New York’s hot, dry July and dearth of high-quality music festivals strike a distinct contrast to Britain’s damp, cold and multitude of summer events. Over the past few years, the collapse of several multi-act musical events in New York’s tri-state area—before a string was even plucked or a portable restroom over-filled—may be due to the expensive price of admission, consumer apathy, or general lack of enticing acts. The Village Voice has battled against all the aforementioned challenges for seven years with Siren Festival, and arguably succeeded, offering lineups that have included Scissor Sisters, the Shins, Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
2007’s Siren Festival hosted 14 bands on two stages and again encouraged folks from all comers of the city to enjoy an afternoon of music, for free. Yes, there’s the commute from the city, the oppressive heat, and the feeling of being squashed amongst all the tattoos, (over)exposed flesh, and beer bottles. But most would say it’s worth it.
Speaking of the island: despite the long commute, could the combination of available land, relatively inexpensive property, beach-front access, and the constant need for an underground community actually work in favor of this much-maligned and ailing town? It seems feasible considering the thousands of music lovers who make the annual journey to Coney Island—possibly as part of the recent wave of opposition to plans to redevelop the area into middle-class housing and developments. A few venues here would certainly be unique, welcome, and, with the right artists, help foster a new and vibrant scene (not to mention get the tight-pants crew out of Williamsburg once in a while).
The Twilight Sad
The Twilight Sad opened Siren’s main stage, accompanied by the sporadic screams of Cyclone riders careening barely 50 feet from the band. The four-piece group from Glasgow began with “Red Sky at Night”, in which a heavily applied Scottish brogue coursed over distorted echo and feedback that in turn disintegrated amid gnarled pulsing guitar. The band’s layered sound and thoughtfully conceived melodies seem to have been constructed to create a pulsing atmosphere, but, sadly, the mood was lost amidst greetings of fellow concertgoers, a rickety rollercoaster, and the lure of sideshow games and deep-fried “food.”
Black Lips exuded the enthusiasm of a relatively new band under limited pressure and enjoying newfound attention. An appreciative crowd, appearing eager to reinforce the group’s growing reputation, was treated to an energetic set of alternative-rock tunes. The best element of the Black Lips’ set had to be the introduction of Popcorn, a “performance art chicken,” who was held aloft as the penultimate song came to a close. Moments later, as Popcorn wandered from the stage, an explosion of feathers burst from a homemade cannon, drawing gasps of horror from many in the young crowd and chuckles from the more wizened amongst us.
We Are Scientists impressed with a well-paced, tight, and professional set culminating in crowd pleaser “The Great Escape”. Meanwhile, the chaos amid the growing, sweaty crowd was briefly matched backstage as the Noisettes bounced between interviews and the hospitality tent—their carefree energy matching their onstage performance. Later, MIA, who had such a difficult time gaining clearance to even enter the US, came on, only to disappoint. Though she applied make-up halfway through her set, the Sri Lankan Brit wasn’t able to disguise her shortcomings.
New York Dolls
New York Dolls, led by David Johansen in their current formation, closed the show with a nostalgic romp through grit and glamour, perhaps sadly reflective of Coney Island itself. A more imposing and more relevant new band may have stamped a little more authority on the value of the Siren Festival. As it was, the Dolls left many in the crowd feeling as though we were at a farewell party for the historic beach town. With the plethora of free summer concerts around New York City—including River to River, Central Park Summerstage, Battery Park, McCarren Pool, South Street Seaport, and even Roosevelt Island—Coney Island’s Siren Festival may seem just that little bit too far in coming years, unless The Village Voice can lure bigger, newer acts—or Coney Island becomes an unexpected musical hotspot after all. Let’s hope it does, because the beach sure beats another broken-down, inner-Brooklyn basement.