We were just a bunch of weirdos
That’s how DJ Soup, Robbie Campbell, who’s curated the music at the Pagoda for over a decade, remembers the ragtag group of partiers who came together in September 1998 at the inaugural Shambhala Music Festival. There were no cell phones. Raves were novel. And the dancefloor only had a few hundred people on it. But slowly, the seeds that were planted by Jimmy Bundschuh and his friends sprouted into Canada’s longest-running electronic music festival.
After 22 years, Campbell says they all have somewhat blended together and that the first Shambhala still stands out. It was lit by black light and headlined by a mixtape put together by Living Room stage director Mike Hoola and sent from Halifax because he couldn’t attend.
Above all else, DJ Soup says that it was hard work and Shambhalove that made the festival what it became.
We sat down with the man behind the Pagoda to chat about the first Shambhala Music Festival, what it meant, and how the spirit of that event lives on today.
How did you get involved in Shambhala Music Festival in the first place?
I was involved before it was even Shambhala. There was a little scene.
When I got to Nelson I came to go to art school and I was into grunge music, punk and metal. All the really heavy stuff. I really only had minor experience with raves. They were so different from anything that was happening at the time. Particularly for the Kootenays.
We all kind of met down at a small party space called the Sub Pub, it felt like something different and magical, new and exciting. And we’d just dance all night. There were no cell phones. And, we weren’t just drawn to the festival, really, we were drawing it. It wasn’t normal. When it first started, we were just a bunch of weirdos.
Do you have any prominent memories of those early, first years?
After over 20, they all kind of blend together, but the first one still stands out.
It was on my birthday. Late Summer and in September. It was cold and pretty small. The best effect we had in the 90s were blacklight bulbs. The dance floor was pretty empty with maybe 40-50 people at the most as there were really only maybe a few hundred people total. It was headlined by a mixed cassette tape that Hoola made because he moved to Halifax and couldn’t attend the festival.
I remember that Rich-e-Rich showed up to check it out the first year and documented it on video. He also brought some couches and set up some of his props. Later that year he moved out to the Kootenays, and then the next year the Fractal was born.
The next year we all went out to the farm and I remember looking over at Jimmy and he was saying to me, one day this is going to be like Disneyland. He knew that he could clear all the stuff away because he was used to having access to all the farm vehicles and equipment, but to me it seemed impossible. Jim always knew he could do it. We always liked hanging out together because neither of us is afraid of hard work. Essentially that is what shaped Shambhala.
How did you end up building the Pagoda?
I sat down with Rich-E-Rich and we talked about a number of different ideas. And we wanted a theme instead of just it being the main stage. And it always felt really empty because it was so big and open. And Rich and I came up with the concept. We talked about a bunch of ideas and Pagoda was the one that stuck because it had so many possibilities. Slowly, it grew and became what it is today.
Which artist’s performances stick out the most in your mind over the years?
None really, it’s always really been more about the people coming and the party itself. The freshness of that feeling of forging a new path with music and creating something that was so original still lives on at Shambhala today. That party and our party are a collective. The DJ is only a small piece of the puzzle. I felt just as good dancing on the dancefloor as I did playing records for the people that were doing it. The environment and the vibe and the people were synonymous with what we were trying to do. We did it.