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CRSSD puts San Diego on the dance music map

CRSSD Festival returns to San Diego's Waterfront Park this Saturday and Sunday, March 5 and 6.
CRSSD Festival returns to San Diego’s Waterfront Park this Saturday and Sunday, March 5 and 6.
(Courtesy photo by Keiki-Lani Knudsen / CRSSD )

Highlighted by its picturesque Waterfront Park venue with striking views of the bay and city skyline, the bi-annual CRSSD festival has been a fixture in San Diego for seven years now

Through the lens 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 it just might be time to make room for San Diego on that list.

Highlighted by its picturesque Waterfront Park venue with striking views of the bay and city skyline, the bi-annual CRSSD festival has been a fixture in San Diego for seven years now. During that time, CRSSD has used its routinely sold-out events to showcase the best house and techno DJs, production teams and electro-forward acts 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 Chet Faker project, English DJ duo Gorgon City, dance-pop duo Sofi Tukker and veteran producer Four Tet, this weekend’s iteration of CRSSD is set to continue the tradition.

While most of the acts that have graced CRSSD stages over the years fit under the umbrella of electronic dance music, there are always 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 played the festival a few years ago.

On Saturday and Sunday, CRSSD wild cards take the form of Grammy-nominated English quartet Glass Animals and genre-hopping singer-songwriter Cautious Clay.

Clay — aka Cleveland-born, Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist and producer Josh Karpeh — used to DJ in college, but the music of his 2021 debut album, “Deadpan Love,” tends to blur the lines between R&B, hip-hop and bedroom pop.

Karpeh has penned songs for the likes of John Legend and John Mayer, been sampled by Taylor Swift and was enlisted by FINNEAS for a remix of the Billie Eilish breakout track “Ocean Eyes.” The 29-year-old, classically trained musician enjoys synthesizing his widely varied influences in different ways each night and looks forward to being one of the “non-traditional” acts on Sunday.

But could that also mean reimagining some of his CRSSD set for a festival so deeply steeped in house and techno?

“I think we might,” Karpeh said from a recent tour stop in Colorado. “We don’t play the same show every night anyway. And there’s always a level of improvisation that’s incorporated into my music, but especially in the live setting. I’m not exactly sure how, but I definitely think it’ll be different. We want to keep it hype and have no problem calling audibles.”

That ability and willingness to take risks on the fly only adds to his allure as an artist and is undoubtedly part of the reason so many of the dates on Karpeh’s current headlining tour are already sold out.

But it’s anything but a gimmick. For a performer who earned his stripes as a classically trained flutist and saxophonist, in addition to playing in a reggae band, beatmaking in college and serving a few stints as a backup vocalist, it’s just business as usual.

“I don’t like to scale back too much,” Karpeh said. “I navigate being an artist by elevating what I do in ways that excite me. I always ask, ‘What’s my next path?’ There are just so many ways to do it these days.”

Not surprisingly, CRSSD seems to follow the same philosophy. The popular CRSSD After Dark series is also back on Saturday and Sunday, which features 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 one each evening aboard a Hornblower cruise.

Other CRSSD periphery efforts, like their signature Day.MVS and NGHT.MVS events, seem to be growing exponentially as well.

After an 18-month, pandemic-induced break, CRSSD returned to form last summer with their Day.MVS.XL event, which increased 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 headlining set from Kaskade on the first day of this year.

But whatever name they go by, CRSSD off-shoot events show absolutely no sign of slowing down, each one of them helping to further legitimize San Diego as a top-tier electronic dance music destination.

For now, it’s all about the current edition of CRSSD’s flagship event and Karpeh’s overall philosophy he seems to share with the event’s promoters.

“We just want to create an experience that completely blows people away,” he said.

CRSSD Festival

When: Saturday and Sunday

Where: Waterfront Park, 1600 Pacific Highway, San Diego

Tickets: $126.69 (Sunday only; Saturday sold out)

Online: crssdfest.com

McDonald is a freelance writer.


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