Wintersalt Music Festival – San Francisco 12/28 + 12/29 [Review]

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Obligatory front-row shot

This last weekend, on Friday and Saturday nights, Eye Heart SF and BLAP Productions put on a New Years Eve (almost) festival called Wintersalt. They outfitted a huge warehouse in Fort Mason, an old military base on the north side of San Francisco, with all sorts of festival essentials; two stages, a 40-foot bar, food trucks, and art installations. It was the first year they put on Wintersalt, but you never would have known.

The layout

 

The first night’s headliners were Dillon Francis, Mix Master Mike & Travis Barker, and Zedd. The second night featured Theophilus London, DJ Shadow, and Diplo. There were other incredible acts, like St. Lucia, Revolvr, Paper Diamond, and many more; Wintersalt certainly launched with a bang.

Dillon Francis was everything I was hoping he would be. His mix was perfectly structured; he had the energy of the room totally under control. He started out slow, the first few songs let the audience adjust from Paper Diamond’s high energy finale into the more subtle swagger of Moombahton. Francis was killing it, and when the first synth line of “I.D.G.A.F.O.S” broke through, the crowd lost their minds. He grinned wildly, and dropped into a remix, sampling Kanye’s “Mercy”. From there his set turned downright ridiculous, and he had the whole audience jumping and bouncing for the next 40 minutes. And he was still grinning as he left the stage.

 

Dillon Francis takes the stage

 

Next up was Mix Master Mike. I’m not sure if this was on purpose or not, but he wasn’t joined on stage by Travis Barker until close to 30 minutes into the set. And honestly, I’m kinda glad. Mix Master Mike is one of the DJ elite; as a competitive turntablist he won more than five World Championship titles in the nineties, and he put this skill on display. His performance was a master class in scratching, and when he went on a 30-second long beat juggle in the middle of his mix you could all but hear the sound of jaws hitting the floor. Travis Barker was quite impressive too, once he took the stage, but that first section of turntable mastery by Mix Master Mike is what stands out in my mind.

Mix Master Mike

 

I’m a huge Zedd fan. I’ve probably listened to Clarity, his most recent album, 30 times from beginning to end, and have yet to get tired of it. So you can imagine my excitement knowing that I’d get to watch his live set from the photo pit. And when the little German guy took the stage in a blue button-up shirt, grin on his face, it quickly became clear that everyone else in the building was just as excited as I was.

In a word, Zedd’s set was fun. It was upbeat, it was happy, and Zedd himself was obviously having a great time. He began the set with some house tunes; big, ear-crushing chords to help jolt you into his fast and uplifting set, and continued the cheerful vibe for the entirety of the mix. Everyone sang along with him to all of his songs, and it was 2 am before I knew it. It was a great experience, and finally getting to attach a person to the music I’d listened to so many times was incredibly rewarding; his personality was on display, and everyone loved it.

Zedd, loving life

 

One night down.

 

Then there was Theophilus London. As one of the few performers at Wintersalt that didn’t perform from behind DJ equipment, London had a special energy around his performance. Then again, that could have just been Theophilus London. From a performance standpoint, I doubt there are many people who could outdo him. He was running and jumping around the stage for his entire set; I got tired just watching him. And while I have a few of his songs buried in my iTunes, I’ve only ever listened to them a few times, so getting to see him do his thing was a very fun way to experience his music for what was effectively the first time.

If you’re unable to read the giant sign behind him, this is Theophilus London

 

Next up was DJ Shadow. True to his name, he performed on a very dark stage, with minimal light effects and only the occasional glimpse of his face. Despite the frustration of getting a good picture of him in the gloom, it was one of the most amazing exhibitions of musical know-how I’ve ever seen. Known for his use of obscure samples, every twist and turn in his mix felt like it was something new and extraordinary, something that had never been done before. And while the audience was dancing less than they had been for Mix Master Mike, there was just as much enthusiasm. It felt more like observing art than being in a club.

DJ Shadow

 

While everyone seemed to enjoy DJ Shadow’s artistry, we were all quite ready for the next artist to take the stage and get us all dancing again. And so when Diplo appeared in the spotlight, he was greeted by a roar of approval from the hundreds of people beneath him. He wasted no time, and quickly carried the audience into a bass-induced trance. Diplo wove in all of the essentials, running from Top 40 hits to obscure Moombahton songs, but by the time he mixed Pon de Floor with Flosstradamus’ remix of Original Don, the entire warehouse was going nuts. He then did a stagedive across a five/six foot gap of equipment and photographers, commanded everyone in the room to take off their shirts, and invited a group of girls on stage to twerk on the front of his table. So that was awesome.

Hey it’s Diplo

Diplo takes to the crowd

Women

 

If it isn’t already clear, I had a great time. I was amazed by the quality of the event, especially considering that it was the first year of the festival. If I had to choose, I’d say Diplo had the best set, for his combination of showmanship and DJing prowess, but both Dillon Francis and Zedd come close behind him.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

View my photos from the event HERE

 

-Icarus

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  • reqz

    You must have been deaf to think they did a good job at this festival. No matter where you were you could hear sound from the opposite stage.. they should have staggered sets or had the smaller stage outdoors or in a different building. The whole building was rattling to the main stage sound even at the smaller stage/entrance of the building. Sure the stages and artists were selected well but for a music festival.. sound quality is key.

  • Icarus

    I was standing in the space between the front row and the main stage, so I didn’t have the same experience. However, I was thinking the same thing about staggered sets simply for getting bigger crowds for each performance; one of my main issues with the organization of the event was that it felt a little empty, staggered sets would have helped on a lot of levels.

  • reqz

    With that prime spot, the sound was probably fine, but even about 20 feet back from the front rail, there was sound bleed. Whilethey did pretty well for their first try, with the quality of events in the bay area and EDM in general I was dissappointed by this one.