"One of my focuses with this is to bring in some really up and coming, talented artists, who are pioneering their own sound in one way or another. They deserve the opportunity to show people their music; people will appreciate the diversity beyond hearing the same tracks dropped in every set at a festival mainstage," mused Jared Oppenheim, Co-Founder and musical director of the Gradient Perspective, as we spoke about his choice of talent to rock the Gradient Perspective Lounge all weekend. "Another main intention is for people who already love electronic music to dive deeper into a new niche that they might not have been privy to before." He certainly hit his mark 100x over, having been given the opportunity to host a stage at the annual Nightmare Festival in Maryland, bringing together an extensive conflagration of musicians and producers that subsist deep in the entrenched niches of electronic music.
HeavySide Function, slinging an impressive Ableton setup complete with modular synthesizers and sit-in sessions with a gaggle of instrumentalists, presented a flourish of electro-soul and golden-era hiphop beats that brought a delicious head-nod vibe into the weekend; Tygris, unleashing a torrent of home-brewed neuro-hop and breakbeat-inspired dance floor compositions, scratching vinyl to every transient bursting out of the speakers; Choppy Oppy (Mr. Oppenheim's musical project), presenting a powerful blend of triphop, glitch, and dub, all accompanied by his right hand man and expert guitarist, Al Smith; Sketchy Pete, a long-time collaborator with the Gradient Perspective and an incredibly potent DJ, combining a healthy serving of original tracks and choice selectors from across the bass music spectrum; Face Plant, a resident Rust artist who brought out the Halloween spirit with an intoxicating dose of his signature biotic sound design and visceral glitch soundscapes; Yheti, with his instantly identifiable half-skewed tambres, brought not just his typical and widely appealing performances multiple times over the course of 48 hours, but also curated an immersive, 3 hour sunrise set to ring in Saturday morning. Mindwalker, Jizzy Fra, Smokestax, Vide, IndoBeats, Skankuh, The Orcestrator, and Stratosphere would provide their own unique stylings and musical adventures throughout the the weekend as well, adding to the impressive army of sonic revolutionaries spearheading the success of the Gradient Perspective's efforts, and subsisting as the maximum highlight of the weekend festivities at Nightmare.
In the sleepy town of Darlington, MD, Camp Ramblewood finds its home nestled amidst a small forest clearing, complete with a picturesque lake and quaint cottages lining the trails around the campgrounds. It hosts a number of events each year, including Luna Light and Dreamscape. For the past 5 years, Badass Events has been hosting the Nightmare Festival at Camp Ramblewood on Halloween weekend, to much critical success. Featuring a modest, outdoor main-stage and several barns retrofitted with full LED and laser visual displays, Nightmare successfully juggles several active stages at all times throughout the duration of the event each year. Typically, the lineup is heavily associated with dubstep, D-n-B, and other aggressive formats of bass music; Without breaking away from their traditional pool of artists/genres, Nightmare 2017 featured a new addition to their festival experience, vis a vis The Gradient Perspective. I joined them for the weekend down in Maryland and got up close and personal with the top-notch team of art enthusiasts.
The Gradient Perspective is an art and music collective based out of Washington, D.C. With Ally Grimm and Jared Oppenheim at the helm, the GP team has hosted events non-stop over this past year throughout the DMV, and the community response has been nothing short of massive. "Jared and I met last year, and we got the idea to create the Gradient perspective while under an incendia dome at Luna Light. We loved the communal culture behind the dome installations," co-founder and art director, Ally Grimm, said to me. Incendia Domes are multi-sensory, immersive geo-domes found around the festival circuit in the US. "Our main goal is to inspire a sense of unity and community through creative collaboration. We're very much about an equal playing field; there is no hierarchy within our events."
The Gradient Perspective's home at Nightmare was a two story lodge found right behind the main-stage field, and was entirely retrofitted to become a psychonautic paradise. Walking up to the building, it was evident that the weekend denizens of Nightmare were drawn to it likes moths to a flame. People mingled on a balcony hanging above a pool covered for the Fall. Fluorescent, neon lighting was radiating from the windows and from under a tarp-covered section of the balcony. The familiar pulse of sub-frequencies emanated from the very walls of the structure. The outer aesthetic was already wildly tantalizing, but quickly became an afterthought once one stepped foot inside of what turned out to be a psychedelic haven for creative minds and lost wanderers.
Entering the building, the rest of festival melted away into the back of the mind. I was instantly greeted with a bevy of visual installations, from scintillating ocular displays to a retrograde phone booth renovated with high-reflective veneer, crafted by artists I'd later come to know as T.J Spurge and Liz Lubitsky, respectively. The room was bursting with visual artists and their labours of love, with every table and every inch of wall space displaying dozens of creations, ranging from high-relief vistas to gorgeous digital portraits. Brian Cohen, the art gallery director for Nightmare, is the first person you see on the way in and the last on the way out, greeting newcomers with a comfortable smile while maintaining an intense focus on his live painting exploits scattered around the room. A rotating team of artists joined him throughout the weekend, all brought in to help The Gradient Perspective's collaborative vision coalesce into a reality.
Stepping through a series of curtains at the far end of the art emporium, above my head hung a sign - "The Imperium". This word is Latin for "absolute power"; I failed to see the true significance of the title until later in the evening, as I had come a bit early in the day, so I was greeted with a quick sneak-peak of the stage design and setup within the room. Amidst the quiet calibration of the visual equipment for the late night party, Ally was leading a yoga session attended by about a dozen or so passive attendees. This space would continue to be utilized in the daylight hours of the weekend as the hub of the Gradient Perspective's workshop offerings. I stepped onto the aforementioned balcony to check out the micro-party I could hear through the door, and was instantly taken aback by the delightful audio-visual alcove I walked into; a multi-sensory grotto filled with effervescent space-scape signature designs, ceramic sculptures, and soul-piercing resin eyes.
Based out of Ghent, New York, visual maestro T.J. Spurge was brought onboard to pilot his famed "Resinations Lounge". "I met Ally at Disc Jam this year, she was in the art gallery there. She recruited me to come down here with her and the Gradient Perspective. I was super excited because I had never done something like this before.” I was doing my best to get some choice words from him about his experience with working with The Gradient Perspective, but kept getting distracted by his outlandish, neon live visual setup adjacent to us. “They are really dedicated to what they do; I probably annoyed the hell out of them with a million questions and they just rose to the task,"
The installation came complete with couches, it's own soundtrack, and a projection screen covering the entirety of the far wall. A series of high-fidelity cameras were hooked up to a meticulous setup that allowed T.J. to go beyond displaying already finished works of art, and using his signature resin, powder pigments, and alcohol based ink, create entheogenic collages, swirling and merging to a point of chromatic harmony. Each person who stepped into this omni-artistic domain was either instantly encapsulated by the live visual setup, or found themselves lost in one or another of Spurge's exoplanetary designs. When someone would light a smoke underneath the tarps, Ally would swoop around the corner and kindly ask them to take it to the open-air section of the balcony, a small detail but one which made the space more pleasant and functional throughout the weekend.
After being submerged in the Resination Lounge, I found the Gradient Perspective team taking in the last rays of sunlight across the balcony before the nighttime festivities began. "My intention with the Gradient Perspective space is to bring an extra dimension to festivals that have a larger audience, but maybe people are looking for something more than just their usual festival experience, so we want to bring an immersive, interactive space that showcases eclectic music and art," said Jared. Being there for under an hour, I could already see his vision clear as the beams splaying through the tree limbs in front of us.
The sun had set, every laser, light, and LED had been switched on all over Camp Ramblewood, and I suddenly realized that the pounding frequencies I was hearing over my voice was coming not from the main-stage, but from behind the wall at my back; The Gradient Perspective takeover had transformed from a tranquil lounge into a nightcrawler paradise. The ceiling was adorned with translucent clouds that boasted an internal mixture of fluorescent hues. The two back corners of the room were covered in couches and blow-up beds adorned in an array of wondrous textiles. A sea of nocturnal revelers in costume bounced and slid around the room to a constantly evolving beat and groove. The stage, or maybe it might be better to call it the "Nexus Imperium", was a breathtaking amalgamation of precision-cut white surfaces and sift draperies, coated top to bottom in expert-level projection mapping. I thought back to the sign hanging above the entryway, and realized that this was the power it was referring to.
My jaw dropped as I craned my neck and observed Jack Hurley and Ricardo Martinez controlling the entire production from a complex series of midi controllers. I had to understand more of what I was seeing, and eventually I tracked down Jacob New, the technical director for the Gradient Perspective stage. "I guided the animator and the projectionist (Hurley and Martinez) in a way that enabled them to take their animations, render them slice by slice, and map every single video in order to puppeteer their stage with midi controllers designed with a very ergonomic interface that allows you to create an instrument out of your stage." An instrument it truly became, with Hurley and Martinez bouncing off of one another's sequencing and visual modulation in perfect, beat-matched tandem with the music. "You can have a performance that's synchronous and jamming with the music. It creates something thats interactive, real time, and unlimitedly creative." His endeavor was an absolute success, with the Gradient Perspective stage easily usurping the visual spotlight from even the festival's own mainstage. It was the centerpiece that tied the entire GP operation together, and allowed the Gradient Perspective to assume the role of the absolute coup de gras of the weekend.
The Gradient Perspective, true to its' name, seamlessly balanced a suite of artistic hues, musical colourations, and vibrant positivity, birthing an entire closed ecosystem and immersive experience that stood apart not only from the rest of the Nightmare festival, but even more so from almost every other attempt to create such an immersive environment I've thus far witnessed. The artistic merit, the musical talent, the organization and execution, and the absolute genuine want to foster an inclusive, creative space for likeminded individuals seeking an outlet for emotion, creative content, and communal gathering was second-to-none. Having seen what the Gradient Perspective brings to the table, and how far they are willing to go in order to both accomplish their vision, and accommodate all who endeavored to help bring that vision to life, gave me a sense of the true strength and capability of our ever-growing community of society's wildest creatives and revelers. Keep all eyes peeled and ears open to any and every bit of news coming from our friends at the Gradient Perspective: this is but a taste of what is yet to come.
The Rust Music would like to thank Jared Oppenheim, Ally Grimm, and Badass Events for making this piece possible.