A Taste of Treasure Island
The weather at Treasure Island festival last Saturday (October 17) was almost shockingly warm. Last year, the small piece of land between San Francisco and the East Bay was sunny, but the wind and cold took over by the end of the night.
Maybe it was the heat, then, that brought out a rowdier crowd this time. Or maybe it was that the water ran out of the outdoor sinks behind the the bathrooms by 7 p.m., which had everyone running around with industrial-strength antibacterial soap on their hands begging for $3 bottled water.
Complaints aside, the view of San Francisco from the island was breathtaking. Listening to great bands while watching the sunset over the SF skyline and Bay (and the city lights by night) was quite the luxury. So were the limo busses that shuttled all the attendees to and from the island.
But festivals can be exhausting, and with music going on from 12 p.m. until almost 11 p.m. on both days of the festival (Sunday, too), you have to have stamina to get you through. Here’s a glimpse of what happened during the festival’s second wind.
Japan-born DJ Krush, aka Hideaki Ishi, doesn’t speak fluent English, but he does speak fluent turntablism. His set was all about performance, and that’s not an easy feat when you’re a DJ. Krush pretty much ignored his laptop and gave most of his attention to piling on beat after beat while scratching, flipping, and mangling sounds on his turntables and mixer.
One thing Krush does particularly well is contrast: Just when you think the beat cacophony is going to induce an epileptic seizure, the entire landscape suddenly changes with legato strings and melodic flutes, clarinet, and harp. And when the beats come back in, you have no choice but to dance.
At the end, perhaps as homage to the Bay Area, Krush mixed in DJ Shadow’s “The Number Song.” While Krush chose to concentrate on his live skills rather than engage the crowd, one shirtless, septum-ring wearing fan was clearly happy. As he walked by, he stopped by this EQ Editor and simply screamed, “Ahhhhhhhhhh! Just… Ahhhhhhhhh!” Particularly funny was his addition of the word “just”—as if that’s all there is to say.
Neither Brazilian nor girls in plural, Brazilian Girls hail from New York collectively, although lead singer Sabina Sciubba grew up in Germany and France and speaks—and sings in—six different languages , including Portuguese (thus the Brazilian connection).
At every show, Sciubba wears something to cover her eyes. This time it was a black lace. But far more attention-grabbing was the giant red heart attached to her chest—maybe not as strange as Lady Gaga, but close.
Sciubba’s voice is often a seductive purr. When she sings, “Do you like my accent?” on “St. Petersburg,” you think, “Yes.” But sexy is not all the band sells. With a blend of Rhodes piano and dirty synths on “Good Time,” the band made sure to let the crowd know what they were after, as confirmed by Sciubba before the next song: “I came a long way just to be with you, so let’s have a good time!”
What came next ranged from mellow bossa nova to party jams. Their third song in the set, “Jique,” got the crowd dancing to its pulsing, dirty synth arpeggio and pounding live drums.
As the sky turned pink with the sunset, Brazilian Girls brought out their dancehall favorite, “Pussy,” with the rather bold lyrics, “Pussy pussy pussy marijuana” and invited the crowd onto the stage. Definitely a memorable show.
LTJ Bukem featuring MC Conrad
Back at the Tunnel Stage, jungle/downtempo pioneer LTJ Bukem hit the decks. The London DJ/producer made the right move to bring MC Conrad for the set.
Hard-hitting jungle beats and deep, awesome sub bass definitely get your attention, and that bass shakes your insides. But the show wasn’t much to look at without rapper and hype man Conrad skulking around the stage. And even then, while the show was a nice appetizer to whet the palette before the next act, LTJ couldn’t match the diversity of sound (or the quirky costume action) of Brazilian Girls.
Here’s the skeptical standpoint: It is literally two dudes from Toronto, a laptop, and a mixer. How can you be impressed with that as a live performance? Obviously it didn’t take much concentration on the part of Jesse F. Keeler and Al-P, either, ’cause the guys were smoking and drinking Crown Royal out of the bottle as they were “playing.”
That said, MSTRKRFT live is two dudes and a laptop playing the hardest-hitting dance music known to man (next to last year’s headliners, Justice), and they got thousands of people pogo dancing with their hands in the air. MSTRKRFT has remixed everyone from Bloc Party, Metric, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Kylie Minogue and Usher, so they know how to make people move.
Case in point is “Fist of God,” with pounding kicks and buzzing sidechained synth arpeggios. Then there’s the video-game bloops of “Bounce,” featuring N.O.R.E. and the repeating hook, “All I do is party!” MSTRKRFT may not be for everyone outside of the world of dance music, but with recent collaborators such as John Legend and Ghostface Killah (on their last album, Fist of God [Universal, 2009]), they’ve certainly crossed over to new audiences.
If your thing is classical acoustic guitar music, MSTRKFT will likely not be for you. But one Treasure Island attendee put it to me, “I can leave the stress of school behind and just get lost in the beats.”
So there you have it: The music is entrancing and feels good to dance to. And the duo gets extra points for ending their set with a remix of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Here’s another DJ that is becoming a phenomenon. Girl Talk, aka Gregg Gillis, got his name by doing mashups of popular songs: Journey with Snoop Dogg, Beyonce with Metallica… that sort of thing. It caught on like wildfire and has been blazing ever since.
EQ attempted to get up front for the set and ended up being absolutely squashed by people chanting for Girl Talk to come on. It was actually scary. Looking for safe ground in the back, it was pretty tight there, too.
But then you see why: Girl Talk is a serious hype man for the party. Right off the bat he stood on top of his decks and summoned the energy. He then invited a slew of people to the stage, and a couple girls sprayed the crowd with their toilet paper guns. There were balloons and a massive plastic caterpillar thrown into the crowd, too.
It felt a little bit like a frat party, but there were some fun and unexpected mashups: The Pixies with DMX, Black Sabbath and Ludacris, Big Country’s “Big Country” with Tag Team’s “Whoomp! There It Is,” Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” with Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” and so on.
And if that wasn’t enough, the show ended with a fireworks display behind the stage.
Brooklyn’s MGMT did not start out as a serious band, but upon releasing psych-pop tracks such as “Electric Feel,” “Time to Pretend,” and “Kids,” they exploded onto the scene, releasing Oracular Spectacular [Columbia] and suddenly being seen and heard everywhere. It’s pretty crazy to be headlining festivals just on the strength of your debut album. And maybe it was expecting a little too much of the young band.
Introducing MGMT to the stage was Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move” blaring through the PA. Unfortunately, the energy created by Girl Talk and MSTRKRFT proved to be a bit too much for the headliners of the night, and the earth did not so easily move under the audience’s feet.
In preparation for their album coming out early next year, Congratulations, this was to be MGMT’s last show for a while. So they decided to play their entire debut album in sequence. The problem with that is that the band’s most popular songs occur in the first half of the album. And there isn’t a ton of stage presence to witness, so the many concert goers all got the idea at the same time to beat the crowd to the busses before the show was over.
But that said, the songs sounded nearly as good as they do on the record, and it was great to finally hear the album live in such a beautiful setting overlooking the water and the city lights of San Francisco.
[all photos by Anthony Gordon]