I am exhausted. My clothes smell like strawberry vodka and sweat. Small bruises up and down my left leg, like some small person with fat hands squeezed the life outta me. Coconut milk conditioner all over the suitcase. No voice. A cold sore from too many cigarettes. A broken heel.
This is my post-Hopscotch portrait.
During the weekend I felt like a proud mom or something. Kids I got drunk with in college played in Raleigh’s biggest music festival ever. The event was volunteer-run and organized by supermen Grayson Currin and Greg Lowenhagen. It felt like a reunion, awkward and tender. Noise coming through the old oak trees of Raleigh, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Durham, has long been contained, preserved, protected. Not taken as a serious source of musical output like Brooklyn, or San Francisco, North Carolina’s Triangle is often overlooked in the big world of music festivals. North Carolinians like it that way. But Currin and Lowenhagen brought the small, yet fiercely driven, musical communities into the big light. More than 130 bands played over three days in tiny bars, clubs, basements, and restaurants. Although Raleigh’s downtown has expanded over the past few years, the small places stayed small. This is good and bad. Good because proximity means intimacy in live music settings; bad because it also means claustrophobia and lines around the block waiting to get in.
Because Tiny Mix Tapes is neither Rolling Stone nor Spin; I did not receive a “red” wristband, thus I had to wait. I am impatient and my ADD is aggravated by alcohol, so I was forced to make some painful, and lame, decisions. This write-up is long and sentimental and I’m totally guilty of fetishizing the South. For this I am not sorry.
Besides seeing faces I once knew and devouring biscuits at Bojangles, I flew across the country to fucking dance. San Francisco doesn’t dance. Well, they do, but it’s too cool and graceful for me. I lose my shit and get weird looks. Hopscotch didn’t have a great dance lineup like Moog Fest or Treasure Island, but there were some gems, and they all played on the first night.
Travis Egedy makes music for zombie proms, where the undead scratch and dance. It’s trashy, noisy, chaotic, and familiar in its ability to summon anyone’s former robo-tripping, JNCO-wearing rave days. Not that I like, or did, any of that. No sir. Dark Rift is an apocalyptic piece of dangerous candy, like cutting your tongue with scrap metal and pipe fumes. Egedy looks for stars in the gutter. “I’m wearing my hologram shirt because I like to take trips,” he said before throwing himself into the bombastic “Goth Star.” The electro-hop ground up teeth and danced us to oblivion. I wasn’t bored. During “Boys in Blush,” my friend Blake Wilder jumped onstage and rocked a glowstick. I laughed and almost peed. Egedy was gracious enough to let more of my friends onstage and the tiny Berkeley Café transformed into a warehouse of lights and pacifiers and I was 17 again.
The Berkeley Cafe was a good spot for Brooklyn duo Javelin; their sample-heavy, spraypainted-boombox sound is ideal for small spaces and booty-slappin’. Tapping into a kind of easy freeness once found rollerblading in your garage or a basement game of Tetris, cousins Tom Van Buskirk and George Langford do the running man while playing electronic drum pads, a cymbal, a kazoo, and little else. “Soda Popinski” had kids spewing and kicking; “Susie Cues” brought the jams down a notch, letting us catch our breath and caress our bottles. The rest of the night featured tracks from No Más and Jamz n Jemz, and the crowd didn’t seem to mind the pseudo-Motown kitsch. I enjoyed it for what it was worth, but I was also tanked. A sense of manic determination sobered me up real quick as I noticed the crowd growing larger and getting younger. I walked outside.
“Nice kneecaps.” I met Sam Herring 7 years ago in a backyard somewhere in Greenville, North Carolina. He complimented my knees. William Cashion and J. Gerrit Welmers were there, too. Back then they were Art Lord and The Self Portraits. I caught up with Sam before Future Islands hit the stage. Seeing them headline the first night of Hopscotch was bittersweet, like watching a friend win an award or something. I gave him a hug and we talked about San Francisco, Asheville, and Baltimore, and I felt the presence of places and how environment can shape our identities and the remembrance of towns and cities as they once but never actually were. I recalled something Murakami said: “I think memory is the most important asset of human beings. It’s a kind of fuel; it burns and it warms you.” My idealization of the South is precious and possessive because of the moments I choose to keep with me. Like my life means something because of all the good things that happened to me in North Carolina. I tell Sam this, and then I tell him I have to pee before he plays.
No matter how you feel about their “post-wave” sound, Future Islands put on a fucking fantastic show. Channeling Orson Welles, Satan, and Weary Willie, Herring howls and gasps with ferocious melodrama. Lyrics, simple and sentimental, are given weight with a heavy-handed, brilliantly overblown performance. Perhaps Future Islands’ have found success because they drip heart, and this is what kids want.
They opened the show with “Inch of Dust,” the drum machine sounding like The Knife’s “Heartbeats.” I considered fire codes and death-by-trampling as the stage cut into my thighs and I was almost hugging Cashion’s knees. The worry melted away as I heard Herring growl along with 200 voices, “A nest just like a mother / The dampness of your sweater / This love is built in metal / Fall around in shadows / Call me / I’ll be there always.” I got emotional, realizing the restlessness I’ve felt in San Francisco is actually crushing loneliness. The one piece of North Carolina I brought with me, I lost. Failed relationships. Too many ex-loves in that tiny bar; so many friends. I ached for the times I spent in basements, in the East Carolina University art building, and the Tuesday night dance parties appropriately titled, “Dance Music For Nerds.” Then a girl kicked me in the head and I got over it.
“Old Friend” and “Tin Man” turned the crowd into rabid dogs. Herring’s voice stayed deep and menacing, and the guys didn’t seem to mind when the audience overtook the stage. Egedy took pictures and Ear Pwr’s Sarah Reynolds dove headfirst into a sea of outstretched arms. People screamed with manic joy. I got dizzy. Future Islands put on the best show at Hopscotch.
My day started with an afternoon screening of Animal Collective’s ODDSAC, which I’ve wanted to see since its premiere at Sundance. An amalgamation of influences ranging from David Lynch to Harmony Korine to George Romero stuff the film with terrifying magic, like the best nightmare you never had. Rather than review it here, check out Willcoma’s just review.
City Plaza headliners
Raleigh’s brand spankin’ new “City Plaza” hosted the “big” headliners: Broken Social Scene, The Rosebuds, and Panda Bear. BSS were boring, and the best part of Panda Bear’s set was watching people walk away, shaking their heads in disgust. I like Panda Bear. Watching Noah Lennox control his voice is like watching super-erotic breath play. His visuals were pretty rad, too, with bodies copulating in warm colors and floating to the ceiling.
Sharon Van Etten
The Pour House was warm and moist, housing so many heads and limbs. I turned to my friend and said, “Bitches and crotches.” Party girls and boys in flannel populated Sharon Van Etten’s set. Lots of pretty people and the whiskey was cheap. Figured I’d soak in Americana with Van Etten rather than miss Raekwon for another crooner, Richard Buckner (tough decision). I like Van Etten’s voice because she sounds like the offspring of Aimee Mann and Lucinda Williams. A slight twang undercuts the narcotic lethargy of her voice, dosing each lyric with lace and rust. Too bad the sound in the Pour House was shit; you could barely hear the vocals, despite them being cranked to full volume. Still, songs from the new album, including Epic, sounded wounded and lush. I squeezed up front for “Don’t Do It” and “A Crime” to hear her sing, “By the time I get the courage / I am drunk / And you are tired.” I was done after that, and ready for Raekwon.
I missed Double Negative, Active Child, The War on Drugs, and Fucked Up to see Raekwon. My night ended at the Lincoln Theatre, where 9th Wonder hosted a lineup of mostly North Carolina-based rap artists, and Raekwon. We walked into the air-conditioned theatre and found the best party in Raleigh. Kaze was onstage, improvising with whatever he saw in the audience — Miller High Lifes, dollar bills, some girl’s “FD camera.” The energy was high, I was high, and the place was less than packed. As my friend Ryan and I walked outside for a cigarette, I compared the size of the crowd to the other venues, wondering why the theatre wasn’t more packed.
This turned into a discussion of rap music and Southern identity and David Foster Wallace’s Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present. I said Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Part II was the best album of the last year. Ryan said Raekwon was the Ringo Starr of the Wu-Tang Clan, but I’d go with John Lennon. We said goodbye to our sleepy-eyed friends and headed back inside to see Brooklyn-based Skyzoo close out his set with “Bottom Line” from his debut, The Salvation, another album I really liked last year.
Raekwon went on around 1:30 AM. He opened with “C.R.E.A.M.” and I wondered if this would be a Wu-Tang-heavy set, like his recent performances at ATP and the Pitchfork Music Festival. But the Chef did not disappoint as he blazed into the incredible “Gihad” from Cuban Linx II, with my one of my favorite Ghost spits ever: “I’m like a crooked cop / Richard Gere / Big smirk on / Getting my cock sucked / He pulled the joint out / A bullet spun out / But it was too late / Already nutted on the side of her face.”
Next was the part-myth, part-manifesto heavy-hitter “Surgical Gloves.” It was kind of funny to watch kids decked out in glow sticks bumping to the Alchemist-produced track. Rae seemed to enjoy the white suburban presence as he commented on “all the fine white pussy in the house.” This led to an exchange with a few girls in the front row, and what the Chef “might cook for them after the show.” They threw on ODB’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” for good measure. Rae ended around three in the morning, and Ryan and I walked outside to find more beer, though I was starting to hallucinate from sleep deprivation.
The Drughorse Collective hosted a free day party at Slim’s. Ryan Gustafson joined Thomas Simpson of The Light Pines and played some surprisingly heavy noise. Forgoing the folk and garage pop of their day jobs for a more black-metal sound, Gustafson and Simpson brought the daytime drone. I heard touches of Mt. Eerie, sunn 0))), and maybe Liars. With Hopscotch focusing on so much indie rock and alt-country, I was eager for music that felt like dying.
Megafaun improv set
I haven’t been to a show at Kings since I saw The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players 4 years ago with maybe 10 people in the audience. There were at least 100 bodies in Kings for Megafaun’s “Improv Set.” Brad Cook operated a computer and sampler with his brother, Phil, on guitar, and Joe Westerlund on drums. It took the trio some time to sonically coalesce, but once they did, the walls hummed. The delicacy gave way to thunder, like dinosaurs walking in the distance, and the room got heavy. But my friends were ready ditch the “music for an aquarium” vibe and catch Wet Mango at The Hive.
The Exmonkeys; No Wet Mango; Nomo instead
Wet Mango were delayed by 45 minutes. It started raining. I tried waiting for the gameboy goodness, but that meant lasting through The Exmonkeys. The Exmonkeys are two guys from Raleigh who make industrial nu-rock electronic music. It’s as bad as you think it is. I couldn’t do it, so my photographer and I ran to catch some of NOMO, because the festival blurb mentioned “M.I.A.” and “The Talking Heads.” It wasn’t exactly accurate, but NOMO’s brand of afrobeat and cosmic funk was infectious. Frontman Elliot Bergman’s intricate horn arrangements blasted alongside Jamie Register’s snaking bass line. The crowd ate it up and I made my friends ditch Wet Mango’s late set to join the dance party. Read the blurbs, you might be surprised.
It was metal night at the Berkeley Cafe. I wanted to stay and hear more than I did, but too much good was going on elsewhere. Wilmington’s Weedeater are popular around Eastern North Carolina. I’d never heard of them. The drummer looked like an albino Rastafarian who would eat your ultrasound. Screaming and thrashing, veins like ropes, boys with boneless necks, fun times. I tend to prefer my metal black and extreme, but sometimes the Southern grime can pump blood, too.
Woods; My friends try to make it with Sharon Von Etten
Easing into the small hours of the night with Woods sounded like a good idea. Their rustic, pastoral sound is the stuff country lullabies are made of, with more than a hint of sadness. I was hoping for an unhinged, rambling performance, but the boys kept it pretty tight. They played songs from At Echo Lake and Songs of Shame, and only got noisy and jammy toward the end of the show. Meanwhile, my friends were macking on Sharon Van Etten at the back of the bar.
Four o’ clock in the morning: Time for a dance party
The Love Language’s Stuart McLamb had an After Party at his practice space, a sort of makeshift, walled funhouse. Apologies to McLamb for not covering The Love Language’s set at the City Plaza; can’t remember a minute of it. But I do remember the party. Projected video games across white walls and dancers swollen with humidity. As we walked outside, the sky tinged pink like fiberglass insulation above our heads. My heart burst. I had to catch a plane in 6 hours.