San Diego's electronic music scene has been enjoying a renaissance over the past half decade. From LED to Desert Hearts, the city's dance scene has something to say from EDM all the way to the underground. In that short time, FNGRS CRSSD has established itself as the go-to source for classier club music in the city, particularly at sushi-bar-cum-nightclub Bang Bang. In a massive partnership with Coachella promoters Goldenvoice, the FNGRS CRSSD promotion squad's first-time outing as CRSSD Festival at San Diego's Waterfront Park delivered a strong statement about the Southland scene as it kicked off festival season.
Waterfront Park's slender frame in downtown San Diego is flanked by the glittering expanse of the Pacific Ocean on one side and San Diego's historic City Administration building on the other. The main stage, named Ocean View Live, sits by its lonesome at one end of the park, set to the backdrop of planes landing directly behind at San Diego airport. Hosted by velvet-voiced KCRW DJ Jason Bentley, the stage focused on live acts all weekend and a day one highlight was Damian Lazarus & the Ancient Moons. The modern shaman that is Damian Lazarus is always operating at the fringes, and his Ancient Moons project might be his most weird and wonderful yet.
There's a noble trend in dance music at the moment that champions adding live elements to DJ sets. Unfortunately, as evidenced by Hot Natured's anemic live band performance on Saturday evening, it's rarely executed in a manner that adds anything more than bells and/or whistles. Adding a guitarist and a couple back-up singers does not a band make, just like banging on a Roland drum pad is often a hollow exercise in "performance" meant only to expunge the insecurities our scene has assumed after years of accusations of press play-ism.
One act that does not sway under this criticism is Empire of the Sun. Their futuro-Mayan aesthetic and grandiose sound were made for the big stage and they closed out the Ocean View stage, showing the crowd what a live act is actually capable of.
All eyes were on the All Gone Pete Tong boat afterparty that night aboard the fabled Hornblower vessel, featuring performances by Pete Tong and Thomas Jack. Unfortunately, the much-anticipated sea voyage only lasted about an hour and, even at sold out capacity, the ship was so large that seemed almost empty, giving the whole affair the atmosphere of a bat mitzvah. It was there that Thomas Jack committed the cardinal sin of dropping a tropical house remix of Mumford and Sons. Someone pass the dramamine, please.
While the CRSSD team were celebrating getting through the treacherous first day of their newborn festival, Sunday's overwhelming smorgasbord of a lineup kicked off early. Somehow J.Phlip ended up with the ignominy of a lunchtime slot, but she had the biggest crowd in the park as she slalomed through that quintessential Dirtybird sound and her own take on warped booty bass. Also, c'mon, it's been long enough. You are no longer allowed to act surprised at how good of a DJ she is.
This is the point at which the festival's line-up devolved into a dizzying array of awesome as the City Steps and Palms stages, set back to back, delivered one knockout blow after another. Patrick Topping's boisterous, noisy take on house that so effortlessly conquered Ibiza did the same to San Diego, while only a few feet away, Peder Losnegård pulled a Clark Kent-ian switcheroo by performing as Trippy Turtle, ditching the green hoodie, and legging it all the way across the park to play as Lido immediately afterwards. In the meantime, Bixel Boys and Viceroy had taken over at the City Steps and were playing some uncharacteristically frisky old-school house music. That's the thing with Bixel Boys – You really never know what they're gonna chuck at you.
Pleasure State's lengthy set kicked off with MK DJing, but came into its own as the trio whirled through their originals. later on, their versions of "Electricity" and "Reverse Skydiving" resonated at the smaller stage more than they did when run through the night before with Hot Natured. On the other side of the stage, Danny Daze proved yet again that he's one of the most intrepid minds in all of dance music. The longer sets afforded to DJs pulled focus away from the banger-fest arms race that has populated festivals in recent years, and more tastefully measured sets like Daze's were the happy result.
Simian Mobile Disco (AKA just Jas Shaw) b2b Roman Flugel was the sleeper set of the weekend. The duo brought down the sun with a perfect amount of tech crunch and segued well into Maceo Plex's brash closing b2b set with Argentinian-born DJ Shall Ocin. On the main stage, eternally palatable live act Chromeo brought the smooth funk by doing what they've been doing for so many years now – Straddling dance and pop with oodles of smooth.
And that was that. First-time festivals are usually wrought with logistical failures and compromised booking, but CRSSD's first outing was a resounding win from all angles and managed to do so while championing the underground. In particular, CRSSD captured the moment of a generation moving beyond EDM and, in turn, has given San Diego the crown jewel its scene has been deserving for some time now.
All photos via Oliver Walker and Jose Negrete, courtesy of CRSSD Festival
Jemayel Khawaja is Managing Editor of THUMP - @JemayelK