The City of San Francisco is surrounded by three bodies of water, creating a bizarre climate that is further exacerbated by the variable topography. Treasure Island, a small plot of land in the San Francisco Bay between the City and Oakland, takes this climate and adds to it heavy winds. The brief respite from this climate occurs in a small window in the early fall, when the waters of the Pacific warm just enough to prevent the city’s characteristic fog from developing. From mid-September to about mid-October, it’s common to see actual summer temperatures throughout the Bay Area. Noise Pop organized the Treasure Island Music Festival to occur around the end of this time period to take advantage of the weather. Unfortunately, the weather can be finicky, and furthermore, the “San Francisco Summer” is immediately followed by the rainy season, the closest one gets to winter in the Bay Area. This year, the end of the “summer” happened two days before the Treasure Island Music Festival.
It was pretty fucking cold at the Treasure Island Music Festival this year.
• How you do funny rap
Arriving with my friend Etxe, we briefly saw local acts Maus Haus opening the festival. Nothing really worth noting there, so let’s move on.
Wallpaper opened the second stage, facing the Bay. The duo from Oakland is one of the few acts gaining any cred outside the Bay lately. Let’s face it: They sound ridiculously goofy. Their vocals make The Lonely Island sound halfway decent without autotune, with a bizarre mix of samples and some of Passion Pit’s leftover mixes as their backing track. But you know what? It works. By being so silly, Wallpaper doesn’t come off as trying to parody anything, which is what brings down acts like Asher Roth. And when their lyrics sound trashy, it’s merely that and not catering to some niche. They’re just these goofy-ass white boys making fun of themselves. They become fun as a result. As long as they just keep the flow like this, they should do well.
Holy Fuck were the next to take the main stage. I’ve written about them before; I don’t need to repeat myself on how good they are. That said, two differences to note: One, the sample from “Lovely Allen” was actually in tune this time (hooray!). Second, someone resurfaced after many years of hiding/jail time during the closing number, “Stilettos:”
It’s quite strange having the neo-Luddite terrorist from the 1990s enjoying a dirty electronic band. But hey, if the Unabomber can change his beliefs enough to enjoy Holy Fuck, it just means they’re that good.
• Nic Offer needs a Pen Pal
Sometime after, I sat on the grass with Etxe and chatted with Nic Offer of !!! about the intentions of bass and coming straight from Japan, among other things.
You guys just came from Japan, and you’re looking good. How can you guys look so cool coming in like that?
Without sleeping? I don’t know. I was lucky to be really tired at the time, so I took some codeine and I fell asleep for like three hours. So I’m on three hours’ sleep; that’s good. I can do a show. [laughs]
Your intentions have always been bass, and now a lot of bands seem to be following in your footsteps, like Holy Fuck today. What do you have to say about those people who are starting to believe in the bass?
It’s about time. A good bass line is always going to seal any song for me. But it’s exciting that… To me, it always seemed like if rock ‘n’ roll was based on rhythm and blues for so many years, maybe it was time that the new rock ‘n’ roll be based on funk and disco and that kind of music. It has kind of taken over in that way, and I still see a lot of fertile ground for it to grow.
Any song off of “Strange Weather” that you would like to see slowed down?
Like Chopped and Screwed? Yeah, I was thinking of one of them the other day. You know what? I’d like to see that happen with “Even Judas Gave Jesus a Kiss.” I really like how soul vocals sound when they’re slowed down, and that bridge is very soulful, so I’d like to hear that one.
I recall seeing you in an Engadget review, so I pose this question: You have to create a music videos using only smartphones. Which one would you smash for the sake of art and making fun of Engadget?.
[Laughs for about 30 seconds] That is an interesting question that I have no answer for. I don’t know anything about those things. I really don’t. Geez, gosh. I really don’t know because I don’t use them. I just got my first iPhone like two weeks ago from those guys, because you know the guy who edits it (Joshua Topolsky, aka Josh Ryan) was one of the producers of our last record. That’s why I was stopping by [in that review], because they’re old friends. So that’s who I call to ask about anything about technology. I don’t know anything about technology.
That’s a good thing to not have. (laughs)
Etxe: Well, what was the last letter you wrote? A handwritten letter you sent in the mail?
[Very long pause] Definitely not in this century. (laughs) It definitely hasn’t survived this century with me. I’m drawing a big giant blank, I really don’t know.
• Strange how people know you
At some point, there was going to be some short review on Jamaica, who took the second stage next. It probably would have involved some comparison to Phoenix, a band this writer has never actually listened to. That got thrown out the window sometime later in the evening. Strolling to the press area, my real name was called (what? You think Ze Pequeno is my real name and not some heteronym based off of Cidade de Deus?). The shouts came from the touring guitarist of Jamaica, who happens to know me. More perplexing was that this person was never an acquaintance, just someone who happened to be quite visible among the social circles I was in at the time. We may have met and talked once or twice, but that was it.
It is peculiar, really, when you think about it: Here stands this guy, who is obviously doing well enough to play at a major festival and is in admittedly better standing than you, who you just vaguely remember, and he straight-up remembers you like it was old times. It not only makes you question how incredible his memory is, but also your own significance in the world. Perhaps it’s a sign that you can and should do better than where you are at this precise moment.
All right, enough waxing existential. Let’s make fun of some actual chumps.
• Gaan weg, doofoos
Dear Die Antwoord:
The world seems to want us to take you seriously. Very well then. You are annoying as all hell. Your lyrics are not original, and are only slightly more blunt than mainstream American hip-hop because label execs aren’t too keen on hearing the words “cock” and “pussy.” In fact, that makes you even less creative and interesting. Even if you’re trying to be unserious, Wallpaper are funnier than you. Your beats are something Kanye or Dre could scribble out in 10 minutes and then think, “I can shit better than this.” Your “fake DJ” gimmick stopped being funny 6 months ago. And Yo-Landi: A chipmunk voice is only endearing when Dan Deacon uses it as a vocal overdub, or when raocow uses it to mess with time and space while singing. So really, just go away, doofoos.
• The laziest party in town
A sideshow happening throughout the festival was the Silent Disco. The concept is, maybe, familiar to you: Go to an area, put on headphones, play a pre-determined mix, and start dancing with other people. Not a bad idea in theory, but really, it looks silly to have this sideshow when the main purpose of being at the festival is listen to live music. To make matters weirder, there were beanbag pillows sprawled on the sides of the “dance floor” for people to lie down on. At least the grooves being played were interesting.
“They say you guys are in the middle of your summer. Your summer is fucking cold.” Sara Barthel, Phantogram
Phantogram were one of the more pleasant surprises at this festival. Taking the second stage around 4 in the afternoon, the band played a solid set. The duo seems very shoegazey, but their shoegaze is more rooted in the Cocteau Twins than My Bloody Valentine: Synth over guitar layering, phonetic ambiguity, and giving precedence to sound quality over volume. As such, Phantogram did not suffer the problems that Autolux did at last year’s Outside Lands Festival, and sounded much more suitable in an open live setting as a result. Their modernization of the Cocteau Twins sound will definitely get them far in the right situation.
• Nic Offer is a Sexy Beast
!!! took to the main stage at 4:30. Playing mostly numbers from recent albums Myth Takes and Strange Weather, Isn’t It?, Nic Offer and crew got the crowd rolling and grooving, which would become a necessity later on. Nic Offer had way too much fun onstage, dancing at every opportunity and begging the photographers in the pit to come back after the three-song limit (offering to go shirtless, too). They even played a long version of their classic, “Me and Giuliani by the Schoolyard.” If Holy Fuck did not get the crowd amped up for the evening, !!! sure did.
• Four Tet: Loafer Extraordinaire
At Noise Pop earlier this year, Four Tet broke efficiency records by starting less than three minutes after prior act Nathan Fake finished. Etxe and I sought out the artist to see what means he would employ to top that record. However, the image that we saw upon arrival to the second stage remains forever etched in our minds: Four Tet, standing there. Eating potato chips. Doing nothing.
Such loafing broke our hearts. We tried in vain to reach Four Tet and ask why this happened. Alas, he was too busy just standing there, eating potato chips. If only Strong Bad had been there with his “No Loafing” sign, this tragedy would never have happened. Then again, where is Strong Bad these days?
• Ominous signs, as above so below
The skies began to darken, and the winds began to howl as Kruder and Dorfmeister took to the main stage. Nearby, in the skies above the City gave us signs of a not-so-pleasant future.
K&D put on an interesting set. Having been in the business for nearly two decades now, they were bound to mix it up from their usual ambient fare. But things got funky, and the MCs they introduced were very strange, almost coming across as soapbox prophets. Strange enough to accurately describe the wind direction.
At this point, however, the crowd did not seem to care too much. It had gone from somewhat cold to why-did-I-forget-my-winter-jacket cold. People were dancing to the quality music, but a lot were dancing to keep warm.
• Want some gaaaaahlic?
The last two sets on the second stage, Miike Snow and Little Dragon, were not quite compelling enough to head over to, so Etxe and I hit the food places and the food people. A disturbing common theme: Garlic fries. Perhaps San Francisco needed some “local” food staple that was not blatantly stolen from the states of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine (though they could be forgiven for stealing from Rhode Islanders). But the fact that every concession stand that sold French fries, save one, had garlic fries only was a bit annoying.
The staple itself lacks much style or substance: Because garlic is not a sticky herb when exposed to heat, one would have to mince a whole bulb of garlic so that each fry in a carton would be garlicky enough to pass muster, which is pretty excessive. If this is the best San Francisco can do to make a national food staple, then we suffer greatly, especially given the high quality of San Franciscan cuisine as a whole.
• Captivation and accessibility
The closing acts on the main stage for Day 1 had either the accessibility or the ability to captivate the audience, but not both. Not having both created some issues, and rendered them less compelling.
Deadmau5, returning to the stage after a suspect onstage collapse in Washington, DC, a few months ago, suffers from the captivation problem. Sure, his set was the most elaborate out of everyone’s in the entire festival, with a gigantic Rubik’s Cube-ish capsule housing him and his gear. However, in his attempts to be a one-man Daft Punk, Deadmau5 lacks the artistry and ability to read the audience, as well as the improvisational capacity that makes the French duo so incredibly renowned. When you remove all the visual prominence, all you hear is some pretty average electronic music; danceable and accessible, but not something you would go out of your way to listen to and be enthralled by.
Whereas Deadmau5 lacked aural charm, LCD Soundsystem lacked aural accessibility. One would think that, for all the popularity James Murphy and crew have accrued in the past 5 years, they could put on a show that would draw in the thousands that sold out Day 1 of the festival. But it felt like more a show to fans than to the general festival populace. Beyond dropping the classic singles “Daft Punk is Playing At My House” and “All My Friends,” a lot of the songs felt like they needed to be listened to beforehand to be enjoyed. Some songs even felt out of place, including one that felt worthy of having a mosh pit. These songs definitely had some greater potential to them, but only with prior knowledge. It left the set all the more wanting.
• Sometimes, partially sucking helps
A small thing to be thankful for is the San Francisco Giants only barely winning the National League West division in baseball. The reason for this is because Noise Pop decided to set up shuttle transport to Treasure Island, which fell on the same weekend as the NLCS. Had the Giants earned home-field advantage, it would have been a massive clusterfuck in Mission Bay between drunken sports fans and arrogant hipsters.
Then again, I would pay money to see hipsters fight sports fans. That might have, possibly, been more entertaining than either event they were going to.
• Other times, it only makes you miserable
There were two big problems with Day 2. One was very obvious when Etxe and I arrived at the island: The rain that started last night was still going strong. Noise Pop handed out ponchos, but the combination of that and the cold wind from yesterday only turned things into a miserable mess. It was hard to remember anything about openers Phosphorescent and The Mumlers, other than shivering in the cold. The rain only began to let up around the time of Papercuts’ set, and was mostly gone around 3 in the afternoon. Still, it was not fun for a lot of people.
• Side 2: Repeat Side 1
Ra Ra Riot were the first significant act of Day 2. If one heard either half of their set, that person would have thought the band was a solid folky — but not folky — band, utilizing strings with a certain propensity for rocking out as much as possible. But that’s just it: Both halves sounded the same, almost exactly even. I thought I was hearing the opening song again after the midpoint. It’s like they had run out of ideas after 5 songs.
• Sticking Together: Better than a Reunion
When Superchunk hit the main stage, the rain was finally dissipating, as if their presence alone would constitute something awesome enough to control weather. It was kind of close, actually. Superchunk’s set managed something Pavement’s reunion could not: Have a fun and interesting set that anyone, even people who’ve never listened to Superchunk over the past 20+ years, could enjoy. Everyone on stage was clearly having fun, with (whatshisname) getting the most laughs for his banter, moreso than America’s most underrated comedian, Jon Wurster. The songs felt tight and compelling to dance to, even on the wet grounds.
• Lighter touches
One of the better acts of the second stage was The Sea And Cake. Their songs felt interesting enough to listen to in the background; you could walk around the festival grounds but not want to draw yourself too far from it.
• Who’s piloting this ship?
The live engineers that were running the board on the main stage mid-afternoon seemed to have been like a bunch of Halo n00bs who knew how to move and press the Shoot button, but not much else. Here’s why: For some reason, the vocals for She & Him and Broken Social Scene were either extremely compressed or pushed back. There were times during both sets where vocals were lost in the mix and incredibly wet. Especially during She & Him’s set, the engineers could not figure out the right output for any of the vocals. They made on-the-fly adjustments during choruses (a big no-no when engineering any music) so drastic that it could distinctly be heard from the audience. Further, they sounded like they were in a fishbowl half the time, a sign of excessive compression.
“It’s like she spent her entire time practicing how to jump around the stage instead of how to sing.” -Etxe
She & Him had worse problems to contend with, though. In particular, Zooey Deschanel had problems immediately, dropping her microphone at the start of one song. Plus, while her voice retained that Dolly Parton appeal, she may have instigated a lot of the engineering problems by having very little volume control, randomly dropping to whispers at inopportune times. Plus, as noted above, she spent way too much time acting like a groupie. M Ward just seemed happy to be there, and at worst felt and sounded out of place. There were some outstanding moments, such as Zooey playing electric ukulele, but the set was a bit of a wash.
• This Ship is Broken
If you ever wish to witness the effects of touring on a band, watch them at the beginning of a tour, then watch them at the end, say, 5-6 months later. Such was the case with Broken Social Scene. In May, they were lively, tight, and brought a redemptive quality to their otherwise-questionable new album. Now, they looked exhausted. “We’re dying,” Kevin Drew begged as the rains returned. “Give us your energy for just another set.” The set, while good, was incredibly sloppy at times. Particularly grating was the classic “Almost Crimes,” during which the woman doing Leslie Feist’s vocals basically yelped and barked her way through the lyrics, making people hope they would never have to hear that song again live. When Kevin Drew stage-dived into the crowd at the end of the set, it was a plea to go home more than anything.
• This Other Ship Isn’t
Right when Broken Social Scene finished off, Surfer Blood jumped on the second stage. The rock band from West Palm Beach were probably the most fun of all the bands at this festival. Frontman John Paul “JP” Pitts jumped on stage with a get-up reminiscent of Rushmore, belting his way through their set, messing with the crowd, and getting them dancing, a rare sight on Day 2. The crowd responded in kind, with a bunch of girls throwing bras at him. The fact that their sound contained a bit of surf-rock, but without the chillwave aspect, was a nice change of pace, and JP’s blend of Jim Ward-esque pitch with Henry Rollins-style tone was incredible. Definitely a band to watch, even if you don’t like the music.
Sometime after, I chatted with John Paul about the antics of the set, and the pragmatism of video games.
What happened in Australia?
We suck, and we verbally abused Broken Social Scene. We felt really bad for that. Seriously, they’re nice guys and they were all like, “It’s totally cool, dudes, we’ve done stupid shit before.” We just had a good time out of all that.
I noticed a lot of bras and underwear being thrown about. Last time I saw that happen was with Tom Jones at Outside Lands Festival last year. How does it feel to be part of that adoring fan pantheon?
I don’t know why people throw bras at us. I have no use for them. I don’t wear a bra. So yeah, it’s just not for me.
Fair enough. On Astro Coast, you have a song called “Harmonix.” Is that your tryout for Rock Band?
No, actually, it has harmonics in it. It’s the main motif: We use guitar harmonics on the 12th and seventh fret. That said, recently, one of our songs got demoed for Rock Band, but I don’t know anything about that shit. I mean, they’re cool, but the last video game I played was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
There’s been somewhat of a resurgence of surf-rock in the chillwave genre…
We weren’t trying to be part of any particular movement. We just got the name from a really good idea that TJ [Schwarz, drummer] had. So we’re not trying to be part of a surf-rock movement. However, a lot of people do ask about that because of the name. I think that’s oversimplifying things.
Your voice reminds me a lot of Jim Ward of At The Drive-In. Was that something you were going for?
No, I think I wrote the melodies in the high register of my vocal range simply because we were playing a lot of shitty, small clubs that had monitors. So I had to sing loud to sing over the monitors. Now I have to belt the notes because they are a little bit high for me. I’m naturally a baritone singer, but I’m singing the high-tenor range.
Right after this, we (Etxe, JP, TJ, and I) had a big group hug. Gotta say, I like these guys.
The National played as expected, which is to say annoying and boring. That said, one song, since identified as “Conversation 16,” stuck out like a bone in an open wound while Etxe and I were on the Ferris Wheel for kicks. Perhaps Matt Berninger was trying to be eloquent about being cruel, but when you start singing “I was afraid I’d eat your brains,” repeatedly, there’s a word for that, and it’s not “serious.”
• You Cannot Hate Them. You Cannot
The strangest thing about Day 2 was that it was not sold out (unlike Day 1), yet it felt like it was. Further, headliner Belle & Sebastian deserved the sellout capacity. These guys love San Francisco, and probably would make it their second home next to Glasgow if they had the chance. Stuart Murdoch kept a slight fervor for baseball fans, playing “Piazza, New York Catcher” and flaunting a throwing arm that’d make him a decent fielder for the Giants or the English cricket team (assuming he’s not a Scottish nationalist). Further, for all the supposedly depressing material they write, they are quite a lively bunch, getting people on stage to dance for a couple songs (including members of Surfer Blood). Even somber songs such as “Piazza” or “Lord Anthony” turned into danceable ditties. Finally, they played as much of their back catalogue as they could, including a large number of songs off If You’re Feeling Sinister. Belle & Sebastian, of all bands, saved Day 2 from being utterly miserable. You could not leave that festival and not feel warm and fuzzy.