Bumbershoot still remains one of the more diversely curated festivals in the nation. That is probably why they referred to it completely as Seattle’s Music & Arts Festival. In its 42nd year, the 2012 edition was not lacking in diversity, as the main headliners over the course of Labor Day Weekend varied from Jane’s Addiction to Mac Miller and Skrillex. With six musical stages, and a wealth of other stages hosting comedy acts, readings and various panels, it is impossible to catch everything over the weekend. So here are the highlights instead, not in any particular order of awesomeness.
M83 acquired quite a bit of hype this past year. In fact, 2011 may have been THEIR year. With their hit single “Midnight City,” it seemed like nearly everyone was jumping on the M83 band wagon. The funny thing about that is the band has actually been around for years; they released their first record in 2001. Securing a spot on the main stage for Bumbershoot 2012, M83 played to an audience packed with fans and those simply curious about the band.
After witnessing this performance, I can tell you that I’ve truly never seen anything like it. The intro was a spectacle all on its own with lasers and complex flashing lights that even I have a hard time describing. Both lead singer Anthony Gonzalez and keyboardist/back-up singer Morgan Kibby were extraordinarily entertaining. Their vocals were nearly spot-on with their record, but not in a lip-syching kind of way like we’re used to at the award shows. The instrumental drum solos were riveting and exciting. The performance was everything that I hoped it would be, but I’m afraid to say that it is unfortunate that all many are remembering is the crowd of kids rushing to the floor and causing mayhem break loose. You can read all about that mess here. - KATIE NGUYEN
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
This funk/soul band has been around since the mid-’90s, but if you didn’t know any better you would assume they formed in the early ‘70s. Carried on the shoulder by the spectacular voice of Sharon Jones and then brought to the forefront by the impeccable revivalist sound of the Dap-Kings, this big band lives up to all they hype their live show comes with. Despite playing on the main stage of the Key Arena, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were able to generate energy in the crowd that transported you straight back to a seedy bar in Motown Detroit. Their music is approachable by individuals of all ages, as are their tributes to the various dances of the ’60s and ’70s, which are like an instructional video led by Sharon Jones herself. Her spirit is infectious, even if you weren’t alive to experience the origins of the music the band aims to bring back to a new century. Sharon Jones’ energy, charisma, and stage performance are liable to make her and the Dap-Kings the best set of any festival they attend, and Bumbershoot was no different.
MusicfestNW does one of the better jobs in the festival circuit of scheduling the heavy bands. Reason being that MusicfestNW, unlike most festivals, doesn’t take place in one central location. Rather, it is scattered amongst the various venues throughout Portland, Oregon. And although normally walls might seem like a constricting measure in life, the walls of the venue provide a safe haven for the volume to hit extreme levels, the vocals to shriek instead of harmonize, the double bass to reach red-lining beats per minute and the guitar distortion to be devastatingly heavy. Aural Devastation is a recurring column about heavy music.
Seeing Swans is an emotional experience and a tough one to make it through, at that. Charging off the brilliance of Michael Gira and company’s epic new release, The Seer, Portland was laid to waste by the heaviness that is Gira’s project. Gira is well-known throughout the live circuit for his intensity, and although he is no longer as confrontational as he was in the early days, his intensity on stage translates immediately and effortlessly to Swans live show. It is a slog that is based on repetitive, almost locomotive-like mashes of noise and distortion. Over it all, Gira can be seen yelling at his band, demanding more energy and channeling some sort of weird musical rage. With every heavy stomp and grimace, one felt Gira’s pain as if it were one’s own. There were a few souls in the Hawthorne Theatre without earplugs. They must have ignored the decibel warning on the front door. Not a smart idea.
The Seer is a 2-CD record that saw an August 28th release. It is the result of the band’s getting back together in 2010, after a 14-year hiatus.
Throughout the year FYF produces some of the best shows all around the LA area, but when it comes to Labor Day weekend, the FYF Fest is their indie rock prom. And since this year, they made it a two-day affair, you can consider it their homecoming dance too. Everyone dresses up in their best summer attire and afterward spends days talking about about it all. The festival’s lineup is always impressive, but this year was really something to write home about, from beginning to end. So if you were fashionably late, you missed out on some great openers. And if you called it an early night, you can consider your weekend a failure for not watching some epic sets. While it seemed a bit subliminal to see two big screens on the ends of the main stage flashing text that said “best weekend of the summer,” looking back, it actually was the best weekend of the summer.
Music, just like any other art medium, beckons an emotional response. Sometimes when we get lost in beats, drum fills, guitar riffs, and lyrical dexterity, we don’t realize it. But at Substrata Festival, all those elements go out the window, and showgoers are left with an isolated core of noise as it is being created, manipulated, and eventually destroyed by artists whose only goal is to expound upon the notion of presenting what is naturally occurring in a seemingly unnatural way.
The ambient/experimental musical showcase takes place in a beautiful, giant brick building in the Seattle neighborhood of Wallingford, a sleepy zip code more known for its single family residential units and restaurants than anything else.
The space is called The Chapel with good reason. High arches tower into the air in Renaissance-influenced glory and stained glass windows line both sides of the open room, suggesting more of a connection to a higher power than to a musical influence. The hardwood floors are lined with rows of chairs angled into two sections, after soaking it all in, you realize that what you are about to witness at Substrata Festival is not a show in traditional sense of the term; you are about to witness a performance.
Since my move to Portland a few years ago, what has continued to fascinate me is the diversity of music fans in the area and their inability to get involved with many concerts which likely interest them. So rarely is there ever a mix of under twenty-one concertgoers with the more bourgeois, approaching-thirty art folk who run the city’s night life. This isn’t meant to be a slight on either demographic, as it is out of both of their hands completely, but compared to other cities, the way in which Portland concerts are a walled garden of sorts continues to confuse me.
Sunday night shows can be hard to drag yourself to if you work a pretty standard Monday to Friday shift. But no band is better than Fang Island at creating an atmosphere of fun that you can be asleep and dropped off at the show, and Fang Island will energize you into waking. At a semi-sweltering Crocodile on an uncharacteristically warm Seattle Sunday, Fang Island sweated their way into the part of the brain that triggers unbridled joy.