I entered Paradiso 2019 with nerves cause it was the first festival I arrived at solo, and in all honesty, I wasn’t stoked on the Bass-heavy lineup. Now, I’ve been to plenty of shows alone, but a festival is different. I knew I would eventually meet up with friends there, so I just kept reminding myself of that. Plus, The Gorge Amphitheatre has been like my vacation home since my first festival there in 2001, so there was no way I was gonna miss Paradiso!
My anxiety grew as I waited on the road for two hours to get into the camping area, so I had to set up camp in the dark. Luckily, my friends saved me a spot, and thanks to my boyfriend, I had a very powerful lantern to assist me. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt so much better once camp setup was complete. Though my friends would be working the early mornings of the festival, I was no longer alone!
I got a bit lost trying to find the pre-party, but I wasn’t worried cause I was at one of my favorite places on Earth. Eventually finding the path, I followed the laser beams and discovered the Rhino art car I’d seen a month prior at EDC Las Vegas. There was a lot of talking on the mic going on, which I loathe, so I didn’t stay long. On my way back to camp I spotted a sovereign Hawaii flag hanging from a guy’s backpack and being from Hawaii, had to say hi. Turns out, like me, Za is originally from Hawaii, now living in Portland. We chatted about Hawaii for a bit, reflected on the beautiful moon, and I strolled back to camp with a smile on my face.
It was already hot when I woke up the morning of Day One, so I sipped Pedialyte and chugged water knowing I’m a delicate orchid when it comes to the heat. My buddies were done with their shift early, so we were able to see Eli Brown together on the Oasis stage. They’d put some work into it this year and I absolutely fell in love with the giant gold Buddha statue behind the decks. Eli was laying down some moving House beats and as I looked around, I realized everyone talks about Bassface, but Houseface definitely came first! There was a guy in front of us (farthest Left below) that was making the best Housefaces every time a sick beat dropped and I couldn’t help cracking up.
We wandered over to mainstage for the last bit of Phantoms who I hadn’t seen before but they easily won me over with Walker & Royce’s track “Word” with VNSSA. Dancing a bit, we realized we needed to find some shade ASAP if we were gonna last the rest of the day. Taking in the rest of the set under the trees at the top of the hill, I met Chris from Texas whose totem is a pineapple. Just a pineapple held in his hand. Why a pineapple, Chris? “Cause everyone loves Vitamin C!” Alrighty then!
As we walked back to the Oasis stage, the jumble of different songs and beats that could be heard from all three stages on the walkway made me wonder how I should feel or move my feet. “Hey guys! It’s like Illenium! Totally unrelated songs thrown together that make you feel schizophrenic. I’m sad, now I’m angry, now I’m happy! I just don’t know how to FEEEEEEL! There ya go folks, no need to see the actual show tomorrow night.” My friends laughed at me cause they knew I was forcing myself to see him for the third time the following night. More on that later…
Habstrakt was on at the Oasis stage and I loved his vibe. He kept flipping the back of his hand at the crowd to the beat. Definitely had that cool, who gives a fuck French vibe going on and I was all about it. It ended all too soon, and being that we’re Techno, House, and Trance lovers, we didn’t have anyone we really wanted to see for several hours. It was time to wander.
As we meandered around the carnival rides, suddenly Amy said, “I hear something good over here!” Following the sound of some House beats, we crested the hill to see the Rhino art car again and whaddya know, it was my Seattle buddy Johnny Monsoon on the decks. We were enjoying the view from the top of the Rhino soon enough as Johnny finished his set. Admittedly, we were feeling pretty good about life enjoying the view from up high with the breeze in our hair!
Water, food, more sunscreen, and a clothing change back at camp was necessary before we headed back in later for Morgan Page. The last time I’d seen him was at the Wamu Theatre in Seattle, and I was disappointed. His set was slow, uninspired, and way too saccharine for my liking. His set for Paradiso 2019, on the other hand, leaned more toward Big Room House. He even dropped in a remix of Adam Beyer’s “Losing Your Mind” and I was all about it! Of course, he had to play “In the Air”, a track that to me, is definitive Morgan Page. All in all, he left me impressed. And this, folks, is why I give DJs many chances even if they’ve let me down in the past. Just as our cells are in a constant state of flux, the best DJs are malleable and constantly change.
My only MUST-SEE of Day One was ZHU, and I just broke into goosebumps thinking about his set. Popping out of nowhere in 2014, this guy just oozes talent. Appearing with his typical symbol fronting his decks and a guitarist below to his left and right, he hit us with about half of the tracks from his 2018 album, “RINGOS DESERT”. After his guitar player’s devastating divorce, ZHU moved his team to the desert and created this immensely powerful album, calling it a “redemption record.” Nowadays, most festival stages blow you away with lasers and brightly lit screens, but ZHU set the stage for melodrama. The darkness and sparse spotlights were the perfect setting for his moody tunes, especially those like “Desert Woman” with its cascading chords and guitar solos, and “Stormy Love” that features the shrieks of birds of prey. My buddy wanted to go to Markus Schulz, but I told him there was no way I was leaving the ZHU for a single unicorn. I suddenly started hearing the sexy beat of his single with Sofi Tukker, “Mi Rumba” and I was compelled to move my hips with that sashaying beat. Toward the end of his set he dropped in a bit of QUEEN right when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better. ZHU was everything I expected and more. I’m ecstatic I get to see him again at Shambhala Music Festival in August.
I’d heard from a reliable source that Skrillex had an eight page rider consisting of pyrotechnics and he required part of the stage to be rebuilt to get down closer to the fans. Like I said, I’m not a huge Bass fan, but I’m always down to give new things a try and a dedication to the fans is always admirable. He started out alright with some House-type beats, but soon descended into his typical cacophony of noises and beats that make me feel like my ears are gonna bleed. We noped right out of there to end our night with some Psytrance.
As Paradiso 2018 was where I first fell in love with Psytrance at the Oasis stage, it was fitting to revisit it for Emok. Unlike most Psy artists, he mixed it up and it felt more like a Progressive set where we weren’t hit with the same constant cantering beat for the whole set. He did a great job building the set, but then disappeared part of the way through the set. At first I thought maybe he’d bent over to grab something, but after a solid four minutes with no DJ behind the decks I started wondering if maybe he was also a magic act? Was he gonna pop up again on the golden Buddha’s shoulder? Nope! He suddenly reappeared and kept on going like nothing had happened. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen and admittedly, my curiosity is still piqued. The set was fantastic and ended our night perfectly, but I’m still wondering. Where did you go Emok?!?
With few artists I wanted to see on Day Two of Paradiso, I decided to save myself from the major heat of the day. Wandering and sticking to the shade was the name of the game and the people watching kept me entertained for hours. In all truth, i_o was my reason for going to Paradiso 2019. I had the opportunity to see him in Seattle last year and I was blown away by his brand of Techno. My one wish was that the club was darker and three times louder.
Not long after, I heard the term Business Techno, which I understand to mean Techno that appeals to a wider audience because it’s not as repetitive or oppressive. But I prefer to think of i_o as Melodic Techno. IDGAF what you want to call i_o’s music, I LOVE IT. It’s sparse at times and lush at others. Disturbingly beautiful within the darkness, and oh so surprising. His ability to pause and drop in a new track with an oppositional beat that makes it feel like your car suddenly got a flat is shockingly good.
I wasn’t able to get to EDC Las Vegas early enough to catch his set this year, so not only did I make sure I was at his Paradiso set, I also insisted that all my friends see him too as several didn’t even know who he was. That meant there were at least 20 of us losing our fucking minds through the entirety of his set. Normally, I’m that overachiever who makes notes of every track I recognize, but I’ll admit I fully lost myself in i_o’s set. So forgive me if I get these out of order, but I was dancing my fucking face off.
When I first started raving in the U.S. in 2000, it was almost exclusively done in dark and dingy warehouses or abandoned buildings, and you always knew who wasn’t in the scene because they referred to all Electronic Dance Music as Techno. That’s just how it was. There were no city clubs featuring DJs until a couple of years later, so when I heard the lyrics of i_o’s track “Not Techno” saying, “I just wanna go downtown to some warehouse, late night, to those strobe lights. This isn’t even fucking Techno,” I lost my shit. It’s a snapback track, written as a big ol’ FUCK YOU to everyone who keeps saying he’s not Techno. He is. Get over it. Just cause his brand of Techno is different, it doesn’t mean we need to create an entirely new category to define it.
Let’s take a moment to be honest here. The majority of people at festivals are high as a kite or getting down on whatever cocktail of drugs they’ve chosen for their adventure. Those who attend sober are a minority, plain and simple. I have no opinion either way. You do you, boo. That i_o doesn’t sugarcoat the truth makes me respect him tremendously. “On Acid” was one of the opening tracks and I couldn’t help noticing as I looked around there appeared to be a great number of people “On acid, on molly, on acid, on molly.” Not soon after, he hit us with his track “Low” saying, “I don’t wanna get high, I wanna get low” and looking around that night, the crowd was definitely getting low. In fact, we jumped so high and danced so hard my buddy Adam’s shorts decided to get low, as in, on the ground.
My group quickly went from laughing as Adam hitched his shorts back up to collectively experiencing a “What the fuck” moment when i_o dropped Christian Cambas’ track “The Outsiders (T78 remix)”. It’s so damn weird, discordant, and jerky feeling, yet somehow fit perfectly in his set. Speaking of things that don’t seem to work together, let’s talk about i_o’s remix of Above & Beyond’s “Alchemy”.
I’ve been a huge fan of Oceanlab and the boys since they burst onto the scene in the mid-2000’s. Never could I have imagined a Techno remix of any Above & Beyond track would make sense, let alone that I would fall head over heels in love with it. Or in this case, them. I’ve been enamored with i_o’s remix of “Alchemy” since we were blessed with it in Seattle last year, and it’s finally been released. The wait was interminable! The version i_o reimagined has a pounding lead in with the subtle melody beneath. He then reduces and eventually cuts the beat to clear the stage for Zoe Johnston’s angelic voice beseeching her lover for the whys. Why would he leave her for another when “it was me and you, and you and me, so how can it be that you love her?!?” Where Above & Beyond’s version breaks my heart with the poignancy of loss at every listen, i_o moved it into the next stage of grief; fury mixed with sorrow. The minor keys and the lyrics he’s chosen to highlight place the focus on the jilted lover who’s demanding answers, and I’m all about it. For anyone who’s experienced loss of this kind, there are always moments of righteous fury that lend you energy when most days you’re wondering how you can get out of bed and his remix perfectly embodies this feeling.
After seeing so many Techno geniuses at EDC Las Vegas this year including Adam Beyer b2b Eric Prydz, ANNA, Amelie Lens, and Charlotte de Witte, I wasn’t expecting to be floored by i_o. Nor did I expect my friends who travel the world to see the best Techno, House, and Trance artists agree that it was possibly the best Techno set they’d ever seen. It was naughty, brilliantly discordant, and oh so saucy. When i_o’s set ended, my friend Sacha turned to me and said in her beautiful British accent, “What do we do now?!? Nobody could possibly top that!” And that was the absolute truth.
Only a high-energy live act like Infected Mushroom could maintain the energy i_o left behind. It had been at least 10 years since the last time I saw them do a live set and they were as impressive as I remember! Many years ago, I loved Metal and Progressive Rock so much it was almost exclusively what I listened to. Seeing Infected Mushroom’s live set felt like a Metallica concert with people’s hands in the sign of the Devil held high in the air. I kept thinking, “Damn! Their lead guitarist looks like and rocks out like Kirk Hammett, curly hair and all!” He’d throw his head back as he was doing a particularly rad guitar riff and you could feel how much pleasure he got from the music. If these guys come your way, move heaven and earth to see them. It’s rare to see Electronic Music played like rock.
My crew decided to head back to the mainstage for Kaskade to close down the night, but we had about 15 minutes left of Illenium’s set remaining. I gritted my teeth and convinced myself to give him another try since I enjoy the music he produces. And knowing that DJs can play vastly different sets as they mature as artists, I’ll give them at least five opportunities to prove their worthiness. In addition, I know how picky I am. So it was my third attempt listening to an Illenium set since everyone keeps talking about how amazing he is. If that’s you, skip the next paragraph cause I have nothing nice to say.
The previous two times I saw Illenium, his sets were like listening to Spotify on random, and this set wasn’t any different. When we arrived, he was playing a couple of his own gentle, romantic tracks, and I found myself thinking, “Okay, okay. I can do this!” But that thought was quickly extinguished when he dropped Excision’s pounding track “Throwing Elbows” immediately after a mushy love song with no mixing whatsoever. A couple tracks later, he picked up the mic (dear God, NO!) to tell the crowd he hoped we liked his new collaboration with The Chainsmokers. Someone behind me yells “Probably garbage!” Without looking, I knew it was someone in my crew and he was correct. It was formulaic, pop EDM pandering to the masses. Luckily we didn’t have to hear much of him before Kaskade came on.
Just like Illenium, Kaskade is an artist I’ve heard two times before and Paradiso was my third attempt to enjoy one of his sets. One of my girlfriends helps run his fan group, Kaskade Konnect, and she has exceptionally good taste, so of course I’m going to give him several more opportunities to impress me. His first track “Fun” was exactly that, and it set the tone for the first half of his set. And if anyone knows who did the video game-like graphics for his backdrop, please give them a big high five. They kept me entertained the entire time. Kaskade dropped quite a few of his classic tracks like “Angel On My Shoulder” and “Disarm You” in-between classic rock hits like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle”. He kept me intrigued and moving through the first half of his set which included quite a few tracks from “Redux 003”, but with every track like FloRida’s “Good Feeling” that he mixed in, the more bored I got. When he cut the music and picked up the mic, I knew it was all over.
When I go to an EDM festival, I don’t want to see a DJ pick up a microphone unless they’re an Emcee who can flow like MC Messinian or a singer on their own tracks. I don’t want to hear a DJ talk on a microphone unless they plan to say fewer words than “How ya feeling Paradiso?” when they begin and “Thank you everyone for the love and support!” when they finish. Otherwise, STFU and speak to us with, and through your music. So when Kaskade spent several minutes talking about how he’d played the mainstage at The Gorge several years ago and now he’s back playing the mainstage in 2019, myself and my whole crew groaned. None of us go to festivals to hear public speakers. We go to festivals to hear music. So it was unsurprising to look down at the pit and see dwindling numbers of people through the second half. He lost his momentum when he stopped the music and talked at us.
Though I’d begun my Paradiso 2019 adventure solo, I ended it surrounded by many old and new friends. We cried, danced, laughed, and connected with each other, and with the music. I started my festival weekend apprehensive, setting up my tent in the dark, wondering how much fun I was going to have solo without a great love of the lineup. I ended my festival weekend tearing down camp in almost 100 degrees with a smile on my face, chatting about who had the best sets, knowing full well I’d be back next year.
Without a doubt, ZHU’s gloomy, sultry set won Day One, and i_o’s sinister, scintillating set won Day Two of Paradiso 2019. I can’t wait to see ZHU again at Shambhala this year as it’s such a different kind of festival and venue, and while I’m hoping he changes it up a bit, I’d honestly be happy with something similar to his Paradiso set. But i_o on the other hand, I have no idea when I’ll see him again, and that makes me a very sad girl. Every time I think about his Paradiso set, I feel butterflies in my tummy and hear far away bumping beats, as if my mind is dragging me back to that hour of dark, twisted Techno at the Oasis Stage. After I saw i_o for the first time last year, I joined his legions of Techno Demons. Now I’ll take it one step further and offer up the blood of my first-born child to get my Dark Lord back to the Pacific Northwest for a show soon.
The lesson I learned at Paradiso 2019 is that I can have a good time at any festival as long as I can check off a couple of boxes. Because I could check off the GORGEous venue, amazing friends, and a handful of artists I enjoy, I drove away from Paradiso 2019 with a full heart and sore cheeks from smiling too much. I’ll end this honest recap with a huge THANK YOU for USC Events putting on yet another flawless Paradiso. A sold-out event of this magnitude is extremely difficult to pull off, and you did it again! The stages were even better than last year, the performers were excellent, and as someone who works in the medical field, it was the first year I didn’t come across people who were too high, overheated, dehydrated, or on the verge of medical emergencies. USC and Conscious Crew did a fabulous job of keeping everyone safe. If you haven’t been to Paradiso at The Gorge Amphitheatre, do yourself a favor and make the trek ASAP. Seeing the sun set behind mainstage as you soak in the breeze after a hot day at the top of the grassy hill with the Columbia River below and your favorite artist providing the tunes is an incomparable experience. USC Events is putting on ABGT Weekender the last weekend of July, so get on it! Get your tickets NOW so you can catch one of the most delicious sunsets you’ve ever seen…
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*Featured Image of Paradiso 2019 Mainstage Via Parallax*