Pemberton Festival was a blur – a weekend so jam-packed, your sense of time got distorted, and you ended up remembering it in terms of songs, like a playlist with your mind on shuffle. Running across five stages from Thursday to Sunday, July 16-19, it was a massive event, drawing a crowd of 115,000 over the four days.
I arrived Friday wearing a Run the Jewels shirt, running to Run the Jewels. Nothing like some hardcore hip-hop to start the festival right. The best part was seeing cuts from their latest album, Run the Jewels 2, like “Lie, Cheat, Steal” and “Close Your Eyes and Count to Fuck” performed live. The duo also got political with “Early”, dedicating the song to Mike Brown and Eric Garner.
I caught the last bit of Logic’s show from the shade of the misting tent, a literal oasis in the blistering heat. His raps came through loud and clear, which impressed me because that’s something that doesn’t happen enough at live rap shows.
As I waited for What So Not, I watched people play a giant version of beer pong with garbage cans and soccer balls. The highlights of What So Not’s set were when he mixed in Drake’s “0 to 100/The Catch Up” and Missy Elliot’s “Pass That Dutch”.
Passion Pit followed. The six-piece band’s bright tunes put everyone in a good mood, and they played personal faves “Cry Like a Ghost” and “Take a Walk”.
At dusk, I moved to the Mount Currie stage for Kid Cudi. “Soundtrack 2 My Life” and “Cudi Zone” were awesome, and during “Marijuana”, the haze in the air wasn’t from the nearby forest fires. Cudi seemed really into it, doing an extended version of “Pursuit of Happiness”, and even jumped offstage to high-five the crowd. He also thanked all the fans for the support, but the moment was partly stolen by all the girls flashing the Jumbotron.
Tiesto was awesome. At one point in his DJ set, he slipped in a sample of “Nobody listens to techno!” from Eminem’s “Without Me” to a crowd of thousands with their hands in the air. How ironic. He also threw in a bit of John Legend (“All of Me”) and Linkin Park (“Numb”). The best part was when he played “Adagio For Strings”, one of his all-time classics.
PARTYNEXTDOOR was the closer, and it was nice to see a fellow Canadian. He ran through a bunch of his songs, but he saved the best for last, doing his verse from “Preach” off of Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and it absolutely killed.
On Saturday, the shuttle bus to Pemberton had garbage bags for bottles and cans every few rows back. Good thinking, but they were already full.
I lurched over to Flatbush Zombies, an alternative hip-hop group from New York whose music is loud and rowdy. Then it was off to Chromeo where I saw the funky Canadians perform “Over Your Shoulder” and “Jealous”.
Next was the Australian electronica artist known as Chet Faker who makes extremely chilled out music to vibe to, and that is exactly what I did. My favourite songs were “Cigarettes and Chocolate” and his breakout cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”.
Broken Social Scene were next. This Canadian musical collective has many beautiful records in its collection, and the fact that this project has anywhere from six to nineteen members has always intrigued me. This time, the band varied between six and nine people, and they made some really cool indie rock. The song I most wanted to hear was “Lover’s Spit”, but I had to leave early to get to Ludacris.
Luda knows how to put on a show, with a bank of hits spanning back over a decade-and-a-half. The assembled crowd was huge as he opened with the spitfire “Southern Fried Intro”, followed with “Southern Hospitality”. The low of his set was “My Chick Bad”, probably one of his weakest singles, but he made up for it with a near-riot as he ended with “Move Bitch (Get Out the Way)” and “Get Back”.
The night ended with the back-to-back sets of RL Grime and Paul Oakenfold. Grime delivered on his hardcore trap beats, throwing in some Drake and Kanye for good measure, while Oakenfold remixed the xx’s “Intro” and had the crowd singing along to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Sango opened on Sunday and played a new track that Kaytranada had just sent him a few hours earlier. During his set, I also heard “Know Yourself” for the fourth or fifth time, making me realize that Drake was probably the most ubiquitous artist who didn’t actually perform at the festival. Major Lazer’s “Lean On” was also inescapable as well.
For me, Tycho’s set was the dark horse of the festival. I’d never heard of him until his music crept in from the Bass Camp stage where I was posted up waiting for A$AP Ferg. Tycho’s chilling, ambient beats really made an impression, and I used SoundHound to discover a few of the songs to look up later.
The best part of A$AP Ferg was when Skrillex came out and jumped around to “Wild For the Night”, which he produced. The second best part was when Ferg asked the audience, “Who can rap??!” and called a random audience member up on stage to bust some flows, only to kick him off immediately when he failed to deliver.
Missy Elliot was up next, but I found her performance to be a letdown. There were too many songs I didn’t recognize, although she did do “One Minute Man”, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”, and “Get Ur Freak On” before I left. The middle song is probably one of Timbaland’s best beats ever.
Jack U, the team of Diplo and Skrillex, were one of the most anticipated acts of the festival, and the speakers exploded accordingly. From the duo to the crowd, it was all energy and screaming, with Diplo in a Canucks jersey and Skrillex headbanging. The song everyone was waiting for was the Justin Bieber-featuring “Where Are U Now”, finally coming at the very end of their set, but it was all worth it.
Afterwards, I had to run to Kendrick Lamar. I got there in time for his opener, the laidback summer vibe of “Money Trees”. A large portion of his set was thankfully drawn from Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, although he did play “King Kunta” and “Alright” off his latest album. He also paid tribute to his idol 2pac when he played the first verse of “Hail Mary” as the crowd rapped along to every word. His lyrics came through crystal clear, and for the climax of “A.D.H.D.”, he gave the shoes off his feet to the “livest fan” in the stands.
All in all, Pemberton Festival was amazing, building off the momentum of the previous year. The hardest part was that with such a varied and packed line-up, scheduling conflicts were inevitable, forcing you to choose between bands – the dreaded Sophie’s Choice of festivals, if you will. But those are just minor complaints, along with the heat, long lines, and porta-potties that are the realities of the festival experience. My favourite stage was Bass Camp, a huge, cavernous structure that provided much needed shade during the day while insulating you in a cocoon of speaker booms. The sound systems were loud, and at the end of every night, I went partially deaf, and that’s all I could ask for. Cue the countdown to Pemby 2016!
View more photo highlights from Pemberton Festival here.