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Dusk Camp rises out of the dust as California's intimate new festival

The festival founders open up about the vision behind the intimate festival

  • Lily Moayeri
  • 5 April 2019

Heidi Lawden is throwing her first ever festival, Dusk Camp, in 10 weeks, and she is as calm as they come. There is no sign of promoter glaze in her eyes or the nonstop interaction with the phone, two key signifiers of a pending event. This is particularly unusual since Dusk Camp, being held over the weekend of May 17th, 18th, 19th, is not only wholly independently funded, but also taking place at La Jolla Indian Campground, a location with no festival infrastructure and no power.

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think, 'Am I crazy?’,” says Lawden. “But it’s a force of will and it’s coming together so easily.”

Lawden’s cool and collected attitude can be attributed, in part, to her years of club promotion in the UK and event planning Stateside. It is also in part because of her seamless handling of DJ Harvey’s career, her own DJ career and that of Lovefingers. Lawden, however, attributes her composure to her co-promoters, longtime Los Angeles DJs Jeniluv and Masha, both experienced promotors and event producers in their own right and the partners with whom she throws the Surround parties.

Dusk Camp rises out of the dust of Jeniluv’s Dusk Festival which she held, along with designer Stephen Rivera on her property for one time only in 2014. A low-key affair, it was a private campout for a group of 400 or so extended friends. Upon moving back to Los Angeles, she wanted to carry on the nascent tradition.

“Stephen had been taking his family to La Jolla Indian Campground for over a decade,” says Jeniluv. “It was never a second thought where we wanted to host this dream festival. I discussed it with various partners and party promoters I was throwing events with and everyone had a reason not to do it. Over music sharing and wine at my place, Masha said, ‘We are doing this.’ Soon after that we were hosted on Heidi’s dublab show, I mentioned it and Heidi was all in.”

Lawden, Jeniluv and Masha work backwards from a budget standpoint. Meaning, how much is it going to take to throw a festival that is acceptable by their standards, and, how many attendees will it take to get to that number. 1300 is the cap for the inaugural Dusk Camp, making it a boutique, but immersive experience. Starting at 4pm on Friday, the music will only pause for two hours in the early morning, reset and resume for another 22 or so hours before its next two-hour pause, finally stopping at 4am on Monday.

“It’s escapism and surrendering,” says Lawden of the ambitious three-day stretch and practically non-stop music for a first time festival. “You can go to a club and see a two-hour DJ set and then go to another club around the corner for four hours. Somewhere like Berghain in Berlin, you stay for 20 hours, which seems impossible, but you surrender to the experience, and time goes by like the changing of the clouds.”

“The underground hasn’t had anything new other than parties in warehouses,” says Masha. “They are great, and we throw our own, but there is a desire to take the next step for our scene. Dusk Camp is it. If you look beyond North America, festivals are created by DJs for people like themselves. Here, we’re catered to by large organizations and brands and marquee DJs based around sales and profile. We’re DJs are our core, throwing all-inclusive events with music first. We are responding to the gap we feel in the festival scene.”

There is only one stage at Dusk Festival, and two other areas, the Dusk Café and the Moroccan Creek Lounge. The latter has music in the form of playlists provided by Pacific Beach Vinyl and dublab, but this is a backdrop. The main musical focus is on the single stage.

“At most festivals, you can change the mood with every two-hour set, which is seen as a performance with a beginning, middle and an end,” says Lawden. “We come from a club mentality where there is a flow. Our set times are like an arc of the style the DJs play Some are more on the chill side, they’ll play earlier on and it picks up through the night. It’s an ebb and flow. It’s DJs curating DJs.”

Dusk Camp’s aural environment is a complement to the natural environment, which is pristine and idyllic. The main stage is the creation of Rivera whose designs embody the spirit of the artist Andy Goldsworthy, renowned for his environmental sculptures and land art. Entirely wooden, the stage is as natural to the space as the trees that surround it. The Moroccan Lounge is put together by Davis Crates, the Los Angeles-based custom furniture designer, who will be creating a vibey atmosphere with rugs, low tables, and big cushions.

The café—also designed by Rivera—is the only food and drink option provided by Dusk Camp. But the 21+ festival allows attendees to bring their own food and drink, including alcohol. Dusk Camp will be selling ice, and the Campground has fresh water spigots. There will be a yoga on-site and a tarot reader and someone conducting a tea ceremony, to mention just a few enhancing elements. It is recommended that attendees camp in order to have a homebase, rather than stay off-site, especially considering the extended hours of the festival’s active times.

“We don’t want our attendees to be sold extra things,” says Lawden. ”Whatever you want to drink for the weekend, you’re bringing it and drinking it. There are no custom-made drinks and no VIP. You’re not paying excess money. You can buy closer parking or camp in your car or bring an RV, but we’ve only got 10 RV spots and they don’t have hook-ups.

“Dusk Camp is different, but it’s really welcoming” she continues, “We have thought of everything to make your experience amazing, but you have to participate. We’ve become zombified in our festival experience. Get involved, we’re working toward a common goal of having fun.”

All DJs have equal billing on Dusk Camp’s flyers and website. The idea is to bring attention to locals, mainly from Los Angeles, but also from other local scenes around the United States, who have been working for a long time, but never quite getting the main spotlight shine on them. The names on the bill have among them male, female, gender-fluid, gay, and gay crew DJs. Being on the sidelines has developed their skills tremendously, making them technically advanced superior selectors. *No matter what the time slot, these DJs, among them, Jennifer Cardini, TK back-to back with Tavish, Galen, Solar, Dirty Dave, Bears in Space, Lovefingers, DJ Harvey, plus Lawden, Jeniluv and Masha themselves, can keep the party going.

“We felt our world wasn’t being catered to,” says Lawden. “Secret Project was fantastic. Sunset Campout is in its last year. There’s room for what we want. A lot of us aren’t getting booked on the big festivals. A lot of us aren’t getting booked on smaller festivals. I’ve traveled around enough to know we have world class DJs here that are being overlooked, forgotten and ignored. There is a lot of camaraderie and support amongst us locals. We’re just not making enough noise. And we need this festival.”

Lily Moayeri is a music journalist who also covered television, art, fashion, and other facets of pop culture. She is a major contributor to the textbook The Guerrilla Guide to the Music Business. Find her work aggregated at Pictures of Lily and follow here on Twitter here.

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