(Bradley Morin assisted in putting together this article.)
After hearing about What the Festival from various friends who have gone, we knew we had to experience it for ourselves. WTF is located on Wolf Run Ranch in Dufur, Oregon, about 90 miles east of Portland. It occurs during the Summer Solstice to take advantage of the longest days of the year. The festival started small in 2012 by Burning Man attendees who wanted to create a similar atmosphere of music and arts, but has grown the past few years, selling out this year. To say this festival is unique would be an understatement. Boasting 6 distinct stages, one being the Pacific Northwest’s largest wading pool, a hookah lounge, and an Illuminated Forest full of mind-boggling artistic creations, WTF sets itself apart from any other festival we’ve ever been a part of. Unlike other music and arts festivals, it’s clear that the management succeeded in building a strong sense of community, especially with group classes like yoga, hula hooping, poi, and even twerking.
The big shows:
UZ closed the Effin’ Stage Friday night and, as expected, played one of the most exceptional sets of the weekend. Prior to the masked legend taking the stage, we were reminded that he is still human as we caught a glimpse of him in a focused and pensive state. As he started his set, one of the Two Fresh twins hopped onstage to be a hype man for the beginning of the show, but was too intoxicated to keep going. We had seen UZ several times before, and have come to love the fact that he doesn’t say a word while DJing. His heavy trap beats and skillful mixing always keep the crowd going, and this time was no exception.
Big Gigantic was headlining the Main Stage Saturday night and left the crowd with something to talk about for the rest of the weekend. Their live saxophone and drum set was a refreshing twist on the strictly DJ sets that dominated the weekend – there aren’t many sets that can top dubstep accompanied with jazzy sax solos. Their performance shook the audience to the core, and when they played their “I Need a Dollar” remix, everyone in sight was singing and dancing along. Big Gigantic never fails to bring the funk.
Thomas Jack’s Pool Party was one for the books. Anna Lunoe kicked if off and got the crowd going. We arrived towards the end of her set as everyone was preparing for Thomas Jack. We couldn’t imagine a better setting to see him preform his tropical house music than in a massive pool party with beautiful Mt. Hood in the distance. He spread out his own songs throughout the set, and by the time his Of Monsters and Men remix of Little Talks came on, everyone was singing along. Pool floaties were being thrown all over and water gun sprays were endless. There was even a large crew who had choreographed a dance and preformed it during his set, adding extra energy to the already crazy show. Justin Jay of Dirtybird Records closed off the Thomas Jack Pool Party and was also the last performance of the weekend on the Splash Stage.
Justin Martin was the last performance on the Effin’ Stage, playing at the same time as Odesza on the main stage. We had to choose Justin Martin since we had never seen him before, and as Northwest natives, Odesza comes around often. We were not disappointed with our decision. For us, Justin Martin was one of the best shows of the weekend. His deep house set rocked the crowd and had everyone simultaneously moving to the beat. As expected from an artist on the world-renowned Dirtybird Records, Justin Martin did not disappoint.
We had seen Slow Magic from afar at Sasquatch several weeks prior, but being front row at WTF was a completely different experience. Just watching him drum is a treat in itself. You can tell he puts all of his energy into his music, which the audience reciprocated in their dancing. He never missed a beat, literally. One of the highlights of his show was jumping off stage, grabbing his drum (which he did accidentally dropped under the stage for a second), and handing his drum and himself into the crowd. After finding a spot towards the middle, he set up his drum and started playing. The crowd went wild, and he eventually found his way back up to the stage to finish out his set. The energy throughout the show never died and left a resonating mark on those who attended.
The smaller but still extremely impressive shows:
Manatee Commune, as usual, killed it. It is always great to see a Northwest native make it big. He had only gotten back from playing Bonnaroo in Tennessee four days prior to his WTF set, and Sasquatch several weeks before that, so he was on a roll. His live classical instruments played alongside his electronic beats are always a gift to listen to. The accompaniment of Mt. Hood and the setting sun behind him made the whole scene surreal. If you ever get a chance to see Manatee Commune, take it. He is one of the best live performers who becomes completely engulfed in the music, and it is a treat to watch. For more on Manatee Commune, check out our interview with him during the festival.
Louis Futon took the Equinox stage on Thursday night for the early-entry festivalgoers. It was intimate to say the least. The stage set-up and dance pit were surrounded by trees, which gave it a cozy and inviting feeling. His combination of smooth beats and high energy pushed the seemingly small crowd in a way that encouraged everyone to boogie down together. His show gave off a unifying vibe, preparing the crowd for the remainder of the weekend.
Minnesota followed with an hour and a half set. He began the set with a melodic dubstep sound, and then towards the end was playing heavier beats that sounded more like his original tracks. He threw in some glitch hop to keep the crowd on their toes, and mixed in some of his newer tracks, too.
Wave Racer was the first show we saw on Friday at the pool stage (also known as the Splash Stage). Given the fact that he is from Australia and doesn’t come to America often, we were extremely excited to see him perform. He instantly had the crowd splashing along with the music. He was a discreet DJ, never picking up the microphone to talk to the crowd, simply letting his music work its magic. Fortunately, he played mostly original songs throughout the entire set. We can’t imagine a better setting for a Wave Racer show.
We stayed at the Splash Stage for the London-based duo Snakehips. They stayed true to their style and played almost exclusively trap. Their set included nearly all of the major trap anthems of the past year, including “Aquafina” by Falcons and “Lotus Eater” by Mura Masa.
We migrated over to Two Fresh and got our first taste of the dance tent known as the Effin’ Stage. The twins, individually known as Kendo and Shweez, are from Los Angeles and brought the energy as they threw down a filthy hip-hop inspired bass music set. Hearing their hit song “Du Du Du” on the thunderous Funktion One speakers is one of those moments we won’t soon forget. Throughout their set, as one mixed, the other took the role of hype man. It was obvious that they knew how to naturally feed off of the other’s energy.
EPROM, a Portland local, played at What the Festival its debut year in 2012. We heard a story that the local sound engineer for the Funktion One speakers claimed that EPROM’s music had sounded better through their speakers than any other artist. His heavy bass music had the crowd bouncing from start to finish.
Daktyl played at the Splash Stage on Saturday afternoon. His Jersey-club style got everyone dancing and splashing around. After hearing that he missed his flight, we were excited to see that he still was able to make it and play a killer set. It was the perfect genre for the pool stage and allowed people to cool down as they enjoyed the show.