Asteria will always be my first American camping festival for EDM. I’ve camped at other music festivals over the last several years, so I’ve got my gear list down to the bare essentials. Thankfully I did, because Travis picked me up from my home in a Prius, which aren’t famous for their capacity. It all fit, so we left for Osteen, two hours across the state. At the entrance I was given wristband, it had the word “media” written on it, another first for me. Even now, as I sit writing this, three days later, I feel a profound sense of relief that I managed to find a spot in the shade for my tent. The big tree I was under had pokey twigs sticking out at eye height that would take your sunglasses clean off your head if you turned too sharply, but the ground was flat and smooth.
The Sunshine Ranch sits alongside a highway and closed in by thick trees. It boasts red barns, two ponds, chicken coops, a pirate ship (which was a big wood deck where the second stage was) and plenty of sand for ravers to kick up in front of the main stage. The main stage itself was three shipping containers arranged into an open triangle, with the DJ booth on top of the middle one, and the speakers, lights, lasers and visuals running along the inside of all three. It was a dusty walk between the camping and the venues where you passed some vendors and usually a few farm animals, it reminded me of summer camp when I was a kid.
“That’s honestly exactly what I wanted to hear.” The organiser, Miguel, said when I made that remark to him on the phone after it was all over. “I wanted it to have this camping retreat feel to it.” It really did, from the people who smiled at you on the dusty trail to the shady pavilions and wooden benches under the big trees, it was a cosy environment. The people too, both working and raving, were only happy to say hello and get to know you. I met DJ Mowdi, who was camped next door to myself and Travis. I apologized to him because I missed his set, but he told me not to worry, and with a few of his friends, helped me craft questions for the people Travis had tasked me to interview. I also met DJ Manny Mak, who talked me through some of the sets to look out for and helped with the questions too. I spent most of that afternoon scribbling and hanging out. I caught some of Manny Mak’s set, some of Part Native and D3V’s also. (D3V’s set in particular I enjoyed, and even in the face of some technical issues, played with heart.) The raging sun had most of the ravers huddled together in the growing shadows (except for one named Andrea, who didn’t fucking stop kicking dirt in direct light for most of the day). It was Dusty Bits who enjoyed the last of the daylight, they performed silhouetted against a pale blue evening sky.
I caught up with the duo in the meditation tent, away from the thumping set that Whipped Cream was playing, which I’m sorry to say I only caught the last tracks of. Dusty Bits, AKA Jake and Ryan are from Buffalo, NY. Ryan got down right away to telling me about the hard work it takes to get to where they are, and how he can sit down and for eight hours created music, and “…and not even be mad about it, you just have a good time doing it.” He continued, “I feel a lot of people have that same sort of focus with everything they like. I mean, if you like something enough, you going to be the same way about it.” “For us it works really well because we work the same day job, we have opposite schedules at times, so he can work on stuff when I’m not there.” Jake added. Most folks I met seemed to shared that spirit of hard work and ambition at Asteria, from the people who organised it, to the people who paid and ended up dedicating their time to help run the show. Among the DJs there was a huge amount of determination: “We went to a concert and we were like, you know what? We need to be up there.” (Referring to the DJ booth), said Jack of FLTHYVBZ, with whom I spoke to the following day. The Florida duo have been busy for the last couple of years with that single goal in mind. Justin and Jack, who met in the 7th Grade are 18 and 19 respectively. The pair had their moment of truth at Mad Decent Block Party in Fort Lauderdale in 2014. Since then they have learned to mix, have been getting live experience and after an hour of their set at the silent disco later that same night, I can tell you, haven’t wasted any time. “Once you learn how to DJ, earning a show, even as an opening spot is very hard.” says Jack. “It’s hard being a college student and a DJ.” Laughs Justin, with a hint of irony. As we sat outside my tent in the glorious shade, they both rapped about the work they’d been putting in learning how to produce and promoting themselves, mentioning a possible collaboration with Part Native in the summer. “They’re really good guys.” Says Justin. “They’re enjoying themselves and they want us to enjoy ourselves if too, if they can help it.” As I continued to talk to different artists over the weekend, hard work, collaboration and support were subjects that I couldn’t get away from, it was universal among them.
Nitti Gritti began with three and a half years producing “…and once I created the brand, it helped me move forward with DJing. It was easier for me to make music first and then DJ, sometimes people DJ first.” I mentioned to him, as he leaned on the back of a dusty car, that FLTHYVBZ had the exact opposite approach and he said “A lot of people are opposite, but not me. I play drums and guitar, so learning the CDJs was like learning another instrument.” No problem then! Just learn another instrument. Like its a hardly an obstacle, just another rung in the ladder. Have you ever learned to play an instrument? It takes hours. Hours of getting it wrong. We stood in the parking lot and talked about football (english football), heavy metal, vinyl records and such, and again, like I did before, when I was chatting with Dusty Bits and FLTHYVBZ, I got a very strong sense that these guys meant business. And what I heard from the community of DJs from Orlando and other cities in the state that shared their thoughts with me, was that they only have the highest regard and mutual respect for one another. On Saturday afternoon I had Manny Mak and DJ Cazanova, each with a buttcheek perched on my cooler, and DJ Kyro (who got the camp chair) to express what they had to say about it. They told me how there isn’t a real competitive element between them, only a genuine desire to see other DJs do well, but as Cazanova pointed out “…you know, people come up and say, Caz, you fucking smashed it. And it’s like, when you come play,” and he gestured to the other two, “…I’ma be over there, and you better kill it… Now it’s your turn.” Manny and Kyro both agreed. The four of were outside my tent there shooting the shit for a while longer before Cazanova suddenly left, but before he did, I asked if there was a specific sound to the group. He said; “We’re well on our way to being one of those like “…Damn, that’s that central Florida sound.” But at the end of the day, we just want to see each other shine, and we’re going to help eachother out, and put each other on the map.” Kyro concurred: “The coolest thing about all of this is, I’m not going to stop, and I know my friends aren’t either. We’re dead serious. This is a passion for music, not attention or other things.” DJ Side Trakd, with whom I spoke to later on that night, sang a similar tune when I asked him about it. “Me and the guys from Marshen, we’re cheering each other on. You don’t see that within this industry.” I spoke to those guys from Marshen. Ted reaffirmed that “As the scene continues to grow, we’ve all started to trust each other more and realize that it’s not a competition..” “It’s not a competition at all” interrupted Ronnie, “…it’s a community.”
In my memory now, Friday night is a bit of a blur. A lot happened. I danced. I probably drank a few too many PBRs. I definitely called Dusty Bits, “Filthy” Bits, to their face (nice…), I do however, remember Joker’s set. Specifically when the Police decided we were having too much fun and so Joker had to move aboard the Pirate Ship to finish off. But as anyone who was there will tell you, it turned out to be a blessing. Everyone was shoulder to shoulder, you started bumping off one another, but it was okay, because of that friendly, cosy atmosphere I talked about. During that set in the pirate ship you got the feeling it was one of those parties, where everyone knew it was hot as shit. As Manny Mak had pointed out earlier, “He doesn’t come to Florida.” So the fans took advantage of this rare occurrence. After the final track, I spoke to Joker, but only very briefly. I told him I’d used to go to Lakota (my one tangible link; a club in his hometown), and later on I was sat across from him in a room full of people and he asked me if I had rolling paper. I tried talking again, but he said he was tired and he had to leave so I left him alone. I got back to my tent and found that my mattress had deflated.
The following night however, I drank fewer PBRs, and remember a great deal more. Like for example, the names of the DJs sat in front of me, and also, how much I enjoyed Nitti Gritti’s set. Later on during the silent disco he was responsible, along with Kyro and eventually FLTHYVBZ, and a lot more guys who I didn’t meet, for a severe neck rash I developed and still haven’t quite shaken. And of course the massive highlight of Saturday was Sullivan King’s hour of bass drops, guitar solos and the front row of head bangers doing their best to work the barrier into the dirt. Travis had told me to hang around because the headliner was happy to talk with me when he was done.
Sullivan King and I had something in common about the festival, in that we were one of the few people who didn’t have thirty close friends there. I told him that based on what I’d seen and what I’d learned that there seems to be a scene here, he agreed, saying “For the amount of people that came out, and for the space that it is, considering it being a first year festival, you can tell that kids want this, kids want this to happen. This has a different vibe, I think it’s really bad ass, it’s way more free.” Being more free was another subject I discussed with my new friends. They spoke of the ability to play whatever the hell they liked. Which only made sets more and more interesting as different tracks were being dropped. I heard Ozzy Osbourne, Coolio, Blink 182 and even a Led Zeppelin remix that caught everyone off guard, provided by DJ Side Trakd. Those of course, were the extreme examples. (I personally loved the amount of tech house that was played during the silent disco.) Just like Sullivan King and Nitti Gritti, many of the DJs play instruments. Some of them play more than two. Those who play all mentioned seeing the incorporation of live music performances into sets into the future. Several of the guy to whom I spoke with said that small festivals like this were perfect opportunities to play tracks by lesser known DJs, songs that might have only a few hundred plays online. And why? Simple; it’s for the love of the game. They love the music. They love the fact that their favourite music is being made by their friends. They love anticipating what the person “up there” is going to do next, what little tricks they’ve been working on, the tracks they have discovered and kept secret till they drop them in front of each other. The love they have for one another and what each person brings was palpable.
It would be a crime to write an article about Asteria and not dedicate more words to Miguel. We spoke on the phone for nearly two hours and I barely had to ask him any questions. He had so much to say about the journey he’d just finished that I reckon you wouldn’t have trouble filling a book with the story. He began by telling me how he started off as an artist, DJing and producing, eventually turning his attention to helping local artists that he felt weren’t getting the exposure and bookings they deserved. After a while he became tired of having to organize events based on numbers, profit and “cookie cutter” music, and still felt there was a way to give local, underappreciated artists a better shot: “I was kind of in a zone, so I said; You know what? I’m going all out, two days camping festival. Fuck it, go big or go home.” It took about eleven months of six a.m. starts and late finishes, but he had the right support and got the wheels turning. He went on to tell me about how fifty five people signed as volunteers, but only 16 turned up. This was the work force he had helping to set up almost everything there. “That entire festival was set up by literally, a handful of people.” He laughed and continued talking about how a message group was set up a long time before the event, among people who bought tickets, and how they were asked about their preferences on pretty much all aspects of festival going, from the line ups to porta-potty segregation. Miguel made sure the responses were quick and sometimes witty and based how he wanted the event to be set up on their answers.
It’s little personal touches like that, I believe, are what really brought everyone together in the same spirit at Asteria. The crowd interaction from the organizers was always fun loving and helpful throughout, I don’t remember being told a rule, I don’t remember anyone with a bad attitude, the toilets got cleaned in the morning there was little or no litter the food was reasonably priced. Artists who bought tickets, started painting and decorating the various installations only because they wanted to make it prettier. Everyone was on the same page and facing in the same direction. Miguel picked the line ups and the people around him perfectly. There was a core group there that only want to see each other succeed and only want to work hard together in order to achieve it. And that is what it all came down to in the end, hard work and mutual respect. Sullivan King said “…the kids want this.” They do, and Asteria only proved that they’ve got the nerve to take it.
Editorial by Samuel R. Barber
Photo Credit: Travis Ferkich