In my nearly decade long career as a festival fanatic and self professed music maven, I've galavanted through Warped Tour numerous times, I've frolicked through Insomniac and HARD's famed Music Festivals, shows from The Do Lab, and assorted events thrown around Southern California by LoveFest and GoVentures back when they were still an enterprise. But, as I descended upon Red Rocks in all of her glory, I was simultaneously awe-struck and anxious to finally check a new 'first' off of my musical bucket list. Now in it's triumphant 13th year, Global Dance Festival at the Red Rocks Amphitheater marked my first out-of-California Music Festival, not to mention - my first, and most definitely not my last, trip out to Red Rocks. Dating back to the Jurassic period over 160 Million years ago, the natural amphitheater was formed by fusing together by enormous naturally sloping rock monoliths that contain the fossils of ancient animals like sea serpents and flying reptiles. And within it's walls are an audiophile's wet dream - an acoustically excellent arena, apropos to appreciate astounding live musical performances.
Being an all ages show, there's a good chance that the younger members of GDF hadn't fully seeped themselves in the rich history of the arena; but regardless of their perspective, artists, performers and media crew alike were all humbled that they were standing on the shoulders of giants and they performed as if they were all collectively paying homage to their predecessors. From iconic names like Jimi Hendrix, The Eagles, Santana and The Grateful Dead to more modern phenomenons like Incubus, No Doubt, Atmosphere, 311 and Nas - the majestic, though static, physical landscape of Red Rocks has been in perpetual dichotomy with the ever evolving musical landscape of the Amphitheater. Now, almost 70 years after the venue reopened in 1947, Red Rocks has become home base for some of the biggest, brightest and boldest acts in Bass Music thanks to the team at Global Dance. Throughout the weekend, rising stars like NORIN & RAD and ODESZA pulled an unprecedented proportion of the festival population to the stage at the top of Red Rocks while massive acts like ANDY C with ARMANNI REIGN, INFECTED MUSHROOM, MADEON and ZEDD mesmerized the crowd, reminding fans - new and old- precisely why they fell in love with their music in the first place.
From early Friday afternoon solidly through Sunday evening, EDM enthusiasts across the Midwest flocked to Red Rocks for three nights of musical mayhem. As we settled into one of the parking lots surrounding the amphitheater, my eyes were immediately drawn to the vast array of license plates: from Wyoming to Montana, Idaho to Utah - patrons flocked to the festival from all around the greater Mid West and one thing was made absolute clear - we definitely weren't in Kansas anymore. Gushing with exuberance, festival attendants trickled through the gates and were welcomed with open arms by brightly costumed friends, tailgating with boisterous music and infectious smiles. Whichever way your taste in music sways, Global Dance Festival had something for everyone. Spanning the genres from Dubstep to Drum and Bass, Trance to Electro House...and whatever you'd classify DESTROID as - the evenings were peppered with an eclectic variety of talent on three separate stages: the EDM.com Amphitheater - the Main Stage, the NRG Stage at the top of Red Rocks and the GlobalDanceMusic.Com Stage plush on the opposite side of the venue. Differences aside, each act cranked up the bass and begged you to do one simple thing: dance.
Road tripping from Los Angeles out to Red Rocks had it's perks- like exploring Zion and Bryce Canyons in Utah and various turnouts along the Colorado River; but there was one minor drawback: we didn't step foot inside the festival gates until the sun went down Friday evening. But the important thing was that we'd made the 1,000 mile road trip from our front door to Red Rocks and we couldn't wait to see what was in store for is.Starting with the second we stepped inside Friday afternoon, KYGO played us in and then BRO SAFARI - the Dubstep side project of EVOL INTENT's Nick Weiller - unleashed a bass fueled beast on the Main Stage that raged into the midnight hours. Infected Mushroom followed with a fantastic, high octane live set that effortlessly transported me to a Rock and Roll show. As the band tore through powerful renditions of fan favorites like 'Cities of the Future' and 'Becoming Insane', they gave Red Rocks one of the best live performances of the entire weekend - including an epic cover of 'Sabotage' from the Beastie Boys. Up next was a choice between entering #ASOC with none other than CARNAGE, or trekking up to the NRG stage to watch NORIN & RAD kick things up a notch. We made the journey, and it was well worth the miniature workout - from start to finish, the two California natives raised the bar for Global Dance Festival by delivering track after massive track, juggling between Electro House and darker basslines for an hour long non-stop dance party. KASTLE closed the night strong with groovy, emotive tunes on the NRG stage, but it proved no match for ADVENTURE CLUB's Electro infused Dubstep journey that left the entire crowd begging the Canadian duo for more. The group brought out the OG Chipotle Gang member Carnage and blasted through their set, fusing favorites and original tracks like 'Need Your Heart' and 'Gold' alongside tried and true remixes.
The next day proved a chance to start fresh, and let me tell you - there's nothing that compares to simultaneously enjoying the natural wonder of Red Rocks, with the Denver skyline in a distance, while dancing up a storm to some of your favorite artists. For me, Saturday was the best day musically at GDF and I was exited to get there early and dive right in. After making friends in the parking lot, we walked into the festival as local artist ECOTEK set the tone for the day on the main stage. Next up was a personal highlight of the weekend - BORGEOUS; admittedly, though I'd heard of him before the weekend - I'd never listened to him - and hearing him live for the first time made me stop in my tracks and look at my schedule again. Somewhere between the beautiful and effortlessly bouncing beats, the well timed song syncing and enigmatic stage presence, I'd been won over and converted into a new fangled fanatic.
A difficult act to follow, sure - but leave it up to OWSLA phenom and SKRILLEX protege ALVIN RISK to do the job; from start to finish, we were engaged and energized by his heavy Dubstep sounds - the only thing we could've wanted from him was more. Masterfully mixing - and singing - for his audience, Alvin Risk put on a phenomenal performance and was definitely a highlight of my weekend.
The only thing that could possibly top an act like that would be some serious bass music, and that's exactly what ANDY C and ARMANNI REIGN delivered. Though it's unfair to pick a favorite with so much excellent music, Andy C's set was it - he proved to the Mid West that not only is Drum and Bass alive and well, it's a powerful, moving, emotive, dirty experience that will rattle you to your core and possess you to dance like you've never moved before. The only MC that I can't get enough of, Armanni Reign spat verbal venom as the legendary Andy C gave us a lesson on everything Drum and Bass - from Jungle to Industrial to Liquid, we all walked away with a better understanding of why Andy C is revered as the king of his genre.
After handing over the reigns to SHOWTEK the main stage went down a thumping Hardstyle journey of a Rabbit Hole, only to come out of the other side to Waka Flocka Flame and the aptly titled Destroid living up to their moniker; entertaining, yes - but I'm honestly still trying to figure out what happened. If my gold medal of the weekend went to Andy C and Armanni, my silver medal goes out to Seattle natives ODESZA. If I thought the NRG Stage was packed for Norin & Rad, then we were definitely over capacity when Odesza took the stage - between their phenomenal stage presence, some funky dance moves, and a well manicured, expertly produced live set - they not only wowed crowd, but they made us all wish we'd gotten to see them on the main stage. Knowing the way Global Dance Festival has operated in the past, they could well be on their way next year. GDF loves repeat offenders and has even noticed that their side stage has a slight tinge of special stardom attached. In the past, artists like Krewella have skyrocketed their careers after gracing the stage - and we're sure that with Odesza it won't be much different.
Sundays slight threat of rain barely dampened the mood as the final day of the festival set in. From start to finish, the GDF was exactly where you wanted to be. As we galavanted through the gates on our last visit to Red Rocks, I discovered yet another fabulous new artists in TCHAMI - I still might not know how to pronounce your name (sorry!), but man - when that remix of ALUNAGEORGE's 'I Know You Like It' came on I danced in the rain like I didn't have a care in the world. As the sun went down, MADEON stepped it up in another one of my favorite sets of the weekend and hands down my favorite set of the day. The lightning provided a dramatic backdrop for the delectable Electro House beats as the youthful producer sifted between original productions party tracks like 'Get Low and a sexy WAVE RACER remix of Panama's 'Always' , a personal favorite. For a full hour, the audience was perpetually swept up by his eccentric style and I was doubly reminded why he's one of my favorite producers in his genre.
Penultimate on the main stage was WOLFGANG GARTNER - who took us through on an adventure through his discography, blasting hits like 'Space Junk' and 'Ill-Merica' while flowing through Hip Hop, Tech House and Electro House - all the while, reminding the audience why he's one of the best in the business. Last but certainly not least, there's no better way to round out the weekend than ZEDD; for an hour and a half, he did double duty dancing and delivering hits like his funky remix of 'Breaking a Sweat', and originals like 'Stay the Night', 'Clarity' and 'Spectrum' as the audience danced the night away.
Global Dance Festival has always done a first class job of encompassing the current state of the EDM industry, much like a snapshot of sound or a time capsule of cacophony. As if in an echo of the rest of the Electronic Music Scene, the showcase this weekend seemed to be on the infamous bass drop and with epic and entertaining acts from Carnage and Destroid to Bro Safari - who can really blame anyone for loving it? We're simply stoked that artists like Odesza, Kastle, Borgeous and Andy C brought their A-games this weekend in a true display of musicianship and entertainment. It was utterly evident that the artists were playing for more than just their audience - they were paying homage to the greats that had come before them, a tribute to the musical influences that propelled them to the very stage they graced over the weekend.
Another point the festival drove home, is that there's a thin line between 'Bass Music' as Armanni Reign calls it and more or less 'Rage Music.' Don't get me wrong, I'm all for danceable dissonance and if there was a time and place for it, Global Dance Festival is it but my personal preference would be to see emotive acts like Above & Beyond, or smaller Anjunabeats acts return, alongside a healthy dose of ethereal Trance that I was definitely missing all weekend. With such an iconic venue and breathtaking environment, we're eager to see what happens next at Red Rocks. Next Thursday, Gary Richards returns to Red Rocks as DESTRUCTO as HARD goes HAM at the rocks - but hopefully with events to come, transformational festivals will find a mainstay at the rocks as well - because with a venue like that, there's more than enough good music to go around.
By the end of Sunday night, we felt we'd earned our stripes, or wings - or whatever first timers are graced with whenever they're elected to cover an event at Red Rocks. For three solid days, we grinned and galavanted our way through the crowd to get the necessary shots - only to find at the end of the weekend that there's an iconic tunnel that reaches from the Press area to the stage. And iconic doesn't even begin to describe it - everyone, and I mean - everyone - that's played Red Rocks has left their mark, or marks, on the hallway. We went from standing on the shoulders of giants, to being encapsulated by their essence. For a good ten minutes, Danny and I stood in awe - gawking at each other as we read off names STS9 to Shpongle and Thriftworks to the likes of Imagine Dragons, Alice in Chains and 311; we were, and still are, beyond grateful for the entirety of our experience. Thank you Red Rocks and thank you Global Dance family - see you next year!
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Photography: Daniel Leist