When a friend decided that I simply must join her at a so-called “bass festival,” I at once figured it was not where I wanted to be. Why? I judged the whole thing to be a hyper-masculine meat market with a shitty sound system and profanities on perpetual loop. But surprisingly, I wasn’t disappointed. It was nothing like that at all. In fact, I had the time of my life, and this “dirt rave” was one of the best parties this old raver has been to in a long time.
With a rocksolid vibe and a fairly insane sound system, Emissions Festival is a gem of an event. Held in the old mining and logging town of Belden, CA, the setting is idyllic as well. The Belden Town Resort is a sprawling building with a restaurant, mercantile, and hotel. The lengthy bar has surely seen and heard many a story, though I didn’t get to add any of my own. Most of the “town” seems to be held up by this single lodge on the banks of the mighty Feather River.
Oddly enough, this oft-used festival site is also a known stopover on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It’s not hard to imagine taking to foot in this lush country. Everywhere you look is either soaring canyon walls, rivulets making their way to the Feather, or some other natural feature reminding you of nature’s enormity and grandeur. It’s little wonder that this area was chosen to be a part of the PCT, though it’s hard to imagine a hiker on a months-long trek pulling into a dirt rave like Emissions. They’d find everything but a respite. The bass cranks all night long; it rattles your waking hours as well as your dreams. Pots and pans vibrate off of stoves. It’s bonkers.
Another factor that was outside of reckoning was the multitude of Black people at this event. It came as a welcome surprise. Too often, I am one of a handful, and that’s being nice. Honestly, I am more often than not one of perhaps two Black people at a rave. This phenomenon is so normal, and the opposite was so true at Emissions, that when we melinated people did cross each other’s paths, it was hard not to acknowledge it. One Black raver, after commenting on my outfit for the day, pulled down his sunglasses and issued forth a simple and complete statement, “Black people!”
Yes indeed. Judgment be damned. This dirt rave was nothing that I expected, save for the prevalent use of n*gger and b*tch used in the stripped-down and non-melodic music. To be fair, the music didn’t all sound the same, but the genre itself is styled off of Trap music, which is a style of rap with an emphasis on sparse lyrics and a high attention to bass. The funny part is hearing White people play and love this style of music, knowing that it comes from “The Hood” and that it directly contributes to the detriment of Black people, as well as women in general. But I digress.
Speaking of degrading women for sport, the skin at this event was enough to work everyone into a frenzy. But the kicker was that never, not once did this event feel like a meat market, as I had earlier feared. In fact, from the production team to the average partier, everyone I met said that this rave felt “safe.” These days, that’s an important factor. “It’s so good not to have to fight someone off every five minutes,” said one raver to the nods and exclamations of her female friends standing nearby.
Then it hit me: there was something about this party that seemed so good. Partly, I accredit it to being such a small event; they cap the ticket sales at around 600. Coupled with the small area in which the rave takes place, you end up seeing everyone over and over again. It’s ripe for a good time and you can make rave buddies and keep interacting with them for literally days, which took the edge off. Even with the hefty amount of drug use around, most people seemed happy and willing to be there together. Instead of women hiding from men and people lurking, there were spontaneous dance groups and speaker piles, the likes of which I haven’t seen since the 90s. Yes, I’m that old. Yes, I’m still raving.
This rave was bliss; ecstasy even. When it was time to go, I found myself sad to leave the new dancer buddies I’d met, which really was a good feeling. The couple of “bromances” I had at Emissions left me feeling very differently than I had expected when first invited to come to this dirt rave in the forest. The plain of it is that I barely want to tell anyone about this festival, but I’ve made an exception for you dear reader. Emissions was such a good party that I’d hate to have it spoiled by too much notoriety.
That said, everyone is welcome, and I myself would love to see Belden from the vantage of a hiker on the PCT. Once again I was reminded of what the raver gods teach us: that all are welcome and that music is life. Life indeed is music, if only we are willing to let it play and be open to its many forms. Everyone is welcome on the dance floor no matter if they have a hiking stick or a Thai stick. Emissions in Belden Town is the place to be.
Learn more about Emissions here.
All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artist featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.