Reviews

Capitol Hill Block Party: 22 - 24 July - Seattle, WA

For three days each year, a few blocks on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington are shut down for four stages of live music, one giant beer garden and all the cream cheese hot dogs you can eat.

Capitol Hill Block Party

City: Seattle, Washington
Date: 2011-07-22

Friday

It's hot. There was that one day in April when the entire city wore shorts. This would be the second day since then. I'm in the pit at Neumos, one of many local bars within the confines of the Capitol Hill Block Party. The air is sticky and empty cans of Rainier litter the floor. A wall of noise erupts from the stage and Woods close out their set. Some band called Cults play next, followed by Fucked Up. Ghostland Observatory, a Seattle mainstay, close out the main stage. I missed the opening hours of the festival, but the first night looks like it's going to close with a nuclear bang.

Cults:

I don't care what anyone says about Cults' Clap Your Hands Say Yeah style of meteoric rise to popularity, or about how terrible of a singer Madeline Follin is, or how tinny they sound on stage, because this band is an absolute riot. Follin's a great singer; and as a five piece, Cults are a force on stage. As they hone in on their live sound and produce more music, they're only going to get better.

 

Fucked Up:

Minutes before Fucked Up took the stage, I overheard a girl in the crowd say to her friend, "I don't get the whole melodic punk rock thing. It's like they're afraid to play their guitars with any fo--" A three-pronged howl exploded from the stage, interrupting her comment. Melodic or not, Fucked Up are as raw and bloody as any of their forebears. Damian Abraham screamed, ran into the crowd, stripped off his sweater, smashed a plastic bottle against his forehead, stood on one of the bars, stage dove, then ran back on stage and invited Cults singer Madeline Follin to join him for a duet--a punk duet. In the middle of the crowd, a young couple kissed. Out of Neumos side door and about 30 feet away, a fist fight broke out among several people during The Head and the Heart's set. No further proof necessary: punk rock heals.

 

Yuck:

I could write all day about how great Yuck is. That '90s vibe, those clean guitars, their stompy beats and one super cool chick bassist. But it's all been said before about hundreds of bands actually from the '90s. Yuck are young, they write solid tunes, put on a great no-frills show and their drummer has a giant afro. Hooray for guitars.

 

Ghostland Observatory:

About six years ago, KEXP--Seattle's non-profit hip-as-all-get-out radio station--were in love with a band called Ghostland Observatory, and with good reason. Lead singer, Aaron Behrens, is some weird Mic Jagger, Keith Moon, Tommy Lee amalgamation, dancing, strutting and air humping his way across the stage. Sound man, Thomas Turner, dresses in a purple cape and never looks at the audience. Their light show is so intense it makes drugs superfluous. KEXP doesn't show as much love to Ghostland these days, but they continue to put on one of the best live shows in Seattle. Some fans were skeptical if the light show would work in an outdoor setting. The skeptics wore proven wrong.

 

Saturday

I've never understood seeing bands outside during the day. The live show's performance and mystery disappears. There's a bunch of gear everywhere, lights are pointless and it's uncomfortably hot. Either way, many bands played in the sunlight and my nostalgia for magical mystery music shows dissipated.

Eleanor Friedberger:

...was boring. I'm not sorry about it either. She needs her backing band. Her guitar sounded great and so did her voice, but every song felt the same; every movement looked pre-programmed; and the crowd stood around bored as Friedberger sounded. She's touring this fall with her band. Here's hoping she packs some variation into those shows.

 

Handsome Furs:

After playing the Block Party, Handsome Furs apparently traveled east to play a show in Minneapolis. Before breaking into the second song of their flawless set, Dan Boeckner turned to the crowd and asked: "I'm trying to figure out a way to ask this discreetly. Does anyone have any mushrooms?" Laughter ensued, then someone responded with a yes. Here's to hoping their trip through Montana went well. As for their performance at the Capitol Hill Block Party, they were so good I hope Wolf Parade never gets back together.

 

Ravenna Woods:

Another Seattle acoustic-y, folk-y, jammy-y band, Ravenna Woods are a completely DIY three-piece consisting of floor toms, one guitar and exacting use of a xylophone. Guitarist and singer Chris Cunningham does a lot of fingerpicking and intricate guitar work. One would expect him to plant himself firmly in a chair and never look up from the fret board. Wrong. Just wrong, wrong, wrong. Chris Cunningham is such a hurricane on stage, I feared for his band mates' gear. At times it seemed Cunningham was inches from pulverizing drummer Matt Badger's kit. Sweat flew, xylophones tinked and toms boomed. Ravenna Woods just put on the best show of Saturday so far.

To cap off my excitement I purchase two tall boys of Rainier and a hot dog smothered in cream cheese, grilled onions, hoisin, harissa and sauerkraut. Stuffed, I head to the main stage.

 

Best Coast:

In stoned out fashion, Bethany Cosentino and Best Coast took stage and played fuzzy love songs about cats and weed. The sun began setting and the entire main stage crowd smoked a collective bowl. I'm not sure what else to say. Best Coast sound great live, better on a small stage than a big one and have funny banter. There are times when Bethany Cosentino seems a bit too cool for school, but she is so how can I blame her?

 

Les Savy Fav:

Tim Harrington walked to center stage covered in a gold sequined shawl, microphone pressed to his smothered face. His sing-talked a bunch of indecipherable syllables and removed the shawl to reveal a partially painted face and purple-lensed glasses. At the start of their second song, Harrington grabbed a super-soaker, blasted the crowd and stage dove onto a bunch of unaware kids. I'm sure he squished them. He ran around the crowd, then back on stage. After leaving the press pit, I sat on the sidewalk next to the main stage fence. Les Savy Fav were to my left, apartment buildings to my right. After catching my breath, I looked up to the stage and saw Tim Harrington climbing the fence, microphone in hand. He falls on the sidewalk three feet from me. He then tossed his microphone up to an apartment window and ran to the building's entrance. In what felt like a full-on panic, I ran after him, camera in hand and no idea what I was doing. I arrived at the apartment building entrance and he asked me to unlock the door. I shrugged my shoulders and said, "I'm with you." Someone appeared at the entrance, opened the door and Harrington ran up the stairs. The guy who let him in grabbed my shirt and pulled me in, too. The next minute, Tim Harrington is laying out of an apartment window and I'm next to him. I don't remember anything else: some white lights, laughter, screams, more white lights, nervous handshakes.

 

TV on the Radio:

Are not a festival band. They're brilliant musicians and they play complex, layered music designed for headphones and clubs, not outdoor festivals. They did cover Fugazi, however, and it was exciting to see them tap into their roots. Still, the sound was reprehensible. For a few songs, all I heard were guitars and vocal feedback. In a perfect world, TV on the Radio would have played Neumos.

 

Baths:

And the best set of the Capitol Hill Block Party goes to Baths. Hands down. No one sounded better. No one danced harder. No one smiled more. I thought the audience for Baths would be slim at best, considering his time slot next to TV on the Radio. It was packed. That tiny Vera stage was the most alive space on Capitol Saturday night. Will Wiesenfeld has always been an important artist to watch, but seeing him perform places him well above his peers. Flying Lotus reps this kid for a very good reason.

 

Sunday

I'm tired. I don't wake up until two in the afternoon. I don't really get moving until close to four. I have two bands on the agenda today: Battles and Explosions in the Sky. Nothing else matters. I'm tired.

Battles:

I've now seen Battles three times. In 2007, they were a cyborgian Willy Wonka ear-candy explosion; last April, they were rough around the edges, grinding and unsure of themselves; at the Block Party, they were a snarling beast. With Tyondai Braxton out of the band, more music is relegated to samples and loops, which hones in a stronger synchronized sound and removes 25% of the human error factor. John Stanier is still 99% robot (the 1% human is located in his left middle finger: he sliced it open during his extended drum intro). Ian Williams and Dave Konopka have the most intense non-verbal communication this side of Jon Osterman and Walter Kovacs. Battles played a perfect set. Hearing "Atlas" sans Braxton was also a welcome treat.

 

Explosions in the Sky:

Yeah, I had a lazy Sunday. Almost 48 straight hours of taking photos, writing notes, and talking to press, bands, drunken fans and bouncers will take its toll.

When Explosions in the Sky took the main stage, all gears in the world fell into place. The sun began setting and casted a soft orange glow on the band and the crowd. The temperature dropped from somewhat hot to luke warm and reverb washed over Capitol Hill's ears. This was my first time seeing Explosions in the Sky and they did not disappoint. I'd always imagined their music to be the sound of a future war barely heard over an FM transmitter deep in a cave. Hearing them live only confirmed my imaginations. The swelling guitars and rumbling bass; the caterwaul of drums. The sheer joy reaped from destroying and rebuilding sound. Kudos to the event organizers for closing the Capitol Hill Block Party with Explosions in the Sky.

 

One final thought

And this is a stab at the Washington State Liquor Control Board: let patrons at festivals drink all over the festival grounds, not in a half block square. The number of hammer-smashed doofuses confined to the "beer garden" was enormous. Give these people some room. They're still going to be drunk when they re-enter the "all ages" zone.

The Block Party was a hit: bands played, kids danced, beer was consumed and a good time was had for 72 hours in the all-too-rare Seattle sun.

Here's to next year.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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