Birthed from the creative mind of producer Doug Appling, Emancipator is an ambient trip that guides the listener through a range of sounds and emotions, creating an ethereal and surreal sense of nostalgia. Emancipator’s euphoric & lulling effects are merely amplified when the live band is in tow, aptly named Ensemble. Featuring the talents of violinist Ilya Goldberg, drummer Colby Buckler, and bassist Mub Fractal, the complete Emancipator Ensemble experience is absolutely captivating. The lineup has hit only select cities so far, and most recently, made appearances at a few cities they had missed in months past, including Granada Theater in Dallas, Emo’s East in Austin, Purple Hatter’s Ball in Florida and Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. Fortunately, I had the ultimate pleasure of seeing 3 out of 4 of these dates, save for Florida, as my impromptu traveling ninja abilities only made TX and CO possible on such short notice.
Playing one of Dallas’ historic venues, the Granada Theater on Wednesday May 7th, I had no idea that Emancipator would even be in town, much less with the Ensemble crew along for the ride. Two questions posed themselves in my mind’s eye; 1) Why hadn’t I heard about this show months ago, and 2) Why wasn’t it completely sold out? Nonetheless, I was absolutely gleaming with delight when I was contacted by a friend, Trevor Bone, who would be working as the band’s sound engineer, and extended an invite to see the show. It had been over a year since my last Emancipator concert, and this would go down in the books as my first night of experiencing the Ensemble. In more or less words, I was FUCKING stoked. At this time of course, I didn’t know I’d have the amazing opportunity of seeing them in Austin the very next night, or end up seeing them perform a sold out show at one of the world’s most majestic venues, Red Rocks, only two days after that, so my excitement was pretty much as high as I thought it’d get. So goes my spontaneous life.
My friend David and I pull up to the venue, sneaking into a hidden parking spot on a side street, and make it just before the band was set to play. Granada’s intimate and relaxed atmosphere was the perfect setting for the first kick off night of May’s mini tour. Washing the crowd in hues of purple and blue, the stage lights slinked across the room as the audience swayed from side to side, embracing their lovers and looking to the ceiling with eyes closed, taking in the euphonic harmonies Emancipator has become known and loved for. Following the show I met up with Trevor, who I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. After exchanging hearty hugs, ‘What the fuck have you been up to?’ ‘s, and introductions with the band, I realize I hadn’t met up with David, and wonder where he is for about 0.5 seconds. I brush it off.
Since it had been about a year since our last hang out sesh, I spent the next few hours after the show catching up and getting familiar with the guys who made up Emancipator. Eventually, it isn’t long before I’m being convinced to follow the guys to their Austin date the next day. A little buzzed, I scoff since it’s short notice, and decide to call it a night and get in touch with my friend I had gone to the show with to pick me up. He arrives fairly soon, and when I get in the car, I’m surprised to be met with one half of the duo who had opened the night’s show, a group called Blue Sky Black Death. More importantly, I’m being forced into the back seat, which drunken Tai doesn’t really appreciate. Anyhow, my friend goes on to tell me that we’d be going to Austin tomorrow, because he had been enlisted by Kingston, the guy who had taken shotgun, to take him and his partner (who make up Blue Sky Black Death) to their gig tomorrow, where they would once again be opening for Emancipator Ensemble. I almost laugh but I’m kind of used to this sort of weird shit happening in my life, so I just pass out in the backseat, happy that I don’t have any plans for the next day I’d have to bail on.
Fast forward 12 hours, and we’re on the road, leaving Dallas and battling torrential downpour in order to make it to sound check at the next venue, Emo’s East, by 6:30pm. Arriving in town with less than an hour to spare, I rally my Austin area friends to join in on the musical goodness that was set to go down that night. In pure Emancipator fashion, the show is mind blowingly impressive, as I notice several members of the audience happily crying tears of joy towards the end of their set – it was just the type of response I had expected from Austin, and while this might have been out of place at their Dallas show, it felt completely natural that night. Night two had been another successful adventure.
Coasting from the high that comes along with taking in melodious, soul satisfying music night after night, my friend David and I dolefully began to route our course back to Dallas after mustering up the effort to leave Austin behind.
Pulsing in the background of my thoughts was the idea to somehow adventure to Red Rocks to see the band live once more, where, coincidentally enough, I had already been invited to attend, granted I could make the journey. Emancipator Ensemble would be one of the supporting artists for the show’s headlining act, who was not only the aforementioned friend of mine, but would be performing with his full live band as well! Based in the UK, the complete 12-person live spectacle of Shpongle is rarely seen in the United States, and Red Rocks would be their third US appearance to date.
During the three hour drive back to Dallas, I reach out to my network on Facebook in a last minute attempt to find a carpool for my impromptu Colorado venture. Only an hour later, I give up hope, thinking my efforts are fruitless. Not only am I carless and surrounded by schedule-abiding friends, but it’s definitely too late to plan a 14 hour drive for an event happening the very next day…. right?
I’m completely wrong, and my social media outreach amazed me.
By the time I cross into Dallas city limits, I’m being dropped off to head directly to Colorado in a car full of random people, in which I had only met one previously.
I don’t ask questions; I just go, because sometimes, life has to be lived that way.
Fast forward again, this time to 14 hours later at 6 am, where we make it just in time to watch the sun rise over Pike’s Peak as we pass through Colorado Springs. Upon our arrival in Denver, I decide to call up my aunt Debra who I hadn’t seen in years. I should be tired, but at this point I’m too stoked with how well things are going to even think about getting sleep – I’m in fucking Colorado! The phone rings on the other end, and I almost hesitate, thinking I’d rather head to a recreational weed shop like a stupid tourist with the rest of my friends, but then she answers. I couldn’t tell you how I knew, but her beaming smile on the other end told me I had made the right choice. I haven’t had family time in years, and this was life’s way of telling me I needed it. I leave our hotel to meet my aunt for breakfast at her favorite hole in the wall joint, a diner called Swift’s in the Santa Fe art district, and proceed to partake in four hours of the most heartfelt laughs I’ve had in recent years. She keeps holding my hands from across the table, and suddenly I could care less about this musical journey I’d thrown myself into. But she has a job, so she plops me back out of her schedule soon after so she can get ready for her day. Just before we part ways at the diner, she gives me a big ol’ kiss on the cheek like she did when I was younger, and now that I’m an adult I realize the lipstick doesn’t bother me at all. I go back to the hotel and rally up the troops. A few hours later and I’m meeting up with a group of friends in order to head out for Red Rocks. Morrison is about an hour away, so there was more than enough time for the suspense to build; a car full of Red Rocks virgins on the route to their final destination – entering the amphitheater was without a doubt the pinnacle of my entire trip.
Never wasting a precious second, my partner in crime Elizabeth and I explored the depths of the venue, taking in everything the breathtaking wonder had to offer. Revered worldwide for its naturally stunning acoustics, it was guaranteed to be a night of magic and pure bliss, as the sold out rows quickly began to fill with people. The energy in the air grew electric as Minnesota, a hard-hitting, bass heavy EDM producer from Santa Cruz, took the stage to get the night started. Rather than pulling from his multitude of bass heavy anthems, Minnesota kept it chill and played a phenomenal set comprised from many of his earlier productions (think Ancient Machines). The vibe was mellow, and everyone in the theater was floating on air by the time Emancipator Ensemble took the stage. Goosebumps riddled my skin as they played one of my favorite tracks; ‘Safe in the Steep Cliffs’, an instrumental, soul shivering gem. Topping this off was their cover of the Elephant Revival’s ‘Forgiveness’, a meticulous and stunning arrangement that managed to sound even more beautiful within the walls of Red Rocks. Not many artists can tug at my heartstrings, but Emancipator does it eerily well.
The transitioning time between sets seemed to stretch on and on, as the mounting anticipation for Shpongle live band had reached its height. Donning elaborate and decorative six eyed masks, brightly colored tights and leather made utility belts, the Shpongle audience was more than prepared, as this night had been steadily creeping up for nearly a year. Having only seen the 3D projection mapping Shpongletron by Zebbler in years past, I was beyond excited to see what exactly the rare, full live band would entail.
The magnitude of this Red Rocks journey (much less the past three days of awesomeness I had experienced) finally hit me as I watched my wonderful friend Simon Posford take the stage. Alongside his longtime collaborator and fellow frontman Raja Ram, they created a mind bending, psychedelic world out of the stage before us. Accustomed to seeing Simon hidden behind his large Shpongletron DJ set up, it felt good witnessing him in his natural element as a proficient guitar player. To hear, and finally see, the man behind the whimsical flute notes I’ve loved over the years was amazing as well; Raja Ram’s stage presence is astounding. Onstage shenanigans included a mesmerizing performance by Slinky Man, several theatrics and costume changes, as well as one of the most spectacular light shows I’d seen to date. To conclude, the show confused, terrified, and overwhelmed me – in all the best ways imaginable.
To say last week was filled with the best memories of my life thus far would never do the actual experience justice as a whole. I’ve never felt so grateful or more content where I am in life at the moment, and the synchronicities that showed themselves throughout my journey only reassures me that I am exactly where I need to be.