FRIDAY/GARDENS OF BABYLON/DÜSSELDORF
There’s an eerie delirium in the air as Canadian duo Blond:ish begin their whistle-stop party tour this weekend. Freak weather and wildfires are engulfing Europe. Storms have battered the Greek islands where they were last night, and their flight to Düsseldorf was delayed by a day. Mercury is apparently in retrograde. And to top it all, a blood red moon is glowing ominously overhead as we hurtle towards the DJ duo’s first destination, a party at a monastery in the woods.
According to experts from the internet, this vermilion eclipse means that everyone will be more volatile, sensitive and emotional as our true destinies are revealed. Which perhaps does not bode so well for the coming three days, in three different countries, on very little sleep. But nomadic double-act Anstascia D’Elene Corniere and Vivie-ann Bakos seem to embrace this intense energy. In fact, they love talking about energy. “I was born on a blood moon and I played my first DJ set during a blood moon, eleven years ago,” says Anstascia from the back seat. “Anything could happen tonight. It’s a period of change in our career. I think this weekend is it. I really feel it.”
Indeed, Blond:ish seem to be reaching fever pitch. This summer has changed up the gear on their 10-year career and there doesn’t seem to be a terrace, rooftop or eco festival they haven’t yet sprinkled with their slinky psychedelic house. Their night at Scorpios in Mykonos a day ago was “out of control” and attended by Diplo, who asked the duo to play his 40th birthday. They’ve barely caught their breath before tonight’s fairy-lit festival, Gardens Of Babylon. Then it’s on to Tomorrowland, EDM’s Disneyworld in Belgium, and then an al fresco rave in Ibiza where there’s a ‘DMT corner’ and an old dude who dances in a loincloth on stage.
Gardens Of Babylon, however, is possibly the only party where someone is burning sage sticks behind the decks. We pull into the monastery grounds minutes before Blond:ish are due to headline, and work our way through throngs of beautiful people who appear to have been airlifted from Black Rock City, in their phantasmagoric outfits and elaborate headdresses. Many are friends from far-flung places who cram into the booth to greet them. We pass a poster advertising ‘mantra singing’, a ‘life balance playshop’ and ‘four hands tantric massage’.
Vivie-ann, who is dressed in orange sequinned dungarees and has girlfriend Liana Hillison in tow, is particularly enthused by this combination of spirituality and partying. “Raves have become a redundancy,” she says. “You go out, you get pissed, and then you’re out at the afterparty. But there is so much more to music than that. You can judge it, but you can feel the way that people are interacting with each other here. We’re really interested in this stuff because we had to find balance in all this craziness. We started meditating, we do tons of different practices and breath work.”
“Hyperventilation is my breathing technique,” quips Anstascia, who is both anxious and naturally funny.
It’s easy to raise an eyebrow. But it’s impossible to ignore that this kind of wellness clubbing and its holistic soundtrack has taken off among what Anstascia calls the “hippie jet-set”. Events like Gardens Of Babylon are becoming increasingly familiar internationally, inspired by Burning Man’s eco-awareness, sense of community and deep 4x4 beats, spiked with chanting, primeval drum patterns and the occasional burst of waterfalls. For nearly a decade, Blond:ish have spent every summer on the playa and every winter in Tulum, Mexico, helping to create trippy links between scorched desert mayhem and barefoot beach bacchanalia, and cultivating their balance of mezcal and mindfulness.
They won’t say that they’re at the centre of this movement, but their music does appear to pre-date it. There are countless DJs donning ponchos and playing pan-flute bangers these days, though Blond:ish’s debut album, ‘Welcome To The Present’, was released on Kompakt back in the heady days of 2015. “I feel like that album was a little bit before its time,” says Vivie-ann. “We took the vibe of Tulum, the jungle and the cenotes, and that’s what came out.” Now that whole scene “has kind of got a stigma attached to it.”
“If you want to call it ‘shamanic house’, go ahead,” she says, flickering, as she frequently seems to, between furrowed-brow wariness and playful sarcasm.
“Or vegan techno!”, Anstascia adds.
There’s no mantra singing during their DJ set as far as we can see, just grinning dancers who lap up every subtle bassline kick and a track that sounds suspiciously like a Michael Jackson bootleg. They finish their set to elated cheers and almost at the same time, the dreamcatchers that decorate the venue start trembling in the wind. Blond:ish, sensing another storm, scarper.
The serotonin levels dip during the drive to Tomorrowland. Sleep masks are on. Blond:ish’s manager is snoring. The girls have been working too hard lately, and are feeling the burn. Did Anstascia also feel the blood moon last night? “Yeah,” she says, from under her blindfold. “But I think that was because I drank cacao. I was raging high on cacao. Maybe we should put that on our rider?”
Vivie-ann and Liana are a tangle of tanned limbs on one side of the car; their pal Taryn Pickett, who releases music as BLOEM, has taken the front. Together, the four have started a new club brand and record label, ABRACADABRA, and they’re taking over a small jetty at the 400,000-capacity festival this afternoon. Later, Vivie-ann will joke about how the group dynamic is “extremely complicated”, but mainly the chat seems to do with décor, which they pride themselves on and which appears to be an arse to shift around the world.
At their lakeside stage, grapes hang bunched from the awning, purple and blue flowers intertwine around the booth and a sign saying ‘LOVE’ stands in front of the mixer. It’s not particularly busy, which seems to be making Vivie-ann nervous, but it’s a sophisticated oasis away from the rollercoaster beats elsewhere at the festival. “A lot of underground artists are playing here and there’s a lot more crossover,” says Vivie-ann, explaining how their hippie idealism fits with Tomorrowland’s rampant commercialism. “Damian [Lazarus] has a stage this year, Solomun had a stage [in 2017]. People are starting to get it. The underground is evolving.”
Earlier on, in Tomorrowland’s Michelin-starred backstage restaurant, Blond:ish explained how their career could have gone another way. It was a peculiar conversation. Vivie-ann, excited by the notion that she could also record our interview on her phone, placed it next to Mixmag’s dictaphone. They welled up when we said we met a guy from LA the previous night who said they’re an inspiration to his female friends. And all while Erick Morillo held court on another table, bellowing across the room like a demented Thor.
Vivie-ann says Blond:ish “could have easily gone the EDM route”, but instead the mainstream appears to be kow-towing to them. Just last week, begins Anstascia, an “ex-DJ with two million followers wanted to play back-to-back with us at Scorpios, for three songs…”
“And,” continues Vivie-ann, “trade it for three gigs in Brazil, in a hundred-thousand person stadium, at forty thousand dollars a pop. We said no. We know our purpose.”
It’s at this point that Nervo walk into the restaurant, looking like a V05 advert in giant platinum mohawks and rhinestoned garb. Blond:ish’s eyes light up mischievously. “People ask us if we’re Nervo sometimes,” says Vivie-ann, alluding to how both duos are female and used to have the same bleached hair. “We’ve actually never been in the same room together.”
“We’re the budget Nervo!” cracks Anstascia.
Blond:ish see themselves as having slightly more substance – like Burning Man before it became a playground for tech bros and Instagram models. Anstascia says that the festival’s ethos of “sharing, giving and thoughtfulness is stuff that we need to connect to again” – though she adds passionately that even though people can “spend a hundred thousand of their savings” to build one of the festival’s effigies that is set alight in a fire display, “it’s for the love of art and beauty and creation and passion. To see that – I’m sure that touches everyone, no matter how much money or Instagram power you have.”
Their own party, ABRACADABRA, aims to capture that spirit, with tag-lines such as ‘I create as I speak’. “It means that whatever you speak about, whatever you think about, you can manifest”, says Anstascia. They hand me a pouch containing their latest merch line, a crystal-shaped lens that turns phone pics into trippy portraits. “We live in this reality,” explains Vivie-ann – but the escapism of ABRACADABRA means that they “started to live in a bubble.” The lens, she says, is “a different way to see the same reality, and it’s really powerful.”
But for all the crystals and manifesting, Blond:ish are deadly serious about matters a bit more down to earth: namely, our problem with plastics. They started protesting about it after playing the Warung Beach Club in Brazil and seeing the sun rise on a mountain of bottles after the dancers had dispersed, and have become ambassadors for non-profit plastic fighters Oceanic. Vivie-ann practically snarls when single-use cups are in her presence. “By 2050, there’ll be more plastic in the sea than fish,” she says. “This time next year I want [plastic] straws to be completely out of our scene, and for major players in our industry to take action on plastic.” They’re on a mission to open up the conversation with DJs, venues and promoters, and offer a list of alternative suppliers to places they play.
Anstascia ends it here to go off to a physio appointment, but one of the Nervo sisters, Miriam, is standing in the doorway chatting. Vivie-ann seizes her chance. She bounds up to her parallel self and asks for a photo of the four of them, together, in the same room. But she doesn’t register with her EDM doppelgänger, who mistakes Vivie-ann for a fan and denies her request. They may live in a bubble, but every now and then, it bursts.
The next day we touch down in Ibiza and, in the afternoon, arrive at the villa where Vivie-ann and Liana are staying. It belongs to a playboy heir with his own sake brand and an infinity pool that stretches out to the horizon. A Basquiat takes up one entire wall; there are three ceiling-to-floor fridges dedicated to wine. A bowl filled with paper straws sits on the kitchen counter. Vivie-Ann has lost count of the number of times she’s played in Ibiza (she’s now based in Barcelona, while Anstascia has moved to the White Isle permanently). But she’s excited to take me to WooMooN later, a Cirque Du Soleil-does-house party that she feels is authentic.
“For a long time,” says Vivie-ann, Ibiza was about “vodka Red Bull, reverby sound and people getting super wasted.” Everywhere they played was “just, like, bros”. Now, though, Anstascia says “we bring in the female energy. Especially out here on the White Isle, their music has started to attract more people who might ordinarily be into EDM. “They like our music because it’s light, it’s happy, it’s sexy,” Anstascia continues. “A lot of these these jet-set girls don’t really like dark techno. Everyone likes to dress up. I can’t see myself wearing glitter at a techno festival.”
As we talk about how Ibiza is recapturing its Balearic essence, Vivie-ann looks Mixmag straight in the eye and asks why we keep waving our arms around like Kate Bush whenever there is mention of words like ‘mystical’. “Why do you think that whenever it’s about spiritualism people kind of take that tone?” she asks. “Why do you think people judge it?’
Is that something they face a lot? “Yeah, it is. I love to change people’s perceptions on it, because it’s such an important thing. I like to have conversations with people who have these judgements, just to open their eyes. Because it’s really important that everyone’s connected to themselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Their set at WooMooN suggests that people are certainly connecting more with Blond:ish. ABRACADABRA aside, it looks like a party that was made for them. Aerialists perform death-defying stunts. The foliage is bathed in pink light. A chill-out zone features New-Age flute music. It may have a VIP system just like any other Ibiza club, but here the DJs wear feathers in their hair and the staff are all dressed like Drago from Game Of Thrones.
Blond:ish soak it all up. They throw shapes around the decks and bounce off each other seamlessly – a touch of afrohouse, a bit of Bicep, a lot of folkloric techno. It’s as though they’ve gathered all that volatility and heightened emotion from the past few days and blown it back into the club with the force of a tropical storm. When it all falls into place – the vibe, the location, the crowd – Blond:ish bring a magic that can’t be denied.
Blond:ish’s label ABRACADABRA launches later this year