The Big Up Festival Comes Back in a Big Way

Thunder rolled in from the distance as The Big Up campers funneled into the venue, hurrying to set their tents up. As EZ-Ups and tents began popping up throughout the field, rain fell and dissipated in the August humidity. The levels of excitement were high for the return of The Big Up Festival, this time at a new location at Hemlock Hollow Farm in Claverack, New York.


The main camping lot was just on the other side of a small wooded area separating main stage from the campgrounds, but still close enough to hear each main act from the comfort of your site. lespecial took the main stage playing a high energy set, setting the tone for the rest of the weekend. Steering away from the normal and expected, lespecial adds a necessary and interesting variety to each festival and show they play. Directly following lespecial was Laser Sex at the Space Ball City tent directly adjacent to main stage. Laser Sex used a mix of funky-deep bass lines with a heavy use of samples, creating  a perfect storm for an epic dance party. Light projections by Drew Suto of Dutch Masterson Designs spanned the walls and ceiling of the giant tent only further exemplifying each set.


Dopapod took main stage directly after Laser Sex which had the crowds wandering back and forth without much time to rest in between phenomenal sets. Dopapod only further proved why such a huge hype around them exists. Each time Dopapod picks up their instruments, it seems their talent as individuals and as a group grows exponentially. It is no surprise that their popularity only continues to grow in such rapid success. Dopapod played for an hour and a half before Gigamesh began his electrifying and energetic set in the Space Ball tent. If you had caught Gigamesh at his set at Camp Bisco, you knew that this was not a set that you could relax and hang out during. True to form he busted out amazing dance remixes of a variety of different songs. The highlight of the set was a rendition of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” which turned the tent into a giant, hot rave. When asked to describe the festival experience in a few sentences, Gigamesh spoke of the overall vibe saying,“The whole festival has created a very welcoming atmosphere. The people aren’t pretentious or uptight and that sets a great tone for a festival.”


Ian Stewart played short sets before and after Higher Organix’ first set of the weekend. The crowd seemed to be pleased to see Higher Organix once again take the stage together at The Big Up Festival. True to form, they packed a lot of energy into their allotted time and kept the crowd moving. Jules Jenssen really exhibited his diversity and talent by picking up his sticks and hopping on stage with his boys while also helping run the festival and his various other side projects throughout the weekend. One would think it was not physically possible. The rain had tapered off shortly after we had arrived and it wasn’t until Higher Organix ended their set that it began to downpour turning much of the festival grounds into a mud fest. No one seemed to mind the onset of heavy rain as they made their way into the wood stage for Mun’s amazing set. The paths leading into the woods quickly became a treacherous journey as the walkways turned to mud. At one point there was a large rope scaling the incline leading to the stage that individuals used to pull themselves up the hill without falling.


Festival goers are no stranger to the rain and mud that go along with camping alongside live music, so it would take a lot more than that to dampen the spirits of the Big Up patrons. The hill stage was worth the walk with mind blowing deco and surroundings. It was apparent that a large amount of effort went into turning the woods into an other worldly place. Neon decorations stretched from tree to tree lit up with projections and changing lights surrounded by a beautiful and serene babbling brook home to a large trout population. The woods stage was definitely a site to see. The night was capped off at the Space Ball tent with Party Supplies who laid down an awesome set that was reminiscent of bands like Two Door Cinema Club and Empire of The Sun. Thursday night’s lineup was perfect to ease into a long weekend of great music.


By Friday it seemed that the population had nearly doubled as more and more people funneled through the main gates. The rain had picked up significantly overnight, making the grounds a muddy mess and some of the earlier sets difficult to catch. The forecast showed a 100% chance of rain until 10 pm, so it was a pleasant surprise when it began tapering off in the early afternoon. Luckily, camping was so close to main stage that all of the main acts were audible while campers took shelter under their EZ-Ups and campsites. Once the rain stopped people began emerging throughout the grounds and filing back into the concert field for Color Channel. This was a perfect opener to release all of that pent up energy from sitting around the camp sites all morning. The sound was reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem with a psychedelic-pop undertone that was the perfect upbeat mix for a post-rain dance party.


Timbre Coup switched schedule times with their good friends Kung Fu after car troubles prevented Kung Fu from making it on time. People began emerging from their different campsites to dance to Timbre Coup’s funky afternoon set. Kung Fu promptly took the stage, and no matter how many times you see Kung Fu, it is always a different experience. Chris Deangelis, bassist for Kung Fu, described the connection between the name and the experience: “It’s all been pretty organic. We like to kick ’em in the face, and then nurse them back to health.” It is easily agreeable that anyone who has seen Kung Fu live can agree with this statement, as there is rarely a dull moment for the band or the crowd while these guys are on stage. After Kung Fu, Escort took main stage. The entire set was mostly focused around a 1970’s disco vibe, with the lead vocals from Adeline Michele creating a mind blowing stage presence with her powerful voice. The talent of each member in this band is incomparable when fused together to make a disco-funk explosion. When Michele picked up the bass, you were immediately aware that each member in the band had an outrageous amount of talent outside of their one specific niche.


The Indobox raised the heat in the Space Ball city tent; by the end of the set the inside of the tent had increased at least 10 degrees. The Indobox always packs a huge punch and brings something outside of what most festival goers are used to seeing. Jules Jenssen once again stole the show on the drums, but that is certainly not to say that the rest of the band did not throw down as well. The entire set had a very indie-electro vibe which was only solidified by their amazing cover of Mike Snow’s “Animal.” Holy Fuck! of Toronto, Canada took main stage at midnight and brought a new and eclectic vibe to the festival. The rhythm between drum and bass progressively built taking the set in twists and turns panning between high tempo and ambient beats. Each song played with different tempos and builds to create an experience that is unlike most electronic bands that exist. Overall the set was phenomenal and a great beginning to the late night music. Gaudi was another artist that brought a completely different sound to The Big Up Festival. The set played between world music and break beats shifting from harder, faster tempos into slower paced dub and reggae. Jeff Bujak played in between sets bringing his high energy, dance party vibe to the late night tent, in a way only Buj could.


Saturday was a beautiful day in comparison to the rainy days that had led up to the last day at the Big Up Festival. Consider the Source took main stage mid-afternoon in a very CTS fashion, holding absolutely nothing back and unleashing a fire set that had the crowd yelling for more as they left the stage. Halfway through the set they pulled out an insane cover of “Run Like Hell,” which is definitely over done, but somehow these boys managed to put their own twist on it and turn it into a loud, chaotic and beautiful rendition of a classic song. The Heavy Pets pulled out a great version of “So Thank You Music” while Higher Organix second set of the weekend was absolute fire. Throughout the set there were ribbon dancers cascading from the top of the main stage down to the floor. Jules Jenssen closed the set with an outrageous drum solo that made the entire crowd step back and evaluate what the hell was going on. This guy can play the drums, that’s an understatement for sure. Once he was done, he yelled into the microphone, “Sorry guys, I’m a little tired so cut me some slack.” If that’s tired, after three days of performing AND running a music festival, then wow.


Kung Fu came on main stage later with their Prince tribute. The Motet’s vocalist Jans Ingber stepped in to cover Prince’s vast vocal range and did not falter. The energy of Kung Fu is unfathomable, and when you mix that with Prince it is nothing short of spectacular. They played all the classics mixing in their own funky twist. They closed with the ever popular dance tune “1999”. Afterwards, it was no surprise that the Space Ball City tent was packed wall to wall for Normal Instruments. This powerhouse of musicians is always a crowd-pleaser and they certainly did not disappoint.


Beats Antique stole the show with Zoe Jakes pulling out all of the stops as she danced across the stage. Some of the highlights included a beautifully executed “Beauty Beats” and a high energy “Dope Crunk”. After their set, Zoe stated, “I feel like Upstate New York has an open community to anything. I feel a connection and openness and connection to the music and art that I give out to the crowd”


Walking into the tent stage to Eskmo’s performance would start as very confusing and end as absolutely blown away. Eskmo clearly has a very creative concept on how to make music, and it certainly works for him. Behind his table he did everything from pop soda cans, crumple bottles of water, smash two shovels together, and sing melodic sound bites into the microphone, all while looping them to a back beat to make a layered track. If you had just heard this song in passing you would never think it was created using a variety of household oddities.


Clearly The Big Up Festival did a great job of covering a wide variety of artists while giving the chance to smaller artists to share the stage with some of the biggest names in the game. It is no wonder this festival had such high anticipation and excitement surrounding the comeback after seeing the amount of talent that graced the stage of this small Upstate New York town. The Big Up Festival’s ‘upstronauts’ have already begun the countdown to the next epic year of amazing music and art.

Photos by August J.

Photos by Language Strange

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