After the lengthy wait of 363 days since the first Digital Dreams Festival, the second round finally arrived. Some things were the same as last year – the techno/house platform hosting the scandalous stage dancers on Echo Beach, and the mainstream/trance stage housing the neon-clad masses on the paved ground. The festival had, however, undergone some evident changes and growth which included an extra stage dedicated to bass music, and attendance had grown to nearly double the amount of people. This past weekend, approximately 55,000 partiers headed to the Ontario Place grounds for our city’s greatest outdoor event of the summer. Considering the amount of visitors, lines for entry, concession and amenities were rarely an issue. As for the overall crowd, the event was 16+ which, unfortunately, attracted quite the collection of drugged up kiddies.
I arrived at the festival at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, and, after a brief tour around the grounds, followed the pulsing beats to my area of observation and interest: Echo Beach. This venue, sponsored by TD and Live Nation, is the city’s hottest new outdoor concert setting. During Digital Dreams, the beach is the safe haven for underground EDM fans where some of the world’s top house and techno talent can be witnessed with the breathtaking backdrop of Toronto’s summertime skyline. On Canada Day weekend, Echo Beach can be compared to New York City’s Governor’s Beach Club…or Heaven. As is typical for an underground crowd, the beach drew in an eclectic mix of: hip and beautiful socialites, rough-looking, yet warm-hearted characters, the bikini-clad/implanted paired with the shirtless/heavy-lifters, and over-the-hill party animals that have still got it. The beats heard at this stage were geared towards the more seasoned electronic music listener, so there was little neon and few under 21. The view of the skyline provided for some welling of Canadian pride during moments of Canada Day acknowledgement throughout the weekend. Paired with the music, it was a fantastic setting.
Saturday started off with bouncy, deep house from Nitin, a local favourite who is making waves internationally. He’s signed with Johnny White’s No. 19 label and opened for what turned out to be an unexpected No. 19 showcase which ran from 3 p.m. – 9 p.m. (aside from a tech-house interlude from Boris). The underground-lovers were beginning to file in, and Echo Beach was beginning to seriously vibe as Nitin dropped the funky Bongo Porn (Tale of Us Remix) by Fuckpony.
As the clouds above darkened, so did the beats. Next up was Boris, the New York City veteran of the scene whose pumping tech-house has graced decks all over the world. The beach was filling up and the love was beginning to vibe – at one point I, along with everyone who I was with, bumped into some old friends from high school! The clouds were dark when the sounds were dark, and the sounds were beachy during the periods when the sun was shining down on us. Apparently, a few decades of DJing not only makes you in tune with the crowd, but with Mother Nature herself.
I took a brief break from the beach. This trip through the rest of the festival made for a chaotic, hectic, and, at times, downright disturbing experience in comparison to the vibe at the Echo stage. I decided to stay planted in the sand for the remainder of my time there.
Luciano was the act that drew many Echo Beach-goers to the festival this year, but his show was, unfortunately, cancelled a few days prior to the event. Luckily, Toronto’s Azari & III were in town and stopped by to fill in. Also signed with No. 19, the foursome took the crowd into the trippy house zone with psychedelic background art and eclectic sounds, setting the stage for one of the highlights of the day.
Art Department is the alias used for No. 19 label owner Johnny White and Kenny Glasgow’s brainchild. The pair is leading the deep house scene these days as an international favourite and are legends in their hometown of Toronto. They are also so hip it hurts. Hearing them play Time by Subb-an, Tom Trago and Seth Troxler was a particular highlight.
Hawtin made me feel proud to be Canadian. His set made me reflect on how fortunate we are to host such events in Toronto, and how grateful I was to be alive and present in that time and place. With his final act, Hawtin made for an Earth-shattering ending to a long and exciting day.
Greta Smithies – EDM TOR