Treasure Island Music Festival 2018: A strong return for one of the Bay Area’s best live music events

Treasure Island Music Festival 2018 - JunglePhotos by Brendan Mansfield, Josh Withers, Paige K. Parsons & Josh Sanseri // Written by Brett Ruffenach //

Treasure Island Music Festival //
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park – Oakland
October 13th-14th, 2018 //

Treasure Island Music Festival is back. After 10 years on its namesake island, Another Planet Entertainment’s and Noise Pop’s two-day music and arts festival has returned in full form to its new home, the Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland.

A popular spot for open-air events, MHSP has become well-known for its sprawling natural grass, cool breeze and stunning sunsets revealing a silhouetted view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline. Having hosted both hip-hop festival Blurry Vision and house music day party All Day I Dream in the past, the park has become a reliable space for large-scale events in the East Bay.

TIMF 2018 was no different. For the fest’s first iteration at this new venue, organization and logistics ran as smoothly as one may hope. Based on my own experience and the anecdotes shared by other festivalgoers throughout the weekend, arriving and leaving the festival was simple and stress-free; exiting both nights after the headliner finished and waiting to board the shuttle to the West Oakland BART station took no longer than 30 minutes, even at peak times. After transporting thousands of patrons on and off Treasure Island in years past, it’s not a surprise that the organizers were successful in keeping everything on course over the whole weekend.

The layout of the festival followed a similar logic to previous iterations: two stages at opposite ends of a large field, with artists playing back-to-back on each stage. This is where TIMF truly shines — to be able to see every artist on any music festival’s lineup is always a treat. Kicking off Saturday’s hip-hop and electronic-oriented artist roster was up-and-coming experimental rapper JPEGMAFIA. Using nothing but a laptop (managed by himself) and a mic, JPEGMAFIA spent much of his set in the crowd, rapping his manic flows atop noisy, blaring hip-hop beats.

Treasure Island Music Festival 2018 - Moses Sumney


Moses Sumney

Later, Moses Sumney took the stage as a four-piece band, a new iteration of what has usually been a solo project. His sultry vocals, combined with some expanded instrumentation, made for a complete reinvention of the LA native’s live show. “Make Out in Your Car”, for example, featured an extremely groovy outro that gave the band backing the soulful singer-songwriter space to jam out for a second.

Sadly, as Sumney began his closing track “Plastic”, electronic duo Polo & Pan started their set on the opposite stage, quickly overtaking the airwaves across Middle Harbor. Polo & Pan have garnered considerable hype this year, and for good reason. The French duo seamlessly guided us through a 45-minute, non-stop dance party, layering bacchanalian melodies over thumping house beats that invoked a sense of being at a old-time carnival. It’s quite a unique sound that can really get a crowd moving.

As the afternoon progressed, artist after artist brought their best underneath the beating sun. Laff Trax is a new side project featuring Bay Area resident Chaz Bundick (aka Toro y Moi) and enigmatic electronic producer Nosaj Thing. In what really ended up being a B2B DJ set rather than a new musical project, the two DJs were impeccable in their selections.

Back at the main stage, Santigold celebrated the 10th anniversary of her self-titled debut LP by performing it in full. Another new DJ duo, Silk City, which was formed by All-Star record producers Mark Ronson and Diplo, shortly followed, keeping a small crowd moving leading up to the night’s two final acts: Pusha T and A$AP Rocky.

Treasure Island Music Festival 2018 - Pusha T


Pusha T

Pusha T took The City stage right at set time, kicking off with an a capella intro to the opening track “If You Know You Know” from his most recent album Daytona. From there, it was “King Push” in full form — performing a setlist of nearly 20 songs, back to back to back, while never missing a beat. Throughout the set, Pusha and his DJ continuously proclaimed “DAYTONA … ALBUM OF THE YEAR!” And after he performed the whole disc from start to finish, including a word-perfect rendition of “Infared”, I might be inclined to agree.

Saturday headliner A$AP Rocky was an unfortunate disappointment. Due to what we think was technical difficulties, he didn’t take the stage until 37 minutes after his scheduled start time, killing more than half an hour. While he brought all the bells and whistles one would expect — pyrotechnics, strobe lights and a full backing band — when headlining a festival, you could tell he felt rushed and flustered trying to get through what they could before the strict noise curfew of 10 p.m. As a result, Rocky ended up being one of the more forgettable acts of the weekend.

Sunday at TIMF proved to be sublime. Offering just as much sunshine and warmth as Day 1, a perfectly sequenced day focused heavily on rock transpired. Pond, the first of four Australian acts to perform on the main stage, got things started for a noticeably large audience, many of who were likely Tame Impala fans arriving early to show their support for Jay Watson, who is in both bands. Next was Soccer Mommy, another one of this year’s indie darlings, as she and her sidekicks held their own playing tracks off her debut LP Clean, including excellent takes on “Your Dog” and “Cool”.

Alex Cameron, the second Australian act to take the main stage on Sunday, is a puzzling one. Picture “Macho Man” Randy Savage meeting Michael Jackson if you can. It’s part comedy bit, part completely serious 80’s dream-pop band. Cameron describes the project as a “dossier of evidence about the condition of being a straight white male.” Take from that what you will.

Treasure Island Music Festival 2018 - U.S. Girls


U.S. Girls

The marathon of music subsequently continued. Shame, a post-punk outfit that couldn’t have originated from anywhere except the UK, brought a breath of fresh air (and dust) to TIMF with their fast and loose instrumentation and leery vocal stylings. Sharon Van Etton unveiled what I see as version 2.0 of her music by adding some really gritty guitar and synthesizer sounds to her stunning vocals. We look forward to hearing her new album Remind Me Tomorrow, which comes out next year.

But U.S. Girls were the highlight of the weekend for us. A nine-piece experimental pop act, they put on a stunning 45-minute set that culminated in an entrancing rendition of “Time”, the closing track on their critically acclaimed studio effort In a Poem Unlimited, that lasted more than 10 minutes. The energy, instrumentation and vocal capabilities were absolutely stunning. Easily one of this year’s most exciting new acts, and we can’t wait to catch them again soon.

Tame Impala delivered what one might expect from one of the world’s top-touring rock bands right now. Running through a 17-song set full of hits, from “Alter Ego” to “The Less I Know the Better” on 2015’s Currents, the final Aussie act of the day left us with a special treat by playing “Jeremy’s Storm” from their debut album Innerspeaker for the first time in nearly five years.

After taking 2017 off and relocating to Oakland, TIMF has returned in full form and we are certainly thrilled about that. With great weather, excellent organization and a near-perfect sequencing of artists this year, it still happens to be one of the best live music events in the Bay Area. Who’s ready for 2019?

Can Treasure Island Music Festival regain its footing after a year off & a new location?

Treasure Island Music Festival - 2018 lineupWritten by Brett Ruffenach //

Treasure Island Music Festival //
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park – Oakland
October 13th-14th, 2018 //

With what seems like an endless amount of opportunities to see dozens of artists perform over a weekend in the Bay Area — Outside Lands, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Blurry Vision … the list goes on — Treasure Island Music Festival has spent the past decade establishing a foothold in Northern California’s festival scene through well-curated lineups and unique headliners such as Massive Attack, Atoms for Peace and Outkast, along with exciting emerging artists in pop, hip-hop, electronic and rock ‘n’ roll.

Best of all, TIMF is one of the few music festivals where you can see every single artist on the lineup. A two-stage event that staggers artists back-to-back for 12 hours straight, it’s ideal for those looking to discover some of the hottest live music acts on tour right now.

TIMF has gone through a couple changes over the years. Originally held on the northwestern end of its namesake island for the first nine years, organizers were forced to relocate the fest due to construction on new housing (what else would it be, of course?) in the area. And after what was an unfortunate 2016 installment due to bad weather and artist cancellations on the opposite end of Treasure Island, the festival took a break last year.

But TIMF has found a new home in Oakland’s Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. A new popular spot for open-air events, MHSP has become quite well-known for its sprawling natural grass, cool breeze right off the water and sunsets revealing a stunning, silhouetted view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline. MHSP has proven to be a reliable space for festivals, with events like hip-hop festival Blurry Vision and house music day party All Day I Dream.

Treasure Island Music Festival - 2018 daily lineups

TIMF’s 2018 lineup features, top to bottom, some of the most interesting artists in pop, rock, hip-hop, electronic and all the experimental forms that cross them. In an era where hip-hop remains at the height of its popularity, TIMF 2018 includes artists behind some of the most provocative rap music released this year. JPEGMAFIA, a rapper hailing from Baltimore, is a standout among heavy hitters like Pusha T and A$AP Rocky. Blending experimental noise with booming beats behind maniacal flows, this is not one to be missed. He’s on at 12:40 p.m., so get there early, folks. You won’t regret it.

It’s hard to place a lot of these exciting artists in a specific genre. How can you capture the sweeping sounds of Moses Sumney? Take the soaring vocal traditions in gospel, then mix jazz, looped electronics and simple guitar chord progressions, and stir. Having hit pretty much every major music festival this year while also appearing at The Oscars with Sufjan Stevens, this buzzworthy artist lives up to the hype.

In a similar vein, serpentwithfeet will make an appearance to play the experimental sounds from his critically acclaimed album, entitled soil, that arrived in June. Alongside other genre-bending artists like Hiatus Kaiyote, a soul-meets-rock band bound to catch the interest of any first-time listener, there’s really no shortage of artists refusing to be placed in one category.

Joining the wide spectrum of hip-hop, R&B and jazz showcased on Saturday is a cavalcade of cutting-edge electronic projects, including easily one of the most exciting acts to emerge over the last year in French duo Polo & Pan.

Treasure Island Music Festival - 2018 map

Even more excitingly, TIMF will host two brand-new projects making their Bay Area debut: Laff Trax and Silk City. Hard to imagine what exactly to expect, but when you see that indie-pop artist and Berkeley native Toro y Moi is going B2B with the downtempo, enigmatic beats of Nosaj Thing, it’s hard not to have your hopes high. Similarly, Silk City will feature two of the biggest pop music producers in the world joining forces, Mark Ronson and Diplo. You’ll just have to be there to see what it’s like.

Guitars may seem like a thing of the past at other major music festivals (we’re looking at you, Coachella), but at TIMF, rock ‘n’ roll is thriving. With the current kings of psychedelic rock in Tame Impala leading the pack, the bands preceding them are sure to pack their own punch.

Among the most exciting are U.S. Girls, a pop project lead by the unique vocal stylings of Meghan Remy. Their most recent LP In a Poem Unlimited is destined to top many year-end lists, and we can only expect their live production to meet a similar standard. Sharon Van Etten, with her new-meets-old-school style, and Courtney Barnett, who possesses the most charming accent in the game and just played LA’s Greek Theatre (read our review here) this month, also will be there to showcase their latest material.

Be sure to hit the merch stand early, as TIMF will have a brand-new line of gear to celebrate their new home in Oakland. This year’s merch is presented in partnership with Oaklandish, which is a popular fashion line and retail store based in Oakland. They’ll be printing all of this year’s merch locally in their warehouse, and they’ve also been tapped to design a new collaborative item specific to 2018. The company will also have a pop-up booth at TIMF for those looking to explore additional apparel and accessories. Plus, there will be a variety of Oakland and East Bay food trucks to keep things local and of course, your bellies full.

Who are you most excited to see? What are your pro tips for this weekend?

Back on the road, Broken Social Scene rock The Fox with a career-spanning set

Broken Social ScenePhotos by Norm de Veyra // Written by Brett Ruffenach //

Broken Social Scene with The Belle Game //
Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland
October 26th, 2017 //

To cap off a stellar “Rocktober” season in the Bay Area, one of the true titans of early-aughts indie rock brought their All-Star lineup of musicians to the Fox Theater Oakland as Toronto’s Broken Social Scene headlined with support from The Belle Game.

With the venue beginning to fill up, The Belle Game arrived onstage. Their music combines rock-band sensibilities with a dreamy, ethereal pop sound to create a powerful effect. It was quite clear that Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear and other heavy hitters from the mid-2000’s were a major influence on their sound.

A five-piece act hailing from Vancouver, The Belle Game’s greatest asset — the stunning vocal range of lead singer Andrea Lo — became clear from their rendition of “Spirit”, the lead single off their sophomore LP Fear/Nothing. Through soaring synths and reverb-heavy guitar effects, they certainly garnered a few new fans in Oakland this time around.

Broken Social Scene

After a short break, Broken Social Scene took the stage as an eight-piece band backed by a six-piece horns section. They kicked things off with the thumping and fast-paced “KC Accidental” from 2002’s You Forgot It in People, which quickly demonstrated the roles of all four guitarists onstage and the unstoppable power of drummer Justin Peroff.

Racing through the first three tunes of what would be a career-spanning, 20-song set, BSS eventually revealed what the rush was all about — the horn section joining them featured members of the Brooklyn-based afrobeat band Antibalas, and they had a gig to play just a block away at The New Parish later that night. Nevertheless, it was a special way to get the show started.

In my head, I counted 22 different people taking stage at one point or another. It was one of those shows where the crowd roared in excitement at the opening notes of each song, from older tracks like “Fire Eye’d Boy” on their 2005 self-titled LP to newer material off their 2017 studio effort Hug of Thunder, including a booming version of “Halfway Home”.

Broken Social Scene

At The Fox, BSS’ newest female vocalist, Ariel Engle, was able to confidently fill the shoes of her predecessors Emily Haines and Leslie Feist. For “Stay Happy”, the first track demanding two female vocalists, The Belle Game’s own Andrea Lo joined Engle onstage. This song was a personal highlight of the set for me; not only is it one of BSS’ best cuts off of Hug of Thunder, but they cleverly turned the glitchy, staccato guitar lick into a cool saxophone melody.

As the night went on, Lo joined Engle onstage once again to sing one of the Canadian outfit’s most famous songs: “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl”. But instead of using the studio version’s heavy vocal distortion, Lo and Engle sang, perfectly in sync, contrasting harmonies that produced a repetitive, swelling effect. It was truly a breathtaking moment to witness.

BSS were certainly feeling the love, too. After closing their set with “It’s All Gonna Break”, they returned for an encore, informing us that they had time for only one more song.

Broken Social Scene

But in an attempt to decide whether to play “Lover’s Spit” or “Cause = Time” by the crowd’s applause, BSS founding member and bandleader Brendan Canning said that they were just going to have to do both. I initially took this as an (admittedly successful) attempt to rile up the crowd, but after later seeing a picture of the setlist, it looked like the band chose to play an additional three songs due to the energy in the room.

Here’s the thing about BSS — after 15 years, the web of musicians that makes up the collective have created their own individual projects, from Metric to Stars to Feist to Do Make Say Think to Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton. And while many of the band’s members who have gone on to find success in their own solo careers didn’t happen to join the group on this particular tour, the sense of professionalism built into the BSS live experience remains prevalent. Every person who stepped onstage demonstrated consummate abilities in their own realms, never missing a beat or a note.

Fortunately for those who didn’t make it to this incredible show, word on the street is they’ll be heading back to The Fox early next year for Noise Pop 2018.

Setlist:
KC Accidental
7/4 (Shoreline)
Halfway Home
Protest Song
Fire Eye’d Boy
Texico Bitches
Stars and Sons
World Sick
Stay Happy
Hug of Thunder
Sweetest Kill
Skyline
Almost Crimes
Major Label Debut (Fast)
Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)
Looks Just Like the Sun
Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl
It’s All Gonna Break

Encore:
Lover’s Spit
Play Video
Cause = Time

Lil Yachty continues to carve out his own path in SF

Lil YachtyPhotos by Lisette Worster // Written by Brett Ruffenach //

Lil Yachty //
The Warfield – San Francisco
September 21st, 2017 //

We’ve certainly arrived at a unique point in hip-hop. As the internet continually levels the playing field for how artists release music, we’re seeing styles of a once easily identifiable genre become increasingly fragmented.

Case in point: Lil Yachty.

The Atlanta native turned heads in 2015 with his viral hit “1 Night” and has since carved out a unique following by turning his self-described “bubblegum trap” into, arguably, a completely new genre. Riding a wave of success built on Instagram and Soundcloud while hitting nearly every major festival around the world, Lil’ Yachty brought his crew to The Warfield for a night of bubblegum trap last Thursday.

With no official support listed on the bill, the venue slowly filled in after opening its doors. After the DJ warmed up the crowd by switching roughly every two minutes between today’s biggest hip-hop bangers — Travis Scott’s “Antidote”, Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” and of course, Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” — Lil Yachty’s entourage, The Boat Crew, took the stage. First up was TheGoodPerry (born Perry Paris Moise), who was celebrating his 21st birthday, and at one point, Lil Yachty even came out to contribute vocals on a song and afterward led the crowd in a singing of “Happy Birthday” for Moise. It was an endearing, if not awkward, gesture from the evening’s headliner.

With a new emcee coming out every two or three songs, The Boat Crew’s remaining cast of JBANS$, EarlThePearll and BigBruthaChubba continued to make their way to the stage. Yet, each of them displayed a stunning disinterest in, well, actually rapping. As the DJ changed the song every 90 seconds, music came blaring out of the PA system with a backing track to cover for the many moments in which a performer either forgot the words, ran out of breath between rhymes or was busy grabbing a fan’s phone to take a selfie. Furthermore, The Boat Crew repeatedly counted down to the next beat drop in what felt like some sort of half-assed attempt to keep the crowd hyped.

Lil Yachty

Kodie Shane wrapped up The Boat Crew’s time onstage. With a bit more variation in sound than your standard auto-tune and trap, the female emcee brought a new energy to the stage, running from one side to another and ending things on a high note.

As the 25-minute intermission passed, fans eagerly waited for the headliner to take the stage. Pulling the tablecloths from the objects they had been covering onstage, it became clear that Lil Yachty’s stage design was a late-night talk show set.

“The Lil Boat Show” opened with a recorded message from Lil Yachty thanking the crowd for coming and supporting him. Subsequently, Lil Yachty himself jumped onstage and kicked off a 75-minute set with hits like “Harley”, “Minnesota” and “Fresh of The Boat”. With each track, Yachty demonstrated a sense of focus and vocal power completely set apart from the previous performance by The Boat Crew. Not relying solely on drop after drop, he mixed up the energy with more brooding tracks like “Lady in the Yellow” and “Peek a Boo”.

Lil Yachty has certainly carved out his own path in the world of hip-hop and with it, has captured the attention of an increasingly distracted generation. Watching him jump from track to track, the sense of excitement I witnessed in the audience was perhaps the most memorable part of the entire experience. Dressed in a variety of styles that triangulated between androgynous, hip-hop and hipster, it makes sense that his debut LP was titled Teenage Emotions.

Like many musical styles, Lil Yachty’s felt like one for the kids who want to demonstrate their weirdness and individuality. And for one night in SF, they got to express that weirdness. Even though Lil Yachty’s music might not be for me, it means a lot to many — and that’s something worth recognizing.

AIR celebrate ‘twentyears’ at The Masonic

AIRPhotos by Steve Carlson // Written by Brett Ruffenach //

AIR with Lo Moon //
The Masonic – San Francisco
June 23rd, 2017 //

What better venue could there be for a band like AIR than The Masonic?

Over the past 20 years, the French downtempo/space-rock project formed by Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel has produced several critically acclaimed albums, including their groundbreaking soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides”.

Recently, they released a compilation of their best work, simply titled twentyears, to celebrate the project entering its second decade. For those of us lucky to catch their transcendent set at Outside Lands (read our festival review here) last year, it was a no-brainer to catch the French duo on their last U.S tour before an indefinite hiatus, especially in a space as fitting for AIR as The Masonic.

Opening for AIR were Lo Moon, the Los Angeles trio currently riding a much-deserved wave of hype from its debut track “Loveless” that came out last February.

Combining some soaring, melodic indie rock with subtle ambient elements, Lo Moon set the tone for the evening. As a four-piece, their touring drummer Sterlin Laws certainly packed a punch at the right moments and offered a great opening act. I’ll have to keep an eye out for their debut album later this year.

AIR

After a short intermission, AIR took the stage, opening with their classic track “Venus” off 2004’s Talkie Walkie. The duo tours as a quartet consisting of Godin (guitar, vocoder, bass, banjo), Duncke (keyboards, including six different synthesizers I believe), a drummer and pianist (who also manned at least half a dozen synthesizers).

AIR’s live performances focus on capturing the crisp, detailed production style that the duo has honed over two decades. It’s a vibrant, textured sound. Centered around acoustic guitar, synthesizers and the breathy timbre of the duo’s immaculate harmonized vocals, the use of live drums helped round out the contrast between both the artificial and acoustic sounds in songs like “Cherry Blossom Girl”.

With the release of twentyears, AIR’s headlining set gave them the time and space to play more spacious, ambient productions. The ethereal rhythm of songs such as “Playground Love” and “Alone in Kyoto” showed their true mastery as a group: delicate, balanced and controlled.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t rock out when they want to. Early in the set (perhaps too early), they put on a heart-racing rendition of “Don’t Be Light”. Later the banjo was finally brought out, leading into a soaring version of “Alpha Beta Gaga”.

Closing with their classic “La Femme d’argent” that was led by a razor-sharp baseline guiding them into a massive, cacophonous finale, the members of AIR gathered together at the center of the stage and took a bow. In all white, with their charming French smiles spread ear to ear, they blew the crowd kisses and left the stage for what may be the last time in the Bay Area.

Setlist:
Venus
Don’t Be Light
Cherry Blossom Girl
J’ai dormi sous l’eau
Remember
Playground Love
People in the City
Radian
Alpha Beta Gaga
Run
Talisman
How Does It Make You Feel?
Kelly Watch the Stars

Encore:
Alone in Kyoto
Sexy Boy
La Femme d’Argent

The Avalanches make their long-awaited return to SF after more than a decade

The AvalanchesPhotos by Norm de Veyra // Written by Brett Ruffenach //

The Avalanches with Jel //
Mezzanine – San Francisco
April 18th, 2017 //

Amid a flurry of incredible talent that made its way to the Bay Area in April, perhaps the most exciting to see on the list was The Avalanches, considering it has been over a decade since the Australian outfit has toured in the U.S. Walking into a packed Mezzanine on a Tuesday night, Jel warmed up the crowd with some impressive, live-produced hip-hop beats and some decent banter in between tracks.

Shortly after Jel’s set, The Avalanches took the stage, including the five-piece’s two founding members in guitarist Robbie Charter and Tony Diblasi, who manned a mix of drum machines, sampling kits and turntables. The group chose to take its “plunderphonics” style, consisting of intricately woven together samples, and turn it into a live band that boasts drummer Paris Jeffree, singer Eliza Wolfgramm and emcee Spank Rock.

Kicking off with “Because I’m Me”, the opening track on their 2016 sophomore LP Wildflower, which (ranked as my favorite album of the year), there was a clear issue when combining the mixing of their studio samples with what sounded like a conventional funk/rock band.

The Avalanches

While Wolfgramm and Spank Rock could more than hold their own on the mic, the energy coming from the band felt discordant and awkward, forcing Spank Rock to work more as a hype man than as a rapper. As they made their way through classic tracks “Flight Tonight” and “Radio” along with more recent hits like “Subway”, something just seemed … off.

Taking their studio efforts to the stage as a live band may not have been the right decision for The Avalanches, and that’s simply because of what makes them so appealing: their sampling. Sampling, after all, sounds very strange when you’re performing live.

The intricate textures and layers of The Avalanches’ material is what people find incredible about them. Yet, in an attempt to translate these productions into a live show, they ended up sounding more like “Flight Tonight: A Tribute to The Avalanches” than the actual Avalanches.

Setlist:
The Leaves Were Falling
Because I’m Me
Frankie Sinatra
The Guns of Brixton (The Clash cover)
Flight Tonight
Radio
Subways
Live a Lifetime Love
Bump (Spank Rock cover)
Frontier Psychiatrist
Life’s a Bitch (Nas cover)

Encore:
The Noisy Eater
Electricity
Since I Left You

At The Regency Ballroom, Danny Brown sets himself apart from all the other rappers in the game

Danny BrownPhotos by James Pawlish // Written by Brett Ruffenach //

Danny Brown //
The Regency Ballroom – San Francisco
October 11th, 2016 //

Daniel Swell, better known as Danny Brown, came to The Regency Ballroom last Tuesday in support of his critically acclaimed album Atrocity Exhibition.

As an emcee with a cartoonish, high-pitched voice as well as a humorous lyrical style, it can sometimes be hard to take Brown seriously. This is the deceptive genius of the Detroit-based rapper — in between the lewd sexual acts and illicit drug use described in his music, there’s a deeper look into addiction, poverty and mental illness. As he opened the show with “Die Like a Rockstar” from his second LP XXX, The Regency’s bouncing floor started moving and didn’t stop for the next hour.

Danny Brown

Diving into earlier tracks and moving forward chronologically from there, Brown managed to cover a large breadth of his catalog, even for a set as short as his was on this night. Dropping bangers like “Blunt After Blunt”, “Dip” and “25 Bucks”, perhaps the most impressive aspect about Brown’s performance is the cadence he’s able to keep up, song after song after song. And no matter what the track is, the speed and flow he is able to maintain is something few rappers can keep up with (I’m looking at you, ScHoolboy Q).

Although he only performed a couple of tracks from his new album, tragically skipping over “Ain’t It Funny”, Brown still managed to prove that he is a rapper in his own lane. No one can be compared to Danny Brown because well, there’s no one like Danny Brown.

Danny Brown

Danny Brown

Danny Brown

Flume makes his case as one of EDM’s fastest-rising stars over a three-night run in SF

FlumePhotos by Lisette Worster // Written by Brett Ruffenach //

Flume with Shlohmo //
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco
September 23rd, 2016 //

Among the many electronic musicians to break through into the mainstream over the past year, there aren’t many who have crafted their rise in fame as carefully as Harley Edward Straiten, better known as Flume. After releasing his critically acclaimed, self-titled debut album in 2012, the Australian producer quickly gained popularity thanks to his instant-earworm hits like “Sleepless” and “Insane”.

Leading up to his most recent LP Skin that he dropped in May, Flume began to enter the EDM mainstream after releasing several blistering remixes of artists like Disclosure and Hermitude. Since the release of Skin, Flume has spent much of this year headlining festivals and selling out some of the largest indoor venues around the world, including SF’s very own Bill Graham Auditorium. On a Friday night, I joined 5,000 of Flume’s fans for the second of his three-night run in the City.

Flume, or whoever manages his bookings, deserves some praise for the openers he brought out for this tour. Thursday and Friday featured Shlohmo, the goth-cousin (sonically speaking) of Flume, and on Saturday night, concertgoers were lucky enough to see Vince Staples, one of the hottest new rappers around, warm up the crowd. Though I was particularly excited to see Shlohmo (born Henry Laufer), a musician and producer/DJ worthy of his own separate review (see our photos from his live show in Los Angeles last year), the crowd did not feel similarly. As Laufer, the LA native who is a founding member and the defacto leader of the electronic music record label/collective WeDidIt with fellow producers RL Grime and Ryan Hemsworth, seamlessly ran through a mix of distorted, chopped-up hip-hop and trap beats, it seemed near impossible that the audience would give him any attention, with many using the flashlight on their iPhones as markers to help their friends find them.

Shlohmo


Shlohmo

Simply put: Shlohmo is an underrated DJ. Watching him run from one track to another, I was continually surprised by the directions he chose to go. Tracks like “Apathy”, a part-shoegaze, part-trap wall of noise, become a completely different experience on a massive sound system compared to my causal listening on a pair of cheap headphones. Though most of the crowd hardly noticed his set, I thought Shlohmo was an excellent opener. Great work, Henry.

The auditorium quickly filled in leading up to Flume’s performance. As the bros, ravers and scantily clad women packed into the floor area, I chose to take a seat on the upper concourse. The house lights dimmed, and Flume slyly emerged onstage to a roaring applause, backed by a visual setup consisting of neon cubes and a massive LED screen, which seems obligatory for any up-and-coming electronic music producer these days.

Jumping quickly into his older material, Flume instantly set the crowd off playing “Holding On”, “Sleepless” and “On Top” one after another. Though Flume is touring in support of his sophomore effort Skin, it was a smart choice to kick off the show with some older tracks. The contrast in how robust Flume’s production skills are from his self-titled debut to his more recent studio effort were entirely apparent, especially leading into his booming remix of Disclosure’s hit “Magnets” featuring Lorde.

Flume


Flume

Perhaps the most impressive part of Flume’s live production is the choreographed lighting to accompany his music. On tracks like “Smoke and Retribution” (a personal favorite), a wall of strobe lights would flash with every stomping bass kick, blinding the crowd only momentarily before bringing them back to the kaleidoscope color scheme and accompanying visuals. It’s great that Flume has honed in the visual art direction of his album artwork and incorporated it into his performance — something about those surrealist floral designs just seemed to fit so perfectly with what Flume is all about.

Moving into fan favorites like “Say It” and perhaps his best track, a remix of the Disclosure track “You and Me”, the show ended as quickly as it started, but perhaps that’s because the setlist was perfectly woven together. Moving the energy levels up and down combining that with his charming Aussie voice from time to time, it’s clear that Flume knows how to work a crowd. As the crowd cheered and hollered for an encore, he reemerged to play one more song, his collaboration with Beck entitled “Tiny Cities”. After 90 minutes of booming beats as well as dancing, this track was the perfect cooldown for what was an incredible show.

Flume knows that you don’t need to be standing on top of a giant-sized Macintosh to put on an impressive show. His art direction, live production and setlist tie together the appeal of his music with enough lights and colors to serve as an accoutrement rather than a centerpiece. In the increasingly unimaginative world of live mainstream electronic music, artists like Flume are the beacon.

Rudimental, Gorgon City team up at the Fox Theater Oakland to close out their co-headlining tour

Rudimental


Rudimental

Photos by Marc Fong // Written by Brett Ruffenach //

Rudimental & Gorgon City //
Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland
May 26th, 2016 //

There’s something about the Fox Theater Oakland that attracts touring acts whom many U.S. fans don’t usually have the chance to see. In keeping up with this tradition, Gorgon City and Rudimental chose The Fox as the final of five venues for their co-headlining spring tour last Thursday.

As two live-produced electronic acts hailing from London, both have experienced a fast rise in popularity, taking their respective house- and drum-and-bass-inspired sounds from the UK’s underground club scene to some of the world’s largest music festivals. Although the idea of sharing a headlining tour was unexpected, the two groups complemented each other well.

With Gorgon City taking the stage first, the three-piece band manned their respective decks with Kyle Gibbon and Matt Robson-Scott running the keyboards and percussion. In addition to their standard live setup, the English duo brought with them two vocalists and a drummer, filling in their digital gaps with an acoustic drum kit. Kicking off their set with “Sky High”, a punchy fan favorite not yet released on an official album, Gorgon City spared no time setting the pace and energy for the rest of the night.

Gorgon City


Gorgon City

Even though Gorgon City’s catalog may seem formulaic, adding vocalists Josh Barry and Lulu James on tracks like “Unmissable” and “Real”, respectively, made for excellent contributions. Combine that with the tireless energy of touring drummer Nathan Curran, and it’s clear that Gorgon City have found the right formula when it comes to translating their DJ-oriented sound into a full live-band production. The contribution of each musician’s skill set reached its peak as Gorgon City closed their set with a superb cover of Drake’s recent hit “One Dance”, leading into their own single “Go All Night”.

Combining soaring melodies with some infectious 4/4 kick drum patterns, Gorgon City did a masterful job crafting live-produced house music. Such mastery was best captured as they moved seamlessly from track to track with as many as five performers onstage. Overhearing my fellow concertgoers chat about the set while waiting for the bathroom, it was evident that Gorgon City had won over more than a couple new fans on this night.

Rudimental


Rudimental

As the road crew quickly wheeled out Gorgon City’s drum kit to make room for Rudimental’s even larger setup, the crowd waited anxiously for the next headliner to take the stage. As a Hackney-based band comprised of Piers Agget, Amir Amor, Kesi Dryden and Leon Rolle (aka DJ Locksmith), Rudimental’s live production expands into a seven-piece band featuring two additional vocalists and a live drummer. Though Rudimental are rooted first and foremost in drum and bass, which in its own right is rooted in the infamous Amen break, the group is skilled at taking this repetitive style and flipping it on its head to cross the sonic offerings of pop, R&B and reggae, the latter of which was most fully exemplified in the crowd-pleasing cover of Damian Marley’s anthem “Welcome to Jamrock”.

Through Rudimental tracks like “Not Giving In”, “Free” and “Waiting All Night”, the most unique element of the group’s live production was their charisma. Simply put, they look like they’re having fun. These aren’t tortured artists or cathartic performers — Rudimental are a band that loves the music they make. Even the band’s drummer, Beanie, easily one of the hardest working rhythmists on tour right now, managed to keep a smile on his face, racing through Rudimental’s repertoire of songs that were anywhere from 145 to 160 BPMs. The septet’s de-facto leader, DJ Locksmith, was surprisingly more in the background than you would expect from a typical DnB hype man. As Rudimental wrapped up their set with their chart-topping hit “Feel the Love”, the crowd joined in as the song ended, creating a shared moment at The Fox that perfectly reflected the intention of Rudimental — to spread the love.

It’s a shame that Gorgon City and Rudimental could only put on four live shows across their five-date tour. These two acts, despite their differences sonically, are symbiotic by design, taking underground electronic music and turning it into an infectious, upbeat dance party that any fan can appreciate. Considering the logistical challenges of coordinating a tour like this one, it’s understandable that they are not hitting every major city in the U.S. Instead, we should just be thankful — as we should be everyday — that we get to live in a place like the Bay Area with music venues as coveted as The Fox.