Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pitchfork Music festival report: Friday

Pitchfork is one of my favorite festivals because of how different it is than most I go too. It is small by comparison (about 15k) and with only 3 stages there is minimal overlap and it is easy to see nearly every act you really want to. I went to the first one back in 2005 (back when it was the Intonation fest curated by Pitchfork, which changed the following year) and have been every year since except for 2009 due to some family issues. If you aren't aware of Pitchfork Media I urge you to check out their site, it is a great place to find out about awesome new music. They also put on a damn good festival, it is hard to rank all of the years but this definitely has to be near the tops as I believe they had one of the most solid lineups I'd ever seen for the festival from the headliners to the obscure bands that started each day.

Friday however started with fewer obscure bands as it was a shorter day. We arrived a little late and caught the end of Gatekeeper on the smaller stage, an electronic duo I had never heard of before. Their sound was rather dark compared to a lot of electronic music, it was an interesting scene because the crowd was pretty big but mostly just standing around. Just as we were getting into it though they abruptly ended, so we headed back to the field with the two main stages.

Battles was one of the main acts we wanted to see, but I was upset to find out Tyondai Braxton was no longer a member of the band. If you don't know Battles they're a so-called "math rock" band, almost entirely instrumental experimental music that is very rhythmic. Their album Mirrored is a classic, and Braxton was in many ways the defining member of the band. I had seen Battles play several times and my favorite show of theirs was at Pitchfork in 2007, and in the same setting minus their most crucial member it was hard to compare. Nevertheless they blasted through several of their most popular songs as well as material off their new album Gloss Drop. I enjoyed it but couldn't shake of the loss of Braxton, especially when they sampled vocals that he used to perform, loop and mix live. Here is an awesome old live clip of them from that time to give you an idea. If you haven't checked out Battles I strongly recommend checking them out:

Next we wandered back to the smaller stage to see Curren$y perform, a rapper I have mentioned a few times on this blog and have actually filmed a show of in Nashville. Pitchfork always has a few hip-hop acts each year that they are big fans of so Curren$y fit right into the lineup this year. Having seen him several times I knew what to expect, lots of wordplay about living the good life set to chill beats. His shows are less hype than most hip-hop shows I normally see, there's no shoutouts with the crowd or calls back and forth, just a stream of rhymes coming at you constantly. I knew a large portion of the songs but there were a few I had never heard before off his recent album Weekend at Bernie's so that was cool to hear. It wasn't my favorite show of his but  great time nonetheless. Here's an old video I filmed at Phat Kaps in Nashville last year:

Das Racist was up next on the same stage, so we scooted up to get a better view of the wackiness that was about to ensue. I just found out about these guys this year and was really excited to see them. They're kind of a joke rap group except they're actually really talented. The songs are stream of consciousness in parts and often very tongue-in-cheek but still though-provoking in strange ways. I don't think they are for everyone, I can easily imagine fans of hip-off who would be turned off by their kookiness, but in this day and age after seeing the same thing so many times they are a welcome breath of fresh air. Their show was a blast and while they didn't play all of my favorite songs that was basically a given with their short festival set. Would love to see a full show from these guys, check out one of my favorite videos of theirs below:

We had worked our way up so close at the small stage that we decided to stay put and wait for the next act, James Blake. He recently caught my attention with his minimalist, evocative self titled album. It's a rather incredible debut record, full of introspective lyrics set amidst electronic arrangements with some elements of guitar and piano in there. It is definitely not the type of record you'd expect from your average singer-songwriter, and James Blake was rewarded for his efforts for a nomination for the Mercury Music prize, which is essentially the UK's best album award. Yes he's British if I didn't mention that, and you could definitely tell when he played. His voice comes out soft but runs right though you and hits with a lot more power you would think a soft-spoken Englishman capable of.

Despite the use of electronics in nearly all his songs Blake is a strongly opposed to the use of computers on stage, so it was very interesting to watch him and his 2 band mates get by without their use. He uses looping amazingly effectively, especially in the haunting "I Never Learnt to Share" which repeats the same line over and over again with James Blake singing on top of himself. Unfortunately the original version of that song is nowhere to be found on youtube (you can find a decent live version though from the SXSW pitchfork showcase which I actually attended but left before Blake took the stage) but I did pull up a video for another of my favorite tracks of his. This was my favorite performance of the day, and knowing how new to the scene this guy is I think we can expect some great things to come from him.

Last but certainly not least was the headlining performance from Animal Collective. This is one of the reasons I love Pitchfork so much, it is among the very few that a band like Animal Collective could headline. I've been a big fan for a long time and have seen them on numerous occasions, but they are by no means an easily accessible band. Their sound is strange, almost tribal at times, and with the different movements crashing into each other it is often hard to tell where one song ends and another begins. This has especially been true of their latest tour, which has seen the band playing lots of new material amidst a few of their older songs. Animal Collective are known for doing this, fleshing out material in a live setting before committing it to an album. Sometimes it can be a bit alienating as a fan, for instance their Coachella performance this year left many scratching their heads. Perhaps it was because many we just waiting for Arcade Fire or to hear their favorite AC songs, but only a few recognizable tunes were heard. Combined with the psychedelic visuals that obscured the view of the band on the screens it didn't capture the audience's attention in the same way I had seen at previous Animal Collective shows.

The Pitchfork show on the other hand was a different story entirely. Everyone in the crowd was there to see Animal Collective, the only performance remaining in the evening. Full attention was given despite the small amount of recognizable material. The stage was set with a strange backdrop , and the crazy visuals were back but with the screen to the far side of the stage they were way less distracting. The ebbs and flows of their music led the entire crowd through a literal kaliediscope of sound, punching up the energy way beyond the last show I had seen of theirs. No more so was this apparent during the Merriweather Post Pavillion closer "Brothersport" which caused a rush of the stage. Other classics like "Feels" brought out the good vibes to, a welcome familiarity amongst the weirdness. But weirdness is what Animal Collective does best, and in this environment it was perfect. Despite my lack of knowledge with their new material I think it even surpassed their Pitchfork show in 2008 (which was also a headlining slot). Fantastic ending to the day, check out this video I found for "Brothersport." Quality is not great but it paints a good picture of the show:

One bad thing with a festival like this is that it ends early, so by 9:45 the music was done. Another was the memory card for my camera failed and I lost everything, so no pictures from that day. At least it wasn't something wrong with the camera itself I guess. But with all the great music these are easy things to overlook. My favorite show of the day had to be James Blake, followed by Animal Collective's awesome performance. But this was just the beginning of a long weekend of music to come.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Coachella vs. Bonnaroo: The defining music festivals of our generation

I never got around to posting a report about Bonnaroo this year and I only managed write for one day of Coachella, for my favorite day at least. But now after just coming back from Pitchfork in Chicago, which I am going to write about, I want to at least address the two before any other recaps. In the future I will go back and list some of my favorite shows and some of the awesome new bands I found out about but for now I want to write a more general comparison of the two because I believe they are the two most influential festivals in the country currently. They have also had a great effect on me personally as well.

I started going to music festivals in 2004, and that was also my first year of Bonnaroo. While I enjoyed the festival itself I had a bad experience with a girl and I took a year off in 2005. In 2006 I went to Coachella for the first time and started back up at Bonnaroo again and have been to both every year since, so it is here where I feel I can accurately begin to compare them. As you may likely infer at this point I go to a lot of music festivals, this Bonnaroo was my 40th one. Bonnaroo and Coachella have long towered above the rest for the sheer enormity, experience, and lineup. It has been very interesting to observe and experience the transformation of the two over the years, especially Coachella's.

When I first went to Coachella in 2006 it was a 2 day festival, only tent camping and no ins and outs (once you're in the festival you're in for the day). While it was an amazing and life-changing event (Sigur Ros and especially Daft Punk made sure of that) the festival experience was lacking at this point compared to Bonnaroo's. Part of the magic of these festivals is the community experience, setting up camp and being in the same setting as nearly everyone for the whole weekend really creates a better setting. At Bonnaroo basically everyone camps with their cars and is allowed to flow freely between the festival grounds and the campground whenever they please. These are policies that Coachella would adopt in the coming years, and while it took some trial and error for them figuring out how to best make it happen it was all for the better.

If you had asked me in 2006 or 2007 which festival i thought was better I most likely would have said Bonnaroo. While Coachella's lineups were a bit more my taste (they focus way more on electronic and less on jam-band type music, plus get more rare acts) the overall experience had to go to Boannaroo. 2007 was when the tide started turning though, as this was the first year Coachella became a 3 day festival. Bonnaroo has since responded (not directly or anything) by beefing up their Thursday lineup and making it a full blown 4 day festival. But in 2007, even with an incredible 3 day lineup the festival experience itself still paled in comparison to Bonnaroo's. Campers were forced to have their bags rigorously checked for substances, including alcohol which you were not allowed to bring into camp. And this was if you were able to actually get a camping ticket (which yes you have to pay extra for, unlike Bonnaroo) because they sold out their limited space quick. But seriously no alcohol?! Now I don't drink that much at festivals but there's no denying how lame that was. At Bonnaroo the security check is a joke, they put faith in their attendees and let them camp with their car for free and bring in whatever they want as long as it's not glass and you're not a dumbass.

But even with the negatives of the camping that didn't keep me from going, it just made me want more. Coachella had Bonnaroo beat in many ways, better setting, weather, art, and music (IMO of course). All that was in the way was the lack of community, and of course that pesky midnight curfew. One thing I didn't mention that Bonnaroo will always have over Coachella is the fact that it is private property and Bonnaroo can have shows go all night long. This leads to increased fun and longer sets for every artist which is a huge plus. Coachella was forced to end at midnight although in the past two years they have finally been able to extend that to 1am. That was in 2010, and this was a huge year for Coachella and the one that led it down the path to completely overtake Bonnaroo as the best festival in American in my opinion.

2010 was an absolutely huge year for Coachella, After selling out in 2007 sales were defintely down in 2008 and and 2009. Some blame the recession, some the weak lineups (I disagree on that one) but for whatever reason Coachella wasn't doing as well as it could have been. I believe in 2008 they actually lost money. But all that changed in 2010. Coachella made the announcement that it would no longer sell single days tickets, only 3 day passes for the entire festival. There would be no more casual goers, just there for one or two bands on one or two days. The festival would now only be attended by those who wanted to be there for the whole thing, to experience it all and become part of the community for the best weekend of the year. The also (FINALLY) decided to greatly expand the camping, allowing people to camp with their cars AND to be able to come and go between the festival grounds and camp as they pleased. I was very happy with this announcement, and despite complaints from a lot of people (mostly about the lack of single day tickets) the festival completely sold out. 2010 was definitely a major experiment for Coachella, and it showed.

Because while it was a blast 2010 was the biggest clusterfuck I'd ever experienced at Coachella. Well over 15,000 people were able to sneak in with fake tickets or just by climbing/breaking fences. The ticketing system failed and volunteers were overwhelmed with hordes of people. Coachella is supposed to be capped at 80,000 attendees. Festival creator Paul Tollet estimated that attendance that year was closer to 100,000 people. You could tell, it was unbelievably crowded that year and the experience suffered because of it. And while the camping grounds were much improved and expanded they stupidly (so, so stupidly) clustered all the showers and sinks into one massive area which people waited up to 3 hours in the blistering heat to use. Despite the problems though the improvements were worth it. Being able to go back to your campsite during the day to rest or even just have a beer (which you could finally bring in now, thank god) was incredible. The community feel of the fest was greatly enhanced, we became great friends with our neighbors and setup community shade spaces for all to share. It was clear Coachella had some kinks to work out, but the festival was definetly on the right path.

Now I haven't mentioned Bonnaroo for a bit in this entry and that is because during this time the Roo just kept doing its thing. Every year was great for a different reason, and being so close to my hometown of Nashville there were always a bunch of my friends there (although we have a really solid group for Coachella that has grown every year). I think this year though was the first year where the quality of the experience had clearly swung in Coachella's favor in just about every way. While it wasn't my favorite Coachella lineup it almost had to be my favorite year of going to the festival ever. They reinvented their ticketing system, sending out wristbands to patrons in advance and discontinuing the use of volunteers which cut down on the over attendance immensely. And incredibly enough Coachella sold out within a week of going on sale. But despite the sellout the festival felt a lot less crowded than in previous years. It was Bonnaroo this year that felt super overcrowded. And dirty, oh so dirty.

Now dirtiness is something you must come to accept at a camping festival. You're going to be sweating all weekend and using port-o-johns constantly so it's basically unavoidable. What is controllable is the state of the bathroom situation, and Bonnaroo kind of dropped teh ball this year. I don't know for sure but it feels like they sold more tickets and had less bathrooms than ever before. Lines were terrible, but that wouldn't have been so bad if there were clean stalls to use. It was a mess this year, I won't go into details but it's a fact, they screwed up. Coachella on the other hand has mastered their bathroom setup. They have 3 major areas of stalls, each having tons of units which are constantly being taken care of. It was extremely easy to find an acceptably clean stall basically every time. This was nearly impossible at Bonnaroo and it's something they need to improve upon next year because it really was about the worst I had ever seen in my 7 years of attendance. There are certain things a festival can't control (i.e. humidity and dust) so at least this is something they can improve on.

There will always be drawbacks to attending a music festival but to me they are always worth the price. There are many great ones out there but I believe these two festivals have played a huge part in setting the blueprint for these great experiences since they have each been doing it for 10 years. And while music festivals aren't for everyone most anyone who goes to them has a blast and wants to go back. For me they are among the two best weekends of the year. Coachella has gotten so popular that next year they are going to do the same festival 2 weekends in a row! Same lineup, same place, unprecedented for a US festival of that magnitude. It should be an interesting experiment, and you know I've already got my ticket (first weekend FYI). Maybe someday Bonnaroo will follow suit, but it needs to stop coasting and step up its game a little to match the growing number and experiences of other festivals popping up all over the country. A field I hope to enter one day, as I believe I know what it takes to create a great festival experience. It may sound a little crazy but it is something I truly want to do at some point in my life, and hopefully I will start it sooner than later. For now though I will continue to be a spectator, enjoy myself and at the same time learn from the experience. Plus takes lots of pictures, which go a long way to capturing the experience. Shit is way better than school, that's for sure.

Coachella crowd
Coachella sunset
Bonnaroo crowd / dust
Bonnaroo sunset

Thursday, July 14, 2011

New Dee Goodz Culture video - Big K.R.I.T. in Nashville

Just finished up the new Dee Goodz Culture video from the Big K.R.I.T. show in Nashville last night. All shot on my Canon 5D with a 50mm 1.4 lens, pretty pleased with the results. One thing I am noticing as that these DSLR's do not handle direct light sources well, distinct horizontal lines appear when flashes go off for example. Mostly everything looks dope as hell though with this fast lens on the camera. Check out the video below, and if you haven't checked out Dee Goodz yet then GET ON THAT SHIT.

He actually plays a show tonight with Big Boi in Nashville which I am furious I am missing because I am headed to Chicago today. Talk about bad timing, but Pitchfork will be worth it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Korea in pictures

I have just recently finished going through the 1000+ pictures I shot in Korea, and rather than go through a narrative of all the sights I figured it'd be cooler to show. All of these were shot on my new Canon 5D, I chose 25 of my favorite shots through out the trip. Some have descriptions but several are just cool shots I liked. Hopefully this will give you a taste of the visual aspect of Korea. Only one more blog entry to go about this trip, detailing my exploits in the amazing city of Busan. Now on to the pictures:

Incheon, home base
Seoul Station, major hub of the city
Myeongdong shopping district
Taken inside a subway station
A rare empty train car
Namsan Tower
Locks of love
Incredible views of a city of 20 million people
Minutes before sunrise
The meat of Shabu Shabu

Some form of protest

Changgyeonggung palace
Macro temple decorations
All of these pictures were taken in Seoul or Incheon and are in semi chronological order. One day I hope to return.