On one set of decks, Saturday night, Bitch Please is spinning hip-hop/dubstep mashups complete with raunchy rhymes and build-drop dynamics on the blue channel; on the green channel, Space Jesus weaves more traditional dub with ambient washes of synthesizer and electric piano. The late-night silent-disco crowd is divided down the middle, dancing according to color, until Jesus lifts his hand to signal a drop and the blue lights on the headphones switch over to green. While Bitch Please is grabbing attention with seismic drops, Space Jesus is reeling the crowd in slowly. The question is, do you take the blue pill or the green?
At the eleventh annual Camp Bisco festival, hosted by livetronic pioneers the Disco Biscuits and hydroponically cultivated into one of the East Coast’s biggest electronic bacchanals, the question can be a literal one. In a music-festival industry increasingly glutted by commercial swank and pandering buffet-style lineups, Bisco is a beautifully bipolar social experiment that is allowed to be great in a manner proportionate to its capacity for danger and sleaze. In terms a prior generation might understand, it’s one-half Woodstock—where exceptionally beautiful young people fire up their internal dimension-hopping particle accelerators and loose themselves to music crafted by robots for alien saviors—the other Altamont, with a drug-related death on the first day, warnings from the biker-gang security staff to avoid the zombie-making bath salts, and the dust-choked fields of the Indian Lookout Country Club heralding the globe-warmed apocalypse. It’s 2012 and, naturally, the paradigm shift begins at a rave. So, for everyone in attendance, the question remained: blue or green?
Foreshadowing Bitch Please, Thursday was solidly blue. After the interminable process of ticketing, shuttling, tenting and tarping, the revelers hit the bottle (Rx and JD alike) in preparation for a serious womping. The majority of the programming in the B.I.G. Tent, one of five stages, was curated by Skrillex’s OWSLA label, all leading up to his headlining slot on the main stage. Artists like the M Machine and Alvin Risk pushed both the “build” and “drop” buttons on their laptops to roaring crowds just getting their first taste of tent dust. Afrobeat tricksters Rubblebucket played a set complete with a piquant cover/medley of “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash and Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” hearkening back to the cocaine heyday of the early ’80s. At 8, the crowds that gathered for Rubblebucket and Crystal Castles at the main stage reached critical mass for dubstep supermodel Skrillex, who began his set with a five-minute build ticked away by a stopwatch graphic on the LCD screen behind his DJ pulpit. Then, at the stroke of 0:00—reeeee wub-wub-wub WOMP!
It’s possible that the strung-out couple next to us in line for the shuttle bus off the festival grounds on Sunday morning were conversing entirely in dubstep, so pervasive and standardized the stuttering electronic genre has become. (Case in point: The Internet recently received its first a cappella Skrillex cover, for better or worse.) Even those producers who don’t hail directly from dubstep camps have worked the elements into their mixes. For the most part, though, Friday saw a turn for the green channel, with Ninja Tune hosting the label tent in preparation for Amon Tobin’s headlining set. Tycho delivered atmospheric washes over frantic live breakbeats, while Blockhead brought a vernacular traditionalism to his hip-hop set with unlikely Phil Collins samples heralding the dawn of electronic kitsch. It was Tobin, though, who delivered the most jaw-dropping performance of the day (and possibly the weekend). Squeezed between two sets of the Biscuits, whom festivalgoers either flocked to or fled from, Tobin performed from within a white cube situated within an elaborate, geometric projection surface. As he spun his patient, complex sci-fi dreamscapes, which visibly tested much of the crowd’s dubstep ADD, the cube structure appeared to warp, dissolve and reconstitute itself on account of one of the most sophisticated light shows in the industry. Which made the subsequent faux pas all the more painful: As Tobin’s scheduled slot expired, the stage crew abruptly disabled the audio on his stage (but not in his monitors) to start the next Biscuits set while the light show continued, leaving the world-renowned DJ in the humiliating position of finishing out his set unaware that his crowd had been diverted.
An early Saturday morning rain knocked some dust out of the air in the slim window of time that silence could be heard in the campground and, with the help of a couple disco naps, electric pilgrims readied for a final go at the cosmic casino. With actual drums and guitar, YACHT welcomed the crowd to their brand of giddy new wave and utopian mantras. U.K. producer Star Slinger kicked up some dust in the B.I.G Tent with ham-rattling remixes of Usher’s “Climax” and Nicki Minaj’s “Beez in the Trap” before dubstep godhead Bassnectar wove material from his onomotapoeiac album Vava Voom into a neon spectacle, despite repeated technical difficulties. And then the Biscuits played some more.