At around 3 a.m. on Sunday, a thousand or so seafaring revelers finally docked their boat in San Diego Bay. The first night of the inaugural CRSSD Fest had technically ended around 11 p.m., but those on this afterparty cruise still weren’t ready to go home yet.
The estimable ex-BBC DJ (and current iHeartRadio host and WME dance music mogul) Pete Tong had long since wrapped up his headlining set on the boat, co-presented with the Hollywood nightclub Sound. But girls in difficult-looking heels still tottered down the stairs adjoining the three decks trying to find booze (to their chagrin, the boat stopped serving at 2). Two Marines in deeply unbuttoned Hawaiian shirts vied for the attention of a younger girl, and when one of them tried and failed to chat her up, he folded his hands, whispered “namaste” to himself and shuffled off.
It was a loopy end to a long and largely successful first day of CRSSD, which brought about 15,000 fans of more complex, darker varieties of dance music out to the San Diego waterfront (the fest continues Sunday). By day, it was a sunny and spritzy festival with a friendly gleam of novelty. By night, as the temperature cooled and the lights went up, it turned headier and more immersive.
CRSSD is focused on the minimal, moodier kinds of house and techno that have long driven serious dance music culture. But now that America is five years or so into its EDM boom, fans who flocked to big fests like Electric Daisy are exploring these deeper strains, and CRSSD is the most recent (and one of the larger-scale) attempts to put these sounds in a mainstream festival format.
This genre-pivot from the producers behind LED (a San Diego-based promotion firm partnered with Goldenvoice) was intentional. The firm’s quartet of founding promoters - Johnny Shockey, Tyson Zierbarth, Kevin Wiles and Farley Lucas - could see the writing on the nightclub walls about where these sounds are going. Once night fell on the waterfront at CRSSD, the music was finally in its element.
On the main stage, the slinky Hot Natured added live, improvisational musicality to their set of song-driven vocal house. Founding members Jamie Jones and Lee Foss are well-regarded solo producers in their own right, but when they join with singer Anabel Englund in this project, the band lifts off into something that plays by all the rules of deep house but seems ready for a much wider audience. They got it at CRSSD.
Across the waterfront, LCD Soundsystem founder James Murphy played a solo DJ set that dug even deeper into his archive of rediscovered disco edits and jubilant vintage house. A few hundred yards behind him, the incredibly promising young Canadian-Haitian producer Kaytranada veered further, introducing elements of futurist R&B and avant-garde experiments into a set that still knocked around with all the force of club music.
As the fest drew into its waning hours, the field coalesced around Empire of the Sun’s fantasia of airy neo-disco. The band is one of few dance acts that performs with as much visual spectacle as sonic bluster, and from anywhere on the harbor, fans could see big sheets of purple and blue light pulsing behind their big live band. For a modest and well-run new festival, it was an unexpectedly big finish.
Come sunrise, as fans decamped from the boat party and the other various after-gigs, they stumbled off, weary but high spirited. Some of them piled onto the red-eye Amtrak back to L.A. At around 7 a.m., one fest-goer, still wearing his dramatic mask of black eye makeup, pulled a hoodie up over his head and nodded off in his train cabin as a sherbet-colored sunrise hit the Pacific Ocean. It was his first moment of quiet in many, many hours.
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