By Larry Pompa Jr (SBCC Student/former host of Lucid Waves) and Cindy Nguyen (UCSB Alumna)
“In using art as a tool for transformation, we have the opportunity to create a reality as beautiful, healthy, and strong as our imagination permits.” These were the words that melodically reached our ears early Sunday morning during The Human Experience a.k.a. David Block’s incredible four-hour set. Eloquently spoken by the visionary artist, Martina Hoffman, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Upon returning home from this year’s Symbiosis Gathering, we were eager to jump in the shower and ready to wash away all that had acquired over the course of five days. As we made preparations to acclimate back into reality, we reflected on each of our experiences and started to realize how mentally stimulating, emotionally evocative, and physically demanding overnight camping festivals can be. With all the recreation and entertainment that Symbiosis had to offer, we often forget the grueling work and collaboration that goes into producing a successful festival. This year was deeply profound and truly transformative for a number of reasons. This experience affected us in significant ways that we didn’t realize until after we left the event.
This year’s Symbiosis Gathering held its tenth year reunion at Woodward Reservoir up in Oakdale, California. Symbiosis came back revamped and determined to inspire with its “fusion of aesthetics, sound, and interactive co-creation amidst natural splendor that bursts with vibrance and vitality.” True to their words, the collaborators of this beautiful festival did not disappoint as they returned to the lakeside peninsula to offer a temporary home to upwards of 12,000 people from all walks of life. This was a worldwide gathering, we talked to people who ventured out from Germany, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil, Portugal, and all over the US just to see what this festival was about! With thousands of conscious beings gathering for the miles of genuine smiles and heart to heart hugs, it became a comforting place to connect and rekindle relationships.
With its elaborate collection of music performances, informative lectures, and skill-building workshops, it was clear that this was a multi-dimensional event. Youthful joy ran prevalent throughout this surreal adult playground. Amongst the many art installations, things to climb, places to swim, and the eclectic roster of tunes, here are some of the highlights that came together to make an incredible and holistic experience:
The Girl Who Made It In
Shortly after arriving on Thursday, we kept hearing news of a girl who ventured to the festival with no funds or a ticket. Determined to experience the magic, she stood outside the festival gates with a sign, hoping to reach out to the kindness of people’s hearts. Surprisingly, she collected enough money within several hours! Due to the contributions and graciousness of empathetic patrons, she was able to purchase a weekend pass and frolic happily into the event. These acts of kindness are among the first of many altruistic intentions that more often than not, transpires at transformative festivals like Symbiosis rather than corporate massive raves.
The stage productions this year were organized entirely different from year’s prior. The additional effort to incorporate more of the lake became an integral factor to the festival’s success. Swimbiosis was an especially distinguishable highlight, as many will remember the nonstop parties held during daylight hours. The performers were facing the lake and there were two climbable art installations submerged in the water that were inviting to many. We were able to enjoy the pystrance melodies of Shpongle as well as the bassy house beats of Justin Martin while floating around the serene waters. With so many naked bodies swimming, dancing, and dusting up a sand cloud around us, it felt like we were right in the middle of a Spring Breakers scene. What made Symbiosis special, however, is that although people were there to get their party on, they were doing it responsibly and respectfully. Also, The DeLorean (from Back to the Future) was a fun sight to witness treading across the water at high speeds during the performances!
“EARTH without ART is Just EH.”
There were a multitude of art boats, psychedelic exhibits, and even Burning Man installations spotted all over the festival grounds to make for an eye pleasing experience. One of the coolest installations we had the pleasure to experience was the Artemiid Art Boat. Shanee Noctiluca Stopnitzky and her creative team of architects, engineers, and artists from Oakland, CA designed it. Artemiid is a 22’ x 8’ interactive kinetic sculpture, intended to mimic the beauty of aquatic organisms while providing multi-sensory dance parties on the water. It was stunning and sensational to gaze upon, with its blue flames, colorful LED lights, silent disco, and fluttering motions produced by people swinging inside. Its intention was to serve as a creative statement designed to raise awareness of the lack of knowledge surrounding our ocean’s underwater creatures as well as the extreme degradation of marine environments. Shanee and her exceptional team explains, “Artemiid is designed to connect us to the magic hidden beneath the ocean’s surface… to remind people of our connection to the sea, that our movements upon the land are inseparable from the movements beneath the waves.”
Memorable Music Performances
This year Symbiosis provided us with a plethora of talented and inspiring music acts. There were countless combinations of progressive house, techno, downtempo, psytrance, live bands, and many variations of electronic music going on at all times of the day. Because of its specific location, the festival featured music through the late hours of the night. In fact, the bass rarely ever stopped! Major headlining acts such as Max Cooper and Four Tet didn’t even start until after midnight. On top of this there were some incredible sunrise sets by Crying Over Porcelain (2/3 of Glitch Mob), Tipper’s unannounced set, and Random Rab. There was nothing more serene than watching the sun elevating into the sky shimmering proudly across the glistening lake while hearing a gentle bassline humming in the distance. There were so many talented acts at Symbiosis such as Nicolas Jaar, DVS, Cocorosie, Emancipator Ensemble, Mumdance, ASTR, and many more which makes it difficult to give each their individual praise. However, there were certain outstanding performances that we can’t go without mentioning.
The Polish Ambassador
The Polish Ambassador a.k.a. David Sugalski is always guaranteed to provide amazing vibes to the crowd. He plays the funkiest beats that are sure to keep your hips swinging and booty bumping all night long. We were so immersed with his performance at Symbiosis that we lost our friends to the crowd! In a decision to throw ourselves amongst smiling strangers and dancing bodies, we found ourselves thoroughly reveling in the thrill of unfamiliarity and non-verbal rhythmic communication. Our happiness only heightened when David played one of our favorite songs, Gathering of the Tribes, which got everyone swaying and stimulated. Another highlight of his performance was when he paid tribute to the musical legend, Michael Jackson, by playing his remix of Wanna Be Starting Something. To top off his flawless performance, he had the best close out of any set with his interpretation of Take on Me by a-ha and decision to invite the crowd to sing its famous chorus. Shouting at the top of our lungs, we were rewarded with fulfilling emotions of elation.
There was an electric spark of anticipation running through the crowd as everyone waited moments before Griz a.k.a Grant Kwiecinski took the main stage, the Big Island, on Sunday night. Originally from Detroit, Grant has since worked with Pretty Lights, Gramatik, Big Gigantic, and Bassnectar. For those we’ve spoken to, Griz’s set was the perfect finish to the incredible and adventurous weekend. We felt the same, yet we found this eagerness for an artist to be extremely refreshing. After attending so many festivals, the hope to is to always be curious, inspired, and motivated to see new and old performers alike.
However, as Griz took the stage and played his first track, no one could stop us from dancing our hearts out. His electronica fusion of brass instruments, soulful vocals, live saxophone, bass, and guitar strings filled the entire stage with an upbeat energy and positivity. We enjoyed every second of his set, from start to finish, and continued to artistically express ourselves through our bodies. It was within this moment of utter melodic and physical euphoria that we experienced a communal camaraderie, care, and consideration for the smiling strangers we had just met a few days prior. It was a moment of beautiful collaboration.
What makes Symbiosis different?
Symbiosis Gathering is a “synesthesia of art, music, learning, and sustainable living integrated into an unparalleled extravaganza of fun under the sun and starry skies.” It is a creative space for the exploration and interaction of art, music, and dance. It’s more than just an elaborate collection of healing sanctuaries, informative workshops, art galleries, and interactive theater and dance performances. Symbiosis is truly transformative in its culture of holistic elements and connections.
After leaving and further reflecting upon our own experiences, it is evident that we are constantly undergoing a continual process of transformation and interconnection. Whether we feel it or not, we humans perpetually affect and become influenced by those we interact with. Thus, by deepening our connections and consciousness of our relationships, we can further collaborate and create a social reality limited only by our imaginations.
Symbiosis’ next event is going to be an enticing lifetime experience. Its set in Oregon and taking place in 2017 during a solar eclipse that will be visible throughout a strip of the United States. If you want to experience Burning Man without venturing out to the Playa, then Symbiosis is an event to keep an eye out which operates on similar principles.