience into an experiment in lack of sound, but I doubt it. Jackson and his fans are doing great getting wild to the songs he’s produced so far, and it looks like things will stay audible and awesome.
Later on, Londonbridge mixed a brilliantly paced, healthy set of house music while rocking a panda bear SpiritHood (who he calls an excellent company with great people) at his first festival appearance ever. That’s not to say he’s new to the scene. Rami Pearlman started out with piano lessons at age five, and went on to play in various bands throughout his time as a painting major at Brown — something that’s still a source of inspiration for him. For example, he went on a writing binge the week after seeing the Picasso show at MOMA last time he was home in New York. Touring in an indie band is what originally led him to Los Angeles, and he’s been running his Space Yacht party in Hollywood for the last year, where he’s also resident DJ.
“My platform really has been our weekly Tuesday night party, that’s the reason I’ve been able to level up in the shows that I’m getting,” he says of the community being built around Space Yacht. “Simultaneously, I’m Londonbridge and I’m an artist, playing my stuff and trying to expand my brand. So I’m working on two things at once.”
All that work includes lots of new stuff Rami wrote in the two weeks leading up to the festival, “and people were fuckin’ vibing!” he said, excited by the big turnout at his early timeslot and the crowd’s positive response to his new music. He was definitely one of the most pumped up people I came across throughout those three days which, in the context of a music festival, really speaks to his happy-go-lucky-ness. If you like to party, be sure to check him out for a good time, and stay tuned for bigger and better things to come from Londonbridge and the Space Yacht crew.
I’m going to wrap this up by telling you that Dillon Francis and his music were charismatic as always, Big Wild’s set made me feel like I was on vacation (even more than I already was) and I’m sure What So Not ruled their New Year’s 2016 countdown with all the power of someone who … well, of someone who is chosen to headline a music festival on New Year’s Eve. My countdown was orchestrated by 20-ish fellow Louis The Child fans, who stuck around the empty trap tent after Gryffin’s amazingly chill-ass set to secure a spot in front for the first show of the new year. The Freddy Kennett half of this baby-faced duo was absent, likely busy being a teenager with his family, but partner-in-crime Robby Hauldren told me Freddy was bummed he couldn’t make it.
Robby is one of the sweetest kids ever, and understandably distracted by everyone wanting to be his BFF after having just seen him throw down what was arguably the most bo$$ set of all three days. The weatherman might not know this, but El Niño really struck California when a tsunami of eager countdowners rushed from the main stage into my dear trap tent, giving Robby a fully stoked audience in minutes — and finally warming me up after previous rallying efforts failed. His set was fire, and if Louis The Child’s success continues — which I’m confident it will — dance music will soon have a pair that rivals the bromance of Jack Ü in both artistic pairing and musical ingenuity. In my few minutes with Robby after his set, he told me about how he and Freddy started making music together six months after meeting at a Madeon concert. That was just three years ago; Robby’s been DJing for four, is now at the University of Southern California studying music industry and is excited to be doing music full time starting next year.
I’m excited too, for a lot of things. I’m excited to see what they and the other artists I met at SnowGlobe come up with. I’m excited to see what 2016 holds other than my impending graduation-related existential crisis. I’m excited to see what real world endeavors get me going and who will be on the playlist that forms the soundtrack of my life for the next twelve months. And I’m excited about what kinds of supernatural forces will lure me into traditionally unwelcome weather patterns. If history is any indicator, those forces will probably be music.