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Altitude Music Festival | Boulder, CO 4/28/2012
Insomniac Events has been around for almost 2 decades, consistently organizing some of the biggest and most exciting events in EDM: pulling nearly every big name to perform, Insomniac is the force behind New York’s Electric Zoo, Vegas’s Electric Daisy Carnival, and Texas’s Nocturnal Wonderland, alongside countless headlining tours and local events.
Given that, it makes sense that Insomniac would turn its eye towards Colorado. As a huge up-and-comer in the dance music world, Colorado has plenty of wonderful things to offer a large promoter like Insomniac: nightclubs galore, a few large college campuses, and even Red Rocks Amphitheater, the largest natural open-air concert venue in the world.
So, Insomniac decided to team up with the University of Colorado’s Program Council in Boulder to deliver a new event: the aptly named Altitude Music Festival. Taking place on campus on an unseasonably cool Saturday night, Altitude sought to bring in the summer by integrating college culture with the quickly growing dance music presence that’s taking the world by storm. In some areas, the event pulled this combination off nicely; in others, it fell short.
Aside from the main event—the music—Altitude brought a few more tricks in its bag: scattered around the back of the venue were booths containing information about Beta Nightclub, Denver’s largest and most successful club; Global Dance Music, a Colorado-based EDM collective offering free track downloads and discounted event tickets; Colorado Daily, a Boulder-based local newspaper; Rockstar energy drink; and, of course, CU’s Program Council, the student-led organizing group behind the festival. In some ways, this was an interesting thing to add to a concert on campus: providing information about local and national groups is a great way to raise awareness for a specific cause—but the bass was so heavy that it was nearly impossible to talk to the people at the booths for most of the show, so it was moot.
The organization of the show also left something to be desired. The entrance lines were cluttered; there weren’t nearly enough press passes to cover the press list; and there was quite a bit of miscommunication between organizers. Still, despite this, everything was resolved in the end, even if it took some extra time.
Of course, people didn’t come for information booths and event organization lessons—they came for music! Opening act and Boulder local group Robotic Pirate Monkey delivered a thundering hip-hop set that prominently featured mashups. Sampling hits like The Beatles’ Come Together and Etta James’ vocal track made infamous by Avicii in Levels, Robotic Pirate Monkey pulled influences of dub and rock—but with amped- up bass.
One of the most anticipated acts of the night was Detroit native GRiZ. Incorporating classic soul and funk influences characteristic of the Detroit techno sound, GRiZ instead opted to go a different route: delivering a heavy dub-hop set, this young talent got the crowd roaring. Playing around with tempo and texture, GRiZ even pulled out his own saxophone to play overtop his pre-recorded beats. There was one scary moment in his set, however—he rocked out so hard that the table almost fell over!
As something of an interlude amidst the heavy, glitchy bass beats, Zion I took to the stage with comparative simplicity: big West Coast hip-hop beats dominated the duo’s set, with live flow and mixed beats courtesy of their DJ. I won’t pretend that I know a lot about hip-hop, but their set was a refreshing and energizing change-up, and it definitely got the crowd screaming for more!
After being recently signed to the label of the legendary Pretty Lights, Slovenia’s Gramatik has a light shining on him from above. Taking a page from the Colorado native, Gramatik delivered a set of sexy mid-tempo indietronica with plenty of hip-hop beats; bringing a guitarist along with him, he mixed live music with pre-recorded beats to great effect. A nice change from the heavy bass of the previous acts, Gramatik’s set was much more melodic and atmospheric. In the second half, he switched up his sound to include more distorted bass and bring the crowd’s energy up for the main event.
Daft Punk. Justice. MSTRKRFT. Those are generally the three names that immediately spring to mind when anyone mentions funky French house. The Toronto-based duo, comprised of Death from Above 1979’s Jesse F. Keeler and record producer Al-P, have blown up the indie electro world, making great remixes of everyone from Katy Perry to Metric to Wolfmother. Immediately upon taking the stage, the energy level skyrocketed: MSTRKRFT played the first house-tempo music all night, and the speed increase got people up and moving in no time. Playing some new and old tunes, like the duo’s own Heartbreaker, Wolfgang Gartner’s funky Space Junk, and Kaskade & Skrillex’s disco-influenced house tune Lick It, MSTRKRFT kept it housey amidst the hammering, aggressive electro.
MSTRKRFT’s bass threatened to shake the building off its foundations more than once—but I’m not convinced that this is a good thing: the sound setup was built to accommodate the bass-heavy, dub-influenced music of the opening acts, and the melodies and samples in MSTRKRFT’s set were drowned out as a result. While this was a boon for the slower styles of the openers, MSTRKRFT’s increased tempo contributed to destroying the mids and trebles in favor of all-consuming bass.
Despite the poor organization and iffy sound setup, Altitude Music Festival was a success. As a merger between the up-and-coming EDM scene in Colorado and the already present love of hip-hop in college culture, Altitude integrated both sides of that coin: in sound and structure, Zion I and MSTRKRFT could not be more different, but when brought under one roof to perform together, somehow they converge harmoniously, and the other supporting acts covered everything in between with ease. Crowd reaction to every act was intensely positive—and surely that’s the most important thing. Will Altitude become an annual ring-in-the-summer event? We’ll see—but chances look good that it will. Check out some more photos from the event below!
(Thanks to Brett from Niftee for the photos!)
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