What the Festival is a three-day electronic festival that just wrapped up its second year. After blowing fans away with a well-orchestrated inaugural festival last year, WTF moved just outside Dufur, Ore., for a second year with high-profile artists and the high expectations that come with them.
The daytime pool party that kicked off the second What the Festival was every bit the shitshow you'd imagine: A thousand-odd half-naked dancers flailing and splashing in two massive wading pools. But it wasn't just a teaser. On the pool stage, American Girls—the combined moniker of Portland resident DJs
Nathaniel Knows and BennyRox—wasted no time in setting the bar for what will get asses moving all festival long: trap, electro, bass and the crazy fusions thereof.
Sasquatch attendees may remember Odesza, a northwest-based duo who had a real coming out at the Gorge this year. At WTF, they enjoyed a spot a little higher on the bill and a set a little later in the evening. At sundown, their more melodic bass-driven sound was a good prelude for harder tunes to come. Poland listens to a combination of funk, hip hop and bass music if we take the Polish Ambassador's title literally. Coming on shortly after Odesza, the Polish Ambassador dresses more like mad scientist à la Dr. Forrester than a European statesman.
Headlining the night was A-Trak, but the partyrocking duo Flosstradamus is who really got the crowd warmed up. With an "extra-hype" crew of ladies repping the A-Trak-founded, Flosstradamus-signed Fool's Gold Records. The night was rounded out by JETS, the closest the festival has come to, but still a bit afield of, house music. Dust was kicked up, bandanas became filters, but no one held back. (That goes for me, too, though the dust was intense enough to make me keep my lens cover on for the late night sets. Check WTF's gallery in the coming days for more adventurous photographers' images.)
Expectation is a bitch. Saturday looked, by all measures, to be the least exciting day for music at WTF and yet the only one in which the music rightfully played until sunrise. But it's days like these where the festival magic of discovering new favorites happens. Expect little, and you'll receive much.
Following thumping house music—still a rarity at WTF—to the pool stage at 1:30, I found San Francisco's Kepi throwing his hands up to writhing bodies on the liquid dance floor. Of course, had I paid more attention to Robert Ham's excellent What the Festival top five, I may have been able to catch more of his set. Live and learn: Trust the Ham.
The night really got started with an energetic YACHT set, full of the former Portland group's usual tweaking and bopping around the stage. One audience member asked, "When are you moving back to Oregon?" Claire Evans curtly responded, "We're here right now!" To be fair, it's probably a question they're asked often. Following them was yet another SF act, Tycho. Comprised of a guitarist and a beatmaker, Tycho went from shoegaze synth sweeps to glitchy drops in seconds.
To preface what I'm about to write, I'd like to reiterate that I'm not a festie, nor a bro, nor a misogynist, though these were my stereotypes about the typical fan of Pantyraid. Ooah of Glitch Mob and MartyParty seem to have forged their new party-rocking duo over body shots on a golden yacht anchored far south of Tasteful Island. But at the end of the night, these are two talented producers who know how to tear the club up while actual panties and giant dice fly through the dust. Their twerk team of ladies in the background really set the dance bar high for the dust-bitten crowd.
The final day of a festival is normally a time to wind down and reflect on all the good times had before throwing one's self against the guard rails for one last hurrah, and Sunday at WTF was no different. Disco-house kings Classixx headlined the Decibel Festival showcase at the Pool Stage. Though Decibel and WTF share some mutual staff, it's nonetheless refreshing to see the two organizations working together. In fact, the only thing that goes better together is disco and pools.
At sundown, Shigeto took the main stage, quickly jumping between cueing glitches and sub-bass rumbles on a computer workstation adorned with the Ghostly International logo and tapping out complex jazz rhythms on a live drum set. Purity Ring played to a massive crowd including King Dazbog, a giant dinosaur puppet in attendance for only the most hyped sets. On the stage's Funktion One sound systems—omnipresent at WTF—Purity Ring's bass thundered and their lighted lantern-chimes were an interesting addition, but their set lacked the energy of most others at the festival.
On the Effin Stage—the festival's slightly smaller of the two major stages—young Berliner J.Phlip was already getting dust kicked up big time. Score another one for Ham's list: J.Phlip has a very bright 120 BPM future ahead of her. Cyril Hahn, who exploded onto the scene last year by sexifying the unsexifyable with his melted R&B remixes of Destiny Child's "Say My Name" and Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body," played next. Hahn's taste for R&B is well-known, but he also cranked out a good number of refined house tracks. I left before weird house pioneer and head of Dirtybird Records Claude VonStroke closed out the festival.
If What the Festival keeps moving on the same trajectory for next year, Decibel may soon have a rival on its hands.