We see you. Every time a festival lineup is announced and your favorite artists are scheduled to go b2b, you start complaining how stacking festival lineups with back-to-back sessions is just another example of how your favorite artists are getting short-changed with shorter slots. Or at least that’s the way it used to be. The tide seems to have turned in this past year as b2b sessions seem to increasingly be cited as the highlights of everything from EDC Las Vegas to Project Z.
Forrest Hunt, Executive Producer at Insomniac Events and Bassrush, remembers seeing rave flyers “back in the day” with drum & bass heavyweights going back-to-back in the UK and fell in love with the concept. “Of course I see the posts, people complaining that artists should have their own spot, and I get it. But we’re also trying to book people you won’t usually hear playing out at these big events. There’s so much new good shit out there that we want to expose people to with only a limited amount of time to do it in.”
It’s a sentiment that Bassrush Brand Manager Tony Merino echoes when he states “our goal has always been to deliver a one-of-a-kind experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else, and these special back-to-back sessions are one way of doing that. Especially at the festivals where the bass stage is always the underdog, back-to-back sets not only allow us to create something special, but set us apart from the main stage experience.”
While Bassrush has been pushing the back-to-back sessions for a while now, it seems that at EDC Las Vegas this year the concept finally seemed to gel in a way that still has us picking up our jaws off the floor. One of our favorites was the epic head-to-head session between TrollPhace and p0gman. The energy was electric and you could tell the artists themselves were loving it as TrollPhace got on the mic at the end of the set and shouted to the audience that “there’s no one else I’d rather be up here with!”
“p0g and I go way back, back to laptops, Skype, and no one knowing who we were in the grand scheme of things,” TrollPhace remembers. “We never thought we’d be playing EDC Vegas. So the chemistry that evolves from us being up there, looking out at the sea of bassheads, remembering where we came from and observing where we are now made for such an epic flow from us. We hadn’t played together for years and it only took a 10-minute pow-wow to pick up where we left off. So much emotion, joy, and pride created this feeling in us to go harder than ever before.”
It’s a sentiment that we heard over and over again in the course of interviewing artists for this feature. The sense of family that binds bassheads together not only out on the dancefloor but behind the scenes, in the studio, and on the stage, at its very best, is what back-to-back culture seems to represent. “Back-to-backs are more than a versus showcase,” TrollPhace continues. “Sometimes it’s like EDC Vegas where it’s a full circle feeling that gets shared with the entire bassPOD and everyone in it. There’s no one in the world I would have been more proud to share that stage with than p0ggy.”
“I think it’s a really good concept,” p0gman agrees. “To see how two DJs can vibe together and bounce off each other is a great thing. A lot of fans have seen single DJs many times so doing these back-to-backs offers a more exclusive feel and also brings a complete new set together.” He points to his set at EDCLV with TrollPhace as an example of how going head-to-head can bring out the very best in each artist and create something new. “My set with TrollPhace was like no other set I’ve played. Luckily we are close friends so the energy and chemistry was amazing. It also shows the fans that a lot of us are close friends and we do have a good connection between artists. At the end of the day we all just want to do what’s best by the fans and if two or three of us can come together to provide a new experience for them, then it’s an amazing thing.”
It’s this sense of family more than anything else that seems to be what makes back-to-back sets work best. The bass music community is already notorious for being one giant family and to see your favorite artists getting down on the big stage seems to just bring a different energy and party vibe to the whole proceedings, as if the audience were being allowed a glimpse into the collaborative creation process of their favorites.
I love playing back to back. It’s not just you reacting to the crowd and what they're into, but also what your partners are playing. I love the spontaneity, it's like a friendly competition.
Hometown hero 12th Planet likens it to being another extension of the relationships that a lot of artists have behind the scenes: “Being a solo artist you’re always low-key jealous of dudes that have groups because there’s way more camaraderie in a group than in a solo thing. I see it as like my chance to be in a group for a night.” Having had more than his fair share of back-to-back sets with some of the scene’s finest, he also points to his massive b2b2b set with Protohype and Lumberjvck at EDC Vegas as an example of a kind of “synergy” that can’t be replicated any other way.
“There’s no filler,” he says. “You get the best songs from your set, the best songs from their set, and you kind of put them together and when it flow its fucking magic.” Part of that magic is no doubt due to all three artists having collaborated in the studio and released on the same imprints. “Me and Protohype have done so many back-to-backs before and me and Lumberjvck have done a bunch before but never all three of us together,” 12th explains. “The common thread is that I’ve done a lot of music with both of those guys, released on the same labels, so it’s all kind of one big family. It was cool because we’ve always been working together and when we made that tune ‘Skinny Pigs’ together that really was like a sign, yo, we should take this shit on the road.”
Sometimes the back-to-back serves as a way of educating and introducing new talent to the masses. Stacking the lineup with Viper, Ram, or Critical crews serves not only as a way to absolutely ram the joint with the die-hard drum & bass fans but to curate a sound and craft a sonic journey that may offer up an insight into the deeper meanings beneath the surface of each crew.
“Back-to-back sets have become increasingly part of my touring schedule,” says Kasra, label head of Critical Music. “They are something I welcome as we are able to put together our own special label showcase called Critical Soundsystem that is built around going back-to-back. These give myself and the other guys involved from the label a chance to play sets we may not normally play. I think we always try and approach them musically where everyone is represented in the way they would want to. No one should play music they don’t feel comfortable doing when in a live situation, but these b2b sessions also have a great habit of kicking up directions and mixes that would never come up in a solo set, this can make it really exciting.”
It’s these unexpected connections that harken back to the roots of bass music culture and the foundation of what the music is all about. Being able to pull from seemingly disparate influences and make them your own seems to be the driving force behind every subgenre that bass music seems to hold under its umbrella. As each artist continues to refine their own sound and develop their own personality as it were, there comes a kind of negotiation between vibes that can be exciting to witness live.
As Cyantific relates, the audience becomes as much a part of the experience as the music-makers themselves: “I love playing back to back. It’s not just you reacting to the crowd and what they’re into, but also what your partners are playing. I love the spontaneity, it’s like a friendly competition; drawing for old tunes you think the others forgot and being surprised when they do the same.”
For Cyantific, closing out the final night of EDC Vegas alongside the Prototypes, Brookes Brothers, and InsideInfo was one of those rare and special moments where the mix of personalities and vibes seemed to come together in a legendary way: “It definitely makes for a special vibe when you’re playing together with the right people. EDC was one of those special occasions. It was a huge show, and the mix between us worked so well that we’ve talked about doing it again. It felt like it went dancefloor tearout (the Prototypes) to dancefloor musical (me) to full-on sexual healing (Brookes Brothers) to dirty and minimal (InsideInfo). I can’t wait for the reunion!”
The sense of family that binds bassheads together not only out on the dancefloor but behind the scenes, in the studio, and on the stage, at its very best, is what back-to-back culture seems to represent.
Of course, for some artists, playing back-to-back is the norm. Whether you are Caspa & Rusko or Matrix & Futurebound, the audience expects a kind of well-curated expression of what they hear coming out of the studio. As Futurebound explains, “obviously being a duo we play back-to-back most of our sets but we’ve also been paired with other acts which has turned out really exciting. The punters always want to see something different on a festival or club show so when you pair two different acts together with two different sounds it gets people thinking ‘how the hell is this going to work out?’ But with a little bit of prep work to make the transition from one style to another flow it can turn out really special.”
As to the future of the back-to-back concept? Futurebound has some ideas for that as well: “Personally we’d like to expand on this and see an act like us versus someone like Datsik or if you really want to throw a curve ball into the equation, Eric Prydz.” Whether this comes to pass only time will tell. Until then, keep an eye out for the next epic back-to-back session from the Bassrush family as these supergroup selections are a once-in-a-lifetime experience you don’t want to miss!