- The first Sustain-Release festival was Brooklyn dance music's shot heard around the world. The amount of people attending the first edition—500—roughly equals the number of punters who shuffle through fabric's room three on a weekend night, yet it received glowing international press and galvanized the Bushwick scene. Co-founder Zara Wladawsky openly cops to taking inspiration from UK festival Freerotation, and this year those who had attended the first edition were given the opportunity to invite a friend. The idea was to make the weekender, which takes place at Camp Lakota, a summer camp about 90 minutes into the Catskills, feel like a harmonious family reunion (minus the obnoxious, drunk uncle).
At its core, a group of less than ten people attend to Sustain-Release's major and minor details, and all the staff were obviously selected for their ability to serve with a smile. After searching my bag upon entry, the security guard shook my hand. Mike Petillo, one-half of Protect-U, the Future Times live act who performed in 2014, had joined this year's staff and could be seen busily traversing the grounds troubleshooting on his walkie-talkie. Huerco S. and Anthony Naples had opted to camp in tents (as opposed to cabins) for the full experience. There were two stages: one, an inviting wood-panelled gymnasium whose walls were decked with placards of basketball champions past, the other a function hall that came with a stage.
The festival capacity increased to 700 this year, but there was plenty of room on both dance floors. Things kicked off slowly, with attendees milling around the grounds greeting friends and getting their buzz on. Luckily, Sustain-Release had booked some of Brooklyn's premier warm-up jocks—Down By Low, a crew of Japanese expatriates with ties to Tokyo's Womb club, got things started with a precise mix of dub techno and swinging deep house. Up top, the Bossa stage was appropriately christened by the owner of Bossa Nova Civic Club, John Barclay, a folk hero around Brooklyn's underground. He started things off nicely with big tracks like Randomer's "Huh." Labels like L.I.E.S. should be sending him mailers full of 12-inches on the monthly, such is his contribution to the East Coast scene.
Things quickly picked up steam with a rare live set from Interplanetary Prophets, the duo of Ital and Hieroglyphic Being. Ital, AKA Daniel Martin McCormick, is an integral part of Sustain-Release (the partner of co-founder Aurora Halal, he worked manically for three days). He has been pumping out slick, dubby techno as of late, mostly on his own label, Lover's Rock. It made for a nice pairing with Jamal Moss's otherworldly scree. Down on the main stage, The Black Madonna mixed up techno with Italo tracks like Mr. Flagio's "Take A Chance." While she's known for dropping Yaz's "Situation," Friday's '80s selection swung for the fences, culminating in New Order's mega hit "Blue Monday." She ended things with a bizarre dub of A Number Of Names' "Sharevari," the track's vocal manipulations perfectly setting the stage for Kassem Mosse, who started with an unreleased vocal track as warped and alien as "A1" off Workshop 12. A progenitor of the trippy house sound that goes over so well at Sustain-Release, he delivered a live set of mostly unheard material, save a track of two from his early Workshop and Trilogy Tapes releases.
As though on cue, day two brought with it rains and another cancelled pool party. (The same thing happened in year one.) Halal used the camp's tannoy system to inform the groggy campers that the daytime program, comprising Matt Werth of RVNG Intl., Blazer Soundsystem and Beautiful Swimmers, would be moved to the indoor main stage. The unfazed Swimmers rolled with it, nailing a joyous afternoon set which saw them straying from classic house tracks like TC Crew's "I Can't Do It Alone" with thrilling detours through Baltimore Club (DJ Technics "Funky 69" feat. Menage A' Trois), modern jungle (Octo Octa's "Dresses") and IDM—Max D somehow turned the backwards drum breakdown of Gescom's "A1" into a bona fide floor killer. Outside, the rain was coming down hard. Those who weren't watching Swimmers hosted impromptu cabin parties, napped or dropped out inside Nihiti's ambient installation.
Waterlogged Brooklynites grinned their way through a 45-minute cafeteria line just before the nighttime programming got started, with food shortages and bathroom dilemmas mostly laughed off. (A lot of this audience cut their teeth in punk venues, so a bit of rain and lack of air-conditioned green rooms just aren't that big of a deal.) Zack Kerns, one-half of The Long Count Cycle, carries through this DIY ethic to the raves he throws in rare autonomous zones in a city which increasingly caters to the rich. His duo recently played some Japanese dates, and the deep techno they threw on the Bossa stage felt Labyrinth-ready. Halal's live set of Drexicyan electro also sounded better than ever. In fact, the event's crowd, intimate rooms and Nitemind's minimal, effective lighting coaxed banner performances from nearly everyone.
Bossa's closing sets were for the books. On night one, Mike Servito, champion of the anonymous midwest acid producer, turned out a brilliant set, visceral yet heady. Low on obvious crowd pleasers, he drew a straight line between jacking productions old and new. Highlights included DJ Pierre's "Dreamgirl" and D'Marc Cantu's 2014 production "Spotlight," a track that manages to combine a sunny disco sample with heavy, immersive drum programming. Galcher Lustwerk, closing night two, also dismantled the place. He began his three-hour set with a raft of unreleased originals, all languorous pads and stoned machine funk. He played a stunning amount of this material, evidence that the young New Yorker has a long future in dance music. Anthony Parasole pummelled the knackered crowd at dawn. Following a muscular set of Berghain-proof tracks like Don Williams "Orderly Kaos," he broke character, dropping Prince, Frank Sinatra and Radiohead before the crowd headed to the lake for an impromptu bonfire in the clear, post-downpour morning.
By the festival's final hours, there remained very little distance between organizers, attendees and artists. Imagine it's 5:45 AM: there's The Black Madonna dancing front-and-center as the sunlight filters through the main stage windows; meanwhile Aurora Halal has packed up her hardware and she's out front getting hugs and high-fives from strangers; up the hill a bit is Terekke, with his powder-white, shoulder-length locks, sitting on the grass with a circle of friends. This intimacy—and the sense of accountability that came with it—made the weekend feel like a group effort to which everyone contributed, and the invite system meant that it was driven by a core crowd of close friends and co-conspirators. Beyond the excellent music and the otherworldly setting, that family feeling is what makes Sustain-Release the best music festival on US soil today.
Photo credit: Erez Avissar
Max Pearl contributed to this piece