Fans who attended Holy Ship’s second sailing (Feb. 18-20) could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu.
While the January sailing sported mostly first-time bookings drawn from the U.K. deep house and West Coast bass scenes, February’s sailing boasted a bevy of familiar faces who had found their sea legs on previous editions of HARD Events’ premiere cruise party. From Skrillex and DJ Snake to the Dirtybird and Bromance crews, this cruise was akin to a festive family reunion at sea.
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Compared to January’s veteran Shipfam crowd, this sailing was billed as the “newbie Ship” in industry circles, due to the overwhelming number of first-timers. While the Private Island Party was scrapped due to inclement weather, it hardly took a toll on the mood. Most revelers just seemed thrilled to be there at all. Ditto for the artists.
“I loved the closeness of fans and artists on the ship,” said Anna Lunoe. “It’s so unique and gives everyone a chance to really connect over the shared experience.”
Kaskade turned out to be the secret guest aboard the ship, and he enthralled attendees with a spirited back-to-back finale with Skrillex. Another welcome surprise was Positive Legacy, a Cloud 9 charity organization that auctioned signed artist photos to support local communities touched by its cruises.
Billboard takes you back aboard the MSC Divina once more to recount the best musical moments and memorable stories from another zany three days in the Bahamas.
Destructo’s Sunrise Sermon
Destructo performing his sunrise “Sermon” set on Holy Ship!
Credit: Oh Dag Yo
Asked why Destructo’s 5-8 a.m. set was his favorite, a fan replied: “How many times have we seen music as the sun comes up instead of going down? We’ve all seen sunset sets, but not sunrise sets.”
His statement is illustrative of both the maturing U.S. dance market and the beauty of what HARD CEO Gary Richards is doing as Destructo. Marathon sunrise sets are canon in underground house and techno circles, but many of HARD’s attendees came up on attention-deficit EDM festival formats and have yet to delve into dance music’s deeper end. By reprising his ’90s “Sermon” concept to deliver a three-hour journey on the main stage, Richards is exposing dance neophytes to a whole new way of enjoying the music.
“At a festival, it’s like if people aren’t jumping up in the air and bashing themselves in the heads, within two seconds they’ll just go to the next stage,” Richards said. “Here you can educate people on what’s cool. I was saying on the mic that I want to see more dancing and less fist-pumping in 2015.”
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Richards says Holy Ship has helped him gain the respect of his peers, and it was clear from their attendance. The backstage area became a full-blown dance bonanza as Destructo dropped consistently funky classic house and disco cuts. Claude Vonstroke grooved around the stage in a gold crown to take a turn on the decks. Tommy Trash donned pineapple-shaped sunglasses and hoisted real pineapples skyward to the delight of Anna Lunoe. Even Tchami and Mercer couldn’t maintain their usual stoic composure.
It was poignant to see Destructo and Skrillex sharing the stage in light of their shared history. In my first interview with Richards two years ago, he spoke affectionately of the “kid wearing a hoodie and a lip ring… with an aura about him” who professed his dream of playing a HARD event. Richards gave Skrillex a chance by booking him for peanuts at HARD Summer 2011, but later had to add a zero to the fee as the young artist’s profile surged. Competing promoters were trying to lure Skrillex away with six-figure offers that weekend, but he stuck with Gary for giving him a shot.
Less than four years later, the kid is a superstar who used his magnetic appeal on the mic to fire up the Shipfam faithful for Destructo’s set. The Sermon was a special moment for all involved, but I suspect none more than those two.
Brodinski performing on the Pool Deck at Holy Ship!
Credit: Eric Voake
The French turntablist is always a force behind the decks, but he outdid himself with a blistering pool deck performance that left even his fellow artists’ mouths agape. After Busy P ended an excellent set with Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” Brodinski began with a brooding down-tempo intro that built into churning hip-hop fare. Throttling his body with the music, he cast off his headphones and seamlessly shifted into glitchy techno as the intensity increased.
Brodinski’s onstage energy was infectious, and it plunged the backstage artist area into a scene of joyous mayhem. Beneath the cowl of his hooded Fiend Club sweatshirt, Skrillex nodded and pumped his fists to the beat while Valentino Khan made the rounds in a ridiculous bathrobe. Between Louisahhh!!! busting freewheeling dance moves and Club Cheval’s four members flanking their label boss, the Bromance crew was out in full force.
Lit by cascading lasers, the crowd erupted in approval when Brodinski dropped an edit incorporating the interlude of labelmate Gesaffelstein‘s “Control Movement.” He finished strong with a series of cuts off his new full-length album Brava (out March 3), urging the audience to throw their middle fingers in the air with “Franc?ois-Xavier” and executing a wicked spin move into lead single “Can’t Help Myself.”
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The Entire Dirtybird Crew
The San Francisco label was simply omnipresent.
Wearing his crown and enough Mardi Gras beads to outfit a parade, Claude VonStroke was seemingly everywhere at all times on the ship. King Barclay held court with his crew at the Ditybird Players party on Thursday, curating a booty-shaking bonanza with cohorts Kill Frenzy, Green Velvet, Justin Martin, J. Phlip, Justin Jay and Friend Within.
While Justin Martin chomped pizza and swigged Grey Goose and Skrillex recorded the scene on a disposable camera, VonStroke went back-to-back with Kill Frenzy in a memorable finish. Highlights included Kill Frenzy’s provocative singles “All Night Long” and “No Panties.”
“Do you like bass in your motherfucking face?” VonStroke asked his audience. “Hell fucking yeah!”
As if there was any question.
J.Phlip performing with Claude VonStroke and Justin Martin at Holy Ship!
Credit: Ian Witlen
Dirtybird’s first lady gave Billboard a hilarious laundry list of her second Holy Ship’s highlights. Here it is in its entirety:
1. Hearing Basement Jaxx for the first time ever and going bananas when they played “Red Alert”!
2. Laughing at everything because everything was really funny.
3. Seeing the most beautiful sunset from my balcony.
4. Claude wearing broken sunglasses, a crown, and nerdy running shoes the whole time.
5. Claude falling asleep on the deck and Green Velvet making sure he made it to his bed safely. So cute.
6. The assorted fruits cascade at the yacht club.
7. Curses freaking because his phone got stolen and going on a mission to help him track it down. It was just a prank by AC Slater.
8. Elevator rides with Claude and the dirtybirds. Whoooaaaaaaaaaaa!
9. Hearing “Function” so many times I might almost get sick of it.
10. That one time I slept.
11. Those 2 slices of pizza on the last night.
12. Cut Snake. Nothing in particular. Just them all the time.
13. Getting my fans to sign their names all over my arm, which I still can’t get washed off. Especially Jenny. Whoever you are girl.
14. Huxley as Captain Hook.
15. Justin Martin fatheads everywhere. He has become the unofficial mascot.
16. Destructo’s sermon set. Holy moly he floored us.
17. Losing my boyfriend somewhere on the ship during disembarkment.
18. All the lovely DJs and Shipfam who were absolutely amazing the whole time. Everybody! The best.
19. Falling asleep in a Miami park right after getting off the ship and getting kicked out by a cop like we were some bums.
20. Justin Martin lost his key card four times! Including locking it in his room within the first 30 seconds.
21. Justin Martin slept through the mandatory safety drill, but our homie Mark accidentally used Justin’s card to check in, so then Mark had to go to the secondary drill as well!
22. Asking Claude for a selfie then silly-stringing us both in the face!
23. And a few other things that shall remain known only to those who were there and should be deleted from any videos.
All Justin Jay wanted was a bedtime snack in the empty artist lounge during Destructo’s set, but a fateful encounter with Claude VonStroke led to one of the most memorable sets of the young artist’s life.
“Out of nowhere, Claude appears with an impressive collection of Mardi Gras beads and a crown which he would ultimately wear the entire cruise,” said Jay. “He looked at me with his all-knowing eyes and pointed to the DJ rig set up in the lounge. That simple gesture in conjunction with my sugary breakfast gave me a powerful second wind.”
VonStroke promptly passed out in a chair, so Jay didn’t have much of an audience at first. But once Destructo’s set finished, Jay suddenly found himself curating a morning dance party for some of the biggest names in the game.
“All of these eager party people came bustling in!” Jay recalled. “Before I knew it, Skrillex and Claude were waltzing while Soul Clap, Baauer and Curses were busting crazy 8 a.m. dance moves to the old school hip-hop and funk jams I was dropping. After I played, even though I was super exhausted, I had trouble falling asleep because I was just so unbelievably stoked on what had just happened. Good looking out, Claude!”
Tommy Trash & Wax Motif
Tommy Trash performing with Wax Motif at Holy Ship!
Credit: Eric Voake
There’s never a dull moment with Tommy Trash. The long-locked Aussie was a friendly force of nature on the ship. Rarely seen without a whirlwind of hair and a wild-eyed grin, the Sydney native delivered two of the cruise’s highest energy sets in the Galaxy Disco and Theater.
In the former, Trash careened through a frenetic medley of his most famous productions, including “Reload” and his remix of deadmau5’s “The Veldt.” While thrashing to the beat onstage, Trash accidentally smashed his headphones and tore one of the ear cushions off with cinematic flair.
“Where’s my fucking headphones right now?” Trash roared with excitement, donning the shattered remnants. The crowd ate it up.
Luckily, Destructo and Trash’s fellow countryman Wax Motif had appeared onstage to the audience’s excitement. Wax Motif took over the decks in relief while Trash foraged for another pair of headphones. The duo then took turns dropping crowd-pleasers like O.T. Genasis‘ “Coco” and a searing remix of Disclosure‘s “Latch” until handing off to Curses in a cacophony of cheers.
The Swedish duo made the most of their first Holy Ship excursion. In addition to playing two well-received sets at the Pool Deck and Theater, they dropped their second single “Gold Dust” from their forthcoming full-length while at sea. Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklow described the track as a “Galantis ballad.”
“For us it’s the song on the album that when you go back and listen to it, you just lose it,” said Eklow. “We captured something magical when we first wrote it.”
Having traversed the pop and indie rock worlds as Bloodshy and one-third of Miike Snow, Karlsson said he was blown away by the camaraderie on Holy Ship.
“It wouldn’t happen in any other genre of music where like the biggest stars are in the same room and hanging out to take a photo,” he said. “And the support that everyone is giving each other, not only here but on social media, they’re promoting other people, you know, the competition all the time. It’s pretty amazing that there’s room for everyone.”
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DJ Snake performing at Holy Ship!
Credit: Ian Witlen
Earlier in the day, DJ Snake had modeled his slick new branded merchandise in partnership with Germeii Paris, but his Hip Hop Party performance traded flash for proven floor-fillers. Wearing orange headphones and a black hoodie, the French artist dropped a hit-heavy set that was one of the highlights of Friday night’s event. From Warren G‘s “Regulate” to Kanye West‘s “Dark Fantasy,” Snake gave the crowd exactly what they wanted in quick cuts between tracks that showed off his deft mixing touch.
Of course, Claude VonStroke materialized at one point to plop his crown atop Snake’s head. While transitioning between classic cuts like Jay-Z‘s “Big Pimpin'” and Three Six Mafia‘s “Stay Fly,” Snake managed to eventually trade the crown back to Claude in exchange for a huge smile. He then pummeled the dance floor with his own remix of D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” to the delight of the dancing throng below.