With a lineup that largely catered to West Coast live acts and U.K. deep house, broken beats and funk bass were in vogue on 2015’s first Holy Ship! sailing (Jan. 3-6).
HARD Events’ beloved cruise party entered its fourth year by honoring its fervent “Shipfam” fan base, particularly “O.G.” attendees who were rewarded for their four-year loyalty with snazzy blue bathrobes. Describing the concept as a “tribe where we can be ourselves” and a “reunion with friends we see once a year,” the Shipfam’s devotion was on full display from the moment we lined up to board in zany costumes, cheerful hugs and lively group chants. The warm and friendly atmosphere was positively infectious, extending to artists like Laidback Luke and Gina Turner, who mingled with fans in hosting kung fu and yoga sessions onboard.
This year’s event featured skeleton-obsessed visuals from the enigmatic Sus Boy, Prom Night and Pajama Party theme nights, and style-specific showcases such as Fool’s Gold’s Rap Party, Boys Noize Records & Friends, and Annie Mac presents Brits Aboard.
Unlike previous sailings’ two stops, the boat only docked once this year for the much-anticipated Private Island Party on Little San Salvador Island’s Half Moon Cay. Despite the extra time spent onboard the ship, there were few signs of cabin fever among enthusiastic fans.
While Shipfam veterans said this sailing felt somewhat tamer party-wise than its predecessors, which had featured more larger-than-life personalities like Skrillex, Diplo, and Dillon Francis, nearly all agreed this year’s music was some of the best to grace the MSC Divina’s decks. Billboard takes you back aboard to recap the weekend’s highlights.
While his first show was well-received, the Colorado producer and multi-instrumentalist delivered the set of the Ship with his final live set at the Theater. Grant Kwiecinski commands fan devotion similar to jam bands, and his “Grizfam’s” enthusiasm was evident from the start. His head bobbing like a broken toy in fast forward, the lanky bleached-blonde artist enthralled a swollen crowd that came fully armed with inflatable saxophones, sea creatures and dinosaurs to close out the cruise in style.
Swaying with the force of his very real saxophone, Griz noodled along with the relentlessly funky fare he mixed between in quick succession. The Detroit native delivered a hometown homage with an energetic rework of “Put Your Hands Up for Detroit,” hollering “I love this f—ing city” on the mic before careening into a crushing drop that sent attendees into a surging mass of scattered rafts and spinning hula hoops.
Other highlights included funk-infused remixes of Aerosmith‘s “Sing for the Moment,” the Isley Brothers‘ “Shout,” Jay Z and Kanye West‘s “N—as in Paris,” Sam Smith‘s “Stay With Me,” and a gruesome mash up of the Lonely Island‘s “I’m on a Boat” and a forthcoming collaboration between Griz and Montreal producer Snails.
“This sounds like a Snails track!” Henry Fong exclaimed onstage before being politely informed that it was.
“My name is Griz. Thank you so f—ing much!” Kwiecinski bellowed. “I just got told I can play one more song. You guys want that?”
Leaning back in ecstasy, he let a deafening wave of cheers wash over him before finishing strong with “Hakuna Matata.” The buoyant finale even earned a rare smile from Knife Party’s ever-stoic Rob Swire, who dropped by to check out the set with band mate Gareth McGrillen.
Pairing pounding drum pads and mesmerizing melodies, this Seattle outfit won over hearts on Holy Ship with a powerful Pool Deck performance. Bent intent over their controllers, Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight guided the crowd through a consistently energetic soundscape of downtempo beats and glitched vocal hooks off their well-regarded sophomore album In Return.
Climaxing with their masterful remix of ZHU’s “Faded” while purple lasers raked the crowd, the beaming artists took to the mic to thank their audience.
“We love you, this has been the most incredible experience,” they exclaimed. “Shipfam for life!”
Perched atop a landlocked wooden pirate ship facing a scenic beachfront, Destructo introduced the cruise’s annual surprise guest as Disclosure’s Guy Lawrence. Taking the decks to whistles and cheers, the plucky Brit delivered the standout set of the cruise’s famed Private Island Party with veteran Armand Van Helden.
The Shipfam was out in full force for the event, hoisting Bill Cosby fatheads and tangoing with inflatable monkeys in a decadent daylong dance party that ranked among the weekend’s highlights. The MSC Divina floated on the horizon, overlooking a sea of strewn orange towels and a pounding speaker system flanked by fake cannons.
Tag-teaming with a grinning and bearded Van Helden, Lawrence opened with “When a Fire Starts to Burn” while flesh-toned fans in shark costumes and rabbit-eared bag heads grooved on the bright sands below. Other notable tracks included Tiga & Audion’s “Let’s Go Dancing,” SHIFT K3Y’s “Not Into It” and Disclosure’s very own “White Noize.”
“It’s a f—ing honor to be out here with you on Holy Ship!” shouted Pretty Lights’ Derek Smith. “Make a sound!”
He didn’t need to ask twice. Cheers swelled while Sus Boy’s skeletons twerked and jet-skied to the Colorado producer’s funky broken beats on the Pool Deck. Reworks of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” and “Give Up the Funk” made significant cameos alongside cuts from the artist’s Grammy-nominated album A Color Map of the Sun.
Pretty Lights’ closing set on Monday night was one to remember. Hulking over the mixer in oversized glasses and a sweat-soaked hoodie, Smith’s mouth hung agape in pure euphoria while he pummeled the Theater faithful with searing hip hop and sampled soul.
“I want to see y’all stomping,” yelled Smith before leading a series of on-rhythm “hell yeah” chants to amp up the crowd. Griz and ODESZA joined him onstage at the end for “Finally Moving,” embracing, gyrating and taking to the mic in support of an artist they both count as an influence.
Before HARD founder Gary Richards became the captain of one of dance music’s most credible event brands, he was a priest robe-donning DJ whose marathon “The Sermon” sunrise sets were a thing of Los Angeles rave scene legend. Since the ship made just one island stop this year, Richards decided to resurrect the concept by playing from 5:30 to 8:00 a.m. on Saturday night.
Although inclement weather unfortunately forced his set indoors, those who could defy sleep long enough to find their way there were treated to a nuanced throwback set featuring plenty of classic piano house and groovy cuts as the sun took the sky. A comically long Chinese Dragon crashed the party as well, hoisted by dancing fans in time with Destructo’s crisp beats.
Richards said the idea to reprise his role came from Shipfam members who did their homework on him and asked for a “Sermon” show on the ship.
“Before I just didn’t think to do it because we wanted to give people time to sleep,” says Richards. “There’s gotta be a time when the music goes off and the people eat, sleep, and rest. But this time we tried it and I think it went really well. The people who needed to sleep slept and some people even woke up to go to it.”
A-Trak’s back-to-back set with Craze provided a raucous finish to Sunday night’s Fool’s Gold Rap Party with thunderous trap cuts and throwback turntablism. Both Pretty Lights and Griz were spotted in the Theater enjoying their set with outstretched arms and sky-tapping fingers.
In addition to his spirited sets, the five-time DMC world champion hosted DJ lessons for fans on Monday. Doing his best professorial impression, the accomplished turntablist put on a clinic for the sizable crowd who showed up, exhibiting the cutting and scratching skills that helped elevate him to prominence. He invited attendees to come onstage to try their hands and offered pro tips for organizing one’s music library, scrolling through colorful Serato playlists with names like “Rich Folks” and “Cold and Druggy.”
“I don’t do drugs, I just know the kind of music to play to people on drugs,” he said, grinning.
The Australian artist opened his Saturday evening set to widespread cheers with the Beach Boys‘ “Kokomo,” striking a lighthearted and tropical tone that fit his time slot. Egged on by a sea of waving flags, Flume traversed the stuttered synth drops that have become his sound’s hallmark while nodding in time with the beat. He finished with his two most famous tunes: the breakout remix of Disclosure’s “You & Me” and last year’s stunning rework of Lorde‘s “Tennis Court.”
The Melbourne producer also provided a proper soundtrack to the Private Island Party, interspersing booming trap and slick garage beats to the delight of beachgoers below.
Proving their skills extend far beyond the studio, the chart-topping London duo brought deep and driving club fare to Annie Mac’s Brits Aboard showcase in the Black & White room. Despite being only an hour long, their set smoothly progressed through thumping bass lines and minimal hooks on tracks like recent Beatport chart-topper “Yoohoo.”
Aside from bringing French-influenced electro funk to the Galaxy Disco in both solo and back-to-back sets with Alex Metric and Wax Motif, the Los Angeles act also curated a continuous soul and disco afterhours in the artist lounge that can probably be blamed for any missed flights and blown bedtimes.
Best moment of Holy Ship: @mynameisGRiZ closing his set with “Hakuna Matata”, crowd goes wild
— Rob Swire (@rob_swire) January 6, 2015