Did you ever have THAT friend?
The one with the pool in their yard and freezer chest stocked with Mr. Freezes and Fudge Pops? The one whose parents were always home but never seemed home? The one who had the cool basement with a tiki bar, a fully stocked mini-fridge, shag carpets, paisley furniture imported from a pre-Jurassic Park time and a jukebox that played only Motown and 1950s rock’n’roll?
I had that friend; her name was Katie.
Katie’s house held all possibilities rolled up in one destination. It was my 12-year-old self’s spin-the bottle, music mecca. I always wanted Katie’s basement, her invisible parents, her collection of 7-inches.
Moving to Brooklyn, becaming a musician, and eating my first Italian ice while sitting in McCarren Park felt a little like I was making this particular fantasy a reality. It was almost perfect, except I still had to occasionally visit other people’s houses to fulfill some my music needs, and my metaphorical Brooklyn basement was missing one crucial component–a really kick-ass music festival.
Austin has SXSW, Manhattan has CMJ, and for years, all of us Brooklyn-bred music geeks have paid our dues. We have bused, flown, hitchhiked and carpooled to these “other basements” to do what we all quietly wished we could do at home.
Not-so-surprisingly, there was a collective “About fuckin’ time” sigh, a tidal wave of filthy rejoicing down the Gowanus canal, when Brooklyn’s Northside Media Group debuted the first year of Northside Festival in 2009.
True to form, there were some holier-than-though haters; this IS Brooklyn, after all (ya know the joke, “why did the hipster drown in the tributary?” yep, “because it wasn’t mainstream”) but, on a whole, be it with private appreciation or public contempt, Northside Festival was received, with gratitude by the music community and indigenous audiophiles.
I mean, when you pay these rents, ya better be getting it all, right? 2017 is the eighth year for Northside, my second year as a performing artist, and my first year writing a review.
Here are three bands I enjoyed, out of the 300+ that played. Don’t fret, if you missed it this time around, tune in next year! You can always say you were just “too cool” to join us before then.
Sing/songwriter, Autoharpist, Lifelong Basement Dweller
Medium Mystic at Pete’s Candy Store
Morgan Enos and Brenna Ehrlich formed this band while living on dueling coasts (CA vs NY). Their bio says they sing about “boys in glass boxes, disembodied heads, Brenna’s sleepwalking habit and dancing ghosts,” and since I was sharing a bill with’em on the 8th, I forgo’d the internet pre-listen and met the music live.
With a bio description like that, I was expecting something dark and durge-ish so, it was surprising to be slammed with an upbeat, pop sound punctuated with “Eeee!” and “Ooo!” squeals, perky vocalizations and GO-GO-esque dancing.
Something like the B52’s in a head-on collisions with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs soaked in a polished, “surfs-up”, West Coast vibe. Pop and bubbles can be is a scary thing but this duo does it well.
The little stage at Pete’s could hardly contain Brenna’s bubble-gum presentation, juxtaposed with Morgan’s West Coast, skater boy apathy.
A harmonium drone reverberates, as a sax whines like a sexy, feral cat-in-heat; the drummer begins an intestine-pounding beat. Center-stage, stands a tall man dressed in all black; everything about him stretched to the proportions of an old, B&W silent film mortician: long hair, long beard, long limbs.
To the left of this undertaker, is a woman playing the screeching saxophone, her face invisible under a mop-top of blond hair; to her left, a placid faced, boyish guitarist, pounds away as projections of insects crawl across his face.
The motley crew creating this tantric, musical cacophony, seems as enrapt as I. Audience members and band members merge as orchestra and we all are taking our cues from one conductor, Shilpa Ray. She is stage right, flanked by a keyboard and a little, wooden box that could be a treasure chest or perhaps, a baby coffin?
The chaos swells, as Shilpa saunters to the edge of the stage and snatches the mic from its stand, plants her left fist firmly on a cocked hip, pitches her chest forward and begins to rap.
Her form screams Mick-Jagger-machismo but the poetic pace, hitching, sultry voice and powerful energy of the spoken-word lyrics, speak to post Patti Smith, Blondie, and Grace Slick influences.
Ray tosses a thick, wild head of black hair which falls over her dark, lipsticked lips and the enamored front row of fans.
The white type on her tank-cut t-shirt, glowing fluorescent under a black light, reads, “FUCK YOU PRESIDENT TRUMP,” as she whales one recollection of a tumultuous, city, night scene, punctuated with a chorus of vocalized sirens, “we-ahhh- wee-ahhh, wee-ahhhhh”.
Everything about her performance is fresh, it is impossible to discern between what has been practiced and what is improvisation. Presiding effortlessly as lord and master, there is no doubt, Shilpa Ray is a seasoned professional. See here, say an audience of swaying bodies, this is our warrior, our rock goddess.
The Wild Honey Pie Showcase at The Well
Walking into the back room at The Well, I was immediately hit with locker room humidity, the smells of sweat shop and a hipster spirit, a pungent mix of PBR, Axe, and thrift store funk.
The Wild Honey Pie music blog, originally a food blog started by Eric Weiner in 2009, turned music blog in 2010, is notorious for having several sticky fingers in the indie-music, honey jar of Brooklyn. Their showcase featured acts such as PAVO PAVO and The Dig but my personal and ultimately favorite takeaway from Northside Festival, was the euphoric, wall-of-surround-sound music experience of Uni Iki Ai.
The guitar and synth layers in their precise and well executed live performance create an audio landscape like the inside of a croissant. The melodies and reverb drenched vocals of frontwoman, Maia Friedman, are buttery and smooth; the instrumental and percussive arrangements are complex, hypnotic, and intelligent.
The songs performed from their debut album, “Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of My Mind,” sent me spinning like a cardboard cone around a cotton candy machine. This music has the defining flavor of a Brooklyn summer and will undoubtedly will be the perfect soundtrack for many a Rockaway Beach bike ride.