If you don’t live in the Northeast, it’s possible you haven’t heard of Camp Bisco (www.campbisco.net), a music/arts extravaganza that’s grown over the past 10 years to sell out [final numbers not yet announced] all three of its nearly round-the-clock-programmed days. Curated by jammers extraordinaire the Disco Biscuits, the festival takes place each summer in upstate New York. With most of the attendees camping out for 72 hour s-ish, the event seems to take on a life of its own — sanctioned wee-hour raves, raucous tent parties, hula-hooping/devil-sticking, illicit activities, and the like mingle together. (A time for quiet reflection in the great outdoors it is not.)
With one year of camp under my belt, I braved it yet again in the name of music. The eclectic line-up typically features a mix of popular jam bands, indie heavyweights, hip-hop favorites, and world-famous DJs — in addition to a healthy sprinkling of up-and-comers across genres. With so much going on, the first year was a lot of “taking it all in” — second time around, it became clear that some themes remain constant. And with that I give you ten fundamental Bisco lessons …
1. It always rains at Bisco.
At Bisco, this is a familiar mantra. The weather can be beautiful, with sunny afternoons and crisp evenings in the picturesque mountains, but it can also be downright horrid. Last year — I believe it was the final evening — thunderstorms were so bad that the festival actually shut down for hours, staff desperately urging attendees to seek shelter in their vehicles. This year wasn’t quite so devastating on a danger level, but the torrential rains on Friday definitely put a damper on things. Imagine the sensation of walking in very slippery snow … then picture the substance being shit-brown and filled with tiny rocks as you attempt to navigate it in flip-flops or sandals, as the majority of us were … Pretty much the most amount of mud I have seen in my life (or had caked around my lower extremities). Good times …
2. Plan your wardrobe/accoutrements carefully and in advance.
Until you attend a music festival, you have no true concept of the need for appropriate footwear. Walking through fields for 12 hours a day and dancing your ass off clearly indicate comfortable shoes, but it's hard to prepare for the kind of treacherous mess left behind by the rain (see #1). Sneakers appeared to be a good choice — that is, if you didn't mind chucking them post-fest or spending a good three hours to clean them; flat sandals seemed like a less-messy option, yet made walking through mud almost impossible; and even worse were flip flops (how many people were running around barefoot Friday night as a result of having theirs literally eaten by the quicksand-like goop?). Now wellies (galoshes, rain boots ... whatever you want to call them) ... good idea! (So jealous of all the folk skipping so carefree through the grounds in them ... grrr.) Regardless of the forecast, bring yours next year! Chances are you'll need them. (Umbrellas and water-resistant clothing can't hurt either.) The weather also drops quite a bit at night in the mountains, so hoodies or warmer layers are definitely desirable at night. Other items you may want to pack include sunscreen/mosquito spray, tissues/toilet paper, and a camera. Not so necessary are all the various props you'll see literally everywhere, though if you're looking for conversation starters, holding a raved-up inflatable dolphin or implementing a bubble machine can certainly break the ice.
3. Disco is actually cool with ravers and hippies (but dubstep is even bigger).
Although the genre is part of the name of the festival founders, disco has generally had little to do with the music generally played at Bisco for most of its festival. This year saw the likes of Dave P/JDH (Making Time/Fixed), The Magician (formerly of Aeroplane), Holy Ghost!, and Special Disco Version (LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and Pat Mahoney) — the later two acts part of a special DFA Records segment. All played to packed crowds who not only grooved to the music but knew the words to most of the songs and frequently erupted in thrilled applause/shrieking, proving that even the wildest-eyed and most tie-dyed attendees held a soft spot for glitterballs. That said, dubstep and bass — which proved wildly popular last year as well — were definitely king; though Rusko's appearance was canceled shortly before the event, acts like Skrillex, SBTRKT, Nero, and Bassnectar attracted massive numbers of hardcore fans. I think it's safe to say the heavy sounds will be back on the bill in full effect for 2012.
4. There’s a reason why the drink lines are short.
Actually, there are probably a few … The best reason being that unlike most U.S. festivals, you can B.Y.O.B. (no glass allowed, probably due to the inevitable bare feet that will be tromping through the grounds) — you can’t actually bring your alcohol into the main stage areas, but at least you can rage near your campsite. Additionally, I would venture to say the average attendee age is somewhere around 20/21 … so not too many IDs being looked at. Lastly, the amounts of times I heard the words "Molly" or "rolling" uttered probably gave a clue to why so many festivalgoers seemed fine with foregoing drinks ...
5. Whether or not the Disco Biscuits are your thing, they are some kick-ass curators who work hard for your good time.
With Camp Bisco being their festival, the Disco Biscuits put on an incredible six sets this year, each ranging from 75 to 105 minutes. Playing multiple sets gives their hardcore base plenty to keep them satisfied, while also ensuring that fans can avoid conflicts with other artists playing simultaneously. Keeping things eclectic is the Biscuits’ specialty, and this year was no exception, with mainstage artists like Yeasayer (who I sadly missed), Cut Copy (typically wowing with their blissed-out, bouncy dance pop and endearing onstage handclaps), Ratatat (amazing seeing them live for the first time, with a pretty stunning visual component too), plus Neon Indian, Death From Above 1979, Wiz Khalifa, Das Racist, and Break Science with RJD2. Add to that two dance tents, curated sessions from Damon Dash, Mad Decent, and DFA Records, the new artist showcase, and DJs at the Silent Disco and PEX Village and you have a pretty outstanding well-rounded and tasteful roster of today’s relevant artists. Nice job, Biscuits!
6. Come with an open mind — particularly in terms of music.
The real point of music festivals — other than having an awesomely good time — is to expand your music horizons by sampling from the aural smorgasbord laid out all around you. Sure, you’re probably there to check out some of your favorites, but in the downtime, take a chance on some stuff you’ve never heard of before. With a ton of local/little-known acts on the bill, or artists that sit outside of your preferred musical genres, Bisco offers an amazing opportunity to check out new stuff. Did you catch Shpongle Live? Described as a “psychedelic downtempo/psybient music project,” the Brits made their first stateside appearance ever (I believe) at Bisco — after hearing all the raves, kinda wish I had made an effort to catch their set. Never heard of female DJ Tokimonsta before, but with attendees claiming “she was the best part of Bisco!” she clearly left a positive impression . With Bisco’s diversity, there’s a new artist to discover on the other side of every hill and tent.
7. Security are not your enemies (necessarily).
It's well-known that Bisco security staff look the other way when it comes to "kinder" party favors — I have never heard of anyone getting hassled, and we're not talking about some very covert or rare activities. Most of the security members seem honestly happy to be there, and seem to try hard to be pleasant. One sharp instance to the contrary: During Cut Copy's mainstage set (and immediately after I'd gotten to the grounds), I happened to see a kid hop the barrier —within seconds, about four huge dudes smashed him to the ground with a fury that (at least from what I saw) was completely unnecessary and pretty stomach-churning. Fortunately this was the exception to the rule.
8. Campers are a fiercely loyal (albeit freaky) family.
"This is the best festival around, man," was a commonly heard sentiment. Camp Bisco has become, just like actual summer camp, a place that music fans can't wait to return to each year in hopes of recreating their awesome times and reconnecting with friendly, familiar faces. Through the magic of smartphones and social media, more and more Campers keep in touch, and it’s obvious some of the connections go deep. The crowd may not always keep things respectable, but there’s a definite feel of good vibes in the air, with the only shred of violence I witnessed coming from security (see #7). Making friends is easy, and people seem genuinely interested in expanding their social circles, whether or not they roll with a big crew from back home. The “anything goes” atmosphere might also encourage the camaraderie, with everyone letting their freak flags fly in unison.
9. Adventures off the beaten path can often be more satisfying than the big-draw activities.
Some of the best times to be had at Bisco are at the smaller "sideshow" performances. Thursday night's PEX (Philadelphia Experiment) Village — with it's deep, tribal beats, mesmerizing visual effects, ample room for dancing, and thrilling pyrotechnics — ended up being the highlight of that day for me. The Silent Disco — a stage where the audience wear two-channel headsets on that dancefloor and tune into one of two dueling, simultaneously playing DJs — remains a big draw for those looking to get off the beaten path. Some attendees also turn their own larger tents into mini-stages, performing for friends old and new. With grounds that massive, taking some time to investigate something new around the corner can often be more rewarding than fighting your way to the front of the dubstep tent.
10. Expect the unexpected.
Everything will take longer than you think (if you arrive on Thursday, plan on getting to the site at least a few hours in advance of whatever acts you don’t want to miss — lines for camping vehicles can stretch on endlessly, and even the artist/VIP/volunteer/media check-in queues lasted a minimum of an hour). The weather will range from umbrella-wielding to sunburn-inducing to sweatshirt-craving, so pack accordingly (see #2). Your phone may not get reception. You could make new friends and end up blowing off one of your favorite artist's sets in lieu of getting to know each other better. You'll probably get lost a few times. You might even fall in a gross vat of mud (or at least lose your shoes in it) . Just go with it all, and try to make the best of each minute — you've always got next year to do it even better, right?