By day, the jungle canopy hummed with insects and wild birds, while the clouds hung low over the green hills. People in tank tops and shorts sought out spots in the shade and the cool breezes were welcome, while the humid air seemed to slow everything down.
As the hours passed, more and more people came – locals by car, volunteer crews returning from the nearby beach, groups on dedicated shuttles from the airport two hours away in San Jose. The camping area took form with dozens of tents, the recycling areas and VIP areas (which were really just couches covered with makeshift palm roofs in the jungle) and different EZ Ups, needed for a weekend-long primitive community, went up. The Bamboo Bass Festival transformed Jaco, Costa Rica, from Feb. 16-18.
At night, the festival came to life. When indiscernible bass thrummed from the dense jungle and neon lights shot through gaps in the canopy of leaves, for brief moments beams of light in aurora tones meshed with stars in the night sky. You walked down root-covered trails lit by strings of fairy lights, across makeshift wooden foot bridges and lit-up archways throwing light onto the surrounding jungle, past plank swings suspended from high tree branches. The bass gets clearer, and walkways to two stages (La Selva and La Brisa, translating to The Jungle and The Breeze) converge where fest goers cross paths between stage areas.
Onstage early in the night were a mix of DJs and hip-hop performers. Performers spoke in a mix of Spanish and English. The stages were geometric, cascading arches bathed in projector light shows, while hoop and fire dancers, aerial performers and go-go and pole dancers flanked the main performer throughout their sets.
It’s 80 degrees at 5 p.m., the balmy jungle air bringing the February crowd to all stages of undress in their festival clothing, as bathing suits, body paint and hand-held fans seemed to be the norm. Throughout the walkways, 8-foot-tall white boards would take form into intricate murals and day-glo paintings as artists worked on them over the course of the three days; much like the festival atmosphere, a work in progress slowly making itself revealed as it carried on.
Music began at 5 each night, but it was closer to midnight before the stage areas filled in and the bigger productions began to take the stages. Festivals like this have always been shaped as much by attendees as by performers, and the jungle floors were filled with fantastical outfits like light-spinning narwhals, pink industrial cyberpunks, tropical yacht holiday bros, and fishnet mermaids. Paper Diamond and Minnesota headlined, but the music was nonstop on both stages, offering the chance to choose your sound and energy level at anytime.
At the late hours, both stages became exclusively EDM and with no single-day lineups posted, it was left to the crowd to bounce from stage to stage, finding the performer that suited their mood for the moment. Teepees with chairs provided refuge. A short walk away was the camping area, which became its own party later in the night.
Bamboo Bass Festival played to its strengths, an international festival in a sultry beach town environment during a season where many regions of the EDM world are bundled up in snow jackets and outdoor venues remain shuttered for the foreseeable horizon.
If the fest is about atmosphere as much as it is about music, then a Costa Rican jungle walking distance from the beach pulsating with neon lights and ocean air, an ephemeral tribal village where a language barrier gives opportunity to smile at one another and let words fall to the wayside, a tropical setting where the music fills the air until 6 a.m. each day has hit on that temporal mixture of the elements and actually is, if only for a short time, a fest in paradise.
– Shaun Astor