Treasure Island. Thousands of people drive past it every day during their commute from Oakland to San Francisco (or vice verca) but few people ever have a reason to stop on the decommissioned naval base. Few, that is, until the third weekend in October when two stages and a ferris wheel are erected and 26 bands get together to throw one of the best hipster- pirate themed parties west of the Rocky Mountains. Since a majority of the artists playing the fest are relatively new (many have only released one or two albums) it’s interesting to see which ones can keep a crowd of festival goers interested for a full 45 minute set and which ones fizzle out after a few songs. Luckily, the lineup this year looked good enough to convince my brother Perhansa (Per for short — pronounced like the fruit) to drive up from LA to tag along and snap a few photos.
But before we get started you’ll have to excuse me as I go on a bit of a rant. While doing a little poking around the internet before collecting my thoughts on the weekend I came across a few journalists that either showed up to the festival late or left early. (Some did both!) Really? You’re trying to tell me that even after securing media credentials you couldn’t get your ass in gear to stay for all the bands? Does writing for an “established” publication require you to be tucked into bed by 10pm? As many of you already know, we aren’t very tolerant of bitchassness, so get ready, because I’m talking about all 26 bands that played at this festival, whether you like it or not.
Geographer — 12:00 – 12:45
As we stepped off the shuttle bus that brought us across the bay bridge to the island and worked our way through the security line with our bags filled with cameras, sunscreen and suspiciously heavy hoodies (read: canteens of whiskey) lazy, carefree synth pop could be heard floating across the field. As we approached the stage, a long haired ginger-bro sporting a blue flannel was hard at work on an electric cello while Geographer himself banged out bloops on his bleep machine and sang on top of his own looped voice. The Starfucker meets Washed Out sound was ultimately pretty bland and harmless, but since the first slot of the first day is basically just the “walking through the line” music for most people, it did its job.
Aloe Blacc — 12:45 – 1:25
Next up on the bill was nu-soul crooner, Aloe Blacc, who’s band came out sporting crisp vests & blue ties. Suspicially absent, as they started up, was Blacc himself. Was he late? Or just one of those types who prefer to come out to a band already playing. Turns out it was the latter. Sadly, even after his late appearance, Aloe and his band had 35 minutes to kill before they’d get a chance to play the only song anyone really cared about. While we did get treated to an interesting cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale”, the rest of the set was filled with requests to clap, shout along or dance down the middle of the crowd. This constant need for attention seriously tested the limits of audience participation that I’m willing to partake in. Finally, the band launched into “I Need A Dollar” and a crew of female pirates waving dollar bills was spotted in the crowd. Maybe not enough to save the entire set, but the singability of the song finally shone through, and everyone was ready to nail the “hey-hey’s”.
Shabazz Palaces — 1:30-2:15
As we wandered back over to the larger stage for we asked ourselves, “Did Lil’ Wayne get kinda fat and decide to start a band with a bearded Wayne Brady? Oh, wait. No. It’s Shabazz Palaces.” By the smell in the air, I must not have been the only person thinking that I wasn’t high enough to really enjoy the duo’s dismal, disjointed hip hop. Former Digable Planets member Ishmael Butler rapped over Tendai Maraire’s erratic bongos while horror movie wail samples echoed through the crowd. Live hip-hop already seems to be at a disadvantage at festivals and Shabazz Palaces creepy slant wasn’t doing them any favors at 1:30 in the afternoon. Points for trying, but things were just a bit too out there for most festival goers to really get into.
YACHT — 2:15-2:55
After being subjected to tepid synth pop, bland soul revival and some just plain weird hip-hop and I began to wonder who would step up to the task of really getting the island party started. Turns out this business fell on YACHT’s shoulders this year. Jona Bechtolt kept things happening behind the scenes while Claire Evens worked the crowd in her form fitting white dress and Annie Lennox haircut. Together, their Talking Heads/LCD Soundsystem styled dance rock got the first big crowds of people moving while they ran through tracks off of their new album Shangri-La including “I Walked Alone”, “Paradise Engineering” and the fiery stomper “Dystopia”. At some point during this run of songs a school of inflatable sharks seemed to surface in the middle of the crowd, dancing through a thick cloud of bubbles (Crowd assisted thematic tie-in’s abound!) YACHT finally finished things out with sing-along “Psychic City”, leaving the crowd excited for more. Luckily, things were only just getting started.
The Naked & Famous — 3:00-3:45
While anyone who may have been expecting The Naked & Famous to sound something like their 90’s namesake (a song by The Presidents Of The United States Of America) may have been disappointed, the rest of us were pleasantly surprised. Instead of being yet another synth pop band singing on top of pre-recorded samples while their guitars necklaced in front of their microphones, The Naked & Famous actually rocked. Co-front-persons Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers opened their set with “All Of This” while performing an (unintentional?) twin microphone head bob move a la Tey Zonday. By the time the opening synths of “Punching In A Dream” began bubbling over the field, a majority of the crowd had made its way back over to the main stage and started getting a little rowdy. The New Zealanders rounded things out with the loud/soft dynamics of “Spank”, “Girls Like You”, and of course, their big synth banger “Young Blood.” Not bad for a band whose big single routinely gets confused for MGMT. Not bad at all.
Battles — 3:45-4:30
Back at the smaller stage it only took us one look at Battles menacing stage setup to realize we were in for a treat. The drumset was front and center (as befitting a band fronted by a drummer) flanked by a dude with a guitar and another dude with two keyboards, one on either side of him, at 45 degree angles. Despite the fact that Tyondai Braxton departed from the band last year, leaving all the distorted, alien sounding vocals to be recreated via laptop, Battles straight up destroyed. The trio busted out blistering versions of “Atlas”, “Ice Cream” and my personal favorite “Futura.” Ian William’s fingers flew up and down on his makeshift keytars, pounding out syncopated steel drum rhythms while former Helmet member John Stanier math’d the fuck out of his drumset. Battles’ ability to patiently and intricately recreate their best songs in a live setting was pretty impressive, leaving me thinking their set the best of the day, so far.
Dizzee Rascal — 4:35-5:25
After being blown away by Battles we weren’t really expecting anything amazing out of Dizzee Rascal. Per and I have seen him perform at Pitchfork Music Fest in 2006 and while good, it wasn’t really anything to write home about. But this time was different. Dizzee came out sporting a black tee with nothing but the word “DOPE” in thin white letters on the front. (Foreshadowing?) Dizzee took a second to rag on American “dubstep” while showing us how they do it in the UK by dropping hotters like “Heavy”, “Dance Wiv Me” and “I Luv U”. About halfway through his set he explained his biggest vice — “Some like to drink, some like to take drugs. Me? I’m a bassline junkie” before launching into his song of the same name. The best part was, he wasn’t kidding. Unlike a lot of live hip-hop that’s plagued with unintelligible rhymes or blown out backing tracks, Dizzee’s set was aggressive, yet smooth. People who wouldn’t even look me in the eye when I tried to dance with them earlier in the day couldn’t help but get down with us at this point. As the beat dropped for his last cut, “You’ve Got The Dirtee Love”, Per looked over at me, tapped his arm with two fingers and exclaimed “Bassline junkie man, he’s gotta have his fix!” Indeed.
Buraka Som Sistema — 5:25-6:10
Pro-tip: If your band requires shouting at the audience to “get their hands up” for more than 1 song, then maybe you need to rethink your live show strategy. If you couldn’t tell yet by this point, I’m not a fan of bands that feel the need to tell the audience what to do instead of just letting the music speak for itself. It’s nice that Noise Pop and Another Planet do what they can to bring in artists from around the globe, but the only thing that Portugal’s Buraka Som Sistema gave us was a headache. After witnessing the insane energy thrown down by Dizzee, this band just wasn’t doing it for us. Needless to say, we didn’t stick around the stage for long, instead electing to wonder around the DIY tent and check out some views of the San Francisco skyline.
Chromeo — 6:15-7:05
By the time 6:15 rolled around, we started hearing that Wizard Of Oz styled “ooh-eee-ooh” chant that could mean only one thing: Dave 1 and P-Thugg had taken the stage. Now I’ll be frank, Chromeo is super cheesy, it can be hard to tell how much music they’re actually playing (compared to how much is laptopped) and a good 50% of their songs are about what happens “when the lights go out.” But if a festival has the foresight to schedule them as they did on Saturday, right as the sun is going down and everyone is finally starting to get drunk, it makes for a pretty great experience. The red leather jacket/lumberjack outfitted duo breezed through “Fancy Footwork”, “Don’t Turn The Lights On”, “Outta Sight”, “Tenderoni” and even threw in a bit of a Dire Straits “Money For Nothing” tease before launching into “Bonafide Lovin’.” About halfway through their set we ran into our friend Leah, which was strange since she was scheduled to start her work exchange shift at 7pm. When I asked her if she was afraid of being late for recycling duty she replied that she was just going to blow it off. Work for my ticket? Sorry TIMF, nothin’ doin’ while Chromeo is on stage. By the time they closed with “Needy Girl” and “Night By Night”, the sun had set and the dancing crowd had stretched well past the soundboard.
Flying Lotus — 7:05-7:50
Back at the smaller stage, Flying Lotus hopped up on the decks and promptly began making sure that all the moving bodies filing over from Chromeo stayed in motion. He started up a track, added layer upon layer to it until it was impossible to tell what was going on, then he’d slowly start stripping them back again. Swampy liquids bubbled up, space arcades machines whirred and chimed, and with a flick of his wrist he’d stop everything to shout “Bay Areeeeeaaaa” or ask “I gotta take a quick survey. Who’s fucked up?” which would result in a cascade of cheers. A bit later, after a section of toy piano draped across a foundation of drum and bass, FlyLo dropped a bit of shock hip-hop artist Tyler, The Creator’s newest single Yonkers to more hoots and hollers. Finally after 45 minutes of sinister sonic assault, it was time to dance again.
Cut Copy — 7:55-8:45
Or was it? 8 o’clock rolled around and Cut Copy had yet to take the stage. Per and I exchanged a glance as house music started playing through the main stage speakers. Up until this point, every band had started within seconds of the previous one ending. Back in 2008 we had been in this same position. Cut Copy’s flight had been delayed and they were over 40 minutes late for their Pitchfork Fest set, leaving only enough time for two songs before Chicago’s curfew forced them to quit. Luckily, after another 10 anxious minutes the lights darkened and smoke machines began pumping out cascades of glimmering clouds. Dan Whitford led his band through plenty of dance floor heaters, including “Hearts On Fire” and new single “Take Me Over” while jerkily dance-hopping around the stage like an Australian David Byrne. During “Feel The Love” a school of illuminated jellyfish began swimming through the crowd, drawing ooh’s while arms holding iPhones extended from everyone within eyeshot. “Light And Music” may have been the peak of day 1 as the jellyfish, hordes of girls on top of their boyfriends’ shoulders and seemingly everyone else on the island jumped up and down while belting out the chorus of “lights and music are on my mind — be my baby, one more time”. Are Cut Copy the spiritual successors to New Order? On this night, it certainly seemed to be true.
Death From Above 1979 — 8:45-9:30
Coming off of the highs provided to us by Cut Copy into the rumble and screech of Death From Above was jarring to say the least. Releasing a single critically acclaimed album before calling it quits for a half decade seems to have catapulted them to near-mythical status for a lot of people. But was their late night slot really earned or are most fans just wearing rose colored earplugs? I had to get closer to find out for myself. As we pushed our way through the crowd this old bearded guy handed me a pipe twice the size of my fist packed to the brim with greens. I’m not sure what would compel someone to bring such a large and elaborate piece into a festival but at this point in time I was not complaining. Meanwhile DFA’s onslaught continued. There were a few moments where Jesse’s bass settled into an interesting groove or Sebastien’s yelps and growls would tickle just the right spots of my brain, but overall the noise rock duo just sounded like, well, noise. For a majority of the set you could tell the strain of trying to simultaneously drum like a madman and sing was taking its toll and all that came through the mic was shrill snarling. Of course, the die-hards in the front had turned the first 30 rows into a swath of sweaty destruction and the commotion even caused one of the long strings of balloons that had been floating above us (and slowly growing throughout the night) to be lost to the wind gods. But at the same time, many other fest-goers could be seen making an early escape towards the line of shuttle buses that lay at the exit, waiting to take them back to the mainland.
Empire Of The Sun — 9:35-10:50
Of course, we weren’t about to head back home just yet, as the Saturday “headliners” Empire Of The Sun had yet to go on. While I do love me some EotS (their video for “Walking On A Dream” is probably one of the most magical pieces of music video to ever grace YouTube), in my interview before the festival I had expressed my concern about their ability to successfully headline. They have the style, they have the energy, but do they have enough music to last an hour and a half? Emperor Luke Steele emerged in the center of the stage wearing a blue sequined jacket and a matching pointed blue crown as the opening synths to “Standing On The Shore” rang out a through the darkness. A giant ship sailed through space on the screen behind him while dancers in golden capes swirled about. As the band cruised through “Without You”, “Tiger By My Side”, “We Are The People” and even the freak-out “Swordfish Hotkiss Night” dancers seemingly resembling all the different Mega Man bosses appeared to perform intricately choreographed moves before melting back into the smoke filled shadows. Strangely, the second half of the duo, Nick Littlemore, seemed to be regulated to a corner of the stage while Steele showboated up and down in front of the crowd. At times, all the over the top 80’s glam being thrown around started reminding me of Square One’s “Angle Dance“. But as I had suspected, the glittering rave-up was not to last. It had barely been an hour when Luke disappeared for a minute only to walk out (this time wearing a fuzzy white cape with a walrus toothed crown) and start their final song, “Walking On A Dream”. People were jazzed and the energy almost rivaled that of Cut Copy’s “Lights And Music” as the crowd bobbed and tried their best to match Luke’s shimmering falsetto, but I couldn’t help but feel owed another 30 minutes of music.
As we threaded ourselves through the long line that snaked back and forth in front of the shuttle buses, past throngs of strung out, exhausted hipsters, a lone bro walked up to the edge of the fence and started yelling at the top of his lungs. “Tooth! Tooth! Toooooooooooth!” The rest of the people in line started looking in his direction, trying to find out what he was hollering about. Suddenly, he turned around, gave a crooked smile and pointed over the fence with his thumb. “Tooth” he said assuredly, as if that explained his yelling just seconds earlier. Before anyone had a chance to react, a second bro came out of nowhere, vaulted the metal fence in a single bound, landed next to a group of confused people, threw his head back and roared. His buddy went up to him and gave him a bear hug while the line erupted in cheers and laughter. Turns out, people are a lot more forgiving about cutting in line if you do it in an outrageous fashion. “I hope Tooth makes it to the isle by noon in time for Thee Oh Sees”, I told Per as we shuffled around another bend in the line. “We really could use his help in getting the pit started tomorrow”.
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Treasure Island 2011 Saturday
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Most memorable acts
The Naked & Famous
Most forgettable acts
Buraka Som Sistema
Death From Above 1979
Empire Of The Sun
Empire Of The Sun
Highest simultaneous crowd jumping
Worst “guitar necklacing” offenders
Most annoying attempts at crowd participation
Buraka Som Sistema
Best performance fronted by a drummer
Most overrated performance fronted by a drummer
Death From Above 1979
Most smoke generated
Empire Of The Sun
Best fence hurdling
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Photos by Perhansa Skallerup