OAKDALE, NORTHERN CALIFORNIA- Symbiosis Events celebrated ten years of greatness last weekend at Symbiosis Gathering 2015, a four day experience of humanity, art, nature and music. That order is deliberate, as the strength of humanity shone even brighter than the lineup of DJs and bands that attracted thousands to the 'festival'.
Although festival-like in many ways, Symbiosis truly was a gathering rather than an event, in the way that you PLAN an event, but you play a gathering by ear; its more up in the air. That being said, this gathering is not for everyone.
Born from Burner culture, Symbiosis began in 2005 as a social experiment (yes, really) with the goal to create a transformational environment where people could "revel in the absurd nature of the human paradox". And how did the organizers achieve this absurdity? By gathering in far-out spaces like the Santa Cruz Mountains and Yosemite National Park, featuring art and music at night and educational workshops in the day. The 'education' part referred to the knowledge of our community and earth rather than conventional teachings.
So why isn't Symbiosis for everyone? For the same reason that Burning Man isn't for everyone - you have to be willing to lose expectations and go with the flow. Spontaneity, randomness, whatever you want to call it - you better be ready to ditch your planned schedule, change your perception of what a true gathering is, and brave some harsh elements of the earth as well. As the article title states, the entire weekend was full of surprises, and those who were not able to "let go" may find themselves in the wrong place. However, by succumbing to the culture of Symbiosis, I was able to experience an incredibly fulfilling weekend of both artistic pleasure and self growth.
Let's start off this review with the most unique aspect of the gathering, in my opinion - the LAKE! Located at the Woodward Reservoir in Northern California, the entire venue was surrounded on three sides by beautiful, refreshing water. In 95 degree weather, the lake was a godsend. Swimming around at a festival for the first time, just thirty yards from the DJ, with oodles of smiling, naked party animals really made the weekend for me. No cell phones, no clothes, and no bad vibes allowed at the lake.
Of course, Symbiosis took advantage of the reservoir in the grandest way, with fanciful art boats, rafts, and structures that you could swim up to. Looking around as I swam, it was clear that people were having the time of their lives.
As mentioned before, the weekend did not necessarily go as planned in terms of scheduling, with little to no communication about the lineup changes.
On the first night, the Spring stage was over an hour behind schedule, as fans waited to see Gladkill play. With lack of information, I am still unsure if Gladkill ever even played, but I do know that Dimond Saints came on at 3:30 AM, a full hour and a half after their scheduled time.
At a separate stage, Kaytranada was replaced with a special guest who was apparently Amon Tobin (!!!). Again, there was no communication of these changes and sadly, I missed his presumably trippy, amazing set. Although, other sources say that the Glitch Mob was the special guest this weekend. At Symbiosis, word of mouth was the supreme method of communication.
However, rumors aren't always a bad thing. Throughout the weekend, the rumors spread as to when and where Tipper was playing, and I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. The king of glitch played a surprise sunrise set on Saturday night / Sunday morning at a makeshift stage with Funktion one speakers built specifically for the legend himself. As dawn arrived, Tipper rose up to the highly anticipated occasion, permeating bass through the ears of many who had been awake for days. To be honest, it was a bit strange having to guess where the artists were playing at a music festival, but admittedly fun and rewarding at the same time!
Photo by Miles Najera
The surprises didn't cease then. Later, on Sunday evening, I was rocking out alone to some psychedelic house music at the Grotto... but the schedule said that the stage had been off since at 5PM! It was as if I had discovered a secret planet of music... and those aliens sure knew some good tunes. A little birdy told me that the DJ throwing down was probably Perfect Stranger, but I suppose I'll never know.
With almost double the amount of people that attended the event this year, it seemed as if the staff was severely outnumbered by the attendees. This resulted in long lines at the Box Office and car lines to enter the campground. Yet, these logistical issues always arise when an event grows to this scale. Symbiosis was described by many as a cross between Lightning in a Bottle and Burning Man, so you can imagine the scope of the event. I imagine next year they will be more prepared for the outcome.
That being said, Symbiosis Gathering took some stamina to make the most out of the weekend. With certain campgrounds over a mile away from the music over dusty, hilly, rocky ground, you had to have the right mindset to brave that trek in 90 degree heat twice a day, or however many trips it took.
Because of the intense dust, heat, and distance, Symbiosis was not for the faint of heart. And it shouldn't be! Camping and facing the earth's elements, in line with Symbiosis' entire vision of being connected to the environment, is a part of the experience just as much as the entertainment. If you want clean, flush bathrooms, air conditioning, and no walking, then Symbiosis is not the event for you. Instead, focus on the amazing, dazzling lake, the creative art structures, the clear skies, the freedom and celebration of life, and the beauty of human interaction and dance!
On a high note, attendees at Symbiosis got to witness some of the most artistic performances in the transformational community. Nicolas Jarr took the top spot for performances Saturday night, confusing some, pleasing many, but exciting all. His DJ set blended opposite oddities together in true symbiotic form, by mixing spoken word with house beats, bewildering introductions with punchline finales, and alllll types of sounds and styles of music. If you asked me what genre it was, I couldn't tell you; it was the definition of artistic expression, a writer's enigma. He "was just trying to mess with your head," one fan described it.
The beautiful part of Symbiosis was the ability for everyone to create their own unique musical lineup, with 40-60 performances a day. In that regard, I cannot possibly list every stand-out performance, but noteable acts that pushed the envelope besides Nicolas Jarr and Tipper included Coco Rosie, Minnesota b2b G Jones, Griz, An-ten-nae, Kaminanda, Shpongle, and many, many more. If you were there, throw a comment to this article about who you saw killing it.
Although the musical talent was exceptional, the sound limitations at night were not. At this particular location, the volume and / or bass had to be turned down a lot after midnight... which was disheartening. The acts that were bass-heavy, i.e. Minnesota and G Jones, Dimond Saints, Thriftworks, were hit the hardest with this noise ordinance. It was low enough that some people thought they were "still setting up" at the Spring although the acts had begun, and people were mulling about in conversation instead of grooving to the music.
It's a tough situation, because on one hand, it was dope that the music ran until 5 or 6am, but on the other hand, it was really disappointing on Friday night to not be able to hear the music (since I had chosen 4 bass acts to see in a row). Yet, I was so thankful to be at this beautiful reservoir with clean air, surrounded by water and open space, that there may be no way around the sound issue at this particular venue. My suggestion for next year would be to have the bass- heavy acts play before midnight. Go bass or go home!
What I learned about Symbiosis Events is that they are not afraid to be "out there". Some of the funniest, craziest happenings I experienced included a performance by The Cool Kids Club, whom I was lucky enough to walk by while they were performing "Dick Socks", wearing socks around their man parts, to the tune of "It's bigger than Hip Hop". I can speak for everyone there when I say, I'm never going to hear that song the same again. It's bigger than dick socks, dick socks...
Another hilarious show included a re-enactment of Family Feud, hippie style! The entire show was a comedic performance rather than an actual game, with questions like "What are the top excuses you hear from a campmate?" and the top answer being "I was too high." Or how about, "What's something you would never bring to a drum circle?" with the top response "my dignity". Needless to say, I was cracking up. They even had fake commercials, SNL-turned-burner style. I guess they weren't afraid to expose the children and babies at the event to topics like sex and LSD. But, the intellect and wit was undoubtedly there, with psychedelic experimentation being just one facet of the equation.
Workshops at Symbiosis were less whimsical but just as original as the out-there performers, with sessions concentrating on relationships and healthy growth. These relationships pertain to our relationship with others, with the earth, and with ourselves. For example, at 2PM on Sunday you could listen to Saul Williams' boundless spoken word, take a flower and gem workshop, learn about edible forest gardens at the Permaculture Action Hub, discover solar cooking at the Nourishment Lab, practice "Earth-spirited Vinyasa Tantra Flow", or take a Belly Dancing class!
From perusing many transformational gatherings, there are always the usual meditation and yoga classes, but Symbiosis stood out from the rest with their cohesive themes: body and earth. It's as if they hosted workshops for healthy rejuvenation, in preparation for us to stay up dancing all night!
With six busy stages of music, six peaceful workshop areas, dozens of intricate art installations, a jumble of art boats, structures and things to hang off of... there was certainly a lot going on at Symbiosis Gathering 2015. With an abundance of activity came some confusion and unexpected changes in schedule and organization. But at the risk of sounding cheesy, isn't that how life works? Isn't the universe random, as we feel the vibrations of our body, our earth and the people around us clashing against one another, leading to unpredictable twists and turns? Isn't the key to success a blend of acceptance and letting go, and finding beauty in the chaos?
Four long days at the Woodward Reservoir simply mirrors this mix of vibrations, with many opportunities to become one with others, the earth and ourselves - a true symbiosis. These opportunities presented themselves through art, music, education and participation, due to the intense effort of the SG crew over the past two years.
In actuality, there are no surprises here. Symbiosis Events has stayed true to their vision: to manifest an environment where people could revel in the absurd nature of humanity. To blend human imperfection with the natural environment was merely the theme of our reality that Symbiosis successfully mirrored through their production. Now, it is our turn to strengthen the connection.
Check out another Symbiosis review by Morena Duwe (pictured) on Huffington Post.