Last weekend, Sept.
8-10, the hills – streets – were alive with the sound of music in Raleigh. Go here to see
shutterbug Landa’s collection of images from the festival.
By Whitney Ayres Kenerly / Photo By Tony Landa
The Independent Weekly‘s
second annual Hopscotch Music Festival in downtown Raleigh,
Carolina attracted over 150 acts over three days
and nights for a range of events from club shows to day parties to the large
venue stage in City
Hopscotch may attract the same caliber of indie buzz bands
and big names as festivals like SXSW and Pitchfork Music Festival, but the feel
of the festival seems to be decidedly smaller.
Tickets are limited to prevent to many of the most popular shows from
reaching capacity, and there is more of a communal and intimate feel walking
around between shows. Corporate
sponsorship is tastefully restrained, and local establishments are featured
For the city of Raleigh, the festival was an incredible
opportunity not only to host a showcase of some of the most interesting and
visionary musicians in the country, but to also have a chance to shine as one
of the most exciting and creative areas in the country right now. Out-of-towners loved meeting the locals
trying some southern food, and residents had trouble deciding what to see and
do among all the enticing options, but with good biscuits, bands, and barbeque
– it would have been hard for anyone to go wrong.
Local indie darlings, The Rosebuds, hosted a block party in
front of Lincoln Theater with an impressive lineup that included performances
by Hammer No More the Fingers, Youth Lagoon, and others, and food from
neighborhood celebrity chef, Ashley Christensen, all with the Hepcat Bicycle
Race was going on, with proceeds provided to a local no-kill cat shelter. The party was a highlight of the festival and
an opportunity for both local friends to mingle and for out-of-towners to
experience the best of Raleigh
in music, food, and creative philanthropy.
In addition to watching them perform, music fans were given
the opportunity to hear their favorite artists speak about their craft during
discussion panels at the Edward McKay Artist & Authors series at the Raleigh City Museum. Each afternoon featured different writers and
musicians with the discourse centered around different themes. Sam Herring of Future Islands
spoke at the discussion about pop music, alongside Wayne Coyne of The Flaming
Lips, and Editor in Chief of Pitchfork Media, Mark Richardson. Herring was modest in saying, “I was just
going to roll in there and assume that nobody was going to ask me any questions
because of all these other luminaries on stage,” but the lively conversation
had a approachable and inspiring cohesive message about the importance of using
music to express, connect, and have fun.
My prayers for a major energy boost were answered with Cold Cave,
the new-wave meets hardcore meets synthpop project of Wesley Eislod. Dressed in leather jackets and thrashing
about on stage with the intensity of caged animals, the band members managed to
seem both obsessively passionate and yet too cool to care. Eislod apparently has a reputation for being a
heartbreaker, which became instantly obvious to me. Tall and brooding, crouching down into the
crowd while screaming into the microphone, then erratically whipping around the
microphone and circling the stand, occasionally glimpses of his chest tattoo visible
through his monochromatic ensemble of black – I started to fall in love with
him. I’m sure in high school he was the
weird quiet kid who was either the source of several whispered misnomers of
“goth” and “dangerous”, or just a fanatic band geek; but there on that stage he
was the dark and mysterious God of charisma.
I had high expectations for Diamond Rings. Specifically, I wanted to see just how glam
of a look John O’Regan would rock on stage during his electro-pop set at Five Star. Walking out in white jeans, white nail
polish, white sunglasses and a bleached blonde high top with geisha red
lipstick – he did not disappoint. He
seemed incredibly happy – like he was having fun and enjoying every minute of
his set – even starting to dance just while he was setting up his equipment and
“Rude Boy” was playing.
O’Regan is clearly someone who loves music and is passionate
about everything he does, down to expressing himself as an artist through a
colorful signature look. His music is
playful and coy, and he smiled along with the audience during dance songs like
“Wait and See” and “Someone Else”. He
was engaged with the crowd and excited to be there, complimenting Raleigh on being “Way cooler than Baltimore”.
There was even a small surprise when he removed his big white glasses to
reveal a white-banded stripe of make-up across his eyes.
Diamond Rings is definitely more than just a look. As O’Regan switched between playing
keyboards, drums, and guitar, it was obvious that he is talented, committed,
and has some of the best showmanship I’ve seen in a long time. He started his
set with the exclamation, “Let’s have some fun tonight!” and he delivered.
Not many men could pull off a denim jacket unbuttoned to
their navel with jeans, a long pendant necklace, a slightly off-centered jockey
cap, and a Freddie Gibbs mustache. But
lead singer, George Lewis Jr., of Twin Shadow practically conjured the spirit
and sex appeal of Prince.
And if you had to describe his 2010 debut album in one word,
it would be “sex”. The album combines
R&B, New-Wave, and intimate lyrics, as if The Cure somehow collaborated
with How To Dress Well.
Performing the songs live in Lincoln Theater, Lewis and his
band gave the songs more of a rock edge.
It gave sultry songs like, “Castles in the Snow” more of a fullness and
noise that added movement to sensuality.
There’s a refreshing simplicity to Japandroids. It’s just basically a drummer and guitarist,
fresh out of their teenage years in Vancouver,
singing and shouting along to straightforward garage pop songs about road trips
and girls with wet hair. The Pour House
was crammed to capacity with people eager to see these skinny guys with shaggy
hair and a wind machine play some of their favorite songs from the 2009 debut
They played a few new songs, but people got really amped for
the classics like “Rockers East Vancouver” and “Young Hearts Spark Fire”. A lame mosh pit started to form dangerously
close to where I was standing, causing me and the few other girls at the show
to squeeze out and away. As someone who
doesn’t like to be touched by strangers, getting pushed around by a bunch of
drunk dudes just isn’t my thing. If I
wanted to get in on that sort of thing, I would have been at Warp Tour in high
school. There’s no need for violence at
Japandroids. I’m just trying to enjoy
the chance to hear one of my favorite songs, Sovereignty” performed live.
I think my ears are still ringing, but it was the perfect
way to close around and all-around great night of amazing shows.
Wisconsin natives and
Volcano Choir and Collections of Colonies of Bees collaborators, All Tiny
Creatures, had one of the best sounding shows of the night. The pouring of tings and dings in their music
rang out with a swelling crispness. The
metallic airiness of their songs sliced and glided through Lincoln Theater like
ice skates. Their intricate arrangements
brimmed with the dizziness of instruments orbiting and weaving through loops,
as Thomas Wincek’s strained and whispered lyrics acted as the pressure point
pulling at the center of the chaos.
Bombadil temporarily served as the main ambassadors of the North Carolina music
scene after the success of Tarpits and
Canyonlands in 2009. The folk-pop
quartet from Durham
has a widespread appeal, in part due to the accessibility of their quirky
lyrics and catchy melodies. Dressed in
various vintage styles of blazers and singing songs that seem to embrace
youth’s awkward encounters with love and affections, the band is decidedly a
bit dorky – they did name themselves after one of the most eccentric characters
in Lord of The Rings. The proficient execution with which they play
their pianos, drums, and guitars has always been their shining point. The audience at Fletcher Opera House
delighted in watching their skills, giggled along with the humor in some of the
lyrics, and gave the group a standing ovation.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra has been a big buzz band this year,
shrouded in a bit of mystery. Singles
like “Ffunny Ffriends” and “How Can You Luv Me?” appeared on music blogs with
high praise but little biographical information. Their self-titled debut album has a weird alien-like
building on it that appears to be in the middle of nowhere, and their songs
seem to come from places even more remote and strange (Portland, Oregon).
I even thought that I had somehow confused the time and
place of the show when I didn’t see any females in the group as the band was
setting up. I could have sworn that it
had been a woman’s voice on some of those songs. I was wrong, and the male lead singer used a
microphone that looked like a copper tin can with marble-sized holes at the
top. Even with that strange equipment
clue, I’m still not entirely sure how the band is able to create so much
distortion, and sound as if they as playing from across a field, and yet
simultaneously right next to your ears.
The show made me love and appreciate the album even more, and was one of
my favorites of the whole festival.
Before Yelawolf stepped out onto Lincoln Theater’s stage
with an immediate and perfectly timed assault of fast paced and high-energy
rap, I hadn’t realized how much I had been missing rap-rave at Hopscotch. It was impossible to fight the impulse to
bounce, grind, and grimace along with the beats and verses.
The comparisons to bands like Die Antwoord and Eminem (who
signed Yelawolf to his own Shady Records) are inevitable, but Yelawolf’s
ability to shoot out phrases like a Tommy gun and yo-yo yank them around is
almost mechanical. I felt like Uma
Thurman with an adrenaline needle in my heart. It triggered something deep
inside of me from when I first fell in love with music through hip-hop albums –
stolen from my older sister.
of the Ghetto
One of the biggest pleasant surprises at Hopscotch was the
performance by Dreamers of the Ghetto when they opened for Superchunk and The
Flaming Lips on Saturday night. Lead
singer, Luke Jones, has warm and raspy voice that is both familiar and
refreshing. Mostly, there is just a
compelling rawness to it, and the force of it hits you like the punch of a
perfect tennis backhand. Ballads like the song “Always” – a highlight from Enemy/Lover and written about his wife
and fellow bandmate – are powerfully stirring.
The Indiana natives
certainly made quite a splash in Raleigh, and I have a
feeling they will be garnering throngs of other fans from around the country
over the next year.
The Flaming Lips were arguably the biggest act and most
anticipated show at Hopscotch, and City
Plaza was filled with an
all-inclusive eclectic mix of people ranging from die hard indie music lovers,
to Greek Life collegiate couples, to culturally savvy retirees. The psychedelic alt-rockers are icons of the
1990s, and famous for over-the-top live shows.
Lead singer, Wayne Coyne’ made a couple of pre-show warnings
about what to do if the strobe lights caused audience members to have seizures
(his advice was simply “look away”) before returning by bursting out into the
crowd in a giant plastic bubble that skimmed the top of the audience like an
airy hamster wheel. With the first loud,
lurching guitar riffs, confetti cannons exploded and colored paper, giant
bouncy balloons, and the faint scent of weed filled the air. The projection screen behind the band flashed
between images from epileptic acid trips to extreme close-ups of Coyne’s face –
his wild shaggy hair encircling his head and a fur stole around his neck.
Coyne, with his chorus of young girls in Sailor Moon
inspired outfits, encouraged the audience to sing along to “She Don’t Use
Jelly” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink
Robots” while seeming positively giddy about shooting lasers into the capital
It was clear that we were all witnessing a legendary
performer, even though Coyne doesn’t seem to age. His creative energy allows him to outperform
musicians generations younger than him, and he seems to keep up with, if not
ahead of, all the technology trends in indie music. He’s been tweeting throughout the festival
(@waynecoyne) and confessed to the audience, “I love my fucking phone!”
Even those who did not get to witness The Flaming Lips
in-person were still treated to the echoing of their songs throughout downtown Raleigh. As I walked to another show later in the
night, I heard a cover from “Dark Side of the Moon” resonating down the street
to the roaring approval of the crowd, and smiled.