Two Decades Old and Still Setting the Standard [Official Shambhala Review]

Photo: Steven Osika © Electronic Colorado

by Adamandia Coumbos (scroll to bottom for photo gallery)

What is real life? It’s this thought I’m faced with as I make my journey back into the real world, back into reality and away from the magic of Shambhala. No words will ever do Shambhala justice, but here goes…

Situated in the heart of the Canadian wilderness, dance music lovers of all ages (over the age of 19 of course), come together for the weekend of a lifetime. A million things come to mind when I think of what I want to share about Shambhala. Obviously the music, but also the sense of community, the AMAZING harm-reduction services, Camp Clean Beats (the sober camping area), the fact that it’s alcohol free (which, if you ask me, cuts down on the aggressive douche-bag factor found at most festivals) and that you have to jump through hoops to make it to your final destination.

Shambhala is a place where people care. Everyone is conscious of the other people around them and the environment too! This is the kind of place where you see people on the d-floor picking up garbage around them as they dance. It’s the kind of place where if someone looks like they might be in need (even if you are just napping by yourself in the forest somewhere) people will stop to check and make sure you’re okay. Above all, it’s the kind of place where you can truly be yourself. For many of us we call it home.

In the hours leading up to the festival the excitement is palpable. You can taste it in the air from the moment you’re flagged off the highway and onto the long winding dirt road that will eventually lead you up and into the mountains and to Salmo River Ranch. Every worker and volunteer greets you with a genuine “welcome home” and a smile on their face as they direct you where to go. If you’re a first-timer their face will light up in excitement for you. Often hugs, wise words of advice, stickers and plenty of hive fives are freely given as you are ushered through various security, camping and parking queues and finally on your way in to the festival.

At Shambhala you have the choice to camp with your car for a price, or to camp in Metta (where you hike in all your stuff and camp in the forest) for free. I always opt for the latter so I can’t speak for car camping, but camping in the festival grounds is dope. Shambhala is the only festival I’ve ever been to where you can pick your camping spot and have it be 5-10 minutes from the stages. It does get loud camping in Metta sometimes considering the music goes way past sunrise but, who needs sleep anyways? Sleep when you’re dead. So many times I’ve tried to go to bed at a decent hour, only to find my feet guiding my body to the nearest stage for 5 more minutes of dancing (or so I tell myself. It always ends up being much longer than that).


Only 2 of the 6 stages are open Thursday, pumping out music from around noon to the wee hours of the morning Friday. The AMPhitheatre and the Living Room.

I started off my Shambhala in the midafternoon sun, dancing through Zeke Beats, Stylust Beats and on through to SkiiTour all at the AMP. SkiiTour’s Thursday afternoon sets at Shambhala are nothing short of legendary. These guys have a devout following and everyone shows up in ski gear to sweat up a storm to their housey/disco/funk beats. After SkiiTour, I headed to the Living Room for a quick dunk in the river to freshen up. One of my favourite parts of Shambhala is being able to dance around in the water to great music. Plus, splashing around in the river is an excellent tactic to combat the sweltering midday heat. For the rest of the evening and in to the night I toggled between the two stages, dancing where my feet took me. Honorable mention goes to Space Jesus and Breakfluid for keeping me up well past my bedtime.


A rookie mistake would be to over exert yourself on Thursday and miss out on all the daytime goodness Friday has to offer. As is tradition, I did spend the majority of the daylight hours combatting the heat at the river. Mooves, Foxy Moron, and Fort Knox 5 ft. Qdup provided the perfect soundtrack to an afternoon of lounging along the riverbank as my friends and I jumped in the river to cool down, dry off and ultimately jump in again once more. Finally, it was only the sounds of Father Funk’s ghetto funk that managed to drag me away from the leisurely pace of the Living Room, and the river, and into the mayhem of Fractal Forest.

Just as the excitement leading in to the festival is tangible, it continues to grow as the daylight hours wear on and Friday evening slowly encroaches. As the sun begins to set, the whole vibe of Shambhala changes. Daytime vs. nighttime are almost two completely different experiences. Gone are the bathing suits and the birthday suits. Out come various costumes, onesies, totems, face paint and masks.

Considering I spent the majority of time prior to nightfall Friday at the AMP and the Living Room, most of my Friday night entailed hustling between all of the other stages to get my fixes of house (Pagoda), funk (Fractal), DnB and dubstep (Village), and all that dark future bass/ downtempo DnB the Grove has to offer.

I could tell you how Justin Martin, Gorgon City, Boys Noize and Chris Lorenzo all killed it, setting the bar high for the Pagoda. Or how Opiuo’s live set of his signature glitch-hop blew my mind. Or even how Excision, Caspa & Rusko, and Liquid Stranger all played some of the grimiest sets the Village had to offer, but you already know that. These guys are superstars in their respective genres for a reason. Any sets from headliners of that caliber will never disappoint.  It was the guys like EPROM, Om Unit and Defunk who blew my mind solely because I had never heard of them before and they had my feet dancing when I thought my body had no more movement left to give.


By this point in any four day festival most people have developed a routine. Mine was to go to bed as the sun rose only to get kicked out of my tent a short few hours later by the heat of the unforgiving. Stagger out of bed. Check. Find nourishment from one of the many food vendors. Check. Sluggishly make your way to the only body of water for some riverside lounging. Or find a shady spot for further nappage. Check. Wake up feeling slightly refreshed and continue dancing. Check.

The great thing about Shambhala and its community vibe is that there are plenty of things to do other than dance. Yoga sessions are offered twice daily for those looking to stretch out those sore limbs, and iLoveHoolaHoops offered workshops both Saturday and Sunday mornings. While I was too haggard to learn to hoola hoop, I did partake in the Saturday morning yoga session, and it was probably the most productive hour I spent all weekend.

I started my night at the Pagoda, and was pleasantly surprised by the smooth, synthy, yet upbeat sounds from a live set by Autograf. After that, I spent a solid few hours grooving to the funky undertones of Questlove and Cut Chemist in the Forest before getting my dub fix from Subvert and then of course, the DnB lord that is Sub Focus in the Village. If you’re ever looking for your face to melt, the Village is the place to go. Lastly I had to catch some of the dark wobbly goodness The Widdler had to offer. Shout out to Rezz. I can’t remember at what point in the night I saw her play, but she absolutely slayed the Pagoda stage, keeping that bar from the previous night raised high.


Every patron at Shambhala wakes up with a slightly heavier heart on Sunday. This year (thankfully), it rained Sunday morning, and many of us were able to sleep in and get a few hours of rest before starting our last day and night of dancing. When I think of Shambhala, I often think of Mat the Alien, so I made sure to check out his set at the Pagoda to start my evening. From there it was a mad scramble between stages to catch Five Alarm Funk (a Vancouver based 9 man band playing some of the grooviest beats the Grove offered all weekend), to The M Machine at the Pagoda and back to the Village for Snails and DnB god Andy C. Someone recommended I check out French producer CloZee in the Grove; so I did. I had never heard of her prior to that short exchange of words with this nameless stranger, but I’m glad I took the recommendation as she was my favorite new find all weekend. Honorable mention goes to Troiboi, Emmancipator, Flamingosis , Moontricks and Slynk, who played an all original set. By the time the sun rose Monday morning and Destructo graced the Pagoda with his sunrise sermon, every inch of my body ached and my feet could no longer support my body weight. I can honestly say I can’t wait to do it again next year.

See you at Shambhala 20.



Offiicial photo gallery

All photos taken by Steven Osika © Electronic Colorado

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