Concord, New Hampshire is pretty hard up, I thought to myself as our car cruised along sloped back streets lined with squat homes flaking their paint. We were scoping out signs for Page Farm, the grounds for the Psychedelic Sleepover on June 1-2 and a site rumored to be paradisiacal for family-size music festivals. “That’s got to be an insane asylum,” my colleague said as our vehicle became shadowed by a hulking brick structure perched on a riverbank. Hot sun caught the red brick of this empty building which stood in high contrast to its surroundings; a rushing river and the lush green of full Spring in New England. It was just an empty factory, no insanity here. We’d have to find Page Farm first to tap that vein. Weather reports had attendees nervous leading up to this anticipated gathering, but as we finally rumbled onto an access road for the Farm, strong sunshine was penetrating through the forest canopy.
The niche psychedelic music festival is a visionary concept. Bring the most righteous bass music and a killer sound system onto some isolated land for a weekend of indulgence. And boy did the Taproot Productions team have a barnburner on deck. In addition to a who’s who of Northeastern underground bass slingers, plus rare names like AtYyA, Shwex, and Alejo, they booked Koan Sound to play on Friday night with Opiuo to follow on Saturday. Not to mention the ultimate wildcard booking, Diplo, who would go on to temporarily frustrate festival logistics by pulling an inordinate amount of resources and staff into his bougie orbit.
Anyway, it’s a great idea to go balls out and host a festival like this, but executing that idea is where things can get hairy. Based in Portland, Maine, festival organizers Taproot Productions are nearly the only game for psychedelic bass music in northern New England. I’d hardly encountered the crew before and wondered just what kind of game they were running. With a name like Psychedelic Sleepover, I wasn't holding my breath for tight organization, polished presentation and universal safety. But that’s just what Taproot offered all weekend.
I lodged zero complaints in my mental notebook. There’s always one aspect of a gathering that’s less than ideal, or doesn’t come off right. Here, there was nothing. Perhaps my experience was biased by my credentials as a media professional, but it seemed like everyone was riding the same wave of excitement, comfort, and safety. The staff was responsive. The volunteer team was substantial and they put in good work. All the music went off on time. The sound was flawless; one Hennessey Sound system for each of the three stages engineered all the weekend by their creator Sean Hennessey and his crew. Visual art was prominent and thoughtfully curated. The public water supply, while somewhat difficult to locate at first, was consistently cold and available. The production value was high, startlingly so given the modest setup during the Sleepover’s first iteration last summer, which featured just one stage. The festival sold out around 10:00 pm on Friday night, hitting Page Farm’s 2,000 person capacity.
There was actually one snafu. Whispers rippled through the campgrounds during mid-afternoon on Friday as the Farm started to fill up; Diplo’s cold-cuts had spoiled. We’re not sure how this situation was resolved, but it cast a temporary pall over Page Farm. Diplo was in fact participating in the Psychedelic Sleepover because he’d performed in 49 of 50 states except New Hampshire, and he wanted to hit them all. The crowd was getting down at his Friday evening set that began to light rain, the only precipitation all weekend. He didn’t go deep with it or break out unique cuts to match the unique setting, as some speculated he might.
The Sleepover population was so safe and civilized. This was made easier by universally shaded camping that actually afforded the ever elusive good night’s sleep, if that was your thing. No one was imposing, no one was putting on airs. Everyone was smiling and getting down. “Right now there’s such a cool thing going on here,” Jake Maxfield told me. Jake, whose awesome surname doubles as his artist name, was one of eight producers represented by Taproot who played the Sleepover. With a cache of large unreleased glitch tunes, Maxfield put down one of the more impressive sets of the weekend on The Field stage, which was actually two stages with music rotating between them. After splitting atoms for an hour, Jake closed with “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Cooling in the shade at the southern edge of the field while Scatz pumped sedate Saturday afternoon beats, we chopped it up about the festival. “The people are really cool. I’m not very social so it’s cool to be able to have an excuse to get out and meet a bunch of people all at once. You're in a space where you feel like you have something to talk to them about. As opposed to other times when, you know, you’re at your friend’s Superbowl party and you feel like a band geek or something.”
The field was the nexus of the festivities. This large, broadly sloping section of pure green grass, about one and a half football fields long, offered infinite room for flow and socialization in the open air, which was pleasant but not hot during the day and crisp but not cold at night. On one flank of the field at the foot of the tree line was a pastoral and purely New England rock wall. One could picture visionary seventeenth century women climbing this wall and disappearing into the woods to get down on some spiritual activity to avoid being labeled as witches. The smaller of the two stages, a rustic roofed structure with one LED screen behind the performance space, was bordered on one side by the rock.
On the opposite side of the field was the larger stage adjacent to a Chris Dyer mural which the happy fellow himself sprayed with color all weekend. Here was a similar roofed structure but boasting a set of LED panels and an array of lasers which at night would fly over the busy crowd to criss cross on the tree line that, backlit with blues, greens, yellows and purples, stretched so high above. Attendees set up mobile picnic spaces in the field and ferried them back and forth between the stages as the music rotated. It was pure psychedelic Americana. “They have all the right elements,” Jake said of the Sleepover. “This space in particular, too. Page Farm is one of the best festival spaces I think I've been to for this size event.”
Sitting center field was a geodome. Innocuous and hammock-strung by day it became the spot for entertainment come late night. Once darkness fell, the dome’s interior lit up with master class psychedelic projection mapping. This sorcery came courtesy of Illumine Productions, a project by Derrick Planz and Brandon Decker out of Baltimore. With stages shutting down at 3:00 am, these fellows provided a heroic service by creating gathering space for a peppy graveyard crowd. Their space became truly sanctified on Saturday night when MALAKAI began an impromptu hours-long ambient set on a quiet speaker setup under the dome. The scheduled music finished and all was quiet on the Farm, but here Sleepover attendees, quite awake, began to gather, splay out, and drink in the last drops of this festival’s potent vibes.
Psychedelic Sleepover provided a perfect platform for some of the Northeast’s rising talent to showcase its tunes. The musical peak of the weekend, however, came unequivocally from the headliners Koan Sound. The duo from Bristol, England has been working on a new album for two years. For the first time ever, they performed a string of tunes from this most anticipated release. They absolutely ran the gamut with brand new drum n' bass, jazzy synth jams and back-breaking glitch hop, all with their signature sound design, only improved. It was too good, shattering already elevated expectations. “Koan Sound is one of my biggest inspirations,” Jake said, no doubt echoing the sentiments of many producers. “It’s always special when you get to see them perform. There’s inevitably a lot of hype and pressure behind it, but they definitely blew everyone away.”
The lasers were flying, ClearVoid visuals was casting spells on the LEDs, the Hennys were thumping and Jim Bastow’s fingers were dancing on the keys while he and his partner Will Weeks flawlessly mixed the new material with Koan Sound bangers including “Fuego”, “Mr. Brown”, “Sly Fox” and “Sentient”. Magic hung like a membrane in the air while the crowd whooped and hollered, nearly incredulous at the quality of the music they were hearing. It was one of those rare sets that will live on, glorified in memories of folks who know they got it.
Down grounds from the field, through the shakedown and across a wide expanse of parked cars, broaching another tree line one entered the woods sheltering the bulk of the Farm’s campers. Smack in the center of this scene was the Woods Stage integrated into the landscape beneath taut neon string that ran from tree to tree and looked like secret agent security lasers at night.
On Saturday night the vibes at the Woods Stage were supreme. Hammocks were slung and chairs grounded around the perimeter of the dance floor. Shwex came all the way from Olympia, Washington and offered an astounding and cinematic avant grade sound experience. He built pressure to the perfect point but held from releasing it. Just when a groove became solidified he would pull the rug out from beneath it, sending the mind spiraling. He was followed by AtYyA, a master of spiritual bass and downtempo who was followed by hometown hero DeeZ who earned the Sleepover’s closing slot. “Snooze [aka Taproot Productions’ founder Danny Bruning] is good at making sure all the headliners get what they deserve, then giving that underdog spot to someone who really deserves it,” Jake said.
And close DeeZ did, in rare style. According to Snooze, "DeeZ’s set was scheduled 2:00-3:00 am and they wanted me to cut it at 2:00 am. Brian Page actually came down at 2:20 am and said 'Snooze, you shut this down right now', to which I responded 'No wayyyy man!' pointing to all the happy, dancing party people. He relented and went to bed without a fight." The show went on, but the sound was cranked way down. So there’s DeeZ with his bag of bangers throwing them down one by one on a system running at half volume. He even played his remix of “Bass Head”, a fan favorite. The crowd, packed tight among the trees and laced with energy, took to speaking in hushed tones to allow the tunes to ring out. In this moment it was clear that those who came to the Sleepover treat music with the utmost reverence and respect.
Psychedelic Sleepover raised the expectation in the Northeast US for what a family-style bass music festival can be. Praise for its curation and operations was widespread. The hype surrounding the festival was substantial, but Taproot delivered and then some. “Our culture is almost inherently commercial,” says Tovia Shapiro aka Terraphorm, a wise man and prolific DJ out of Worcester. He offered a deep-dive, highly cultivated dubstep set on Saturday afternoon.
“There’s aspects of all that marketing and promotion that are important to the process of having a good party. You obviously want a critical mass of people to share and experience this art together. But just that leaves something to be desired.” Tovia puts together events with FractalTribe and spoke about approaches to curating atmospheres and cultures within festivals, in addition to just music. “I think we’re starting to see a lot of great festivals in the Northeast which embody that and push the boundaries in their own way. Psychedelic Sleepover is definitely part of that way of thinking about throwing events.”
After cleaning the Farm and setting down beneath a tree for a two day snooze, Danny and Taproot set to work on next year’s Sleepover - and much more. This is an event that they and the community at large can be proud of. We look forward to witnessing its evolution.