The Atom Stage setup at The Gorge stop of The Alchemy Tour
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Frigid Nights and Fire Bass | The Glitch Mob, NGHTMRE and SLANDER present: GUD VIBRATIONS, and Seven Lions | The Alchemy Tour at The Gorge

by Gavin McDermott
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The biggest hype generated at EDC Las Vegas 2019 came not from any single surprise set or new track, but from mysterious posters announcing The Alchemy Tour with The Glitch Mob, NGHTMRE and SLANDER present: GUD VIBRATIONS, and Seven Lions. Shortly after, the announcement of the tour’s full schedule made it clear these legendary artists aimed to redefine what was possible for an Electronic Dance Music tour and create a once in a lifetime experience.

When the show at The Gorge Amphitheatre was announced in June, it was a bold declaration that the tour was aiming to create something bigger than Bass music had seen before. The legendary 27,500 seat venue is one of the most breathtaking in the world. The powerful stage sits before a steep grassy hill, and behind it, the beautiful Columbia River cuts through an expansive high desert. But when I scrolled down for the date my eyebrows jumped – October? The venue is notorious for bouts of nasty weather and even June nights can get uncomfortably chilly. The latest the venue has stayed open in recent years was for ABGT250 in mid-September 2017, and severe winter weather was entirely possible for an October date. Could the Alchemy Tour pull off their Gorge stop? At past festivals, I’d braved frigid nights, swelteringly hot days, and even torrential downpours, so the added challenge of seeing if we could survive a weekend of winter camping made it that much more of an adventure.

As the show neared, the anticipation was equaled by the confusion surrounding it. The usual FAQs and guidelines that precede USC Events failed to appear until the day before the event, which concerned me as rules on totems, prohibited items and campground hours seem to change for every Gorge event. Social media users posted screenshots of conflicting information from USC Events and Live Nation on bag size restrictions and set times. I messaged USC and Live Nation several times but for the most part, I was left on read. While annoying, these were minor details.

Our camp of seasoned festival veterans set off from Portland on Friday afternoon, arriving just in time to set up camp as the last daylight faded away. A big part of any Gorge show is the camping experience but with just under 24 hours before the first set, only a handful of spots were filled. A single gyro cart braved the elements where the bustling market of food trucks and vendors usually stood. I’d wondered if the early arrival was worth a cold night’s sleep, but the extra time to set up camp and hang out with friends made for a much more relaxing trip. The dreaded cold did appear when the winds picked up for a few hours, but our heavy coats, blankets and extra stakes for our tents and canopies were more than enough to keep us comfortable. Other camps were less fortunate as we saw tarps ripped away, loose drinks scattered and the flames of a few contraband firepits lap at tents and cars before being extinguished.

The morning of the show was bright and sunny, and even warm when the winds were still. I walked past several bent canopy frames lying next to trashcans, but for the most part, the camps around us had survived. When I arrived at the showers, I learned the valuable lesson to check if the showers have hot water before undressing. After a few moments of failing to conjure any hot water, I gritted my teeth and quickly rinsed. Clear skies and empty camping fields in front of the Gorge made for great pre-show photo ops. We took our time making lunch and preparing for the show, as the gates wouldn’t open until 5:30. We donned our overcoats, fake furs, and long pants and set off on the long walk from the campgrounds to the venue.

Which brought us to the first major snag of the trip – the gates only opened a half hour before the first opener. For all the magic of the Gorge, Live Nation consistently fails in the entrance process. Tens of thousands of attendees must funnel through a handful of metal detectors and ticket scanners. At past festivals, fans have waited hours in the hot sun, and the 16,000 in attendance at The Alchemy Tour didn’t prove any easier to direct. We arrived at 5:20 to a massive crowd at the gates and little sign of movement. Our group didn’t get in until just before 7:00, meaning we missed all of Huxley Anne – an artist I was very curious to hear live – and most of Jason Ross’ set. Some people reported being in line well into The Glitch Mob’s set. To have gates open a mere half-hour before the first opener is downright irresponsible, especially after so many years of repeated entrance issues at the Gorge.

But worst of all was the announcement of a last-minute ban on all totems and flow toys after most attendees had already lined up, creating more delays and a procession of dejected ravers marching totems back to their camps. After the show, upset fans took to social media to complain, but all USC would say is that it was a Live Nation decision (no word from Live Nation as of this writing). While the ban by no means ruined the night, it was disappointing and another sign of poor planning.

The forecasted low of 35 degrees for the night seemed to create a random outfit generator for the crowd. While some wore full winter parkas, others dressed in revealing outfits like they were headed to the hottest days of Paradiso Festival. Many trucked in large piles of blankets to sit on the hill with, while others like our group would rely on the body heat of the pit to keep them warm. Another challenge of the night was the lack of the venue’s usual lockers for rent. Perhaps it wasn’t profitable to offer them for one night, but it would have made things much more comfortable.

Despite the afternoon chaos, we assembled at the top of the hill just after the sun dipped below the cliffs of the Gorge, catching the last 15 minutes of Jason Ross. I recognized many of the tracks from his appearance on that stage earlier in the year at the ABGT Weekender, and his signature sound of melodic bass created the perfect mood for the headliners. But our far away spot at the top of the hill was no way to experience three of my favorite artists, and I was determined to get in the middle of the pit. Ensuring we had full hydration packs and empty bladders, we began our descent into the dark mass of ravers gathering before the stage. A few totems had managed to get in before security got the memo on the ban, and we congregated next to the largest we could find as a point of reference. When I asked the owner how he’d gotten the totem past security, he widened his eyes and said: “I guess I’m not the guy you want to fuck with.” I turned around to face the stage.

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Excitement exploded in the crowd as The Glitch Mob took the stage. Starting their set with “Our Demons”, Josh Mayer screamed “let’s go!” as the first drop hit the crowd and explosive visuals blasted across the stage. It was immediately clear this would be a Glitch Mob performance unlike anything before. The set was a 75-minute artillery barrage of their hardest hitting tracks, often breaking down into uncharacteristically dark and Bassy vibes. The set included a live performance with an analog synthesizer named the Eurorack to bring in some classic Electronica sounds. Their new material left me eager for their upcoming releases to drop, taking the elements that defined them and pushing their sound into original and captivating directions. Some previous sets have mostly been playthroughs of their tracks, which I loved since I’m a huge Glitch Mob fan. But the trio are at their best when mixing their music in new ways and infusing it with vocals and tracks from other artists. This set showcased the best of those abilities, including a mashup of “I Need My Memories Back” and “Around The World”. Ending with “Skullclub”, The Glitch Mob set the bar high early in the night. Of the five times, I’ve seen the group live, this was by far their best performance.

After a much-needed intermission, NGHTMRE and SLANDER present: GUD VIBRATIONS took the stage. The three artists performed in the center of their new “Atom” stage design – three interlocking rings of LEDs surrounding the decks. GUD VIBRATIONS supplied the party vibes for the night and kept the crowd warm with impressive pyrotechnic displays and frenzied mosh pits. Keeping our prime spot in the crowd became a battle as more people packed the pit and headbanged to SLANDER’s Dubstep anthems. Unlike recent SLANDER performances, the set didn’t dive too far into their tear-jerker material, although they did play powerful renditions of “Superhuman”, “GUD VIBRATIONS”, and “Love Is Gone” that had the crowd singing along. The new NGHTMRE remixes and collaborations brought fresh energy to the GUD VIBRATIONS set and worked well with their older material. Of the three main sets GUD VIBRATIONS had the fewest surprises, containing mostly familiar material for Bassheads. That said, NGHTMRE and SLANDER playing together are never to be missed. Their hard-hitting classics booming from the stage of the Gorge were impressive and a blast to experience.

Seven Lions closed the show with one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve always enjoyed most of his tracks, especially his bass-heavy remixes of trance classics “Omen In The Rain” and “Beautiful”, but he was definitely the headliner I was least excited to see. The Alchemy Tour changed that, and I came away a true Seven Lions acolyte. A silhouette of wild hair and flowing robes standing atop a stage flanked by flashing diamond-shaped screens, Seven Lions took us on a sonic journey of melodic bass. The emotion, variety, and energy of his set could only be compared to Steven Strange having his eyes opened to the multiverse by The Ancient One at the beginning of Doctor Strange.

The set showcased the best of his catalog and collaborations, dropping classics like “Ocean”, “Falling Away”, “First Time”, and “Let Go”, and seamlessly blending them with heavy bass elements. Behind him played the amazing visuals of his music videos – mystical landscapes, encounters with supernatural beings and images of people overcome with raw emotion. To say I was totally captivated would be an understatement as his artistry stretched those 75 minutes into eternity. When the music ended and the lights came up, I felt like I had been teleported back to reality and left the show feeling astounded.

The music faded away and the lights slowly came on at midnight without any encore or sense of ceremony. The walk back to camp was chilly as temperatures continued to slowly drop and winds picked up, but it was easily endured with a decent coat. Along the way, I chatted with a couple without shirts who insisted it wasn’t so bad but were happy to accept my spare emergency blankets. In recent years the campgrounds have cracked down on afterparties, but this time the cold seemed to do the job for them. Our camp stayed up for a few hours to swap battle stories from the night but soon bundled up and crawled into our sleeping bags.

The next morning, we departed under clear and warming skies. The initial doubts I’d had about the show being worth a 12-hour roundtrip and two nights of camping had been obliterated. The music had only played for six hours, but it was more than enough to cement the trip as my favorite weekend of 2019. The Alchemy Tour’s formula of teaming up big-name artists for a massive tour is the bold next step bass music needs, and their Gorge stop proved The Alchemy Tour was a once in a generation phenomenon for Electronic Dance Music.

Featured image via Shutterklick

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