Organik Festival 2017

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  • Sometime on the second night of this year's Organik festival, I found myself in the midst of one of the most interesting dance floor conversations I've ever had. Meng Meng, a promoter from Beijing who puts on a party called ShadowPlay, was telling me how, in her opinion, techno events in East Asia reflect something at the core of the region's cultural DNA: zen philosophy. While Western parties and the artists they book tend to emphasize the heavy side of techno, their Eastern counterparts favor more hypnotic and spiritual sounds, suggesting a state of transcendence and, when heard in the striking outdoor locations where some of these events take place, a heightened connectedness with nature. At that particular moment this theory was pretty hard to deny. The Taiwanese DJ Diskonnected had the dance floor in thrall to rippling, undulating rhythms, peaking at one point with Avalon Emerson's "The Frontier." The lights highlighted our surroundings instead of transforming them. Spotlights combed through canopies of trees or picked out the nearby cliffs, otherwise invisible in the darkness. Canvas orbs lit up in time to the music, while one floated on a creek within view of the dance floor, creating the illusion of a moon sitting on the horizon.
    As the sunrise revealed our seaside setting, Chris SSG (of mnml ssgs fame) tucked into a three-hour ambient set. Heard from the back of the dance floor, his vivid tones nicely jelled with the chirping birds and the sounds of the surf. A few dozen people took this in from a steep ridge uphill from the site, where you could listen to the music while admiring the stunning view: on the right, the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean; straight ahead, rows of cliffs receding into the mist; on the left, the festival and everyone in it, from the campsite to the main stage. Organik takes place at a family camping park on a beach along the eastern coast of Taiwan. Now in its sixth year, it's hosted by Smoke Machine, Taiwan's key outpost for heady dance music (also known for their killer podcast series). Though not without a few splashes of house and disco—Massimiliano Pagliara played this year—the programme is heavy on techno and makes more room than most for ambient. This, combined with an outdoor location reminiscent of Jurassic Park, makes comparisons to Labyrinth inevitable, but in fact it's closer in spirit to Freerotation or Nachtdigital. More than a full-blown festival, it's a cozy, three-day rave where the artists hang out all weekend and the organizers are usually on the dance floor. It still has some growing up to do, from organizational basics (the festival stopped people bringing in bottled water, then briefly ran out of their own on the baking Saturday morning) to diversity in the lineup, which this year included only one female artist, Jing, in an early slot on the small stage. But between its location, its crowd and its music, Organik is an awe-inducing event, surely among the best small festivals out there at the moment.
    Organik sells just over 1,000 tickets, but it feels even smaller than that. There are two dance floors: the Blue Star stage, which presents artists from East Asia in a bungalow uphill from the beach, and the Organik stage, where DJs and live acts, ensconced in a hut of wood, rope and palm leaves, face the dancing crowd and the ocean behind them. The dance floor was grassy until a bad typhoon a few years ago; now it's all soft, black sand, some of it at a slight incline, which will leave you feeling a bit wobbly after a while, though not unpleasantly so, especially in the music's more mind-bending moments. Most of these came on the first night, with Wata Igarashi's swirling live performance and DJ Nobu's typically cosmic—if somewhat restrained—peak-time DJ set. In the festival's opening slot, Bryan Kasenic of The Bunker New York got pretty out there, too, but sensed the buzz of the arriving crowd and responded accordingly, balancing party-starters like Objekt's "Theme From Q" with the kind of deep techno he and his party are known for.
    Organik had its heavy moments—Steve Bicknell, after winding through hours of spacey and understated techno, whipped out blistering rave classics like Joey Beltram's "Energy Flash" and "Planet Earth" by Brother From Another Planet (AKA Claude Young). Most artists, though, went for more of a dreamy vibe. Soundtracking the sunset on Saturday afternoon, S.A.M., who was DJing, sounded just like his records: sleek and pumping, but also lush and poetic, an exquisite balance of functionality and flair. Ateq's live set, perfected over the last three months on the Planet Giegling tour, nicely suited the falling dusk. When Voiski played live that night, he delivered the same surging energy that defines his records. When he DJ'd the next morning, though, he went totally ethereal, picking up where Chris SSG left off and mixing it up with a few elegant cuts of leftfield techno.
    Chris SSG and Voiski had been tasked with bringing the vibe down, letting people rest up and providing a wispy soundtrack to those who stayed awake. It was Dorisburg's job to bring the vibe back up. Coming on at 10 AM, he delivered one of the most extraordinary sets of the festival, full of beautiful textures and flawlessly engineered grooves. Unfortunately, he played most of it to an empty dance floor, for which we had the heat to thank—as the sun beat down from a cloudless sky for the first time that weekend, the shadeless black sand of the main stage looked like certain death to weary ravers, many of whom snatched only fleeting moments of sleep that weekend (again, thanks to the heat, as well as an incredibly unfortunate karaoke session near the campsite on Saturday morning). The dance floor filled up by the time DJ Dustin appeared in the booth, and the gushing ovation Dorisburg received showed how many people had enjoyed him from the shade. The Giegling lynchpin got yelps of approval from the first bar of his first record: Omar-S's "The Further You Look - The Less You Will See." A fresh wind kicked up, and, this being the festival's final set, a bittersweet mood took hold, nicely setting the stage for tender cuts from the Giegling family (including unreleased stuff from Traumprinz and Kettenkarussell), as well as hands-in-the-air house like Adryiano's "On My Side." In the last half hour, everyone suddenly had long palm leaves in their hands—presumably an organized stunt though I never figured it out—which they waved around to Soul Capsule's "Lady Science (NYC Sunrise)" and Jean Pierre Mirouze's "Sexopolis." Dustin's much-demanded one-more-tune was The Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes For You." For this one, we swayed and slow-danced as a sea breeze rustled the trees.
    Photo credit / Cedric Diradourian