Oh, pity for those unfortunate souls who missed out on Ascend earlier this month, thumping the Old Timer Cabin’s walls deep in the river valley.

Beyond mere ascension and the promise of a good time, Ascend brought far-flung wanderers — the ones who spent their summer tripping out to Shambhala or Bass Coast, Astral Harvest or North Country Fair — together for a night of house, trance, trap, drum and bass, and assorted subgenres under Edmonton’s night sky.

“It feels like a reunion. So many people come together that we’ve known for eight years, or even 18 years, that you might only see once a year,” said Kelsey and Melissa Cordingley, sisters who anticipated seeing DJs Chad Patry and Steve Killups make the dance floor sweat. “People don’t have the chance to come together if they miss a festival; this gets everyone together in the same space.”

The space, opened in 1959, hasn’t seen many nights pump harder or hotter in the last 60 years. Throbbing speakers and Shambalha-quality lighting shook the guests and bathed them in luminescence, calling to mind the classic quote: “You think I’m gonna roll out this kind of red carpet for a f—ing marching band?” No, and not Snoop Dogg either, but some of Edmonton’s premiere soundscapers on a faultless autumn night.

Honeydripper and Future Spice led off the music, followed by J-Sound — a proprietor of dirty bass house — and Statera. Patry Ft. Dekx came next, preceding JYVY and ZBit, aka Dusty Zbitnoff, an Edmonton native who’s now based out of Kelowna and spent the summer touring the festival circuit, living out a full-time gig 13 years after he first began DJing.

Zbitnoff’s initial inspiration stemmed from the experience at Shambalha. Enjoying Edmonton’s familiar surroundings, he reiterated the night’s reunion theme, “looking forward to connecting with anyone I didn’t see at Sham.” His set lit up the floor, blasting out beats with wisps of winter whipping at our heels.

One end of the room featured art in the living moment. At the other, an array of visual artists — including Abigail Steer-Christie and Brittney Leight, Mario Griffith and Patrick Ennis — showcased their work, allowing the curious to linger on themes of time, space, and celebratory dance.

Artist Garrett Plummer showcases his work during Ascend, held at the Old Timers Cabin.

Ryan Garner /

Edmonton Journal

And pity for those who missed out on a chance to meet Garrett Plummer, a self-taught product of Peace River who creates textured, interactive paintings with multi-coloured vibrancy. One of his works on display contained chopped up money and crushed up baby teeth incorporated into the paint. Off the wall? His latest, a 60-by-70 job that took six months to produce, blended in $300 worth of diamond dust and a crushed scorpion.

“I’m into rock hunting, treasure hunting, finding new things to use,” said Plummer, pronounced in the familiar way. “As soon as you crush up money and crush up scorpions it takes the paint to a whole other level.”

Not far from Plummer’s Ascend-inspired work in progress, occupying a corner of the room with a long beard and wry smile, Ryan Weisser displayed his work, employing aerosol and acrylic marker to produce Shambalha-inspired landscapes of revelers soaking up the moment.

“A lot of my friends like to call it tunescape,” said Weisser, who noted his first work — an array of dynamic colour framed by Shambalha’s epic screens and mass of moving bodies — was created from memory. “When I saw it it was locked in place, in my memory, and I had to get it out.”

Ryan Weisser displays his Shambalha-inspired work at Ascend, held at the Old Timers Cabin.

Ryan Garner /

Edmonton Journal

Aside from reunion, artists’ showcase and indomitable dance party, the event was also a celebration. Jordan Laboucane, one of the event organizers and the driving force behind Visceral Photo, rang in his 30th birthday in style, with several attendees crediting him for drawing them together. And it also served as an impromptu 30-plus birthday bash for Tara Lyn Stafford, whose radiance is rivalled only by her kindness and compassion.

The night began with a sunset yoga session by Awaken Your Heart, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Branch Out Foundation, which specializes in non-pharmaceutical approaches to neurological disorders. Food was provided by OJ’s HEART Cart — donating proceeds to The Mustard Seed — and DandyLion Confections, while BottomZ Up provided the bartending services, keeping everyone hydrated throughout the evening.

But music was at the heart of it. The DJs were accentuated by dancers from Illusia and Hakka Mei, as well as The Flowbot, creating a spectacle all on its own. And what makes a good DJ set, the type that draws hushed reverence from those who speak of it years later?

“Mixing in popular music with modern DJ beats,” came the simple answer, but dictionary definitions don’t do EDM’s loving tribespeople justice, brandishing talent that sprouts from curiosity and grows through trial and error, repetition and revision, until it stands on its own and inspires others. Like aspiring DJ Brad Savage — “75 per cent rad, the other part’s just Savage” — who noted that Deadmau5 was his entry point into electronic music and Mac Miller’s death in September 2018 “was a big moment for me, it inspired me to write lyrics and put things down on paper, to actually start creating.”

The act of creating music has only helped Savage appreciate it more.

“I always used to look at people who bought records and thought ‘what are they doing?’” he said, baffled by the commerce in an age of internet proliferation. “Now I want records, physical records, because they’re artwork, they’re something you can hold on to.”

Savage also draws inspiration from Steve Killups, who closed out the evening still buzzing from Shambalha, where he played a Sunrise Sessions set years in the making.

“My ninth year going to Sham my girlfriend said ‘we’re not going back next year unless you’re performing,’ and it all came together,” said Killups, who exuded a contagious energy discussing the event and the impact it had on him, both personally and professionally.

Ultimately that was Ascend’s goal, to reunite and elevate. Or, as Laboucane so eloquently puts it, “To promote the idea of solidarity amongst creatives. … To serve as a common ground and unifying platform to those who sacrifice themselves for their art, for their love, and for their goals. Great art, stoic minds, loving hearts, and a better world are made collectively.”

In the end, despite the pity for those who missed it Ascend brought people together, bridging dormant connections between friends separated by time and space while also forging new ones that feel familiar from the start, greeting new friends with there-you-are smiles, bridging gaps in your life you never knew you had.

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Revllers dance at Ascend, held at the Old Timers Cabin.

Ryan Garner /

Edmonton Journal