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Favorite ThisSymbiosis is NOT a festival. It's a Gathering of our favorite things.

Published: October 8, 2015

Story by: Hernan Metamoros

Photos by: Juliana Bernstein (Get Tiny Photography)

“Is Tipper gonna be playing? He’s not even on the schedule!” exclaimed a worried patron as he passed me by in a large group.

This seemed to be the one and only burning question nobody had an answer for. Dave Tipper’s set had been kept secret by event organizers, and omitted from the schedule to guarantee a full on “surprise set.” Sure enough, as I was promised, the word spread like wildfire. By 4:00am everyone who was still awake was making their way to the Reunion Temple to witness the weekend’s best kept secret: Tipper’s sunrise set. A golden haze began to bleed into the night sky from the horizon, announcing the sun’s imminent arrival. Thousands, and thousands of eager patrons amassed around the impromptu stage that would host the weekends most awaited act.

Tipper sunriseTwo massive stacks of Funktion-One cabinets on either side of a foldable table. Stripped down to the essentials, and without any frills. Unadulterated. Unfiltered. Raw. Everyone was there for the music, and before too long a crowd of 8,000 people covered the hillside and breathed life into the new day.

The sun began to peek over the horizon, slowly warming up the grounds and forcing people to shed some of the evening layers that had been so necessary only a few hours prior. Friends and families, crew, artists, and patrons alike all spilled out onto the hillside as far as the eye could see.  Hugging, laughing, even crying. This was the moment we all waited for, and rightly so. Tipper’s glitch-laced, guttural sounds spilled out of the Funktion-One rig, and poured out onto the hillside to wake the world up with a sweet and uplifting downtempo set marking the last day of Symbiosis gathering.

This year’s installment of the event marked the 10th year anniversary of what has become a world class transformational festival and a west coast staple. A tastefully curated musical lineup, a mind boggling amount of immersive workshops ranging from alternative energy solutions, to natural pregnancies, and permaculture. It would be unfair, and categorically untrue to refer to Symbiosis Gathering as a music festival given it offers its patrons so much more than just music. It’s an immersive experience of art installations, forward thinking workshops, mind bending musical acts, and even an array of art boats to admire as you cool off in the waters of Woodward Reservoir in sparsely populated Oakdale, Calif., a couple hours outside of the Bay Area.

One of the lead organizers of Symbiosis, Kevin Kochen, underlined the importance of being in the moment for the staff, in addition to that of the attendees. "This year I was able to see the event on Friday for the first time since [2005]. It was amazing. We are much more fans of experiences than usual corporate undertakings," Kochen added, "You are less likely to find me backstage than on the dancefloor."

From top to bottom this lineup was artfully curated for a wide array of musical tastes, and jam packed to ensure deliciously varied music almost around the clock. Boasting headliners such as: Nicolas Jaar, Tipper, GRiZ, Emancipator Ensemble, and The Polish Ambassador, Symbiosis certainly left little to be desired from the get go. Mouth watering yet? That’s only the beginning. With a total of six stages at which to see music during the weekend, there was something for everyone to see at just about any time of day.

Ilya Goldberg, who performs and produces as Lapa, as well as joins Doug Appling in the Emancipator Ensemble put it best: "Symbiosis is definitely one of the larger events where I’ve had a chance to perform. Despite its expansive festival grounds and many attendees, Symbiosis manages, however, to contain the feeling of a smaller, intimate gathering, where one can meet friends new and old, find a good place to rest and reflect, as well as experience a sense of unity." Of his performance with Appling, he could only wax poetic, "Fading light in the distance from the sun setting, refreshing wind blowing across stage from the reservoir, countless dancing people with big smiles on their faces and Emancipator beats and melodies, all made for a very happy moment."

One of the most popular daytime hangouts was the Swimbiosis Stage. A much needed oasis of constant groove with a lakeside playground of bamboo structures, and art boats to board. This stage was home to some of the sexiest, bass-driven sounds of names like Justin Martin, ESTA, and Dj Dials, who kept the vibes high, and the smiles wide at this waterside playground that resembled a massive pool party. Hands down one of the best hangout spots to beat the heat, and make friends.

As the days cooled off, and the sun dipped below the calm waters of the lake the party kicked into full gear at the Juke Town stage. A wild west saloon of sorts. Wooden facades adorned the stage giving the illusion of a sleepy wild west town. Artists played from the “front porch” to an audience of space cowboys who relished in the sounds of Little People, Random Rab, D.V.S*, Push/Pull, Dov1, TRUTH, Bleep Bloop, Christian Martin, and the Desert Hearts crew. Stepping into this cosmic wild west village was a guaranteed way to dance your pants off. Praise to the build crew that set up this elaborate stage, and kept the bass turned up.

The Big Island Stage hoarded some of the tastiest headliners of the weekend. A colossal stage set a the outermost point of the peninsula, looking out on the water. Large platforms for live performances dotted the grounds. These, in some cases lent themselves for large dance parties, or simply great lookouts. The weekend’s largest crowds gathered here for performances by GRiZ, CocoRosie, The Polish Ambassador, G Jones B2B Minnesota, and a most-awaited Nicolas Jaar, who played one of the largest dance parties of the weekend to a cool 8,000 patrons.

Floating stageThe Grotto hosted Tiger Fresh, and EPROM on the first day. Setting the bar high, and making way for Thugfucker, Max Cooper, and Four Tet on Friday night, and the party didn’t stop throughout the weekend. After the first few days, it was hard to expect anything but the best at every stage you happened to be.

The sheer size of this year’s event is a true testament of how far Symbiosis has come in 10 years, growing to almost 10,000 people--double 2013's attendance, and it’s exciting to ponder how they may to continue to push the envelope further. As the event continues to grow, it will be interesting to observe how it deals with some of those pains in order to expand in a conscious fashion. Symbiosis is setting the standard, and setting it high. Hopefully this event and its philosophy can serve as an inspiration to other gatherings across the globe to offer its patrons transformational experiences with positive impact on our lives, and on our planet.

"Symbiosis is not a music festival," Kochen reminded me. "It's a gathering of our favorite things. Music is just one of them."

Tags: Deep HouseDowntempoDubstepElectronicaGlitchHip HopHouseLivetronicaPsytranceTech HouseTechnoTrap