Treasure Island Music Festival 2014 will be remembered for its triumphant headliners along with its embrace of minimalist, finger-snapping electro-pop. Some of the performing acts that have blown up over the past year or so — including Jungle, Zedd, BANKS and Chet Faker — offered relatively tame performances, struggling to elevate their live music experiences. But many other acts gave inspired, breathtaking or insanely fun sets.
Here’s our best (and worst) of TIMF 2014.
Show of the Weekend: Massive Attack
With perhaps the most appropriate name for musical act on the planet, Massive Attack capped Treasure Island Music Festival 2014 in stunning fashion. With a balancing act of bass-infused downtempo brilliance highlighted by Martina Topley-Bird’s singing and industrialized synth-stabbing electronic pieces, a range of emotion is achieved for the listener. With contrasting tempos and a duality of tranquility then intensity, a cause-and-effect narrative starts to take shape — especially when paying attention to the video elements of the intense songs. “United Snakes” left nothing to the imagination with its barrage of corporate logos and national flags. It appeared the expanded duo slipped in one frame of a Ferris wheel, reminding us that yes, us consumers at TIMF, the only U.S. festival Massive Attack played on this tour, are part of the system. “Future Proof” visuals stripped out rows of zeroes and ones, using the simplicity of computer code to inspire multiple paths of thought, especially while absorbing this show in the Bay Area. And Tunde Adebimpe from TV On The Radio joined in for “Pray For Rain” for the grand finale.
Biggest Bay Area Party of the Year: OutKast
It’s almost the end of the biggest reunion tour in decades, and TIMF patrons were lucky enough to witness one of OutKast’s last shows. The Bridge Stage was more packed in than any show in memory, and festivalgoers outwardly had more fun compared to performances from past years. The set was perfectly paced, with André 3000 seemingly having a fun time — an important part of the equation compared to Big Boi’s rock-steady appearances throughout 2014. The guys gave shout-outs to Casual and The Misfits in the “local love” part of the show, and “Roses” (including a half-hearted apology for the “crazy bitch” outro) once again was one of the highlights. The set ended at least 20 minutes before the scheduled end of the day, emptying a large percentage of patrons into the shuttle line at the same time — there were some reports of people not making it back to SF until 2 a.m.
Most Likely to Headline Festivals Very Soon: alt-J
alt-J is no longer a band on the rise, but one of the biggest bands in the world with this just-launched tour in support of the group’s second LP. This hour-long set at TIMF seemed like a coronation of sorts as it was the first festival set the now-quartet has played with new material. The highlights from An Awesome Wave still act as the backbone of the set while the best cuts from This Is All Yours were cherry-picked and sprinkled in perfectly to enhance their already-inspiring live show. “Hunger of the Pine” got things going while “Left Hand Free” worked well, getting away from the heady elements for a bit. “Dissolve Me” into “Matilda” is still so incredibly beautiful and emotive — alt-J should never break these two songs up. “Every Other Freckle” is the one song where I wish the guys would have considered new lyrics, but it’s a small complaint for a concert experience that had a huge crowd rapturously involved. When music implores a festival audience to be fully invested as alt-J pulled off on Sunday, with no one talking during the quiet intimate parts, it becomes clear you are ingesting something special. Even though their rise in popularity has happened remarkably fast, that trend should continue to move upward through festival season next year.
Most TIMF Set of the Weekend: Classixx
On paper, Classixx is the ideal act for Treasure Island Music Festival 2014, and the duo delivered on this promise in the all-important sunset time slot. Restrained but upbeat enough, pop-oriented yet progressive in its sound, the LA-based remixers-turned-original producers brought Saturday together based on what we expect from past TIMF years. Their on-stage centerpiece, a modern take on a 1980’s-era television, visualizes Nancy Whang for “All You’re Waiting For” and YACHT’s Claire L. Evans for a remix of “Psychic City”. The television set offers a surreal scene juxtaposed with the backgrounded City skyline, functionally helping to break down the walls of disembodied vocals.
Best New Material: TV On The Radio
TVOTR gave one of the best sets of the weekend with their wonderful mix of slow burners, dance-punk blasts of energy along with three new songs: “Happy Idiot”, “Careful You” and “Could You”. The latter two were particularly impressive and fit perfectly into the band’s catalog. A couple other notes on the show: producer and multi-instrumentalist David Sitek now looks like Bono, Kyp Malone is still professionally chill and Tunde Adebimpe continues to be offended when listeners don’t give him full attention. After completing “Wolf Like Me”, wherein the TI faithful went nuts, the lead singer said that he couldn’t believe he saw someone leave during the song. Agreed Tunde, and we’re looking forward to the forthcoming record.
Best Recovery: Janelle Monáe
What’s exactly the point of sound checking a microphone if you’re not going to do it completely? The guy setting up the mic put it on the stand after unsuccessfully getting it to work, and Monáe sang the first song completely unaware her voice wasn’t projecting through the speakers. After some crowd chanting, a new microphone, and three different people near me saying “Why doesn’t she use the backup singer’s mic?” order was finally restored. Also, when we got “Tightrope”, all hope of seeing Monáe join mentor Big Boi during OutKast was shot. Still, there’s no doubt the Electric Lady is just beginning a long and illustrious career. And as she proved with “Cold War”, it’s damn near impossible to take your eyes or ears off her when it’s her time to shine.
Best Pop-Culture Friend-Finder: Bill Murray
Bill Murray is clearly the most important American pop culture icon, and this group knows it. They also had a high-flying Bill Murray flag to triangulate positions.
Best Festival Outlier: Ana Tijoux
French-Chilean MC and singer-songwriter Ana Tijoux brought the best change of pace on Saturday, something apparent from the beginning of “Vengo”. Upbeat and passionate fire-spitting about social injustice with electronic elements and a horn section? Yes please — this was perhaps the only set on the dance-oriented first day without finger snapping or words in English.
Most TIMF Set of the Weekend Part 2: Washed Out
It’s impressive how Ernest Greene has evolved Washed Out from bedroom project to leader of the chill-wave movement to a live performer that can mimic the energy of a dance show through instrumentation. Like Classixx, this one just felt right for TIMF.
Most Immersive Set: Poliça
Sultry. Intensely Moody. World music-infused. These are the words I wrote down before being completely drawn into this set. Once awakening after completing locking in to a couple songs, I opted to get to alt-J early for a good spot. It was a tough call since Poliça were thoroughly captivating — I’ll be looking to see them again soon.
Best Unintentional Festival Blending: MØ
MØ emerged on stage sporting a black eye-patch, seemingly joining in on the pirate theme that has defined TIMF over the years. But after a song, Karen Marie Ørsted needlessly admitted to an eye infection, even though the optical accessory worked well with her braid and masculine power stances. MØ stood above the other new minimalist-glitch offerings on display at TIMF 2014 with her authentic energy, ownership of the stage and video support. Mixing oddly-appealing archival footage on loop, including a small animal’s still-beating heart in the palm of a hand, with imagery of herself working background vocals, made this electropop highlight even more memorable.
Band that Deserves More Listeners: White Denim
It’s a shame White Denim couldn’t be featured later in the day for more festivalgoers on Sunday. The seemingly spastic song structures and prog-rock mentality make White Denim a group to add to that list of bands you try to see perform live when they come to town.
Set that Thinned Out the Most: The New Pornographers
Along with the TIMF headliners, The New Pornographers have the most seniority out of all TIMF acts. Cuts from their underestimated 2014 record Brill Bruisers created the backbone of the set with fan favorites laced in throughout. Songs led by Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, with their skewered and self-inflicting lyrics, resonated strongest. This show thinned out as the set went on while most younger festivalgoers were queuing up for Chet Faker, signifying the current state of indie music popularity. Sadly, the eight members of the group walked off stage to nary an audible clap.
Best Constant Dance Party: Silent Disco
With no overlapping sets, Silent Disco is always an option if you want house music instead of the provided musicians on stage.
Best Pop-Culture Friend-Finder 2: Kim Kardashian with Laser Beam Eyes at BANKS
BANKS kind of sums up the direction indie-turned-pop music has gone in 2014. Sleek bare-bones production, glitch elements and moody synth lay the ground work for whispery vocals. This aural cocktail has captured the collective zeitgeist (along with much of the TIMF curation) this year. Jillian Banks has an immaculate voice and is mega popular worldwide, but her set felt like more of the same. BANKS banned media photography for her TIMF set, so here’s a photo of one of the best location markers of the weekend: Kim Kardashian with laser beams coming out of her eyes.
Most Entertaining Hype Man: The Growlers
Weirdo garage rock! The Growlers almost didn’t make their set according to the introduction given by the group’s eccentric hype-man named DMTina. But the psych-goth surf rock was pleasant enough, with “Chinese Fountain” giving a fun tone to the afternoon, but the dude in the robe pretty much stole the show.
Most Shiny Electro-Pop of the Weekend: St. Lucia
I have to be honest, St. Lucia is a bit too shiny and synth-heavy for me, but damn do they give it their all. If you’re into the nu-disco pop revival, St. Lucia is for you. OutKast was a priority, though.
Most Surface-Level Fun: Jungle
Churning soul-disco mystery collective Jungle is a more well-known entity now, and the skyrocketing, UK-based outfit adeptly loops morsels of pleasurable phrasing as a house DJ would. But it all sounds the same. And given their debut record, I expected many similarities from song to song but still hoped for something more out of their live interpretations. Jungle is generic to the point of being an emotional blank slate, tofu without any other tastes involved. But there’s no better time than now to get involved in some Giants pandering — the “Let’s Go Giants” chant sparked by Josh Lloyd-Watson’s jersey and reference to SF’s World Series-bound team was one of the biggest crowd responses of the set.
Best Mobile Dance Party: Robot Dance Party
Robot Dance Party can’t stop, won’t stop.
Most Unlikely Show with People on Shoulders: Chet Faker
Chet Faker had the crew bring out a huge bass speaker to put directly behind him after his first song to give his music more oomph. And when he dipped into his career-making collaborations with Flume, “Left Alone” and “Drop the Game”, the Tunnel stage instantly began moving like the rhythm of the ocean. But otherwise, the set was downtempo to the point of boredom. And it’s not a good idea to take one of your best songs, “Talk is Cheap”, and strip it down even more. Some ladies still felt compelled to rock their friend’s shoulders as if it was a dance show, something that I’m still trying to figure out.
Biggest Spectacle Over Substance: Zedd
More than any other set at TIMF 2014, Zedd felt out of place. By this point on Saturday, the fest needed a jump of adrenaline, but the Top 40 producer wasn’t the solution. Where acts like Knife Party or Bassnectar would have fallen more in line with the traditional ethos of TIMF, Zedd brought his world of contemporary pop to the island. There was no layering or transitions, his drops didn’t stand out from the EDM pack, and the show lacked any memorable surprises.
What were your favorite sets of Treasure Island Music Festival 2014?