There are few things in life more disappointing than missing an artist you really wanted to see at a music festival. Maybe you travel to music festivals with large groups who don’t always agree on who to see next. Perhaps you underestimate how long it will take to walk through a huge venue. Or, if you’re anything like me, maybe you are such a social butterfly that your frequent stop-and-chats with new friends last longer than intended. Whatever the reason, there’s a unique sorrow that only someone who has missed their only chance to see a favorite artist at a festival knows. Enter Holy Ship.
Holy Ship…a floating family reunion that not only delivers a phenomenal cruise experience, but also a small and exclusive festival where attendees get a chance to highly curate their own itinerary. The two largest stages on the boat are only a 2-minute walk apart on the 15th deck, while the other five smaller stages are a short elevator ride to the 6th and 7th decks. Best of all, there’s always room to move through the crowd and find your own piece of the dancefloor.
Headlining artists are almost all officially scheduled to perform at least twice, not to mention impromptu B2B sets and surprise performances, so you can virtually guarantee you will never experience the aforementioned sorrow of missing your favorites. One of the other unique perks of Holy Ship is that all of the artists stay on the ship. You will frequently see them walking around, dancing in the crowds, taking pictures and enjoying their Holy Ship experience as much as you are.
And did I mention costumes? In addition to your typical rave wear, shippers go ALL OUT on their costumes. There are theme nights on two of the nights (13.0 had 80s night and Memes IRL), plus plenty of other group and individual costumes. The creativity and hilarity of SHIPFAM is unmatched.
After a mostly sleepless 4 days on Holy Ship 13.0, it’s hard to choose just a few artists to highlight, especially with so many top-tier DJs and performers in one place, but I will do my best.
Disclaimer: My tastes lean towards the heavier bass, trap, progressive house and the like, so you won’t find much tech house below. Dirtybird had a solid showing on 13.0, with Fisher playing both a Sail Away set, as well as the coveted Sunrise Sermon and Claude hosting several onboard activities and the Jungle Massive, but I was too busy headbanging to catch much else from their artists.
SLUMBERJACK has been one of my favorite producer/DJ duos since I discovered them at a small side stage at Lollapalooza in 2016. Hailing from Australia, this duo has a distinct sound that transcends genres and defies expectations. Most closely described as future bass, their sets incorporate their own unique productions and remixes, as well as sounds from spacebass artists like Rezz, as well as fellow Australians What So Not and Alison Wonderland. We were fortunate enough to see them both in the smaller Spiegel venue, as well as in the Theatre and both performances were equally impressive, showcasing their new collaborations with TroyBoi and Machine Age, as well as their popular hits like Horus and Enigma ft. GRRL PAL.
Morgan and Fletcher are a unique combination of classically trained musician and self taught producer, respectively. I highly recommend seeing them and checking out their music, as well as keeping an eye out this year for their highly anticipated SARAWAK EP, named for Morgan’s birthplace in Borneo, where the pair traveled in 2018 for inspiration for their album.
TroyBoi delivered his unique combination of bass and hip hop with an infectious energy, dancing, and finding the perfect balance between hyping the crowd and letting the music speak for itself. While I’ve heard his signature computer voiced “T-R-O-Y-B-O-I” and the deep “Welcome to London” frequently, they gave me chills all over again live.
I chose to stay towards the back of the crowd and on the upper deck for his Sail Away set on the Pool Deck, but I made it a priority to see him again on the last night and I rode the rail for the entire set. He closed the Theatre Stage, an amphitheater style venue and one of the highlights of my Ship experience was when he came out after his set ended to shake hands and take pictures with everyone who stayed.
Ekali was another standout, also playing the Pool Deck opening night and the Theatre on the second night. This Canadian producer has been killing the game since 2014, when he began producing his own music. He plays a blend of future bass, hip hop, trap and house, and has been widely praised for his remixes and edits. His sets were driving and intense, seamlessly transitioning from hard bass to future house and trap. I caught both sets and was just as impressed the second time around.
ZHU is an enigmatic performer whose style spans genres and styles. Accompanied by his own keyboard, as well as a guitarist and saxophone, ZHU delivered an unforgettable set on the second day of Holy Ship. With haunting vocals and a captivating transition from mellow ballad to uptempo dance, ZHU delivered a soundtrack that kept our group of friends dancing and marked one of the highlights of our trip together. In addition to his Spice H20 set, ZHU also played a surprise B2B set with French producer Tchami, as well as his BLACKLIZT set, which closed out the Manhattan stage on the last night, but I only lasted about 5 minutes at that show, due to the temperature in the venue and my aching feet.
Rusko earned rave reviews from everyone I talked to that caught his full sets. I caught part of one of them and was impressed.
SAYMYNAME delivered a HARDTRAP set (a genre he is credited with being the Godfather of) on the Pool Deck that was a blistering display of hard bass and dubstep. I’m fairly certain I gave myself whiplash during his set.
GRiZ brought his much adored live performance to the Spice H20 stage, rocking his saxophone and a gorgeous new haircut. His positivity and upbeat sets always leave me feeling refreshed and hopeful for the future. GRiZ was also spotted wandering the ship with a full marching band, leading the world’s coolest parade.
What So Not is one of my favorite artists. One of the things I looked forward to most on this year’s Holy Ship was that he was scheduled to play three times. When he took the stage for the third time to perform what would have been his Island Party set (the Island was cancelled due to rough seas), and was accompanied by Louis The Child, Ekali, SLUMBERJACK and others, I was thrilled.
My mood quickly soured when James Earl took the mic. I’d seen him on tour with What So Not a few weeks ago in DC, but his time on stage was brief, albeit awkward. He’d also been at What So Not’s first Spice H20 performance, where I had encountered a few people leaving as I was coming in, complaining that the “guy on the mic” was loud, obnoxious, and not worth tolerating for the sake of seeing What So Not.
After getting booed off of a Holy Ship stage and roasted on Twitter last year for his “tacky” behavior, when he grabbed the mic and interrupted Madam X’s set because it wasn’t “hip hop enough,” I don’t think anyone expected to see him back on Holy Ship again. He serves as sort of an unnecessary hype man for an artist whose music speaks for itself.
Within a few minutes, Earl had started catcalling dancing girls in the crowd and then pulled a number of them out of the crowd, put them in the pit between the stage and the barrier, and spent a majority of the set yelling over the music and encouraging a twerkfest. While I’m far from being a shrinking violet, and appreciate twerking in the right setting, this kind of behavior is completely unexpected and unwanted at a What So Not show. The artist himself has always been kind and respectful, staying after shows to interact with fans. The drastic contrast between that and what unfolded at his set was something that a quick survey of social media shows I’m not the only one who didn’t appreciate, with dozens of fans saying they left the show because of it. You can do better, What So Not.
While Holy Ship doesn’t come cheaply, with cabins ranging from $700 – 1500 or more per person, I find the overall experience to be well worth it. If you share my phobia of porta potties, you can take solace in the convenience of having your own bed, shower and toilet just a few steps away. Rather than taking chances on often mediocre food vendors, you’ll find complimentary and delicious food, as well as a wide variety of beverages, available 24 hours a day in the ship’s cafeteria, just steps from the main pool deck stage. The amenities on Holy Ship blow away even the nicest festival VIP experiences I’ve had. Oh, and there’s that one other thing…
What really sets Holy Ship apart from any other festival is SHIPFAM, the people who return year after year. This year saw the highest number of virgin shippers since the inaugural sailing, which brought with it some growing pains, but there were enough OG shippers to carry on the culture and customs that make SHIPFAM truly unique. I would wager that not even Burning Man rivals Holy Ship when it comes to creating such a tight-knit and musically inclined community, which has spawned DJ careers, events, and even entirely new festivals, like Shipfam Island.
When I recently moved cross-country from California to DC, the first thing I did was reach out to the local contingent of SHIPFAM, who welcomed me with open arms. Within a few weeks, I had an inside track to all of the local shows, events, and artists that shape the DC electronic music scene. Like any family, SHIPFAM isn’t without its squabbles and feuds, but in the end, the music brings everyone together and creates an unparalleled community.
Until next year, as Sensei would say, respect each other and respect the ship!
*Featured 📸 via Holyship.com*