I could see Holland Park quickly approaching as my SkyTrain pulled into King George station, deep in the heart of Surrey. Across the grounds, sparse crowds were shifting shapes and spreading into the far reaches of the venue, a scorched arid desert pregnant with the thump of EDM.
As I collected my ticket and made my way through the gates, I quietly watched as security inspected knapsacks and purses. An impressive assortment of pills and baggies of powder were confiscated from makeup bags and not-so-secret secret compartments, and for every drug disposed of, an equally disappointed face went frowning off into the park.
It was early afternoon, and a steady stream of ravers were trickling through the gates, yet it was relatively calm. However, with the sun blaring down and many of the day one attendees still icing their e-hangovers, early acts Thugli, STWO and Flipout seemed to be playing to open air. A modest crowd congregated in front of the Northwest stage, but local DJ star Flipout was magnetic in spite of it all. The home-grown hero proved why his moniker is plastered on so many posters, delivering a killer warm up just playfully hinting at what was in store for the festival’s crescendo.
The sun was unrelenting — it was beating down with the force of Thor’s hammer — and quickly, my day became a quest to find the coveted shade. Looking around, I realized I had made a grave error when I left my house that morning: I had worn clothes. At all angles came the onslaught of skin and beads, shiny and supple in the blazing heat. I enviously watched as girls cruised by me, sporting their thongs and bras as I trudged towards the shade in jeans and a t-shirt.
The crowd began to churn as Keys N Krates took hold of the Pacific Stage, ruled by sound of repetitive kicks and snares. Delivering material off their latest EP, Every Night, including “Understand Why” and “Are We Faded”, turntable aficionado Jr. Flo commanded attention, drawing the masses to stand before the flashing lights and hypnotic bass lines, as the three producers mixed music like potions. I nursed my $8 beer and fell into a trance, bobbing my head and praying no one would notice how deeply out of place I was.
“How do you dance to this?” I thought to myself. I stepped back for a panoramic view, taking in all the moving bodies flailing about the dry ground, dirt and dust rising like smoke from their furious feet, and the answer was soon clear: any way you damn well feel like. Naked legs adorned in furry boots were spastically jerking to and fro as others swayed in place, enchanted by the stage itself. Every kind of raver was there, the likes I had never seen before, sporting flowers in their hair, rhinestone face bedazzlements, body paint, bathing suits, beaded face masks, cheerleader outfits and handkerchiefs pulled across their mouths. Lace and latex, tie-dye and neons, plus metallic shimmering underwear converted Holland Park into a coral reef of eye candy.
The line-up boasted a mix of hip-hop and EDM, but it was evident that the DJs delivering on grimy beats and bass drops took precedence at FVDED. The masses swarmed the vibrating speakers like moths to a flame for BOTNEK, prancing from the safety of the shade to throw their hands up into the air and give their bodies entirely to dance. The Canadian duo launched into a high-tempo electric assault of the senses, infused with fun and a sense of humour. The high-energy bounce of the tracks reverberated off the crowd, turning everything into fuzzy vibrations and taking everything out of focus.
On the Pacific Stage, Ty Dolla $ign had removed his shirt, revealing his torso embellished in tattoos and sweat. He kicked off his set with hit after hit made famous by radio play, like the smash “Paranoid” and “Oh Nah”, blaring across the stage and spilling into the beer garden. Leaping across the stage with charm and infectious energy, the rap star took hype to new heights as fountains of water bottles shot vertically into the sky, raining down on the hundreds getting funky with their bad selves. Even jumping head first into the crowd for a classic crowd surf, Ty Dolla $ign stands out as one of the day’s best. He called out to all the baddest bitches in the joint to join him on stage, as he launched into a sensual number backed by the gyrating bodies of the scantily clad women on stage, grinding and pulsing.
But even with my love of hip hop taking charge of my body, my hips a slave to the beat and my shoulders rolling around like a video-vixen, I continued to hunt for shade out of the corner of my Ray-Bans. As I navigated my way towards a small group of trees, a gaunt zombie figure walked towards anything with a pulse asking for ketamine, his eyes just two black holes. Outreached paws brushed against my shoulders inquiring if I knew where Molly was — everywhere I turned, someone seemed to be getting led out of the park in handcuffs. A young girl came to lie beside me on her inflatable duck and she sadly informed me all her drugs got caught at the door, and her eyes fluttered shut as she succumbed to the high heat.
I have to praise some elements of EDM culture, for example the “be yourself” mentality, where anything goes and no one is going to tear you down for wearing a unicorn bathing suit and shaking every ounce of what your mama gave you. The crazier the better, it seemed, in the thick of Holland Park. And equally, for every person who may have had too much sun or too many mind-altering chemicals, show-goers quickly checked in on others, offering water bottles and their company to try and keep the good vibes intact. But as the day progressed, with hundreds more filing through the gates by the minute, those good vibes began to evaporate into the skies above and what was left was the filth and the mind-rattling effects of hours in the sun and way too many drugs. I was descending fast into a modern teenage wasteland.
Vic Mensa took hold of the Northwest Stage and played massive songs — none of which were his. I grooved along as Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” permeated through the air, with Mensa mouthing along and yelling over the track. For a moment it felt like just another night at Two Lions Thursday karaoke, but he had the crowd riveted, dancing ratchet and killing the game. However, it’s hard to try and review a show made up of samples and other artists’ work which only seem vaguely remixed. The dancing was trill and the shade was beginning to stretch out over the audience, a breeze was kicking up the dust and shrouding the crowd in a haze. Mensa had some stand-out moments on tracks like “Down on my Luck”, where the Chicago rapper did display his skill, but those moments were fleeting.
EDM highlights Borgore and Excision had the audience reaching a fever pitch, in the slow build before the Weeknd were to perform in the final slot of the night. With Borgore taking the stage with an arsenal of anthemic drums and bass, the syrupy tracks were hypnotic and dark. The crowd went wild when he asked “Who here knows how to get ratchet?” — The crowd was maxed out, and going wild doing their best to define ratchet using only their bodies.
Tokimonsta, one of the only female artists of the lineup, was greeted with lush fanfare and brought a little female energy to the bro-dominated roster of artists. With a background in classical piano, it was no surprise that her set consisted of some melodic beats and musicality not lost on the keen ear of a music fan. Anchored by jazzy beat patterns, she delved into “Dusty Stars” which was captivating when accompanied by the flash of lights throbbing from the stage around her.
The thud and thrum of dubstep was coming in from all sides, and the shade was slowly spreading. The heat of the day was finally subsiding, and the beaten paths were lined with resting ravers, sprawled out below the perimeter fencing. Everywhere you turned, eyes were dilated to the edge of reason, and jaws were clenching and chattering. People were buzzing like half dead insects trying to make it to the next show, the next bass drop just around the corner. But as I traversed the ground, I noticed a girl lifeless on the ground, a stretcher approaching with paramedics just seconds away — and only a little further, another teenaged girl being lifted by four people and being dragged towards some kind of authority, somebody that might help her wake up. Bodies were starting to pile on the floor with show-goers laid out in the recovery position, eyes rolling into the back of their heads — and even more police, more security just flooding in from all sides.
It was deafening during Chainsmokers, and I started to feel like I was one double-sided dildo away from being stuck inside Requiem for a Dream. More hands were reaching out towards me, piercing voices demanding gum and Molly and ketamine and cigarettes. Perhaps if I was just as loaded this would have all felt fine, but the darkness started to close in around me and all the young people who did not sport sunscreen or drink enough water were fading like flies. All I could see were the twitching, tweaking features of infinite people, lost in the trance of dance music. Whatever happened to just smoking a joint and chilling? No one was chill, everyone was sweaty and heated, and the drama was everywhere.
At every turn there was something happening, so there was no chance for your eyes to relax. To my left I watched as a man struck his girlfriend, shortly thereafter he was taken to the ground by security. To my right I watched as 15 men jumped over and come through the fences, breaking into the show in droves and running full force into the thick of the crowds. There were a lot of angry tears, sad tears and tears of pure joy but it was hard to differentiate between them. I was trying desperately to focus in on the music but everything in the periphery was all blending together and I became increasingly worried about the girls swaying around me, talking through clenched teeth and on a whole new level of fucked up.
The truth is I requested to review FVDED in the Park because any opportunity to see the Weeknd perform is well worth it. Standing to the side where the sea of people broke into some roomy sprawl, he took the stage at 10 pm, oozing sex and drugs. His voice was like a saving grace that washed over the crowd, and suddenly there was a sense of calm again, his sensual music like the antidote for too much hard partying. Playing hits new and old, the Weeknd stands alone as Canada’s shining tribute to R&B. He channeled some Michael Jackson vibes, as he crooned into the stand-up microphone, wailing on hits like “House of Balloons / Glass Table” and “Often”. An older man came by to offer me some drugs, but when I declined he decided to settle for regular conversation, “The Weeknd seems like a chill dude, and he sings so passionately about drugs and vaginas — you know the guy is pure evil.” Evil maybe, but definitely the saving grace of FVDED in the Park, and well worth all the praise he receives.
Strolling through the wasteland Holland park became over the two-day ratchet fest, the ground was loaded with small empty bags once filled with powdered wonder and crushed plastic cups crumpled into the earth. The light had disappeared from behind the Pacific stage, and all that was left were the pulsating synthetic lights of the stage, illuminating the thousands in quick succession. Wide black eyes staring out towards the lights, hands reaching skyward, dirt stuck to the beaded sweat and teeth grinding together so hard the earth felt as though it was grinding right back.
Maybe it’s that I am too old for an event like FVDED that caters to an all ages crowd ambitious to obtain an other-worldly experience with a heavy dose of bass and crystallized chemicals. But when I glimpsed the young girls who were closing in on catatonic all around me, some as young as 14, I instinctively worried about how they would safely make their way home or if their parents know where they were or what they were doing. I wanted to grab them by their shoulders and pull them out, these beautiful young creatures being swallowed whole by the night.
Watching the dozens of people I saw being carted away in handcuffs, taken down by cops in the peak of the crowds, the girls and boys who took too much and didn’t have a sober friend to help them – I walked away deeply saddened and affected by what I saw. People were faded in the park alright, but so was the facade of a good summer party.
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