From the perspective of cultural and historical significance, or as an event destination, cities like Miami, Chicago, Las Vegas, Detroit and Los Angeles have always been at the forefront of American electronic dance music. But maybe it’s time to make room for San Diego on this list.
Highlighted by its scenic Waterfront Park venue with stunning views of the bay and city skyline, the biannual CRSSD festival has been a staple in San Diego for seven years now. Meanwhile, CRSSD has used its sold-out events to showcase the best house and techno DJs, production teams, and cutting-edge artists on the planet.
With a current roster that includes DJs Claude VonStroke and Green Velvet performing together as Get Real, Nick Murphy’s recently revived project Chet Faker, English DJ duo Gorgon City, dance-pop duo Sofi Tukker and the Veteran producer Four Tet, this weekend’s iteration of CRSSD is set to carry on the tradition.
While most of the acts that have graced the stages of CRSSD over the years fall within the scope of electronic dance music, there are still a few that do not. From Portugal. The Man, TV on the Radio and Little Dragon to Blood Orange, Gallant and The Flaming Lips, CRSSD has never been shy about throwing a wild card or two into the mix. Even pop megastar Billie Eilish performed at the festival a few years ago.
On Saturday and Sunday, CRSSD wildcards will take the form of Grammy-nominated English quartet Glass Animals and singer-songwriter Cautious Clay.
Clay — aka Josh Karpeh, Cleveland-born, Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist and producer — was a college DJ, but the music on his 2021 debut album, “Deadpan Love,” tends to blur the lines between R&B, hip-hop and chamber pop.
Karpeh has written songs for John Legend and John Mayer, has been sampled by Taylor Swift and has been enlisted by FINNEAS for a remix of Billie Eilish’s track “Ocean Eyes”. The 29-year-old classically trained musician enjoys synthesizing his wide-ranging influences in different ways each night and relishes being one of Sunday’s “non-traditional” performers.
But could that also mean reinventing part of his CRSSD set for a festival so deeply rooted in house and techno?
“I think we could,” Karpeh said during a recent tour stop in Colorado. “We don’t play the same show every night anyway. And there is always a level of improvisation that is incorporated into my music, but especially live. I don’t know exactly how, but I really think it will be different. We want to keep the hype going and have no problem calling the audibles.
This ability and willingness to take risks on the fly only adds to his appeal as an artist and is no doubt part of why so many of Karpeh’s current tour dates have already sold out.
But it’s anything but a gimmick. For a performer who earned his stripes as a classically trained flautist and saxophonist, in addition to playing in a reggae band, doing beatmaking in college, and doing a few stints as a backing vocalist, it’s like if nothing had happened.
“I don’t like to cut back too much,” Karpeh said. “I navigate as an artist by elevating what I do in a way that excites me. I always ask, ‘What’s my next path?’ There are so many ways to do it these days.
Unsurprisingly, the CRSSD seems to follow the same philosophy. The popular CRSSD After Dark series also returns on Saturday and Sunday, featuring late night sets from a lion’s share of the festival’s acts at local venues like SPIN, Rich’s, Music Box, Hard Rock and Revel. Revel, as well as an each evening aboard a Hornblower cruise.
Other efforts from the CRSSD periphery, like their signature Day.MVS and NGHT.MVS events, also appear to be growing exponentially.
After an 18-month hiatus caused by a pandemic, the CRSSD found its form last summer with its Day.MVS.XL event, which was reduced from one day to two and moved from Petco’s Gallagher Square to Waterfront Park – essentially mimicking CRSSD’s signature festival in every way other than name. And the brand kicked off 2022 with a new signature event, Opening Day, which featured a Kaskade headliner on the first day of this year.
But whatever they’re called, CRSSD’s off-set events show absolutely no signs of slowing down, each of which helps further legitimize San Diego as a premier electronic dance music destination.
For now, it’s all about the current edition of CRSSD’s flagship event and Karpeh’s overall philosophy that he seems to share with the event promoters.
“We just want to create an experience that completely blows people away,” he said.
When: Saturday and Sunday
Or: Waterfront Park, 1600 Pacific Highway, San Diego
Tickets: $126.69 (Sunday only; full Saturday)
In line: crssdfest.com
McDonald is a freelance writer.