Growing up, I never went to camp. And I've never actually camped. I'm also not a fan of "jam bands." All that said, it seemed unlikely you'd ever find me at Camp Bisco, the annual outdoor music festival curated by the Disco Biscuits, held in upstate New York and historically heavy on bands of the jam ilk. True, past Bisco festivals featured a decent range of different musical styles (with Nas, Chromeo, Damian Marley Jr., Snoop Dogg, MSTRKRFT, and !!!, to name a few), but the 2010 incarnation (July 15-17) looked to supersede all past Biscos with a lineup that boasted the likes of LCD Soundsystem, members of Wu-Tang Clan (Raekwon, Method Man, and Ghostface Killah performing as Wu-Massacre), Rusko, Aeroplane, Ween, Girl Talk, Major Lazer, Thievery Corporation, Pretty Lights, and Bassnectar, in addition to more jam-friendly acts. So I gave into musical temptation, packed my bags, and headed off to Schenectady, N.Y. -- just 30 minutes away from the festival's Mariaville, N.Y., site and home to the nearest hotel. (Yeah, I still wasn't camping.)
The lineup deserved some props for including many crowd-pleasing acts across several genres. The most talked-about of the festival (in terms of both anticipation and post-show reviews) seemed to be LCD Soundsystem, Rusko, Bassnectar, Ween, and, of course, the Disco Biscuits. It was their festival, after all. Though I don’t claim to be familiar with their songs, virtually everyone I talked to was enamored with them and planned to catch all five of their scheduled sets. Each day, main-stage bands alternated like clockwork (with a few exceptions, due to thunderstorms and a predictably delayed entrance by the Wu-Tang Clan. Another local band stage and an all-day, all-night dance tent were set off a little further afield.
Thursday’s highlights included LCD Soundsystem’s tight, crowd-pleasing set that included older favorites like “Losing My Edge” and an awesome “Tribulations,” as well as stuff like “Drunk Girls” and “I Can Change” off their latest record. I heard James Murphy had suffered a bout of food poisoning immediately before taking the stage, which makes the fact that they killed it even more impressive. I also heard good things about Caribou and Holy Fuck’s late-night dance sets, though a long day of travel sent me back to the hotel too early to catch them.
Friday highlights included the tardy Wu-Tang set (which was logistically shortened to keep things on schedule). Meth, Raekwon, and Ghostface took turns spitting their classic rhymes, hyping up the crowd, and, of course, promoting the hell out of their upcoming records. Although Major Lazer’s set basically consisted of Diplo (no Switch, though that seems to be fairly common at U.S. live dates) and his laptop, hypeman Skerrit Bwoy and dancer Mimi put on an amazingly athletic, high-energy, and sex-fueled (daggering in full force) performance that may have been the most fun set of the entire festival. Diplo’s tight, dancehall-flavored set also kept it on point; he pulled double duty that day with another killer late-night dance set where his choices were less genre-specific (since he was DJ’ing that one as “Diplo”). Other Friday notables I missed included Thievery Corporation and Bassnectar; I was also unsuccessful at catching King Britt’s set.
Saturday saw a lot of schedule fluctuations due to the ultra-serious storms that rolled in early evening. Before the dark clouds arrived, Ween played a rollicking, consistently great, nearly two-hour set of random crowd-pleasers (“Bananas and Blow,” “Spinal Meningitis”) from across their 20-or-so-year career -- and they obviously had a fantastic time doing it. (They were maybe the single-most popular act at Bisco, in that their appeal seemed universal, unlike the jam band, DJ, or hip-hop artist factions.) After the thunderstorms subsided, crowds were divided between the final Biscuits’ set and the dance tent. Due to missing an evening main-stage spot, Girl Talk was moved to the dance tent -- in typical fashion, an army of people took the stage to shake their asses while loved-up dancers tossed glow sticks at them.
The party continued with dance music’s It Boy Rusko: Apparently the kids these days really dig their dubstep, as there was a very high level of anticipation that burst into insane whoomp-whoomp-whoomp head-shaking and limb-flailing the moment he took the stage. Though I don’t know how I feel about dubstep exactly, you had to give Rusko props for driving the crowd wild and also for his infectious enthusiasm. In a somewhat odd scheduling move, Aeroplane (newly downsized from a duo to only Vito DeLuca) closed out the dance tent. Although DeLuca threw in some “classic” Aeroplane set favorites like Rodion’s italo-heavy “Alagoas Cowboys,” it was clear this crowd (and their particular party favors) skewed a bit more to the beat-loving side, further removed from the dreamy, blissed-out, ‘80s-inspired stuff Aeroplane is known for. While I personally would have preferred a “traditional” Aeroplane set, the youngish crowd seemed pleased with the song selection (which included stuff like Boys Noize’s “Jeffer” and ended with Late of the Pier’s “Best in Class”). A bit ungratefully, the crowd followed its polite clapping and cheering with football-hooligan-style chants of “Rusko!”
The little I caught that night of the Biscuits' final set was pretty much what I was expecting. If you ask any of their fans, though, they will insist on raving about the laser light show. (OK, it was pretty cool, especially when rain hit the lasers. But I still couldn’t get into it.)
While the festival grounds were expansive enough to accommodate four stages and approximately 10,000 attendees (most of whom were camping on-site), they weren’t exactly convenient to anything else. Although the venue is named the Indian Lookout Country Club, I would call the biker-owned-and-operated “country club” a bit of a stretch.
The massive-ish campgrounds were a bit difficult to navigate. Sure, festival booklets included a crappy hand-drawn map, but that was pretty useless. At night, trying to look for landmarks in the dark (with little overhead lighting) was especially difficult, though by Day 3, getting around got a bit easier. (“OK, if there are a bunch of trees to my right and a muddy dirt path to my left, I must be headed toward the dance tent.”) Security was surprisingly mellow and friendly, generally turning a blind eye to any illicit activity short of violence, which, I guess, was the important thing. It also kept the general vibes of the festival positive.
Clearly there isn’t much festival organizers can really do about inclement weather, but it can still be a major influence on the overall festival experience. July in the Northeast tends to be hot and humid with frequent-but-quick thunderstorms, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to have a mix of intense sun and stormy downpours for most of the festival. (As one attendee put it, “It wouldn’t be Bisco without some thunderstorms.”) While most of this was pretty easy to tolerate, Day 3 brought some weather intense enough to actually shut down the entire festival for several evening hours. “Go back to your cars!” urged members of Brothers Past as they finished their set amid some violent thundering/scary lighting. Because the mandatory break lasted several hours, set times were thrown off, with some acts shifting stages. (Not sure if any acts technically were cut, as The Disco Biscuits cut out one of their five festival sets that night.) Obligatory mud and precarious walking followed.
While I can’t speak for the camping amenities, I heard that all basic needs could be met onsite (showers, purchasing of necessities at a general store, food vendors, etc.). Food and drink vendors conveniently stayed open just about all hours, and options included American, Asian, Mexican, vegan, and other fare. Bathrooms with running water existed and were kept quite clean. The eating areas were relatively small but shaded (and protected from rain), and due to the 24-hour-a-day concept, lines or picnic table space never got out of hand.
Other Diversions: B-
Dancing and partying were the obvious big draws of the festival. But outside of these, Camp Bisco did not offer a lot more in the way of extracurricular activities. (No archery, no arts and crafts....) Late each night, one of the smaller stages was reportedly turned into the “Sunrise Silent Disco” -- attendees could receive headsets that switched between two channels of music being played live by guest DJs onsite, yet there would be no speakers broadcasting either set. Interesting idea and I am kicking myself for not finding my way over there Friday or Saturday night to check it out. A few of the other diversions I just didn’t get, like something called Color Wars and this whole “live painting” phenomenon. (Not knocking the artwork, but it still seems odd to me when people just set up an easel and some paints and calmly try to make some art as crowds freak out literally right next to them.) And, of course longtime hippie “sports” like hacky sack, devil sticks, etc. were frequent time killers.
Shirtless dudes in skirts, pigtails, and glitter. Way too many girls hula-hooping. A guy wearing nothing but a furry cookie-monster jacket who could be found rolling around in the mud crying about how he crapped himself. There were also more than a fair share of Phish-friendly college-aged bros and their female friends with benefits. So the people-watching rocked, but generally the crowds grated on me. (There are only so many times you can overhear, “Wait, so which song are we dosing for?” before it becomes pretty annoying.) That said, the neo-hippie crowds are actually some of the friendliest, most generous groups of music lovers I’ve encountered (as you’d expect, I guess), always ready to offer a stranger a free beer from their campsite or to perhaps share their other “treats.” I never witnessed even a spark of violence (peace and love, man) and, more surprisingly, saw very few party casualties, certainly way fewer than I saw at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival.
Artists Featured In Photo Gallery:
LCD Soundsystem, Ween, Diplo, Major Lazer, Rusko, The Disco Biscuits, Brothers Past,
Wu-Tang Clan, Talib Kweli, Aeroplane