Friday, April 11, 2014

Snowball Music Festival - Denver, CO - April 4-6, 2014 - (Review)

Review By: Kenny Emmer 
Snowball Music Festival migrated from the frigid mountain towns of Vail and Winter Park to the "Mile High City" allowing for more access  to services for attendees; such as better housing and hotel options, and public transportation. Not to mention a plethora of after parties throughout the city. The sudden change in environment had many people skeptical about the success of the festival and where it may be headed. But don't worry folks, all is well.
Day 1 has concluded and here is my verdict. Snowball kicked off with indie electro/rock band Jimkata opening at the main stage, trap/electronic artist HeRobust in the Groove Tent, and local electro-pop duo RoseQuartz at the Ballroom Stage, among many others. Upon arrival I made my way to the Sierra Nevada booth to witness something amazing, 12oz brews for a dollar - every hour they went up a dollar until the 4th hour, and we're only 4 bucks the rest of the night. As someone who constantly attends festivals and concerts, buying a beer for anywhere less than 6 dollars is miraculous and certainly puts a smile on your face. I'm sure I speak for everyone at the festival when I say I am eternally grateful for Sierra Nevada's sponsorship at Snowball. I then made my way to the main stage to check out The Floozies, an electronic funk duo who's worked with and remixed the likes of Lettuce and Griz. That guitarist can shred and use that vocoder like a pro. Their set reminded me a lot of retro pop duo Chromeo. The Floozies were nothing short of groovy, funky, and a lot of fun to see.
We then made our way to GTA. These guys have made quite a stir in the electronic music scene, and have lit up festivals across the globe. Working with the likes of Diplo, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Wolfpack, and A-Trak, these guys have created a sound molding elements of trap, hard-style, house, and electro to cause mayhem on the dance floor, ensuring one wild and crazy set at the Groove Tent. After that we made our way back to the main stage to see Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt rip Snowball a new one with his crude, dark, but somewhat genius lyrical content, accompanied by the usual menacing Odd Future style beats. Being the only hiphop artists on night 1's bill, Earl did his best to entertain what he called a crowd of ravers. And it was an epic change of pace. Earl played all his most loved tracks, including "Whoa," "Hive," and "Earl" - the crowd had plenty of love for him.

We made a quick detour to MiMosa at the Groove Tent who had attracted a massive crowd. As the night progressed the number of attendees almost seemed to have tripled. Mimosa had the crowd bouncing to his heavy trill music, playing other artist's music as well. We could only be there for a short time before heading right back to the main stage to see Knife Party close out the night. Although Rob Swire was missing in action, Gareth McGrillen still put on a banging set. Compared to previous Knife Party performances I've experienced, this one seemed just a little bit more festival-oriented, meaning he played a lot of modern house tracks you'd expect to hear at a festival environment, like Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, etc, dropping original Knife Party tracks only occasionally. However when he did mix in real heavy hitting Knife Party tracks, the crowd would erupt. So although i wouldn't say this was on par with an actual Knife Party show, he still provided a fun and energetic set for Snowball this year.
Day 1 of Snowball 2014 so far was a fun experience with surprisingly cheap booze, good people and weather. The lineup on Day 1 was significantly smaller than Day 2 or 3's, with only a few big name artists. The attendance didn't seem to be anywhere near full capacity until the very last set of the night and even then, not entirely full. However with 2 days left and many more amazing acts to come, that is sure to change.

Day 2 of Snowball started off nicely, with Australian future classic member Wave Racer kicking things off in the Groove Tent. I've noticed such a strong evolution in electronic music over the year and artists like Wave Racer embody that pretty well - bouncing beats with elements of trap, juke, jersey club, and deep house accompanied by bright synths and beautifully harmonic melodies. Wave Racer dropped primarily tracks within his realm of sound from artists like Flume, What So Not, Cashmere Cat, Ryan Hemsworth, DJEMBA DJEMBA, and more. Despite being one of the earlier sets of the day in at around 4 o'clock, Wave Racer managed to attract quite the crowd at the Groove Tent - which insistently demanded an encore. Unfortunately it's protocol not to do encores at festivals, but Wave Racer was very grateful for the love.

After Wave Racer we took a break to walk around the festival to see some of the sights. In addition to the many art and merch booths available around the site, Vapor X had a tent selling premium vapor hookah/tobacco pens while also doing giveaways and providing a booth to take group photo's. Another major sponsor, Tinder, had a booth providing contests and free giveaways for attendees. Free water stations could be found throughout and Kind Bars were handing out free granola bars. There were plenty of food truck options from heady taco's to gourmet burgers, bbq, and pizza, as well as several coffee trucks. Sierra Nevada also had a large tent to themselves for quick and easy access to reasonably cheap alcohol. I caught some of STRFKR's set at the main stage, who had people in random costumes dancing on stage for them. I'm pretty sure I saw an astronaut, a panda, and an alien. The crowd raged to STRFKR's indie-electro rock, who was soon followed by Rhymesayer's own Brother Ali to entertain the crowd with his brilliant rhymes and poetic story-telling.
We then checked out some of Chrome Sparks at the Ballroom Stage. Although Chrome Sparks is the brain child of Jeremy Malvin, he was accompanied by 2 other band members, and had a very unique setup of synthesizers and electronic drums, providing for a very original sound. Chrome Sparks were both ethereal and heavy, weaving back and forth through heavy beats and minimalistic tones while Malvin echoed vocals out to the crowd. It was a very different and epic performance. The biggest letdown of the night occurred when we made our way to the Groove Tent to discover that beatmaker and one half of TNGHT aka Lunice could not make it to the festival due to plane complications. I'm sure tons of people were disappointed, but Lunice made sure to apologize over twitter and hint at the possibility booking another show in CO soon. After that unfortunate discovery we did a 180 and made our way back to the Ballroom Stage to check out Trippy Turtle. Now this was probably my favorite set of the night if not the whole weekend. This Norwegian jersey club producer and good friend of Cashmere Cat takes both popular modern and classic R&B tracks and turns them into bright, bouncy, and hyped up club music. Trippy adorned himself with a turtle hoodie, took the booth, and threw down an energetic set that had the crowd constantly in motion. Playing remixes of Chris Brown, August Alsina, R Kelly, Justin Timberlake, T Pain, Drake, Miguel, Chance the Rapper, and many others. As well as tracks from Cashmere Cat, DJ Hoodboi, Wave Racer, and other fellow producers. And just like with Wave Racer, the crowd desperately wanted an encore. Luckily both Wave Racer and Trippy Turtle were doing an after party at the 1up Bar in Denver, but we'd get to that later.
After Trippy's set we made our way to the main stage, and it was packed. Pretty Lights took the stage to perform a 2 and a half hour set alongside Break Science drummer Adam Deitch and DMC World turntablist champion Chris Karns. As expected, Derek Vincent-Smith spoiled his home-based Pretty Lights Music family with classics like Finally Moving, More Important than Michael Jordan, and At Last I Am Free, all tweaked to perfection by Deitch's flawless drumming and Karn's precise mixing and scratching. The light show was beaming, and with the Denver City lights glowing in the background and the Bronco's stadium standing tall beyond the main stage, this was a true and rare Pretty Lights experience and one nobody else in the world may get to witness. And the crowd knew it. Day 2 of Snowball ended on a high note, and had me just aching for more. With one day left to go it was time to get some much needed rest.
That was after the Wave Wacer and Trippy Turtle after-party of course, who performed back-to-back, sharing each other's music and samples, and absolutely tearing the roof off of 1up.

The third and final day of Snowball had arrived. At this point I had spent way more money than I had planned. It turns out when the beer is abnormally cheap it causes you to splurge, putting quite the dent in my wallet. Either way it was worth it. And I wasn't completely ready for Snowball to be over. Day 3 began with one half of What So Not performing at the Groove Tent.
Although Flume was not in attendance, Emoh Instead put on an incredible performance. What So Not has been supported by the likes of Skrillex, Diplo, Action Bronson, RL Grime, and many others. They're sometimes referred to as the saviors of electronic music due to their energetic and heavy hitting, yet completely different and original sound. They blend elements of hiphop, trap, and a sound I can't quite put a label on just because it's something nobody's really ever heard before. It seems like a lot of that is starting to be born, especially out of Australia, and it makes me very excited and optimistic for the future of electronic music. What So Not destroyed the Groove Tent, followed by more destruction as mashup artist KapSlap took the stage to drop modern hit after hit blended together to create a very energetic performance. And RL Grime's alterego Clockwork soon followed. I made my way over to the main stage to see the very talented Wild Belle perform.
Wild Belle are primarily siblings Elliot and Natalie Bergman, accompanied by a full band for live shows. Natalie has a very unique voice that is slightly raspy, bluesy in nature but beautifully light at the same time. Elliot is a multi-instrumentalist and can play the baritone sax like a jazz king. Together they create an incredible blues-reggae indie-rock fusion frenzy of catchy lyrics and melodies. During Wild Belle's set I managed to check out the VIP area, complete with their own bar, bathrooms, heated lamps, and elevated viewing area. I took this chance to witness hiphop legend Busta Rhymes from a VIP point-of-view. Busta was very respectful and grateful for his fans in Denver, and his frontman expressed the rarity of seeing a Busta Rhymes performance in this day and age.
Busta performed classics like Break Ya Neck, Dangerous, Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See, as well as modern hits like Look At Me Now and Thank You. The crowd was excited as ever as a very positive and comedic Busta hyped up Snowball for a rare performance. And as I mention "rare performance" I realize nothing will be as rare as what came next. The Pretty Lights Music Party took place at the Groove Tent. And As I made my way to my group standing front row for this set, my jaw began to drop. PLM members Elliot Lipp, Supervision, Paul Basic, Michael Menert, and the man himself Derek Vincent-Smith shared the stage mixing simultaneously to a completely enthralled crowd. Each artist would take turns dropping new and exclusive music, while Derek and Menert would occasionally MC, hyping up the crowd more than they could handle. It was truly a sight to behold.
The lights and lasers were in full force and the Groove Tent was nearly at full capacity. It's safe to say this was a performance that may only come once in a lifetime. And as the PLM party came to a conclusion, the crowd began to hustle over to the main stage to see GriZ's epic conclusion to Snowball. And it was nothing short of epic. Griz was accompanied by several horn players and a guitarist and top notch visuals and lighting. His set was much shorter in comparison to Pretty Lights the previous night, but was satisfying all the same, if not more chaotic and wild due to his much more grimey and hard hitting sound. Griz provided a funky and wild performance, thus concluding the 3 day festivities. However those who managed to snag a Griz after-party ticket before it sold out would continue on through the night.
It was a long and tiring weekend. And despite several artist no-shows, late sets, and lack of attendance in the earlier phases of the days, Snowball turned out to be a fun, memorable experience with many rare performances. I would definitely do it all over again if I could. Although there are many skeptics about the future of Snowball and where it may be headed, I hope it continues on through the years as I will always have full support for the festival after experiencing the amazing weekend it provided for me. And I hope you can show them your support too.


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