The Big Up Music and Arts Festival, Claverack, NY- 8/8-10
After a year off, The Big Up Music and Arts Festival returned with a similar vibe and incredible jamtronica lineup as it had before, this time in a different setting, relocating to Hemlock Hollow Farm Claverack, NY, not far from the Sunnyview Farms of Ghent where the 2010 and 2011 installments took place. The mothership of The Big Up landed not far from where it was last spotted, and space cadets galore gathered amid a neon tinged forest to enjoy bass thumping music throughout the weekend, courtesy of jambands, live electronica acts, DJs and unique musical groups that fit no genre, emanating incredible new sounds for fans to discover at every turn. The woods felt just like the last location for the festival, and even the stalwart fans were treated to familiar camping setup in the woods and fields, as well as the thematic Astronaut ‘Blast Off’ motif spread throughout the festival grounds. In this new setting there was a flat area for the main stage and tent stage next door, a hill with THE BIG UP in tall letters, leading to wonderful views of the lay of the land, where one could see the field of cars and tents, and peer into the woods where the natives were content until nightfall.
Bands from Upstate New York were found throughout the weekend, including Albany’s Formula 5 who ripped through a version of their hit “The Clear” while Fikus from New Jersey gave “Cold as Ice” a spin and The Edd gave Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar” a revved up treatment. Solaris, a three-piece livetronica band from Ithaca segued night into day on the Woods Stage with Dan Lyons’ fiercely fast drumming and Vinny Naro’s bass coupled with Jared Raphel’s keys leading to sci-fi techno instrumentals that surprised the audience as they filled in for the set. Fans could hear what resembled the Nightmare on Elm Street theme with their penultimate number “1231”, followed by the monstrous “Nostromo” to close the set.
At the Tent Stage, Laser Sex, comprised of drums, guitar, keys, turntables, computers and bass had the full range of jamtronica covered, incorporating samples into the instrumentals and getting it right – not just including them for the sake of a crowd response. The visuals bouncing off the ceiling were courtesy of Dutch Masterson Designs and run by Drew Suto; these visuals and lights became a major part of the show and led to many fans craning their necks up over the course of the weekend to look at the projections that accompanied the live performances on stage.
Rob Compa of Dopapod sat in with Lespecial before his own set with Dopapod, opening with “Psycho Nature” before the other two members of Elephant Wrecking Ball, Scotty Flynn on trombone and Dan Africano on bass, (Dopapod drummer Neal ‘Fro’ Evans is also in the side-project) sat in for “French Bowling.” Luke Stratton’s light show highlighted the well-portioned sit-in, with the group moving into “Nuggy Jawson” that was cut short to debut a cover of Hendrix’ “Manic Depression” and ended the 90 minute set with “Trapper Keeper” off recent release Redivider. Gigamesh, with his stable and trancey beats kept the Tent Stage beating, while Ian Stewart settled in for tweener DJ sets as the rain came down around 2 in the morning, and would prove to be yet another part of the wet summer the Northeast has experienced at concerts and festivals alike.
The rain – the constant of the summer, reliable as it is annoying – continued lightly in the early dawn hours, but came down hard from 8am until noon, leading the crowd to seek refuge in their tents and at their sites. The field would be dried out a bit, but not fully until Saturday, although at night the field got steamy as fans had closer proximity to each other and avoiding the larger soaked areas, finding plenty of space still to groove and dance. Mister F, featuring members of Timbre Coup and Capital Zen, covered “1000 Cigarettes” by MSTRKRFT and segued into “Vocoder.” Buffalo’s Aqueous, recently featured in Relix Magazine’s ‘On the Verge: 5 Acts You Should Know About’, took their original “Strange Times” and sandwiched Smashing Pumpkins’ “Cherub Rock” in between, while Albany’s Timbre Coup found drummer Matt Pickering and guitarist Dan Gerken trading vocals on Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” and played a 15 minute version of the prog-rock set staple “Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
Kung Fu, who swapped sets with Timbre Coup due to a flat tire in Connecticut, gave a healthy amount of funk during their performance, but many fans were anticipating the next night’s Prince tribute and buzzed about the potential while catching Kung Fu. Bassist Chris DeAngelis cited The Big Up as having great diversity as a highlight to the festival. “Diversity of bands is great. Different kinds of music styles converging, plus bands that are not on the same lineup all summer makes for a good and diverse mixture of music and bands. I really love the electronic and experimental side of it”, something fans couldn’t agree more with.
The surprise find of this night was Brooklyn group Escort, with a sound of disco-meets-orchestra, including a singer, Adeline Michele, who belted out tunes ala Donna Summer and Patti Labelle. A group of anywhere from 10-17 musicians (depending on the show/venue/location) plus the excitability of Fitz and the Tantrums means this act is destined to get big in short time, especially with a looming hit like “Cabaret.”
The Indobox, a pure electronic jamband at its finest, had a tent full of fans waiting for their set to start, thanks to their well known grooves, Jules Jenssen’s drumming to carry the direction of the songs, as well as a percussionist standing up nearly the entire set on a cowbell/snare setup, wearing a gorilla mask. At a music festival like The Big Up, this is not a bit out of place. Holy Fuck, four guys who are really tight on stage, both musically and figuratively, rolled the fog and haze into the main field, and elicited shouts of their band name from a crowd that packed to the rail for the midnight set.
The charm of the festival is that of small size, woodsy atmosphere and EDM music in one form or another, in most cases. This charm was slightly off and different from the last festival in 2011, but enough of The Big Up carried over and had its own flair to add to the community and vibe that were present all weekend. This could be found especially in the woods during the late-night sets after Holy Fuck. Dr. Fameus, aka Allen Aucoin, drummer of The Disco Biscuits, put aside his robotic tendencies to perform as a one-man group, creating soundscapes that are unheard of from even larger acts of the same ilk. Allen’s set was well received and his wide smiles afterwards were evidence of a set well-traveled. Back at the Tent Stage, Jeff Bujak played short sets around Gaudi, a mellower than expected IDM act, but Bujak’s combination of piano, organ, samples and mixes got the crowd worked up, thrashing their heads to the drops and watching Jen Dulong dance with numerous glowing hoops to the beat of the music, a treat for the senses. With Brothers Past playing a 5-6am set, it was bedtime for some, while others caught some rest to be ready for the sunrise set, which has become a regular festival set for the duo, and clearly one that is highly anticipated by the attendees.