Text and photos by Maria Gotay
You may have heard of a little something called Northside Festival. It’s only largest and the coolest festival to be born in Brooklyn. In it’s fourth year- and my third year attending- I was again swept away by the way Northside encompasses the vibrancy of Williamsburg’s art, music, and intellectual scene in a very home-grown way. Featuring separate music, film, art and entrepreneurial segments, there’s something for everyone. The music segment has always dominated the festival and this year boasted a crazy variety of headliners, form Jens Lenkman to Of Montreal to GZA- only in Brooklyn? Last weekend I took my press badge and raced from venue to venue, getting a true Northside festival experience. Now, the best of the music that I saw, with links to tons of free music!
[box]Friday: Fort Lean, Frankie Rose, and Caveman at Music Hall of Williamsburg- Brooklyn Vegan Showcase[/box]
Fort Lean, we definitely have liked you guys from some time now. This Bushwick outfit embodies all things that make rock-and-roll catchy; at times full, loud, and soaring with a reverb guitar and concisely pounding drums, other times with minimal sound to let the beautifully jaded vocals steal your attention. They tell stories with their songs, and in a very convincing way. Check out their bandcamp where you can grab their EP for free!
Second came Frankie Rose, alumnus of Brooklyn royalty girl bands Dum Dum Girls and Vivian Girls, whom I’ve been wanting to see since her incredible record Interstellar hit the scene in February. For her impressive garage rock background, the sleek, electronic, cool-to-the-touch controlled nature of Interstellar seemed to come out of nowhere. The basic summary I can give of her 35-minute performance was that it was at times awesome, at times awkward, and always strange. This new persona Frankie has come to fame through- galactic lo-fi dream-pop space queen- is not entirely genuine or comfortable in a live setting. Stumbling to harmonize with her backing vocal track, her classically trained theater voice really did not sound all that similar to its album counterpart. Playing her guitar on only some songs, and when so only very minimally, I was disillusioned to what the intricate and astounding Interstellar guitar parts really meant to her. At times, she soared, giving a song her full attention- while singing a “Pair of Wings”, for example, her vocals reaching choral heights as if we were in a cathedral. Other times, I wondered who Frankie Rose is, and more importantly, where was the album’s true mastermind- the producer. Bonus points, though, Frankie Rose announced onstage that she’s moving to Bushwick, or as she called it “The new Williamsburg.” Psh, girl please!!
Caveman, Brooklyn’s own sentimental alternative rock stronghold, blew me away. With dual drummers carving out tribal rhythms, earnest lyrics, sweeping harmonies and subtle synths, they are extremely tight. Think Local Natives…meets Grizzly Bear…with a more traditional, wholesome songwriting approach. Live, the music comes to live in a dynamic way that you can’t find on their hit album, CocoBeware. They’re a buzzband for sure, I highly recommend seeing them.
[box]Saturday: exitmusic and Asobi Seksu at Brooklyn Bowl.[/box]
This gorgeous atmospheric goth-pop band was a thrill to see live, for several reasons. A well-known fact about exitmusic is that lead singer Aleksa Palladino came to fame as Jimmy Darmody’s troubled lesbian wife on Boardwalk Empire. So, it’s safe to say a lot of us mafia fans were starstruck to see her pouring her heart out in a rare, guarded but emotional performance. Their music is excellent- a sort of haunted, roaring strain of alternative music that embodies loneliness but has pop touches twinkling beneath the surface. Awezome.
Take a blender, mix in some shoegaze, layers of noise, some classic NYC spirit, and a beautiful Japanese girl, you’ve got Asobi Seksu. Though their music is mostly known for its dream poppy, quiet, subtle rock influences, they band is meant for dancing live. Unexpectedly loud, sometimes even thrashy (!), and more rock than pop, they put on a good show. Perhaps there was less emphasis on the vocals because lead singer Yuki Chikudate admitted to having Bronchitis. Either way, the emphasis on generating an awesomely loud sound (mostly) instrumentally went over very well.
[box]Starlight Girls at The Gutter – Whatever Blog Showcase[/box]
I was so happy to track down this newbie buzzband- they played a lot of shows throughout Northside. I caught Starlight Girls at one The Gutter, a mellow place to see them go all out in their quirky retro style. They are a female-fronted playful jazz-weird-psychedelic fusion band that has a bright future for themselves in the BK scene. A mixture of smooth textures, funky 70s-style melodies, random noises (and occasional flute!) and upbeat vocals make them an inspiring and unique group. Be sure to head over and download their LP- for free! Ah, awesome music was always meant to be free.
[box]Black Belles, Turbo Fruits at Knitting Factory- Panaches Records Showcase [/box]
Black Belles, you make girl power feel old and new all at the same time. This proclaimed “garage goth” band takes all of the best guitar techniques from the 1960s and places them amongst Karen O-style vocals and White Stripes-influenced drums. It sure as hell makes sense that Jack White discovered them. From their long, black manes to black spiky pumps, these girls are styled like witches, and create a really impressive booming, shredding guitar-and-rhythm sound. They’ve (surprisingly) yet to secure a national following, but I say it’s only a matter of time before they become the faces and voices of some neo-goth designer or clothing line.
This garage punk band from Nashville, Tennessee is doing everything right. Fighting onstage, jumping into the crowd, threatening violence, and rocking the fuck out, not to mention sounding great. Turbo Fruits fill the gap where noise garage rockers Ty Segall and Wavves and more folk-punk songwriters like Kurt Vile meet. These guys have a southern touch that makes their garage rock simply more accessible. Garagey-Americana guitar, punk rhythms, vocals that vary from beach boys-style harmonies (“Naked with You”) to straight-up rambunctious spitfire verses (“Want some Mo’”). They’re fun, and even after their 65ths straight day of touring, they still enthralled the crowd.
[box]Sunday: Yawn and Starfucker at Warsaw.[/box]
I trust any band that would be touring with Starfucker, and Yawn was a breath of fresh air. Ok, yes, they sound a lot like Animal Collective. Lead singer Adam Gil has Avey Tare’s whiny drawl and the same emphasis on pronouncing words instead of letting them blend together. Yes, the rhythms are layered and tribal in the same atmospheric way. But there’s this freshness about the quartet’s sound that really makes their sound embody youth. Maybe it’s the mash of psychedelia, dance, freak-folk and straight pop that makes them so damn catchy. Maybe it’s the don’t-care attitude that allows them to layer their sprawling vocal tracks so coherently. Their rarely a harmony that it traditionally soothing; rather they rely on softly startling their viewers into paying attention. There’s nothing sleepy about this band. Download their LP for free here!
As an age-old Starfucker fan, I suddenly felt out of place at Sunday’s show. I haven’t been impressed with Starfucker’s last album and EP (since they dumbly attempted to change their name to Pyramiddd) but remained loyal despite the growth away from lightheaded, melodic, smart electro-pop music to a less sincere psych-pop effort. The first thing that was so offsetting was that they have lost their Jupiter-era, Ryan Biornstad, lead singer (??!!)- complete news to me, but of no concern to the 16+ crowd around me, who bopped and raved with little clue. The more overpowering concern was that the band played with little to no energy. The same songs that once radiated sounded lifeless with a different vocalist, who did little to make his voice heard above the guitars and synth (which actually did sound great.) The performance was simply lost on me, having experienced Starfucker at their peak, and a somewhat disappointing way to end Northside.
Oh well, here are some hands! Til next year, Northside!