Photo Courtesy of CRSSD Festival // Felicia Garcia; Additional reporting by Blake Thomas
Underworld, Röyksopp, Overmono, Charlotte de Witte & more delivered legendary sets at Waterfront Park
CRSSD is several years old now, and has always delivered great lineups. But this past weekend’s lineup – and experience – was simply on another level.
In addition to the usual house and techno bread-and-butter (also exemplified through the legions of fans donning CRSSD-branded HOUSE x TECHNO jackets), the lineup featured a slate of legendary live acts, including English big beat pioneers Underworld and Norwegian electro duo Röyksopp, in addition to The Blaze, Flume, Ladytron and more. The lineup not only connected with the typical CRSSD crowd, but it also resonated greatly with old heads, and there was a unique audience camaraderie that never let up the entire weekend.
The vibes were immaculate from the start, as Jayda G ignited the proceedings over on the house-based Palms stage, which drew bigger crowds throughout the weekend than any other stage. The rising Canadian starlet packed funk, house, disco, and everything else in between in her chameleonic DJ set, while over on the City Steps stage, up-and-comer HAAi unleashed a bevy of dark, heavy techno. Though it was a bit early in the day for us to totally process the slashing, kinetic warehouse vibes, it was undoubtedly a spectacle, and a sign of things to come later in the weekend as other talented women like Amelie Lens and Charlotte de Witte followed suit.
Todd Terje is a truly a jack of all trades, and when he’s doing his full live set with his band the Olsons, he’s one of the best performers around. This time around though, he delivered a more simple and vibey DJ set that pulled from his arsenal of disco, house, and funk, while playing hit dancefloor tracks like DJ Koze’s “Pull Up.” The set was breezy and sun-baked, fitting the Palms daytime vibes like a glove, although it was a tad disappointing that he refrained from playing a lot of his own songs, including signature tune “Inspector Norse.”
Meanwhile, one of the more experimental bookings – the Objekt b2b Call Super set – was a ferocious blitz of tech house and dizzying breakbeats that kept the City Steps crowd guessing at every turn. The duo spanned an intricate range of tempos and genres to the point where it was even difficult for me to classify. But that ambiguity and unpredictability is what made them the best of the early day performances. Later, DJ Minx and Will Clarke served up a skittering set of their own that packed out the same stage, just as the festival’s audience really began to fill out during the sunset hour.
As day turned to night, the darkness in the music amplified. The Blaze, the French progressive house duo and music video-directing unit, married bombastic melody with ethereal visuals, inducing a hauntingly emotional atmosphere that hovered over the gorgeous Ocean View stage area. Norwegian legends Röyksopp made a rare and long-awaited stop in San Diego as the evening’s subheadliner, and their array of electro house beats, shadowy visuals, and ominous hooded background dancers made for a riveting stage spectacle. Their set sonically blended the past and the future in dizzying fashion, with the millennials in the crowd turning back the clock to the height of the EDM boom circa 2009. Röyksopp was the sort of specialty booking that isn’t super common for CRSSD, but always welcome.
With the majority of the festival attendees jam-packed at the Palms stage for superstars Chris Lake and Cloonee going B2B, a sparse but incredibly enthusiastic Ocean View crowd showed out for Underworld, one of the best bookings that CRSSD has ever pulled off. It’s been well over a decade since the English legends touched down in San Diego, and 30 years into their career, the duo has not lost a single step. Karl Hyde, the group’s wily, iconic frontman, is an ageless wonder, prancing about on stage and singing with the affect of a spoken word poet over pummeling beats that unfurled at breakneck speeds. Hits like “Two Months Off” sent the crowd into a stratospheric euphoria while others like “King of Snake” inspired some psychedelic head-banging. Of course, there’s no other way to finish off an Underworld set than with their massive banger “Born Slippy,” a cultural phenomenon of a dance track if there ever was one. That junction between the track’s celestial synths and skeletal techno beats made for an explosive, kaleidoscopic ride that sent Day 1 of the fest off in true style.
At the end of the day, Underworld may not have been the most popular act, but CRSSD books their meat and potatoes (Chris Lake and Cloonee) in order to also book the dessert (Underworld and Röyksopp). That drive and attention to detail – an eye for both the past and present – is what makes CRSSD such a unique fest. There’s a little something here for everyone. The fans are always in high spirits, the drink selections are numerous, the layout maximizes the full potential of the venue, and the stage programming absolutely flows. It’s the best festival of its kind, hands down.
After beating my ankles into oblivion from all the shuffling on Day 1, we mercifully returned on Day 2 much later in the day. The sunset vibes over on Ocean View were magical as Norman Cook – aka Fatboy Slim – took the stage. Fatboy Slim is like that eccentric uncle who you don’t see very often but always have a great time with whenever you do. Fatboy has been around for as long as I’ve been a music fan, and he’s always brought incredible energy, stage presence, and a steady DJing hand to his performances; he’s the very definition of reliable. Which is why his set on Sunday evening was so much fun. The old-head crowd was thrilled to get down to futuristic mashups of his old hits – including “The Rockafeller Skank,” “Praise You,” and closer “Right Here Right Now.” Cook is never not entertaining, and in addition to his expert skills on the decks, he also brought a dash of humor through his visuals and his wily personality. An old pro, indeed.
I knew FISHER was going to be packed when I sauntered over to the Palms stage about two-thirds of the way through his set, but even I wasn’t prepared for the crowd mayhem that awaited me. Easily the most crowded set of the fest, and the most packed the Palms has ever been, FISHER’s set was chaotic but calculated. It was demonstrative of where the EDM scene is and where it’s headed, with crowd-pleasing tech-house the name of the game. With the fountain drained, there was thankfully barely enough room to accomodate everyone. As he dropped his big hit “Losin It,” I weaved my way through the mass of bodies with the goal of getting on the bar for Overmono after FISHER ended. Mission complete, although it wasn’t easy.
Good Lies is one of my favorite albums of the year, and Overmono is one of my favorite bands in the game right now. The English duo form a radiant blend of IDM, progressive house, and breakbeat, unleashing some of the most wistful and imaginative electronic music out there these days. Their set was absolutely titanic from beginning to end. While planted on the bar, a fellow Overmono fan mentioned that he was kinda glad that they’re a bit slept on, otherwise he wouldn’t have such a great viewing spot. I replied that I was glad the whole crowd left after FISHER. He agreed. One of the few acts to perform live on hardware – drum machines, synths, looping decks, and other machinery – the Overmono set felt like a modern day call-back to the classic English warehouse scene of the ’90s. Tracks like “Is U,” “Freedom 2” and “Feelings Plain” sent chills and shivers down my spine while I trashed and throttled on the bar. Hands down, the best set of the entire festival.
The finale of the night came courtesy of Charlotte de Witte, perhaps the most talked-about rising star in the entire techno sphere. I simply had to see for myself what all the hype was about.
Lately, it’s been fascinating and exciting to watch the rising trend of women operating in dark techno. For a lot of people, techno can be a bit monotonous, punishing, and heavy to a fault, but there’s a lot of women in the sphere who are taking the blueprints of techno and showing off its more nuanced, sensitive side. HAAi, Amelie Lens, Helena Hauff, Nina Kraviz, Anfisa Letyago, Charlotte and more are showing a kinetic range and an ability to infuse melody and emotion into those unnerving beat patterns in ways we haven’t necessarily seen before. Right now, the genre has never been more popular thanks to these talented women.
In Charlotte de Witte’s case, the Belgian superstar has rejuvenated the scene, and her City Steps closing set on Sunday night showed exactly why she’s gained so much attention and popularity. She wasn’t just good, she was downright enthralling. She had the crowd both in the palm of her hand and on the edge of their seats, building up so much suspense from one drop to the next. For those in the crowd, you were just on pins and needles waiting to see what she would do next. The strobe lights adorning the City Steps transformed the area into a smoky warehouse rave, and although techno is rarely my go-to subgenre of EDM, from here on out you can consider me fully Charlotte-pilled. The woman understands the assignment and goes above and beyond to execute it. The hype is very real. All Hail Queen Charlotte!
With the latest edition of CRSSD in the books, it’s clear that the festival is continuing to progress and evolve for the better. Ultimately, this past weekend marked the best edition of CRSSD yet. I’ll be hibernating until the next one rolls along in spring of next year. See you all then!