Mentally preparing oneself for a thirteen hour road trip across the desert isn’t nearly as daunting of a task as it may seem, especially when you have Gem and Jam Festival in your sights. I must have read the lineup over a dozen times, and still felt the same rush of excitement fill me – I was beyond ready to indulge in the beautiful weekend that stretched before me. Three days of soul-enhancing music, mind-twisting art installations, and breathtaking sets of live painting by a variety of talented artists waited in Tucson. Among those performing on the ballot were bass heavy producers Govinda, Purity Ring, SuperVision, Lynx and Thriftworks, as well as more ambient/downtempo artists, such as Insightful, Random Rab, Bluetech and Templo. Visionary artists Alex and Allyson Grey painted on the main stage for select sets throughout the weekend, keeping the crowd in a permanent trance-like state. Other well known names on the live painting roster included Jonathon Solter, Dela, and the Welch Brothers (Jeremiah Welch and Gabriel Welch). In addition to the overall decadence that Gem and Jam had to offer of course, were the mineral shows that take place during the same week in Tucson. Being the largest gem and mineral show in the world, thousands of vendors flood the city every year, packed to the brim with precious stones for sale; every crystal enthusiast’s dream. It isn’t hard to see why G&J is so special. Needless to say, the energy of that weekend was absolutely beautiful – all of the attendees were smiling from ear to ear, happy to share their good vibes and ready to turn every stranger into a friend.
Upon entering the venue grounds, Buckley and I checked into the on-site press tent to pick up our credentials, and made ourselves acquainted with the event guide. The excitement that comes with the very first day is always the best; there’s a common look of wonder in each festival goers eyes as we seek out the lay of the land. We’d all been waiting months for this weekend, anxiously looking forward to when it was finally time to make the journey to Tucson for one of the best events of the new year.
And G&J did not disappoint!
Featuring an array of vendors, including several clothing lines, jewelry designers and artists, the Gem and Jam market place was abuzz with huge talent. One of our favorites was the widely loved Denver based line called Grassroots California, who are admired for their authentic and high quality made hats. They’ve become a common sight at many events, and commemorate most of these, along with their favorite musicians, by designing limited edition hats to promote them. What started as a small collective has now grown to include representatives around the country. Their hats have risen in number as well, with hundreds of unique designs under the company’s belt. As I made my way over to the jewel and gem glass shelves, I was stopped in my tracks by a beautiful Jason Burruss piece. A jewelry designer who specializes in the art of silver and gemstone cold-fusion, he creates remarkable keepsakes that are sought after around the world. Breathtaking and intricately crafted, each piece follows the natural line of symmetry. Keeping the traditional art market alive, he travels to music festivals and art shows around the country selling his work. His name is quickly becoming synonymous with producing some of the best uniquely made and high quality jewelry in the market. Another vendor that caught our eye was a clothing line by the name of Ray John. Independently run in Chicago, Ray John is a fresh and creative company that aims to provide updated information on music festivals and concert reviews, as well as showcasing their favorite musicians and unknown talent they come across. Their merchandise was a hit, with a variety of tees, stickers, bags, and other items sporting satirical campaign-esque designs. A shirt in particular stood out amongst the others, drawing interest and snickers from passersby. Featuring an image of Kim Jong-il, a play on words of the company’s name was boldly emblazoned underneath, ‘RAY JING’. Needless to say, they were without a doubt one of the busiest booths of the weekend.
Friday Highlights (2/7)
The venue, which happened to be a haunted house in its off season, was located conveniently downtown as well as less than a mile from our hotel. We arrived with plenty of time to scope out the sights and smells, as well as to secure a perfect spot just in time for the Desert Dwellers set. There is no understatement when I say that they truly set the tone for this celebration of the archaic revival. The soulful melodies instill a sense of bliss in the listener that this transformational festival seeks to reveal. It breaks down the barrier of manufactured music to expose the musical renaissance that is alive and well in electronic dance music. This singular mainstage set was complimented by two successive solo sets on the second stage by each DJ, Treavor Moontribe and Amani. Showcasing the higher energy side of EDM through their own individual psy trance sets, I have never been one to be easily moved to dancing by psy trance, but the music carried a message not expressible through words. If one were to break it down, it would sound something like, “Welcome to the human be-in, it’s pretty bad ass out here”. One of our favorite sets on Friday. Shortly after the Desert Dwellers set ended, I was drawn away by an infectious glitch track I heard booming across the field.
Playing on the inside stage was a producer team from Boulder who called themselves Krooked Drivers. These guys are a straight up dance party. Since this performance, I’ve been turned onto them nonstop. The best thing an artist can do is get down with their crowd, which I believe made their stage presence so excellent. One of my favorite songs of theirs was a remix of DMX’s ‘Where the Hood At’ that featured vocal samples from Blues legend Albert King, providing an undeniably high energy, good-vibin’-all-around party anthem.
Krooked Drivers – “Where The Hood At” DMX x Albert King on Sound Cloud
Only production skills of the highest par could make these two styles resonate in perfect harmony, and by doing that, Krooked Drivers secured a place in my heart. High on my list to see was also SuperVision, who happens to be from Dallas as well and was playing on the outside stage. As expected, he pulled out his signature hip-hop influenced party beats, and threw the funkiest set of the night. Since being signed to Pretty Lights Music back in 2010, SuperVision has made his way all over the festival map. In between set changes, I decided to walk back to the inside stage to catch an early glimpse of Alex Grey’s Enthenogen Talk, an hour long speech in which he would explain his thoughts and theories on the subject. I had accurately expected a crowd, but right at 9:20, when the speech was set to begin, we were told the room had reached maximum capacity. Disheartened but compliant, the sea of those waiting to get inside were content with simply listening nearby.
Saturday Highlights (2/8)
My agenda for Saturday was stacked, so I knew I’d have a ton of running around to do in between stages. Kicking off on the outside stage was a West coast favorite of mine, Russ Liquid, whose actual sound refuses to be held to any one genre. Ranging in styles from psychedelic hip hop to jazz fusion, while also playing live instruments, Russ Liquid is truly a unique artist. It was definitely a highlight to see him performing on the main stage. Unfortunately, I missed the end of his set in order to make my interview with Nico Luminous, an experimental hip-hop producer from the Bay area. Using a belt of recorders and loops he constructed himself, he has a totally unique approach to his craft, and is also an accomplished beat boxer. You can read our interview here! Following Nico’s set on the inside stage was Bluetech, who is without a doubt one of the most well-respected ambient producers of the last 10 years. I’ve never seen a performer put so much love into his craft like Evan Bartholomew.
What sets him apart from fellow producers in his genre is his seamless ability to create tracks that give the listener an overall feeling of love and gratitude. His music simply makes you feel good. In fact, the love was so thick before his set that the room packed out within 15 minutes of him taking the stage. Performing the main stage at the same time was Insightful, a rising electronic producer hailing from the West coast. Equipped with a ensemble of musical styles, Matthew Suggett showcases his artistic prowess through each of his releases. Utilizing elements of glitch, deep bass, and hip hop, Insightful is crafting some of the sexiest tunes in the game right now.
Sunday Highlights (2/9)
Starting off my last day of the festival was a beautiful set by Templo, an up and coming producer from Colorado. While I had initially planned on just passing by, I was locked into Liam Shea for the length of his entire performance. You can feel the confidence in his producing, and it’s no wonder as to why. It doesn’t brag or boast, or feature distracting layers of sound in an attempt to be ‘undefined’ or ‘fresh’. Instead, his tracks allow the listener to enjoy at his or her own pace, ultimately resulting in real music appreciation. He turned out to be my favorite performance of the weekend, and I’ve been listening nonstop.
The love I’ve got for Lynx is mad real. There’s something about this singer-songwriter that I can’t pinpoint, simply because it’s all so good. This soft spoken, multi-instrumentalist and beat-boxing badass is only 28 years old, and has already performed around the world, as well as hitting a slew of large-scale festivals recently in the US. Playing an early set on the main stage, I was front and center from start to finish. Equipped with a soulful voice and emotional-invoking lyrics, Lynx has a charming stage presence like no other.
Following her set was Austin-born producer Shane Madden, AKA Govinda. Known for his scintillating live shows, his music is best described as a sexy, psychedelic soundtrack perfect for a romp through your wildest fantasies. The fact that he plays violin live makes the experience more intimate in a way, and only further solidifies his spot as an innovator in the live electronic scene.
Gem and Jam was exactly what it promised to be; a socially conscious festival that featured amazing music, insightful workshops and groundbreaking speakers, making it a weekend that will not be topped. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in experiencing the life-high that engulfed me in the weeks following Gem and Jam. I can only look forward to the next year that I will re-join my festival family in the beautiful desert of Tucson!
Contributors: Buckley Rue & Tai Carpenter