Gems, Art, Music and Visuals Galore: Gem & Jam Festival 2016

*written by Josey Rose Duncan & photos by Lizzie Rose for Electronica Life
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Notes from a jaded (gem-pun intended) Californian: Gem and Jam 2016 was an adorable festival—small, but in a cute way (d’aww). Aerialists spun across the warm, dense, night; vendors hawked watermelon tourmaline, aquamarine and opal; smiling artists conjured psychedelic dreams from paint and colored pencil. I’ve got nothing but love for my (home) Golden State and my (golden) City by the Bay, but I didn’t expect the usual wiggly, wobbly crowd collisions to inspire so many “sorry’s.”

We were somewhere around Tucson on the edge of the desert when the gems began to take hold—or maybe it was the jams. I remember saying something like, “are there always this many car accidents in Arizona or is it the moldavite? (a stone that carries an intense frequency, a fusion of earthly and extraterrestrial energies) Suddenly, the black sky filled with bass and a voice (or was it many voices?) screamed, “whooooooo!”

It was Valentine’s weekend and my BFF (best festival friend) and I were in search of the American Dream, our dancey, jammy, gemmy version of it, anyway- at Tucson’s 10th annual Gem and Jam Festival.
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We arrived at the Solar and Galactic after-parties around 3am, dusty and dehydrated. Eliot Lipp was finishing up his set in Solar. We danced to Gladkill and Templo until dawn threatened, and ended our early morning in Galactic gettin’ funky to Safi’s Lab—feet weary, hearts full. “So polite,” I mouthed, sipping coconut water and surrounded by sunny faces as Earth’s favorite gaseous star peeked. just slightly, above the horizon.

“Everyone here is so polite,” I gazed wide eyed at my friend over Macro Dot’s crunchy, deep, glitch-step. “I’m not used to it.” “Maybe,” she offered conspiratorially, “it’s the moldavite.”
Let’s call this an inter-article footnote (of sorts) and discuss visual art. Although this is a music blog and Gem and Jam calls itself a music festival, the sounds vibrate off the paintings and drawings, while glass sculptures ricochet off morphing video visuals.

“Computers have changed everything,” my BFF was in awe. She was right, as always, but I wasn’t sure this was the best time to contemplate technology’s evolution and its influence on the arts. The festival was one, big symbiotic dance, which allowed us, the un-defined 4th-wall co-collaborators, to crash through the middle; a soft, fiery synthesis.
Desert Dwellers were the sweetest welcome to the dusk hours of the festival-music; an initiation ceremony to a long night of dancing. A man painted beside us under a glowing archway as the sun set.

Two artists I was psyched to see: The Polish Ambassador, and Sango (part of Soulection’s Onyx stage takeover). There’s a reason we love Polish at festivals and it’s not just the jumpsuit—although we love the jumpsuit—or even his power stance. Polish’s electro-funk dance beats break millennial nostalgia down and rebuild it as something futuristic and alien; something space-time transcendent and spiritually moving. When waves crash shorelines to this heart—as the song goes—and beat by beat taken apart.

I recorded two under-one-minute clips from Polish’s set and listen to both now on repeat; transported for two moments from my rainy day desk above San Francisco to Tucson,where purple lights strobe across grooving crowds, and the feelings that we all feed the beat of a common heart.

Soulection’s takeover was everything I would have predicted or manifested in my wildest dreams. IAMNOBODI pushed the vibes to Valentine-sexy with relaxed, soulful beats and remixes. Next, Insightful turned up the heat till it flowed like syrup.
When Sango played the final set of the night, of our Gem and Jam, the crowd was pure love. His music is just so damn good—like a home-cooked meal made of whole ingredients, not processed, irradiated junk. Whole hip hop, R&B, and baile-funk flavored with something Sango keeps secret.

Maybe it’s his ability to synthesize deeper meaning from the mainstream. His ability to pull silk threads from the tracks that bump from every other passing car and rebuild them as rain clouds. Sweat beaded in the smalls of our backs. I’ve heard Sango call his style “spiritual bass” and you know what? I get it. It’s good for the soul.

“Do you like this?” I yell/asked my friend (when does one speak softly at a festival? Not when speakers are mere-feet away, not after beats drop, not then. Maybe in the sacred space, in heart-centered meditation.) I couldn’t hear her response but she was smiling, which was all I needed.

If you’re wondering whether I will return to Gem and Jam next year, let’s just say: I’ve reserved a hotel room. I made my intentions known to the prairie dogs and saguaros, who’ve advised I end this review with a transformational message, so here goes: I think I’m in love.