The Best & Worst of CRSSD 2019, a Boutique Electronic Festival for the Streaming Era

Masego CRSSD
Quinn Tucker

Masego performs at CRSSD 2019.

It’s been five years since San Diego’s house and techno bacchanal CRSSD hit the festival scene, asserting itself as a scrappy affair that emerged to fill dance music’s void between underground warehouse shows, far-out transformational fests, and the EDM mega-tents of Coachella. A lot has changed in those five years.

In the wake of EDM’s mainstream heyday, dance music hasn’t waned so much as it has settled into the accessibility of streaming platforms. Festivals, meanwhile, have enjoyed similar ubiquity—a pop cultural norm rather than a subcultural experience. But in a world where you either die a Further Future or live to see yourself become EDC, CRSSD is out here doing something a little different.

For boutique-to-midsize festivals like CRSSD, success comes in part because they offer what their mainstream behemoth peers don’t: manageable scale, discerning lineups, and a down-to-earth (read: less commercialized) vibe. CRSSD, it seems, has figured out how to grow without losing what sets it apart, expanding into a bi-annual event accompanied by after-hours shows and parties at venues near the waterfront main site.

On its surface, CRSSD looks and feels conventional five years in: a broad swath of “alternative electronic” bookings that has broadened to include bands (like this year’s headliners Hot Chip and Portugal. The Man), and a crowd that looks like it spends more time at Forever 21 than an underground warehouse scene. But dig deeper, and there’s a lot more to it. CRSSD reflects what dance music culture looks like for the streaming generation -- a gathering of post-Coachella, post-mainstream EDM fans of house and techno, united not by scenes or popularity (you’d be hard-pressed to find any of this year’s acts, barring Portugal and maybe Kaskade, on the radio), but the fact that everyone there, whoever they may be, is generally stoked about this music. 

In a weekend full of surprises, we break down the bests and worsts of CRSSD Fall 2019. 

Best: The Site

Despite higher ticket prices and more sponsors this year — White Claw banners implored us to “Live Your Wave,” to which we were happy to oblige — CRSSD was refreshingly unbranded and beautiful to look at. Those new resources instead, it seems, were channeled into a more polished aesthetic and production design. The Palms Stage, resplendent with palms and ferns, was a particularly nice touch and alternative to the ubiquitous lasers and LEDs that tend to come with upped production value.

Located at San Diego’s Waterfront Park behind City Hall, the fest’s site remains a major selling point. Wild sunsets, harbor views, and a simple, three-stage horizontal layout made it easy to relax and enjoy the fest, wherever you were standing (even despite pockets of Sahara Tent-level congestion).  

Worst: The Security 

Well-intentioned though it may be, CRSSD’s intense security shakedowns were a sore point among festgoers, and was arguably the most thoroughly invasive bag search we’ve ever encountered. No zipper or side pocket went unchecked, no gum wrapper unfurled, no Juul pod safe. To the ire of just about every girl in attendance, even makeup had to be “sealed”—which, what does that even mean? Most makeup doesn’t come sealed—or otherwise forked over to some very lucky female security officers.

Best: Bros Dancing to Survive 

With their analog, atmospheric vibes, Austin synth collective Survive made for a strange, if delightful, addition to a fest that otherwise skews high on the BPM meter; it’s reassuring to see that CRSSD still isn’t afraid to get a little weird with its bookings. Walking around the Saturday night set, it was unclear whether the fest’s EDM base was actually familiar with Survive’s synthwave catalog, or if they were just stoked to see “the guys who do the Stranger Things music.”

Nonetheless, fans flocked to the Ocean View stage like so many tripping-out moths to a flame to take on the set’s moody lighting and cerebral, slow burning builds. Watching the crowd, in various states of intoxication, navigate how to move to this became a spectacle unto itself: Think slow-motion fist pumps and head-bangs; swaying bro posses, shoulders entwined; writhing, full-body undulations; and one guy folded over limply, swaying side-to-side as his White Claw hung from his hand, delicately brushed the grass beneath him. 

Best: Hot Chip 

No act might be more fitting to headline CRSSD than Hot Chip. They’re a band that, much like the festival, has managed to maintain its own voice while exploring the electronic spectrum, and has become one of today’s most consistently excellent and self-aware live acts in the process.

Seven albums into their career, Hot Chip isn’t a group you catch for the hype or cultural cache; you go to lose your mind and dance, and they know it. These guys must have played “Over and Over” and “Flutes” hundreds of times at this point, but with the raw, fattened-up intensity of their live mixes, cheeky dance routines, and psychedelic LED mapping, you’ve never seen anyone have more fun—and you can’t help but get in on it. 

Worst: The White Girl in an Indian Headdress at Hot Chip

Did she not get the cultural memo in 2009? 

Best: Amelie Lens

Sunday evening’s set from Belgian techno queen Amelie Lens — one of a refreshing number of women artists on the lineup — is what CRSSD is all about. With the sun setting behind us, her relentless two-hour set was a reminder that a killer techno show doesn’t require a sweaty, fogged-out club to blow your mind. Lens didn’t warm the crowd up so much as challenged it to keep up, doling out aggressive beats and slinky melodies with deconstructed builds and drops that bordered on psychedelic. Passersby couldn’t help but get sucked in, making for one of the memorably packed and communal dance parties of the festival.

Worst: The Boat Party

With sets lined up from Green Velvet and MK, the fest’s afterparties aboard the Hornblower were no-brainers. But, as it turns out, just because a party is on a boat doesn’t automatically make it a vibe. With decor confined to too-bright lights, terrible carpeting and a comically small wooden dance floor in front of the DJ booth, partygoers huddled around tables in the back of the banquet hall, making the Hornblower events feel more like an awkward adult bar mitzvah than an after-hours throwdown.

Best: Telefon Tel Aviv 

Luckily, there were plenty of other afters to choose from. In the intimate loft bar Revel Revel, Telefon Tel Aviv delivered one of the best sets of the weekend—albeit to perhaps a dozen people. The day before, Telefon dropped Dreams Are Not Enough, the genre-melding project’s first album in a decade, and the first since the death of co-founder Charles Cooper. The welcome return made the set’s sinuous bass and dark, layered melodies something to be savored.

Unlike the ship, the dimly lit bar only made the scattered attendance feel that much more special, and the opportunity to have that kind of experience alongside a traditional festival environment is where CRSSD truly thrives. 

Best: The Bros

Let it be known: the bro was alive and thriving at CRSSD. And when we say bro, we mean it in the best, most platonic sense of the word. Beyond glistening torsos and Hawaiian shirts (CRSSD’s unofficial uniform), we witnessed people being great to each other all weekend: guys joining forces to push a stalled-out car from the parking lot, ladies looking out for each other in the crowd crush, and fest veterans adopting stray fans into their crews. In a world of festival ubiquity, it was a welcome reminder that it’s the people who ultimately shape the place.

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