Mainstream electronic dance music goes hand in hand with spectacle at the world’s largest festivals, but these days, simply having a screen behind you with basic graphics no longer cuts it.
Performance group Dancetronauts have been taking such an experience to new heights – literally – first at Burning Man and now at Electric Daisy Carnival.
Their second time at the largest electronic dance music festival just passed in June, with their Bass Station Stage leading the fleet of EDC art cars and their 40-foot Strip Ship coming along with the pack.
Now the largest mobile stage in the U.S., the Bass Station covers 70 feet with 80,000 watts of sound and ProVision state of the art LED displays. The Dancetronauts’ crew of DJs – EJ Tha DJ, DJ Travnasty, DJ Nick Phoenix, and Philthy Phil – performed on this setup for three nights, along with collaborators like crossover violinist/vocalist Maki Hsieh, dancers, and aerialists. As well, the act also was the main producer for The Influential Networks’ (TINHouse) social activation event and pool party at Mike Tyson’s mansion.
Philthy Phil, known by day as Phil Plastina, created the stage’s concept. A sound engineer and speaker design specialist, Plastina spent the early part of his career developing custom speakers for such hip-hop artists as LL Cool J and Public Enemy, and then later made it his goal to create one of the cleanest sound systems on earth.
Now that EDC in Las Vegas and Burning Man have wrapped up, we caught up Plastina to talk about the Dancetronauts’ recent shows.
How did it feel playing at EDC again?
This year was way better than last year. I actually had time to prepare for my sets because everything went smooth with the setup. After learning a lot from last year, we were very prepared this year for everything. Every DJ slot went seamless, and when it was my turn, I was more than ready.
Compared to last year, did the event change in any way?
The event this year was definitely different than last year. I feel that this year they had a lot more large name headlining acts playing the stages from an earlier point on in the night. Last year, people came in slowly around to check out the rides and look at the art more. This year, we noticed people coming in and heading straight to the stages to catch the acts they came to see, or at least all of the artists they possibly can fit into a schedule in that short amount of time. It was like a mad rush from one stage to another; it was crazy being on our stage, watching the ebb and flow of everybody barging through the event. That was the best thing; we always had a part of everybody at the event stopping in our stage in taking a break from the insanity that was going on at huge stages. At the Bass Station, there was actually room to dance, and the best music to dance to.
How did the concept of the Bass Station come about?
Honestly, I’m a sound engineer, and I wanted to create a sound system that was loud. A sound system that couples all the sounds from all of the speakers together and projects in one direction at an amazing volume level for an extended period of time. A sound system I could all fit neatly on a trailer and put an entire stage on top of. Why the heck do I need that? Well, why the heck do you think? For Burning Man, what else? So I designed and built The Bass Station and all of its speakers over a two-year period with the help of all of my amazing Dancetronaut Crew members. Did we end up building something that was ridiculously amazingly loud? Answer: absolutely yes.
Did you make any changes compared to last year?
Yes, definitely, LOL. After looking around and seeing what we’re up against last year, we definitely decided we needed to up our game. This year, we brought moving head spotlights trussing and two large high-powered screens that sat over 2 large subwoofer stacks that we added to each side of the stage. This year, we were definitely able to keep up with the enormously size sound systems that were surrounding us.
How do you think the Bass Station enhances your sets?
The Bass Station brings the Dancetronauts to life. We built it specifically for our performance. I like to think of it as an art piece, a stage with artistic expression that is unique to us. Our stages create an intimate connection. We built it to interact with the crowd and bring them in as part of the show. It has all of our special effects built in and the best sounding speakers on earth. We rock a pretty good show on any stage, but the Bass Station definitely ups our game.
How did you end up meeting Maki Hsieh?
I meet Maki at a production meeting about Influential House. She was telling me about her upcoming performance there. Then talking further she said she’d love to play EDC. Maki asked Pascal Rotella if she could play on one of his stages; he said there was only one stage that she might be able to play on, the Dancetronauts stage. She was happy to find out that I was the person to talk to about that; it didn’t take her long to convince me that she should play, so by the end of the night she had me agreeing to her set on the Bass Station.
How did you end up working together as a group?
Back in 2009, a very close friend of mine Travis Richards moved back to his original home Santa Cruz from LA. He was one of the first that took interest in being a Dancetronaut. He came with an entourage of friends that got along with my friends. Well, it was soon shortly after that there was several of us working together and coming up with ideas. The group ebbs and flows with members each year since, but there has always been 8 core members.
As new tracks were dropped, what are your plans for new material?
I was extremely surprised at the reaction from the crowd when I dropped the Dancetronauts’ tracks. They were flipping out dancing all over the place like when I play commercial bangers that everybody knows! I was in total surprise it was exactly the reaction I was looking for; in fact, I think the whole group looked out there and couldn’t believe there were people losing their minds to our songs. I have made the decision on my album to mix it up a bit and throw in some different influences towards the last songs on the end of the album. A little Moombahcore, Trap, and heavy Bass influence is where I’m going with at least three of the songs.
Since The Influential Network, have you noticed a change in your social media?
To give you an honest answer, one that I have to say yes it did improve some of our social media outreach, but nothing like when we do social media pushes as a group ourselves. It seems we as a group have the power of a lot of outreach, and so far nobody’s networking strategy has worked as well as ours. We have been involved in this social media game from the start, like way back in the Myspace days.
What plans do you have for the future?
Plans for the future well??? I’m very excited to push our album. It’s the last link to bring our performance full circle. We have been doing performances to other artists’ music for years now, and it’s time that we produced something of our own. We have an amazing show. Visually stimulating, the way we envelop you with all the different things we have going on has been a fun and constant project to work on. Now we will be choreographing lights, dancing, smoke effects, lasers, and cryogenic effects to music we are writing and producing ourselves in house. We are aiming to take this show on the road and travel to different cities around the United States. Our goal is to join the festival circuits and add our stage and performance to various events across the United States.