Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Wonderland That Was WayHome 2017 (Recap)

Credit: Karis Malszecki (Instagram)
When the lineup for the WayHome Music and Arts festival was first announced, there were two artists at the top of my list: Justice and Mura Masa. By the time the festival actually rolled around I had added a significant number of names to my list of must see acts (see here and here), but still there were two tracks from those first two artists that I essentially hung all my anticipation on: my #1 track of 2016 "Randy" (read here) and "Helpline" (read here). Unfortunately neither track was played, but that didn't stop this past weekend from being perhaps THE BEST WEEKEND EVER.

This being both my first WayHome, and my first overnight camping festival, I went in with very few expectations or even ideas about what I was getting myself into. I was also flying solo for the most part (bouncing between groups of friends, as I'm apt to do), which allowed for full freedom and discovery. I had a strong schedule of who I wanted to see, but that was more of guideline rather than a strict itinerary. And this is part of what I love about being a blogger/reviewer as opposed to a photographer/videographer/etc, it allows me to experience the festival as a whole, while still focusing on the music. From the camping, food, staff, fellow WayHomies and everything in between, WayHome was pure perfection. If you're reading for the music only, jump ahead to the break below.

Mother nature set the mood for the weekend right off the bat, clearing out the clouds, turning up the temperature and letting the sun shine full blast from Friday morning through Sunday evening. Even the grass was green, which I'm told was not the case in previous years. Check out the Friday night sunset.
The seemingly endless rows of camping played host to hundreds of little parties. It was absolutely mind-blowing walking from one corner to another, passing thousands of people all here for the same thing. Saturday morning I met up with 404, and we literally went back and forth between a half dozen different groups of people getting ready another full day of fun. This was tiring walking so far, but inspiring in that it brought so many people together. However the highlight of my camping came when I met Kyle (left) and his group from Barrie. Just take a look at this character (RIP those sunglasses, which fell into a porta-potty minutes after this picture).
No matter your dietary restrictions or desires there was something for you. Poutines aplenty placated, staples like Pizza Pizza and Beaver Tails satisfied, while dozens of other delicacies tickled your taste buds. I had a wicked good (but ultimately bad choice due to time spent in the porta-potties afterwards) spicy chorizo burrito. However the most talked about foodstuff was The Colossal Onion, but beware it's not for the faint of heart, I barely made a dent in mine even though it was sinfully scrumptious.



Day One
The first artist I wanted to see was Pat Lok, and I set out with what I thought was plenty of time to spare, all I had to do was get my media wristband. Unfortunately (and this may be my only complaint of the whole weekend), the media sign in tent was incredibly inaccessible for me. Having come from the camping side and not having access to a vehicle I would've had to walk around the entire festival. The staff, while helpful, were only able to tell me it would take me a long time, and could not find any alternatives. Thankfully after asking a dozen or more staff I finally got everything sorted out, but by that time I had missed Pat. However I did end up standing next to him for Justice's set (more on that below).

When I finally made it into the festival I caught up with my BADLQQK crew inside the Perrier Greenhouse to see RYME. As usual, I was brought to my knees as Ryne and Meech spun some sublime beats, and as much as I love when they play deep into the night with a bunch of bass laden bangers, I really jive with their laidback afternoon opening sets. They played staples like Fred Falke and Jamie Jones but also kept us house heads on our toes with Drake and Michael Jackson making appearances in their set. I left the greenhouse on a high, but felt like a bite to eat and a little more exploring was in order.

On my way back into the festival, I walked past Foster The People who were covering The Ramones' "Blitzkreg Bop" and boy did it sound good. Shortly after that I was topping up my wristband when they started playing "Pumped Up Kicks," which incited a mass of people to sprint towards their stage. This actually happened many times throughout the weekend, whenever an artist/band's signature tune came on people would inevitably end up charging towards the stage almost like the Argonauts lured by the Sirens' song. I even did the same thing when The Shins played "Caring Is Creepy." Worth it.

Following wandering around and exploring for a while, it came time for Flume and boy did the Australian sensation pull out all the stops. Harley Streten sat between several different synths sending out vibes as the clamouring crowd ate up every note. I found myself right in front of production in between some bros, a young family and a grandfather. Everyone was in awe, singing along to to "Never Be Like You." At one point, being the skeptic I am, I wondered how much he was actually orchestrating each sound and editing each track on the fly, but that was quickly quelled as Flume brought me back to my senses. I've seen Flume a couple times before, he was incredible before and kept up the hype here.
Credit: FUXWITHIT (here)
Finally then came my Friday finale, Justice. The duo of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay were for me, and many others, the most anticipated act of the whole weekend, in large part thanks to the never-ending love generated by their smash debut album Cross. While this performance began with "Safe And Sound" (video below), and other tracks from Woman, much of its success lay in the live performance and love that was bouncing between the duo and the crowd. Their stage set up was pure electronic ecstasy: a monolith of musical machinery. It was hard to see what the duo were doing with their hands, and their entire onstage presence was minimal. However this did not detract at all, on the contrary, their robotic, stoic and almost unaffected nature added to the overall mystique and mind-blowing religious experience (best exemplified by the ever present cross). While some have lamented the progression in Justice's discography from Cross to Audio, Video, Disco. to Woman, (particularly from the hard hitting sequences of electro house to live and "half hearted disco rock" as Anthony Fantano put it), I believe that a live, particularly festival atmosphere, is what is required to truly enjoy Justice as they are now. It was a great combination of the necessary sequencing and soul smashing drops with uplifting live funky feels. From the light show, through the shared experience with thousands of revelers to the extreme cool of the duo, this was a religious experience. Whether a massive die hard fan or a first timer there's no questioning the quality or impact of this experience.

Day Two
My Tuesday started with the WayHome Wedding, and with it much celebration (and booze), so by the time I made it inside the festival and to a stage it was time for Schoolboy Q. He both commanded the stage and crowd, at one point remarking that he was "the only rapper" here. Whether that meant on that stage, on the whole lineup or what, he certainly played the part of power poet. The massive mainstage crowd feasted on every word, even when he wasn't saying anything (the crowd sung "THat Part" back to him). Shortly after this I realized a break was in order after the booze from the wedding a took a nap before waking up in a cold sweat worried I had missed Mura Masa, thankfully I hadn't.

Now, I had said Justice was my most anticipated act of the weekend, only because I hadn't seen them before. But Mura Masa was actually the artist I was riding the most high on. It's always best to see an artist when you are at your peak enjoyment of them. That was the case here with Mura Masa, whose album has been out less than a month. As I had mentioned in my preview posts, I'd been living off his Coachella set for months, and despite there being no special guests (Bonzai amazingly sang all their parts), that set list remained almost entirely intact (albeit in a slightly different order). Again as I've said above, they did not play "Helpline" but rather swapped it out for "Second 2 None." To say that I'm still in awe of what both Mura Masa and Bonzai did for their nearly hour long set would be an understatement. Both showed incredible versatility, while he went from guitar to keys to drums, she sung and hyped up the crowd flawlessly. I cannot say how much I recommend seeing Mura Masa, who just announced a slew of North American shows here. I will no doubt be seeing him at The Danforth Music Hall on November 18 (RSVP).

Day Three
Despite meticulously planning out my schedule of acts to see, I failed miserably at following it. The first act I brought myself to see Sunday was Rag'n'Bone Man, who crooned his way through a cool half hour of soul gripping songs. Apart from Mura Masa and Frank Ocean, I didn't see a crowd more in tune with a performer. He didn't have to do much, no dancing or posturing; just by singing he slayed.

Somehow I managed to entirely miss Falcons, which was perhaps my biggest mistake of the weekend, but the group I was with had to check out Tegan and Sara, and boy did that turn out to be a great decision. I love the energy of their tracks, their incredible vocal harmonies and just their overall stage presence. It turns out I actually know way more of their catalog than I had thought and thoroughly enjoyed every moment I caught. But by this time the WayHome grounds were swelling with an intense and palpable anticipation for the elusive and enigmatic Frank Ocean.

Now I've got a confession, I was never really into Frank Ocean, but after his epic set I've become a fan. I really cannot speak much to how the live performance held up to the studio productions, but that's not really the point in my eyes. Just the fact that we were able to witness such a unique and truly powerful performance was enough for me. It was like no festival act I've ever seen, let alone performance of any kind - truly unique. There was an added runway jutting the stage out into the middle of the massive crowd. His whole performance felt incredibly intimate, like having been invited to a private studio session. He even pulled the curtain back at one point, telling us he didn't know the lyrics to one of the tracks and would have to read them. He was real and it felt like you could reach out and touch him, but he also had an indescribable aura, almost angelic. After playing witness to such craft-work from Frank through his whole band and crew, I now understand why people hold him in such high esteem. I'll admit his desire for perfection that caused him to restart songs may have been taxing on some, but I'd argue it's part of his allure if not essence. I'd call it a fitting end to a festival that boasted some unique artists, and isn't that what art is, if not something directly from the mind of a person.