By Hannah & Caspian
Every August, thousands of bassheads from Canada, the US, Australia and beyond travel to the little town of Salmo, BC, nestled in the West Kootenay’s, for Shambhala Music Festival. As a family and volunteer-run festival with no corporate sponsorships, Shambhala used to be the canadian bass scene’s best kept secret. But, in recent years, thanks to the multitude of talent they book year after year, the festival has been increasing in popularity. The buzz surrounding Shambhala’s 20th anniversary exploded when tickets for the event sold out in less than 24 hours last September. For those lucky enough to snag a ticket, Shambhala was an event they would look forward to for nearly a year.
After 20 years of operation, nearly everything about the production is dialed in. The lineup is immense, the stages elaborate, and the bass is incomparably immersive. This is, without a doubt, the wildest party in Canada; a place where 15,000 of the most free individuals come together to love one another, celebrate artistic vision, and dance a better reality into existence.
We can’t talk about Shambhala’s 20th anniversary without mentioning that it didn’t go quite as planned, but, thanks to the commitment of the artists that remained on site on Sunday night, and the festival’s hard-working staff and volunteers, the party continued on.
So what exactly happened?
Even the magical land of Shambhala is not immune to nature’s cruel whims. A month before the festival began, the province of BC declared a state of emergency as wildfires swept through the province. On August 8th, the McCormick Creek wildfire started 20 km southwest of Salmo, and murmurs of evacuation spread throughout the festival in its initial days. The festival officially began on Thursday, with Mat the Alien and The Librarian kicking off the AMP stage at noon. Ash began falling from the sky early in the day, and people were nervous, but the party didn’t stop. On Thursday afternoon, Shambhala issued an announcement via the Shambhala app informing guests “that there is an evacuation alert near the festival” and “while this does not currently affect the festival, all guests should be prepared for changing conditions.”
This announcement was followed up with several notices throughout the day Friday regarding the air quality in the area, however, there was no more talk of evacuation from the festival. The smoke actually cleared quite a bit on Friday, and the festival came alive with the opening of all of the stages, including the eagerly anticipated, brand-new Pagoda. Excision threw down a special anniversary set in the Village, the Fractal Forest was deliciously funky all night long, and the new Pagoda stage was debuted in true Pagoda-style by the best names in house music, such as old favorite Chris Lorenzo, and Shambhala newcomer Chris Lake.
The moment everything changed
On Saturday, we received a notification around 4pm that rocked the festival and drastically shifted the course of the party; much to our disappointment, Shambhala Music Festival would close one day early. We were assured that there was “no immediate threat to the festival or its attendees,” however, we were encouraged “to make necessary preparations for an efficient exit of the site by getting a head start on packing.”
Many attendees heeded Shambhala’s advice and began to pack, while others seized the opportunity to party as hard as they could for Shambhala’s final night. Just after midnight, Shambhala released a hopeful announcement. “DO YOUR RAIN DANCE” they advised, “we’ve agreed with local authorities that if things improve, we may go another day.” The farm was buzzing with anxious energy all night while we eagerly awaited the anticipated rain.
We were told on Saturday that the music would end at all stages by 5am on Sunday morning. Many people went to bed early to prepare for an early exit on Sunday, but for those that stayed out, we received a nice surprise of more music when the sun began to rise and the grey clouds rolled in. At about 7am, just as most stages were finishing up their last sets, the rain finally came and joyful cheering erupted throughout the entire festival. That was the sound of Shambhala 2017.
Unfortunately, Shambhala announced several hours later that they were “proceeding with yesterday’s announced early closure,” despite the morning’s rainshower. However, less than an hour later, there was an unexpected announcement that the show would go on!
“After hours of meetings and consultation this morning, the RDCK, other local government and a fire behavioural analyst, we have been approved for Shambhala Music Festival to remain open for our final night.”
This was fantastic news for those still left on site, but terribly unfortunate for those who had already packed up and left. Artists like Rezz and Delta Heavy had already cancelled their flights, so the lineup was rearranged and Shambhala regulars stepped up to fill in. The biggest surprise set of the weekend was Downlink’s set in The Village. Although he wasn’t on the Shambhala lineup this year, he was there to support and attend, and was a perfect substitute to keep the party going in The Village.
Ever since it was announced last year that there would be a new Pagoda stage for the 20th anniversary, fans had been buzzing with speculation about what it would look like. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we were not disappointed! The new structure is at least twice as big, maximizing space for more visual projection mapping and lasers.
But the upgrades didn’t end with the Pagoda; The Living Room Stage also got a makeover this year. With more lasers, more room to dance, and a large new structure, The Living Room is bigger and better than ever.
Shambhala welcomed a lot of new talent to the farm this year, from up-and-coming artists like Charlesthefirst and Proko, to artists that we can’t believe had never played Shambhala before. The Polish Ambassador made his Shambhala debut at The Grove on Saturday night, and Pendulum’s El Hornet rocked the Village on Saturday with a DJ set that transported us back to the band’s glory days.
The Funk scene thrives at Shambhala more so than at any other festival I’ve attended. Thanks in large part to artists that return year after year to break it down in the Fractal Forest, such as Stickybuds, Slynk, and Neon Steve.
Mat the Alien is one of the artists that stands out as helping to save the final night of Shambhala. He put in more hours on stage than any other artist at the festival, playing not only his two scheduled sets, but also playing for hours across multiple different stages on Sunday night as he covered for artists that couldn’t make it. Altogether, he played 5 sets over the course of the weekend. The most surprising (and filthiest) set of all occurred late on Sunday night, when Mat the Alien and Yheti went B2B to play a ton of unreleased Space Jesus and Liquid Stranger music when the two artists could not make their set.
“I always like jumping in on the jams like the funk jam and ragga jungle rinseout so love getting extra opportunities to play music”
Mat the Alien
We had the pleasure of talking to Mat the Alien about his Shambhala experience this year. As a Shambhala vet since 2002, he’s witnessed the festival blossom into what it is now. When asked what makes Shambhala unique from other festivals he’s played, Mat reported,
“Just being on the same land and building upon what was there before makes it amazing and seeing how each stage evolves and improves over time.”
We can’t wait to see how Shambhala continues to improve in the coming years. If you haven’t already, purchase your tickets for Shambhala Music Festival 2018 before they’re gone. We hope to see you on the farm. Until then, relive the magic with these live recordings from 2017 below along with some more shots from the event.