I learned a new word last weekend.
It was used to describe the 2013 Music and Arts Showcase Sun Valley (MASSV) July 4-6, by a bug-eyed teenager wearing a tie-dye sarong who kept brushing away my purple aura. We were standing in the dusty River Run parking lot—which that weekend doubled as a designated campground for ticketholders—listening to the echo of G-Eazy playing across the Big Wood River.
Mingling in the parking lot, under the shade of Bald Mountain, was every type of festivalgoer—fairies with furry legwarmers, body-painted dudes with animals on their heads, young girls with hula hoops and kaleidoscope eyes and a lot of very normal-looking characters in jeans. (People-watching at these types of events is sometimes as entertaining as the music itself.)
I sat on a cooler with some friends from Boise, while my new friend in the sarong, who had a shark tooth for a nose piercing, attempted to explain this new word to me (apparently it’s some combination of “dank” and “fantastic”). He eventually gave up, cheersed beers with me and ran after a colorful girl with her booty peeking out from the bottom of her tutu.
From Highway 75, it must have looked like a scene from Total Recall descended on the base of Bald Mountain. There was a giant green break-dancing man projected onto the hillside and the lasers from the stage lit up the surrounding forest with a spectacular multi-colored light show. As founder and co-investor Brent Russel explained, “The place was lit up like an alien invasion. Ketchum has never seen anything like it.”
Sun Valley was definitely invaded, if not by alien-kind, then by their close encounters—over 3000 drinkers, dancers, tweakers and freakers from all over the West Coast: Boise, Seattle, California, Colorado and parts unknown. Glowing art cars and circus structures and giant reflective robots gathered in a Burning-Man-like mayhem. As Russel explained, “It’s a place to get your freak on.”
But not only was the festival a place to get wild and weird, Russell said that it also “brought visitors to our town and our businesses. It invigorated youth and brought people together under the Idaho mountains to celebrate life and friendships.”
Russell is, among other things, an ER doctor, a practicing DJ, an alien cowboy, amateur actor and movie-maker. His vision for the original MASSV in 2012 was simply “to bring music to Sun Valley that young people would enjoy,” and thereby attract more youth to our small town. He was essentially the only investor for the 2012 show, but said he wasn’t in it to make a profit, just to break even and make people happy.
Working together with Boise-based Henry Rennar, the talent scout, Russell planned last year’s festival to such a sweeping degree of success, that this year he joined together with the Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival and found even more investors, sponsors, artists and attendees to blow it up.
Although the band names were less well-known among Idaho music circles, in any given big city, these DJs usually sell out shows. MiMOSA, for example, has performed at Coachella and Burning Man and tickets can cost upwards of $100 in Seattle or San Fran (compare that to the $70 Weekend Passes available at MASSV for 30-some bands and two days of entertainment). Gramatik, one of Saturday night’s headliners, has sold out shows at Red Rocks while performing with labelmate Pretty Lights, and the Krewella trio won “Best Breakthrough Artist” at the International Dance Music Awards in 2012.
Most of the DJs who performed at MASSV are self-made and internet-born stars, gaining popularity on free file-sharing sites like HypeMachine and Thissongissick. Gramatik’s theory, as a kid out of Slovenia, is to “free music by making music free”—meaning he gives away all of his hit songs on the web to spite the “bastards” of Internet censorship. The name of his newest record is #digitalfreedom, and he means it.
These talented musical revolutionaries, most of whom are under 25-years-old, and their mass following are just more proof that the industry, festivals (like MASSV), concerts and music itself is undeniably changing. And, as per usual, it’s the nation’s youth leading the charge.
Other bands of note that performed last weekend include Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na, Kill Paris, G-Eazy, People Under the Stairs, Minnesota, James Egbert and Pool Party. With some dubstep, glitch hop, house, grime, moombahton, experimental hip hop and electro-techno beats, each artist brought some variation of hard-hitting and face-numbing bass to the stage. And it was all, not to mention, loud and danceable.
Performance acts included one of the nation’s best dance crews, Remote Kontrol, aerial tissue dancers, A-Wol, and the acrobatic circus group, Kazüm.
Overall, MASSV was one of the largest concert weekends the Wood River Valley has seen in years. And there really is no better way to explain the experience than with that single word, used by my nose-pierced new friend—a word so young it barely exists, so new and hip that it’s nonsensical and so strange that it raises the eyebrows of older generations. But it’s very much alive and growing. And probably here to stay.
And I think I finally understand what it means.
Danktastic: (daŋk tas-tik) adj. The MASSV evolution of music.
Be sure to check out Max Monahan's amazing photo gallery at the bottom of this article.