Standing in the crowd of Concord Music Hall Saturday night, I was struck with a small wave of nostalgia – last November, I photographed Ethan Snoreck, better known as Whethan, during his sold out show there. Now, almost a year later, we were both back for his “Life of a Wallflower” tour. During the time that had passed, the 19-year-old electronic artist released a series of tracks with all-star featuring artists — just the day before, he’d released “Every Step That I Take” with Tom Morello and Portugal. The Man. Needless to say, the Chicago native is thriving.
And although I was soon knocked out of my nostalgia, literally, by one of the many gangs of rowdy, glammed up high schoolers (hey, it’s okay, we all see ourselves in them), I soon found myself rising to their levels of enthusiasm as the first opener, Win and Woo, took the stage. The Chicago-based duo has always held a happy place in my heart, and brought their usual clubby mix of future bass and pop. As bright and feel-good as always, they were the perfect start to a Saturday night.
Alexander Lewis, filling in for MadeinTYO, completely shifted the vibe with his set. Even the lights got darker when he took the stage with his heavier, more bass-oriented sound. His live trombone playing added even more dimension to his thick drops, and, while I’ve never exactly classified the instrument as edgy, Lewis made it cool.
When Whethan finally took the stage, I’ll admit I was surprised by how seamlessly his set aligned with both openers. In the past his set has been on the softer side, with lots of lyrics, pop melodies and punchy, top-heavy arrangements. But this time, he had grown up a little.
Breaking down just the music, an artistic voice was highly evident. Instead of playing genre ~bangers~ and popular originals, the set was more experimental. Whethan pulled from different subgenres and created a mix of future bass, trap, downtempo and even trance. It still was youthful and playful, but had a certain maturity about it. A huge moment was when he dropped Flume’s “Tennis Courts” remix, but then followed it up with crunchier and more innovative sounds.
At the same time, he added an insanely cool and innovative stage design that elevated the show to a real performance. Standing in the center with a tiny table setup, Whethan was surrounded by a triangle of mesh screens. Rainbow lasers accompanied visuals of flowers, cartoons and camcorder film that were projected on said screens. He became the man behind the curtain, visible only when he wanted to be.
Whethan has always held a special place in my heart, as his music held such a huge role in the development of my relationship with EDM. Seeing him behind those screens, really leaning into who he has become as an artist and a person, made me so incredibly proud. The literal manifestation of his “wallflower” tendencies and the contrast between his visibility and invisibility were so honest and vulnerable. It really made me think about how we tend to project identities onto ourselves and those around us, and about the isolation that comes with living behind those projections. The show was a great moment in Whethan’s rising career, and I was just so happy to be there.
Walking into Metro on Saturday night, I was surprised to find it emptier than usual. I had arrived two or three songs into the opener’s set—a band called Mutts, but more on that later—and had expected to walk into a sea of bodies. Just as I thought of how happy I was to not have to elbow through the crowd to get good shots of the band, a flood of people began filling every spare inch of space in the venue. I wondered if they had arrived together on some bus (a Scenicruiser, no doubt).
This was Mutts’ last show on tour with Murder by Death, they definitely played like it. Meaning they threw the hell down. They were a tight, bearded, and sweaty three-piece from Chicago, with one guy on drums, one on bass, and another playing keys and singing. They’re a self-labled American-rock band, with a sound somewhat similar to a Louis Armstrong/Tom Waits/Black Keys mashup, with flecks of Steely Dan and Zeppelin.
They played mostly dark, spooky songs with deep, mumbly vocals, jazzy bass lines, and epic, swelly keys. I got a Tim Burton, Nightmare Before Christmas vibe, which paired well with their active stage presence. The drummer was an animal, and the front-man was all over the place, belting out their songs and even standing on his keyboard for a hot second. After a successful set, they thanked MbD for having them on tour, and made way for the main attraction.
After a quick intermission and some shuffling around on stage, the members of Murder by Death were greeted by a very friendly crowd—they clearly have a huge Chicagoan following.
For the unfamiliar reader, Murder by Death is a five-piece indie band from Bloomington, dating back to the year 2000. They’ve released eight full-length studio albums, the most recent being The Other Shore—the inspiration for the hand-painted backdrop (complete with a galactic starscape made from multi-colored Christmas lights) and most of their merch.
Their sound was quite versatile, but with a consistent undercurrent of Johnny Cash. Imagine the Man in Black had fathered illegitimate kids with the band Horse Feathers, The Band Perry, Dropkick Murphys, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra… Murder by Death is the product of these love-children.
They opened the set with one of their biggest hits, “Alas,” employing a very “Devil Went Down to Georgia” sounding fiddle. As I made my way through the crowd, I saw a guy with a jean jacket sold by one of my favorite illustrators (Matt Bailey, London, UK — @baileyillustration on Instagram). Not really relevant to anything discussed here, but pretty rare and definitely very cool.
MbD’s front man, Adam Turla, introduced the next three songs thusly:
“This song’s about a guy who’s trying to kill a man and kills himself instead…”
“This song’s about a man who tries to kill everybody…”
“This song’s about terrible, terrible memories…”
This was a pretty cheeky intro for some seriously dark songs that the crowd (myself included) enjoyed thoroughly. The song about “terrible, terrible memories” was “Last Night on Earth”, another crowd favorite.
Next, they played “True Dark”, one of their most well-known recordings. Their live rendition was refreshingly different from the studio version; they played it with a bit of swing, with a haunting, gothic string section as Sarah Balliet sawed frantically at her cello. A splash of trumpet provided by multi-instrumentalist David Fountain provided a nice texture, rounding out the sound and nailing the somber country-rock vibe they presumably hoped to achieve.
Continuing with the somber theme, they banged out a beautiful iteration of their song “Lost River”. Turla, believably in character, stomped dramatically with his guitar slung behind his back as he sang the now-infamous lines, “I know a place where a body can hide.”
All in all, it was a relatively tame, well-organized show—the furthest anyone moved was to change instruments between songs. The set list was thoughtfully constructed, and the levels were perfectly mixed. The band had a predictably mind-blowing performance, proving to me and everyone else in attendance that they have well earned their reputation as Indie rock big-leaguers.
The Portland-based indie-pop-tronica-psych-rock band STRFKR had the stage to themselves Tuesday night at Lincoln Hall. Doors opened at 7, and the band didn’t come on until past 8:30, so I had plenty of time to take in their elaborate setup. The stage featured multiple guitars, synths, drum pads, and effects pedals intricately woven throughout cardboard cutouts of psychedelic stingrays floating eerily above foot-tall pine trees and the album art for their 2009 LP, Jupiter. A series of vertical LED panels displayed a dynamic, galactic landscape, emulating a space flight at warp speed.
The four band members took the stage in full drag, sporting silver wigs to match their patchwork and sequin lined dresses. The scene looked like a casting call for the role of Grandma in a Little Red Riding Hood stage adaptation with an N2O leak somewhere in the building. A projector stationed in the balcony projected trippy visuals over the entire set. Think Adventure Time imagery, but on acid—well, more acid. I’m sure some of you are familiar with the band Crumb…the art style was reminiscent of the album art from their Locket EP, with hand-drawn images and poppy, playful color schemes.
The band calmly thanked the crowd for supporting them throughout 10 years of bandhood and claimed to be expecting at least 10 more. As they began to play, the crowd seemed into it, but far less dancey than I had anticipated them to be given the upbeat, pulsing nature of the music. They roared for the big hits but only mumbled and shuffled along to some of the deeper cuts. This didn’t stop STRFKR from putting on a hell of a show, complete with lasers, a disco ball, and a confetti cannon.
The band took an intermission about halfway through the set, giving me time to check out the fully stocked merch table which was very organized and well-done—a delicacy in laidback, bar-style venues such as Lincoln Hall.
All in all, it was a great show. The set list spanned their entire musical career, opening with a track from their first album ever, Starfucker (2007), and by the end of the night they had dipped a toe into every official release in their discography. Some of the apparent crowd favorites included “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second,” “Golden Light,” and “Tape Machine.” The music was energetic, perfectly mixed, and just the right dose of nostalgia for a moody Tuesday night at the beginning of fall quarter.
The band played back-to-back nights at Lincoln Hall, but I was only in attendance for the first of the two shows. There is no doubt in my mind that they rocked it out to a packed house both nights, playing to new and old fans alike, spreading infectious love and all-around good vibes…generally doing what they do! STRFKR is clearly a monolithic name in their genre for a reason, and perhaps even a bucket list must-see. If you haven’t made it to one of their live shows yet, I would highly suggest that you do.
Get ready for a whiplash-inducing weekend of back-to-back-to-back sets, because Riot Fest is here! After much speculation about the festival’s lineup, scheduling and general occurrence, Sept. 14-16 are finally upon us. Daily schedules were released Wednesday morning and reflect headliner Blink-182’s recent replacement by Weezer, Run the Jewels and Taking Back Sunday. Regardless, we are all now swimming in a confusing sea of set times, stage names and conflicting performances.
To help, I’ve teamed up with Stella Frentress, who’ll be covering the festival with me, and WNUR’s Content Coordinator Finn Hewes to provide an extensive, jam-packed schedule of our picks that you can either follow, reference or scoff at. Your choice.
Hydrate and eat a big breakfast, kids, because this is going to be a big one.
Speedy Ortiz: 1-1:30 p.m., Roots Stage
This four-piece band, centered around singer and guitarist Sadie Dupuis, will kick off the weekend with her earnest voice to the tune of her band’s deep bass and lively arrangements.
Direct Hit!: 1:35-2:05 p.m., Riot Stage
For 11 years, this pop-punk band has been releasing a steady stream of upbeat anthems and guitar breaks with some serious drive.
Typesetter: 2:30-3:10, Rebel Stage
New song alert! This brash and loud band put out a new single, Monogamy I, last Friday, putting exactly one week between its release and this performance. Amazing.
The Aquabats!: 3:15-4, Rise Stage
Ska-punk gets big with this 8-piece (minimum) band. Get ready for a wide open sound from a ton of different overlaying instruments.
The Front Bottoms: 4:40-5:25 p.m., Riot Stage
The duo caught our attention with their interesting blend of pop, rock and punk influences and lyrics that ebb and flow in never ending waves.
Matt & Kim: 5:30-6:30, Roots Stage
This pair of Brooklyn musicians has been around for what feels like forever–which is not even close to a bad thing. Their sixth album, ALMOST EVERYDAY, came out this past May, adding to a long, happy history of quirky jams.
Bleachers: 6:35-7:35 p.m., Riot Stage
Built around the lyrical genius of Jack Antonoff, this rock outfit will have get you on your feet, shouting lyrics to anthems we love.
Young the Giant: 7:40-8:40 p.m., Roots Stage
In case you missed this whimsy and spirited band’s headlining set on Dillo Day (shame!), I’ll remind you: it was magnificent. Pouring rain and an animated on-stage presence ended the night with a bang.
Dropkick Murphys 8:30-9:30, Rise Stage
This is going to be a wild one, full of this band’s high-energy signature Celtic punk. I can’t even imagine how fun, weird and spirited this will be live.
Weezer: 8:45-10, Riot Stage
End your night by catching the last part of Weezer’s set, aka feel good, guitar-heavy pop rock. You’ll definitely be singing along.
The Districts: 1:05-1:50 p.m., Riot Stage
Start off your day with a softer, indie/anti-pop that feels genuine, intuitive and timeless. This one has the potential to be quite special.
The Frights: 1:55-2:40 p.m., Roots Stage
Don’t let the name feel you–you’ll enjoy a youthful set with a beachy vibe, and hear raw, relatable lyrics. Listening to frontman Mikey Carnevale on the band’s August 24th release, Hypochondriac, you get the feeling that he’s been through some shit.
Mannequin Pussy: 2:30-3:15 p.m., Rise Stage
Distinctly feminine vocals receive sharp contrast against a punk rock backdrop and thick guitar bridges.
Bully: 3:45-4:30 p.m., Rise Stage
Lead vocalist Alicia Bognanno adds a cheeky edge to this band, with a voice that could fit either gossip-filled brunch with the girls or sassy back talk to a mom that’s ~so~ uncool.
Wolfmother: 5-5:45 p.m., Radicals Stage
The gritty, leather-clad rock our parents grew up to gets psychedelic twists and turns under Andrew Stockdale’s distinctively campy voice.
Twin Peaks: 5:30-6:30 p.m., Roots Stage
This group of four Chicago natives is coming home, bringing along ‘60s influences and a snug sound that will create a buffer between you and the real world.
Elvis Costello & The Imposters: 6:35-7:35 p.m., Riot Stage
Elvis Costello, a man of many hats and many bands, is an absolute icon. Catch him now and you might hear unreleased tracks from his upcoming album, Look Now, set to be released in October with The Imposters. It will be his first in five years.
Interpol: 7:40-8:40 p.m., Roots Stage
I hate to do this to you–and to me–but it’s time to run. After hitting up Interpol, whose set should heavily feature their August 24th release, Marauder, make a break for the Rise Stage to catch the end of The Jesus Lizard’s set.
The Jesus Lizard, 8-9 p.m., Rise Stage
You made it, great! Formed in the late ‘80s, this Chicago band is authentic underground noise rock. They broke up, then got back together, then broke up again, and are now, well, together again. Once you’re done enjoying this band, run to the Riots Stage for Beck.
Beck: 8:45-10 p.m., Riot Stage
Colors, a seamless blend of alternative roots and today’s bright, electronic trends, was the first album I ever bought on vinyl. And with a discography going back 24 years, I doubt I’ll be the only one in my happy place during his return to Chicago.
Mom Jeans.: 12:20-12:50 p.m., Riot Stage
Fitting right in with any arrangement of ‘90s garage rock bands, this group will be a fresh, bustling way to start the day.
Beach Goons: 12:55-1:25 p.m., Roots Stage
Their Aug. 24th release, hoodratscumbags, showcases their energy-driven breaks overlaid with urgent and sincere vocals.
Calpurnia: 1:30-2:10 p.m., Riot Stage
The indie rock foursome is beachy, light and airy. We’re looking forward to jamming out with big smiles.
Spitalfield: 3-3:45 p.m., Radicals Stage
Started in Chicago, this punk rock band is melodic and smooth. They haven’t put out anything new since 2006, so I’m expecting their performance to feel more sophisticated and professional.
Bullet for my Valentine: 3:45-4:30 p.m., Rise Stage
This band a staple for any metalhead–which I’m not–but I can imagine it’ll be great to experience the adrenaline of their music firsthand .
Suicidal Tendencies: 4:40-5:40 p.m., Riot Stage
Keep the energy going with these quick-tongued punk rock pros, who’ve been producing music since the early ‘80s.
Dillinger Four: 5:45-6:45 p.m., Rebel Stage
Busy and strong, their arrangements are highly concentrated and fast-paced. Maximum amounts of headbanging is achievable here.
The Wonder Years: 7-8 p.m., Radicals Stage
Melancholy but hopeful, this punk rock band’s sound is dynamic and full. You’ll be able to both dance and wave a lighter during this set.
Father John Misty: 7:55-8:55 p.m., Roots Stage
No explanation needed. Just go. Please.
Run the Jewels: 9-10 p.m., Riot Stage
End the weekend with a bang. This legendary duo is the only hip hop group on our schedule this weekend, but I’m okay with that because of how incredible this will be live. Let’s GO.
Marketed as “summer’s last stand,” North Coast Music Festival was not only a celebration of the last rays of summer sun, but also of urban, tourist-free Chicago. From August 31 through September 2, Union Park was transformed into a lively stomping ground for downtown’s resident creatives and music lovers. Stages were filled with a good amount of local musicians, drawing crowds full of passionate listeners. Meanwhile, a curated lineup of artists created colorful installations with hip hop and street art themes.
But let’s not forget that nighttime performances were literal last stands against a never-ending mass of thunderclouds and pouring rain. Attendees missed out on two nights’ worth of heavy-hitting headlining acts. Despite an outstanding showing from those who did perform, the weekend’s exuberance took a heavy hit. However, a miraculous final day full of music brought both heat and proof of the city’s dedication to beating negativity with a good time.
Keep reading for my short notes on the sets I hung out at, and stay tuned for artist interview podcasts from Sonic Sanctuary’s Brennan White.
Iris Temple: My favorite of the day! The Chicago-based duo gave a gorgeous sunset performance, even though it was only seen by two rows of people. A romantic change of pace from the edgier acts. Picture perfect lighting on a small stage, and vibier synths and vocals.
Snails: The complete opposite of Iris Temple, which allowed me to get my trap fix for the weekend. Killer first half, but cut short by the storm. Lots of spirited steppers and aggressive head-bangers, which was to be expected.
Robert DeLong: A crazy person, in the absolute best way. He ran around onstage with a Wii remote, used to control three different electronic setups, followed by a bouncing head of platinum hair.
RL Grime: I saw him in May, before the release of his third album, NOVA, and was thrilled to hear the new set. It went above and beyond my expectations. Some drops fell a bit flat, but hearing the album live with an entire sea of people made up lost ground–and then some.
Cashmere Cat: Unconventional drops, glistening pops and quirky arrangements. A nice change of pace. He opted out of using visuals, adding emphasis on the music, and ended up being an impromptu headliner when gates once again closed early due to storms.
Maddy O’Neal: A female in electronic music! O’Neal’s chill beats and heavy, pared down bass lines were right on brand. Compare to artists like Manic Focus.
The Midnight: So sweet! So soulful! I sat down in the grass with some friends for this one, swaying and vibing out.
Mura Masa: Alex Crossan, the reserved, artistic Brit known as Mura Masa hung back with his instruments, playing everything perfectly and causing a storm of dancing bodies. Crossan was joined onstage by Fliss, who handled most of the vocals and provided a welcome contrast with her power and liveliness.
Jamiroquai: Returned to the city for the first time in over a decade, and frontman Jason Kay proclaimed he would pick up right where he left off. Such a confident and eccentric performer. Truly entertaining and classic.
Special mention for the silent disco, which provided a necessary break from main stages and was the most consistently packed area of the entire park. Featuring local DJs, it maintained an anything goes, basement concert vibe.
Today I am providing you with the first interview from the series of conversations I had with artists at North Coast Music Festival last week. This was a special interview for me since I had the privilege of talking to a guy I have admired as both a producer/DJ and a tastemaker for quite sometime. The artist’s name: Barclay Crenshaw.
It’s hard to know where to begin when introducing Barclay Crenshaw. The producer and DJ who often performs under the alias Claude VonStroke has created his own brand of funk-infused techno and house records and toured the international circuit playing many of the hottest venues and festivals on the planet: from headlining Movement Festival in Detroit this year to appearances at Coachella, Creamfields, and Tomorrowland (among many others over the years). Crenshaw is prolific and seemingly tireless. In 2016 DJ Times named him the Best DJ in America. And beyond his own productions and DJ sets, he has also established one of the most respected labels in the dance music industry, Dirtybird Records, which was named label of the decade by Mixmag just last year.
From the get-go, Barclay Crenshaw has done things differently: Although he had been making his own music for years, Crenshaw launched his music career out of a film project. In the early 2000s he worked on the documentary Intellect: Techno House Progressive with the intention of getting into the minds of successful DJs and producers and figuring out how they operate. After finishing the film, he subsequently began to produce and release his own records and DJ across the U.S. He established Dirtybird Records in 2005, released his debut album Beware of the Bird in 2006, and created a Fabric mix for the illustrious Fabric club in London in 2009, all the while quietly building a steady and loyal following in the American underground techno and house scene. Now, Crenshaw’s meticulous productions and distinctive style have made him an internationally recognized name in dance music and a respected tastemaker both at home and abroad. Moreover, he’s brought his own events to cities and towns across the country: his Dirtybird barbecues-which often feature street food, outdoor games, and of course, music-have helped solidify his brand and his label’s prowess-from LA to Brooklyn. Yet in spite of his many achievements, Barclay’s ethos has remained down-to-earth and unpretentious: based on the performances I have seen and the time I spent talking with him, it appeared clear to me that he focuses on presenting his listeners with danceable music that does not take itself too seriously or masquerade as something it’s not. It’s about having a good time and truly enjoying the atmosphere and mood music can create for the audience or even the casual listener. So without further ado, here is my conversation with Barclay following his evening set at North Coast Music Festival:
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Brennan White: Alright this is Brennan White with the Sonic sanctuary show for WNUR 89.3fm Chicago, Northwestern’s radio station. I’m here with Barclay Crenshaw, also known as Claude VonStroke, the Dirtybird label owner, the man behind it all! Barclay, how are you doing?
Barclay Crenshaw: I’m doing great, thanks for having me on the show!
Brennan White: Of course, we’re happy to have you! So, you grew up in the Midwest, right?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yes, I did.
Brennan White: So you’re originally from Cleveland and you had some of your roots in Detroit. What’s it like being back in Chicago and being in the birthplace of house? How does that feel?
Barclay Crenshaw: Chicago’s always been a really fun city to come and play. It’s always been a little more wild than other cities. I don’t know why, I can’t really explain it. It gets a little crazy here, so I enjoy it.
Brennan White: Ah, Yeah, for sure! So, I read that you had a radio show in high school. Is that correct?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yes that is correct.
Brennan White: I’m wondering how that show influenced your perspective on music from an early age, and how did it affect how you think about music and presenting it to an audience, or a crowd, or anyone else on the other end?
Barclay Crenshaw: I haven’t thought about that show in a really long time, and when I think about it I did the show with this kid Derek Ordway who is now deceased. Rest in Peace Derek. He was into punk rock and new wave and all that kind of stuff, and I was only into rap. So the radio show would be like I play Eric B. and Rakim and he plays Nitzer Ebb, and I play a Salt-N-Pepa track and he plays Depeche Mode.
Brennan White: Was that back to back?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah! the show was very eclectic.
Brennan White: So it was jumping around a bit?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah, but we both talked, and the way we would get people to listen to it is we would order a pizza every night and we would give the pizza away outside the station to the winning caller. So if you listened to our show you could always get a free pizza.
Brennan White: [laughs] Did you find that helped your show out a little bit?
Barclay Crenshaw: No, it helped the calling in but it didn’t help the show [laughs].
Brennan White: Because I was gonna say, in the 21st century sometimes it feels like radio is a bit of a dying art form.
Barclay Crenshaw: If it’s live then you should just give away some pizza!
Brennan White: That’s a tactic I’ll have to adopt because I certainly need some more people calling in on my show!
Barclay Crenshaw: People love pizza… But not only do they love pizza but they love hanging out with the host of the radio show while they eat their pizza.
Brennan White: You brought them into the studio sometimes? Or…
Barclay Crenshaw: No we would hang out outside.
Brennan White: It was a nightly show? once every week?
Barclay Crenshaw: Weekly, weekly.
Brennan White: Gotcha. Cool! So I know you have a background in film. You worked on the film Intellect: Techno House Progressive. So you learned a tremendous amount from the dance music scene from that film, right?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yes I did.
Brennan White: So you learned some of the benefits and glories as well as the downsides. Can you talk about how working on that project impacted the beginning of your career and what [ideas, concepts, information] you took into account when you were launching your career as a DJ and as a producer?
Barclay Crenshaw: I did that film basically to launch my career. I interviewed all of the most famous techno and house DJs to kind of find out how they got famous because I had been making music since I was 11 but I couldn’t figure out how to get past the stage of just making music. And I couldn’t get to the getting it out there and getting gigs stage. So, I basically just asked everyone how they did it and made a movie about it.
Brennan White: Are there any key elements of advice that stuck with you? Some of our listeners are aspiring producers and DJs.
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah, I mean one of the best interviews on that whole thing is a guy from Chicago named Derrick Carter who really told me how when the outside public looks in at djing they’re like “oh it’s so easy you don’t really have to do anything,” but Derrick Carter told me “it’s really hard, it’s only gonna get harder, and even when you make it, it’s only gonna get five times harder.” So you have to work your ass off.. Like every second.
Brennan White: And would you say some of those difficulties come from, I mean, obviously increased pressure, but also just larger crowds, you have more scrutiny from people in the audience or if you have a radio show, or if you’re releasing records with Dirtybird you’ve got a large audience?
Barclay Crenshaw: It’s like time management, doing everything, and being able to be on when you’re supposed to be on. Like playing six gigs a week and every single person that books you, pays you money, wants it to be the best set that you’ve ever played…
Brennan White: Absolutely. So there’s that constant pressure. So another question I’ve got for you is with the Dirtybird barbecues. With Birdhouse Festival next week in Chicago, you’re taking your brand to all these different cities, and I’m wondering how you decided to focus on cultivating this grassroots house movement within America, and it seems also that you’re not preoccupied with Europe: labels like Defected, Diynamic. You’re doing your own thing!
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah, I really feel like the opportunity is in America. And we’re one of the only people actually taking advantage of it and really building the community properly and getting the data and making events for people to go to outside the massive corporate rave system.
Brennan White: Definitely.
Barclay Crenshaw: We’re doing our own thing. If you look at the market, it’s so obvious that we should be doing what we’re doing. Like no one else is doing it. It’s crazy. I don’t understand it. Like why isn’t anyone else doing it? It’s so weird!
Brennan White: Yeah, for sure. So I want to ask you about one of your recent remixes. You were tapped by Mark Ronson and Diplo for the remix on Silk City’s “Only Can Get better.” Can you talk a little bit about how that remix came together?
Barclay Crenshaw: I originally went in the studio with Mark Ronson to be a writer on that track, and then I kind of just hung out there for a little bit, and I’ve been friends with Diplo. He remixed “the Whistler” before he was Diplo. He was Diplo, but he wasn’t “Diplo.”
Brennan White: [laughs] Was his name Wesley or something?
Barclay Crenshaw: No, his name was Diplo but you know what I mean! He wasn’t like Megatron Diplo.
Brennan White: Yeah.
Barclay Crenshaw: So [Mark Ronson and Diplo] were like we didn’t really use your bits on the track but we want you to do the remix. It was kind of a weird flip flop, but whatever. I did the remix and because of it Mark Ronson’s playing at Dirtybird Campout, so it was cool!
Brennan White: really! I didn’t even know that he was playing there. That’s amazing.
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah. It’s like a good thing. You know who always says yes to everything? You will never believe it.
Brennan White: Who’s that?
Barclay Crenshaw: William Shatner!
Brennan White: No way, seriously?
Barclay Crenshaw: [laughs] Shatner’s like, “that’s the secret to my life. I always said yes to every request.”
Brennan White: He’s a yes man, I guess!
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah. Don’t say yes to every request…Unless you want to be William Shatner.
Brennan White: It would make you insane. I don’t know how he lives his life [laughs]… So another question I have for you: we see pop music is now embracing a little bit of the house music style: if you look at Calvin Harris’s recent records and Diplo and Mark Ronson linking up with the Silk City project, what do you make of that and how do you think, especially in America, house is moving?
Barclay Crenshaw: I still wouldn’t call that like house house. But…
Brennan White: Yeah, I agree with you. But you can see the house influences at least?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah.
Brennan White: And What do you make of that?
Barclay Crenshaw: Really smart highly successful producers just get on whatever’s going. Like Whatever’s the hot shit. And I feel like this is starting to be the hot shit like for five minutes and that’s what’s gonna happen.
Brennan White: Yeah.
Barclay Crenshaw: Who knows if it’s going to be a long-term thing? It’s something rappers have been good at for ages. They find out what’s good-or not what’s good-what’s smoking hot, and then they just sample it or get that producer in to make something for them. It’s just an intelligent way to work.
Brennan White: yeah, I mean we saw that with the most recent Cardi B record, right?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah.
Brennan White: And I even saw Don Diablo had a recent record that sampled am old house song from the late 90s, or not that old, but… [this was a reference to Don Diablo’s record “Momentum” which samples Fatboy Slim’s 1999 dance hit “Right Here, Right Now“] Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah, that’s old. That’s pretty old!
Brennan White: yeah. So I guess my last question for you is: with Dirtybird, you’ve managed to curate a specific sound, but it seems like there’s not really any compromise on the parts of the artists that contribute to your label.
Barclay Crenshaw: No there isn’t!
Brennan White: So how do you go about being so specific and scrupulous with picking tracks but still allowing people to have that energy, you know?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah I don’t actually sign anyone, sign as in contractually-
Brennan White: So you sign tracks?
Barclay Crenshaw: I just sign individual pieces of music. And that gives me so much freedom. Because when you sign an artist you’re committed to everything they make and sometimes I don’t wanna go that direction.
Brennan White: Yeah.
Barclay Crenshaw: So I’m like a purist in that sense.
Brennan White: that makes sense.
Barclay Crenshaw: So we’re only signing tracks. But there are people who have made a lot of tracks that come out on Dirtybird, like Justin Martin…People I think that are amazing that I sign a lot of records from. But I never actually sign them. And the other thing I notice is, this is a big life lesson that I learned, the more you try to clamp down and tell people what they have to do for you the less they want to be involved. And the more you just let them do whatever they want and tell them that they can be involved just if they feel like it, the more they want to do with you.
Brennan White: Uh huh.
Barclay Crenshaw: Which is like counter intuitive; You think you have to control everyone but really you just have to be like “I’m just having a fun party do you want to come?”
Brennan White: Yeah, and I think it was Richard Branson, who had some part in that thinking. With his work with Janet Jackson, I know it he didn’t sign her to a [long] contractual agreement, it was like we’re gonna release this song and these couple records but I’m not gonna own everything that you do next and you’re not obligated. It’s kind of an interesting way to free up the artist but also allow yourself to continue to produce what you want.
Barclay Crenshaw: Everything is based on relationships anyway so if the artist feels good about working with you, then they’ll work with you. If they don’t feel good about working with you then it doesn’t even matter if they have a contract. They’re just going to tank it or figure a way out of it or just fuck it up.
Brennan White: Absolutely.
Barclay Crenshaw: It doesn’t do you any good to have bad vibes going down.
Brennan White: For sure! Alright so I think that brings us to the close of this interview. Barclay I appreciate you spending time with us!
Barclay Crenshaw: Thank you. Come to the Birdhouse Festival next week in Chicago!
Brennan White: Birdhouse fest!
Barclay Crenshaw: It’s at the plumber’s industrial toiletries Union! [sarcastically] Brennan White: [laughs] You’re kidding me!
Barclay Crenshaw: I don’t know where it is!
Brennan White: Everybody should be there regardless of where it is.
Barclay Crenshaw: It’s in a great spot. It’s where the Dirtybird festival was three years ago.
Brennan White: Okay, we’ll post that on the website [CLICK HERE FOR TIX!] . This has been Barclay Crenshaw, AKA Claude VonStroke. Thanks again Barclay, this was the Sonic Sanctuary show with Brennan White!
Barclay Crenshaw: Cool!
A complete version of the audio interview will feature on Sonic Sanctuary on the website on Sunday September 9th and on air from 12:00am to 1:00am on September 14th. Thanks for reading!
And grab your tickets for Birdhouse Festival right here! I will be there so you know it’s gonna be a fun time 🙂
Brennan White (Landon Sea)
Mura Masa playing at Concord Music Hall this past November. Photo by Yasmeen Wood
I hope you are having a great week!
North Coast Music Festival is nearly upon us, and that means it’s time for my preview of the event!
This weekend much of the Chicago music community will descend upon Union Park for the 9th iteration of the 3-day festival. North Coast has touted impressive lineups in previous year featuring names such as: Deadmau5, Gucci Mane, Zedd, Snoop Dogg, David Guetta, the Chemical Brothers, Moby, and many more. If that small sampling of past performers tells you anything, it’s that North Coast is willing to spend budget to bring in the big guns.
So, this year I expected no less. And I’ve gotta say, the lineup does not disappoint.
The weekend is shaping up to be fantastic and will offer everything from your mainstay headliners: Miguel, Axwell Ingrosso, DJ Snake, Vulfpeck, and co. to auspicious newcomers such as Chicago’s very own Ric Wilson and KAMI. I think North Coast has done a great job booking talent this year, considering there is a great deal of variety across genres. For the 21st century Soundcloud rap consumer you’ve got Juice WRLD, Smokepurpp, and Landon Cube among others, for the more seasoned millennial with a taste for synth-pop, indie-electronic and alternative, you’ve got the obvious picks: the Polish Ambassador, the Revivalists, Moon Taxi, Knower, and many more, for the more electronically inclined (bass heads!) you’ve got Snails, RL Grime, Crywolf, Midnight Conspiracy, and Chicago natives Porn & Chicken.
And for someone like me? Well, here are my picks!
This list will certainly include names you know, and perhaps a couple you might not. These are acts that I both appreciate for their artistry as well as their reputation as performers and people.
So with these picks, you can take it or leave it, but at least you will know where to find me 🙂
In order of date and time.
Monte Booker: 3:45-4:30 at the Coast stage.
Barclay Crenshaw: 5:00-6:00 at the Coast stage. Absolute legend in the house & techno scene. The Dirtybird boss, who also works under the alias Claude VonStroke, brings a funky style to the dance music scene, and is a must-see act for me this weekend. Also, I will hopefully conduct an interview with him for the Sonic Sanctuary show, so stay tuned.
Two Friends: 5:30-6:30 at the Attendee.com stage.
Juice WRLD: 6:00-6:45 at the North stage.
Snails // DVSN: Snails plays 7:45-8:45 at the Attendee stage while DVSN plays the same slot at the North stage. This one is a toss up for me so I will likely go to both.
Headliner: Miguel // Axwell Ingrosso. : 8:45-10:00 at the Coast stage and Attendee stage respectively. I have seen both performers before, and I would weight my experiences close to being equal. I saw Miguel at Governor’s Ball in 2016 (partially rained out so didn’t get the full experience) and Axwell x Ingrosso at Governor’s Ball in 2014. These days I am much more of a fan of the live set than the DJ set at music festivals, so I lean heavily towards Miguel when considering which one to attend; however, Axwell Ingrosso does throw down one of the best mainroom / big room EDM sets you’ll hear, if that’s your flavor.
Ric Wilson: 2:45-3:45 at the Coast stage. Chicago native and homegrown talent, show some love!
Knower: 4:45-5:45 at the Coast stage. seasoned indie-electronic duo that makes some interesting noise…
The Polish Ambasssador x Diplomatic Scandal: 5:45-6:45 at North stage.
RL Grime: 6:45-7:45 at Coast stage.
Cashmere Cat: 7:45-8:45 at North stage.
Headliner: the Revivalists: 8:45-10:00pm at Attendee.com stage.
I picked the Revivalists over DJ Snake in the head to head main stage match-up because I think they offer more to the viewer in a live space. I have seen DJ Snake in the past, and while his dirty house style fused with Middle Eastern and Caribbean influences is great for your frat party or Saturday night pregame, I don’t think it is the best use of your time at a major festival. See the live band here. The 7-piece band (the Revivalists) features pedal steel guitar, your mainstay drummer, guitarist, keyboardist, bassist and vocalist, as well as saxophone and trumpet. And when a live band is mic’d and mixed well live, it is a sight to enjoy and a pleasure for your ears. I’m in.
NoMBe: 3:30-4:30 at North Stage.
KAMI: 4:30 – 5:30 at Attendee.com stage. Another hometown talent!
Jacob Banks: 5:30-6:30 North Stage. English-Nigerian singer songwriter. Fantastic voice.
Moon Taxi: 6:30-7:30 Coast Stage.
Mura Masa: 7:30-8:30 North Stage.
Headliner: Jamiroquai: 8:30-10:00 Coast stage.
Once again, the question between headliners Yellow Claw and Jamiroquai comes down to your attitude towards the final act of the festival. Are you trying to have a wild time, or are you trying to finish your weekend with a more mellow vibe? Jamiroquai made their name in the 90s with consistent success on the U.K. dance charts. They combine house sensibilities with funk and soul influences. I personally find that sound more appealing these days than some of the more drop-oriented electronic music that acts like Yellow dClaw tout, but to each his own. Sometimes it’s fun to let loose!
So this brings me to the end of my preview. I will leave you with this last word: I will be conducting interviews at this festival so you can expect on-air content as well as some additional material on the website and on WNUR’s socials. I am finalizing my interview schedule, but it’s shaping up to be fun. Stay tuned. I’m excited for you to hear these interviews!
Check out Brennan’s music coverage and interviews at www.sonicsanctuary.live
When it came time for her set, Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast practically jumped her way on stage. Her undeniable energy was also exhibited in her outfit, consisting of a long-sleeved racing top, sparkly skirt, and space-buns hairstyle. Originating from Philadelphia, Zauner showcased her multi-instrumentalist abilities by switching from guitar to synths to just vocals throughout the show. Backing her up was her band, consisting of a guitarist, bassist, and drummer who provided vocals at times. The set was a good mix of Zauner’s dark, dreamy tracks (“Heft,” “Boyish,” “The Body Is a Blade”) contrasting with her happier, synth-driven songs (“The Woman That Loves You,” “Everybody Wants to Love You,” “Machinist”) that proved perfect for dancing. The band also surprised the audience with a hard-rock cover of “Dreams” by The Cranberries at the end of their set, resulting in an entire-crowd sing along.
“Chicago! Wassup wassup wassup WASSUP?!” were the first words out of Noname’s mouth as she took her place on the Red stage. Announcing that she was “a little bit high,” Noname first played some new tracks off of her upcoming album, words coming out of her mouth faster than one could comprehend them. However, she soon stopped, saying that she had smoked too much and thus forgot the lyrics. After playing her hit “Diddy Bop” off of 2016’s Telefone, she stopped her set to ask for the photographers to clear out of the photo pit before continuing on with her set, rapping her verses on Smino’s “Amphetamine” and Mick Jenkins’ “Comfortable.” Throughout her set, Noname enjoyed using the audience to enhance her music, having them adlib various “oo’s” and playing some call and response games. For her last two tracks, Noname played “Forever,” during which Ravyn Lenae (who had performed at the fest earlier that day) and Joseph Chilliams came out. This was followed directly with “Shadow Man,” during which Saba and Smino (both performers at the fest as well) contributed their verses. Despite some hiccups, with Noname’s guest appearances and conversational demeanor, her performance had the crowd swelling with Chicago pride.
(Sandy) Alex G and his band members walked on the Blue stage to the tune of Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway,” giving their set an ironic start. However, it soon got serious as singer Alex Giannascoli led the band’s moody instrumentals with his soft, melancholy vocals. After playing through “Forever,” “Proud,” and “Bobby,” which the crowd chanted and swayed along to accordingly, Giannascoli welcomed Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast on stage to sing “Brite Boy” with him. Harder songs such as “Brick” and “Horse,” played toward the end of their set, started a mosh pit in the middle of the crowd, but by “Sportstar,” the audience’s eyes were once again glued to the stage, bodies swaying along. After the last chords of “County” rang out, the crowd immediately demanded “One more song!” most likely because the band never played their most popular track, “Mary.” This was enough to get Giannascoli back on stage, but only to scream “HEY, SHUT UP! WE CAN’T DO ONE MORE SONG!” before mumbling a meek “Thank you” and exiting for good.
Although Japandroids are only two men strong – Brian King on guitar and vocals and David Prowse on drums – they built a wall of sound during their set at the Blue stage. Opening with “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” off of their 2017 album of the same name, the crowd began moshing and singing along immediately. King’s speak-singing and Prowse’s insane drumming skills made for the perfect environment for this. After playing straight through “International” and “Heart Sweats,” King announced that “The boys are back in fucking town!” and then dedicated “Younger Us” to their original Chicago fans. Basically every song in their set was melded together with seamless transitions and formidable breakdowns and builds, making it an exciting listening experience. Naturally, they ended their show with “The House That Heaven Built,” inspiring several crowd surfers and lots of head nodding.
Stopping at Pitchfork during her 20th anniversary tour of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Ms. Lauryn Hill made sure that everyone was aware of her star power. Dressed in a wedding gown with a collared shirt over top and asymmetrical makeup, Hill sang through every song on the album, even though it meant going nearly 30 minutes over when her set was supposed to end. Her band consisted of a brass section, guitarist, bassist, drummer, two keyboardists, a hype man, and three backup singers with matching outfits down to their shoes. Perhaps the climax of her set was “Forgive Them Father,” during which videos of police brutality played on the monitor and Hill broke down crying. Also notable was when the cameras flashed to Chance the Rapper singing his heart out during “Nothing Even Matters,” drawing a large response from the crowd. Although Hill appeared to be having issues with her mic stand as well as her band – she kept on pointing to certain members and requesting that things be turned down or adjusted – nothing could stop her set from being as meaningful as it was. Before playing her hit “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Hill made a speech about the album: “There was a tremendous amount of resistance when I made this album… [but] I felt a responsibility to soldier through the adversity to speak for my generation… God and the universe blessed this endeavor and blessed people through this music. It was so huge that I had to step back from it… I just wanna thank you. Thank you for sharing this moment with us. If this album touched your souls, it’s because the universe gifted you this music and just used me as the medium.” Despite the slight technical difficulties, these words from Hill brought her down to earth and made for an awe-inspiring moment.
ES: You just finished your set at the festival. How was the experience for you?
PC: It was very bizarre. I have been coming to this festival for like the 8 years I’ve lived here I think. I’ve come every year and I never ever thought in a million years that I would play this festival. Even just opening it up, it was so special. It felt so amazing. It was so surreal. I saw so many friends in the crowd. It was just so fucking cool.
ES: How did you prepare for the festival?
PC: Basically, I saw on the advance info that I could just put however many band members I wanted down. So I have rotating members – people that come in and out – and I just wanted all of them to be there, so I got as many of them on stage as I could. And my friend Kevin Krauter, whose got amazing music, hit me up and he was like “Can I play with you at Pitchfork?” and I was like, “That’s bold of you to ask, but hell yeah, come on.” So he did backup singing and it was really fun. We practiced all week long and I took the week off of work. I took it pretty easy last night and didn’t go to any after parties or anything because I had to play early and didn’t want to fuck up. But now it’s my time to party.
ES: How did you first get into music?
PC: Well I went to music school here, at Columbia College, for composition. I started taking guitar lessons when I was 10. It was never a question of what I was going to do with my life. I feel like I said when I was 10, “I like music. I want to do that,” and then my mom was like “Okay, you like music, we’ll do that now.” And then I went through guitar lessons and orchestra in middle school and high school, and then it was time for college and I was like, well I just want to keep doing music. So I did that. I think life is about just picking one thing and doing it, like it doesn’t really matter what the one thing is to a degree. When people can’t figure out what they wanna do, I’m like, just pick one thing and then do it for a while, and do it really hard, and see if you like it. So I just did the one thing for a really long time, and now at age 26, it’s starting to really pay off.
ES: How would you describe your sound?
PC: I would say it’s very happy music that sounds pretty drugged out.
ES: Do you record your songs yourself? Do you subscribe to the whole “bedroom pop” craze that’s going on right now?
PC: I record all of my music myself. I do it with some friends too, but I’m the head engineer on all of my own things. And yeah, it is basically bedroom pop style. I recorded all of Flavour in my apartment with my friend Matt. We had this big, open space and recorded it all there.
ES: Who have been your biggest personal inspirations?
PC: I’d say Paul McCartney or Todd Rundgren. At this point, Mild High Club is probably my favorite band, and I’m getting more into house music right now, so I think the music I make for my next album is going to sound a lot different with some house influence, which is weird.
ES: You definitely shifted your sound between EP On Top and Flavour. What brought on this change and how did you execute it?
PC: Well that was a four year gap [in between projects], which is so long. And that first EP, it was weird that people liked it at all because I made it so hastily in my apartment in Bridgeport just for funsies, and then it got a lot of plays on Soundcloud. But then I thought, I wanna make good music. Like, I don’t wanna make hasty music, I wanna make extremely good music. It took me other four years to make Flavour. I recorded two albums that I scrapped and I took some of those songs and revamped them. It took me a while to feel like what I was doing was cool. And then seeing the response off of that, the wait was worth it I think because the response I have been getting has been really crazy. It’s really bizarre to watch.
ES: What does being a Chicago artist mean to you? How has being from and living in Chicago influenced your music, if at all?
PC: It means lots of homies that make music. It means every time I go out I know that I’m going to see X, Y, and Z and I know we’re gonna talk about A, B, and C. Being a Chicago musician means having an arsenal of people that are so overly joyed to work with you and overwhelmingly accepting of who you are, and just ready to help you. Like everyone’s ready to help each other and nobody wants anyone to fall. The Chicago scene is special for that because the bigger bands help out the smaller bands and it just feels like everyone’s lifting each other up and it’s really, really tight.
ES: You recently announced that you will be touring Europe in the Fall. What are you most excited about in regards to these shows?
PC: What I’m most excited for is that I’m going to some really weird countries, like Croatia, Serbia, and Hungary. It’s really, really weird that I’m playing there, but it’s so tight that I get to. I’m super stoked on that.
ES: Could you describe your songwriting process?
PC: Lots of times, it’s very long and drawn out and exacerbated, like just listening to something over and over and being like, “This isn’t good yet. I don’t know when it will be good either. Fuck.” I feel like a lot of the songwriting process I make torturous for myself. I don’t know why, I just make it really hard on myself. But watching the pay off has been worth it in the end.
ES: In your lyrics, you talk about millennial culture and dating in the age of the iPhone. What do you hope to communicate about this topic through your music?
PC: I think that is part of the cultural zeitgeist of today, actually, and I don’t feel like that message is unique to me. Like, listen to somebody like Clairo, it’s the same thing. I was even listening to Jojo the other day, that song “Too Little, Too Late,” and a lot of those lyrics are about being on your phone. So I don’t think that it’s very unique. One of my songs [“I See You”] is specifically about being on your phone and looking at someone who broke up with you and being like, “Damn.” And that’s a thing! You know, when you get broken up with, you can still look at their Instagram. So, I don’t know if my lyrics are going to continue to be about that, but that’s what they were at the time.
ES: Who are some of your favorite artists of the moment?
PC: Lala Lala is so tight. Post Animal is super tight. Kevin Krauter – really sick. Clairo, love her. All my friends. Divino Niño are coming out with a sick record.
ES: What’s next for you? Is there another album in the works?
PC: Yeah, I’m working on a new one right now. Kind of changing up the sound a bit. Sitting on an album for a while and then touring it, you get to meet a lot of people that you respect. And then when you notice that people are giving a shit about your music, you get more liberty to say “Yo, will you work with me on a track?” So now, I’ve been just like, who do I really like and who do I want to work with, and will they say yes? I’ve been going out on a limb and being like, “Can we work together? I’ll come to you!” So, I love the band Hoops and I’m recording some songs with those dudes, I’m recording a bunch of songs with this band Shy Boys in Kansas City, I’m gonna go out to New York and record with my friend Adam [Intrator] who’s in the band Triathalon, I’m gonna go to LA and work on a track with my friend Dent May. So I’m like doing this friend collab thing where I just get to say, “Yo, let’s hang out, let’s make songs,” and everyone’s just been like, “Yeah, that sounds sick.” Everyone’s just into the music. So it’s been exciting. Really freaking chill.
PC: So you guys are from Northwestern?
PC: Well, have me play Dillo Day or some shit!
Chicago native Paul Cherry opened the second day of the festival. His yacht rock dream pop fusion of a sound provided good vibes and had the crowd swaying in agreement upon the first song, “Hello Again.” While Cherry played guitar, his extremely talented band backed him up on drums, bass, and keys. His set consisted of every song off of new album Flavour, except for an impromptu cover of John Martyn’s “Couldn’t Love You More.” Cherry’s excitement to be performing at Pitchfork was clear, and the crowd reciprocated his enthusiasm by jamming out, even to instrumental track “Cherry Emoji.” WNUR also got the chance to interview Cherry after his set – check that out here!
As soon as he walked on stage, Berhana’s raw talent was undeniable. Opening up the set with the groovy “Janet,” the crowd began moving and singing along immediately. His voice was incredibly smooth, running over intricate riffs with unbelievable ease. His DJ backed him up, playing intriguing samples before tracks and turning the bass up so high that you could feel it in your throat. With an infectious smile in between every song, Berhana played his cover of “Whole Wide World,” “Brooklyn Drugs,” and “80s,” intermixed with a few new songs including the just released “Wildin’.” He claimed he wanted to try out these new songs on the audience, and asked for everyone to put their “phones away for a second and just listen.” Berhana closed the set with his most popular song “Grey Luh,” sending everyone away with a smile and sense of relaxation.
London-based rocker Nilüfer Yanya started her set alone except for her mint green guitar, and was then met with her band – a saxophonist (doubling as keys) , keyboardist (doubling as bass), and drummer. Her rich Alanis Morissette-esque vocals complimented the jazz rock instrumentals nicely, providing soft jams and slow builds. Yanya played all of the tracks she has out, along with a few new songs (“Angels” and “Heavyweight Champion of the Year”) and a Pixies cover. Although her sound was intriguing, it did grow a bit repetitive over the course of the set – but for someone just starting out in the U.S., Yanya is well on her way to becoming an indie-rock darling.
Grunge-rock duo Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad took over the Blue Stage Saturday afternoon along with touring members Ross Wallace-Chait and Kevin Boog. As I listened to other audience member’s conversations, it seemed that the biggest topic in discussion was singer and guitar player Tucker’s current transition from female to male. Specifically, the group of girls next to me were wondering how Tucker’s voice change would alter their sound, once notable for the high-pitched harmonies between Tucker and Tividad. However, as they played through their set, it became apparent that Girlpool had not lost, but gained something. Tucker’s now octave-lower voice added a more rounded sound to their slow-building discography, introducing new harmonies and a pleasant rasp. More than anything, it was clear how much passion both Tucker and Tividad still had for their music, playing through “It Gets More Blue,” “123,” and “I Like That You Can See It,” “Ideal World,” and “Your Heart” as if it meant the world to them.
As soon as Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes stepped out in a Kangol driving cap and tiny glasses, it was apparent this performance was going to be old school. As vintage-looking footage of cars, an old interview with Outkast, and 90s music videos played on the screen behind him, Hynes proved that he is indeed a talent to behold. Switching from playing keys to guitar and back to keys, Hynes dove into his discography with the voice of a 70s crooner, à la The Commodores or early Prince. Highlights of his set included “Desirée,” “Best to You,” “You’re Not Good Enough,” and “E.V.P.” He also played a few tracks off of his forthcoming album that was just announced to be released on August 25th. However, the real star of Blood Orange’s show was his band – his two back up singers stunned with chill-inducing voices, and his saxophonist, drummer and bassist provided intricate funk-driven instrumentals. In addition, everyone on stage seemed to be having so much fun and bouncing off of each other’s energy. At one point, Hynes even broke out into dance, making the crowd – and his band – go wild. It was truly a feel-good set for everyone involved.
Seasoned rockers The War On Drugs seemed to bring everyone together. Teenage girls were in the crowd amongst married couples, 50-year-old men, and boys in their 20s. Frontman Adam Granduciel delivered his signature rasp and complicated guitar riffs in a leather jacket and Slowdive t-shirt, while the rest of his band followed along in perfect time. As they played through hits such as “Pain,” “Strangest Thing,” and “Brothers,” a combination of happy dancing and air guitar took over the crowd. Although not all of their lyrics can be described as joyous, The War On Drugs’ music seemed to put a look of peace and contentment on the faces all around me. The last third of their set was the highlight, playing “Red Eyes,” “Under the Pressure,” and “Burning” back to back. The combination of those three builds was enough to leave anyone in awe.