For as long as I’ve been writing for this website, Bumbershoot, much like Seattle itself, has been in the midst of a social and cultural upheaval, both with the festival taking a noted shift in the trendiness of its most bookable acts, and the decrying thereof by those that were around in the festival’s perceived glory years. If you were of the younger set and Bumbershoot 2014 was your first ever Bumbershoot, you weren’t going into it thinking, “Man, this festival used to be so cool, I guess parts of the lineup look alright… I’ll go and see if I discover some band I’ve never heard of.” You left on the end of the first day thinking to yourself, “Wow, that was pretty fuckin’ awesome; I got to see Mac DeMarco, Danny Brown, and Wu-Tang Clan all in one day?” For as many classic Bumbershoot lineups from the ‘90s and early 2000s as you can pull up to tell people online how much better things used to be – the lineup on my birth year, 1998, is a who’s who of great rock perfectly emblematic of the times, everyone from Third Eye Blind to Screaming Trees, Cracker and Sunny Day Real Estate, even ones like Squirrel Nut Zippers, Gas Huffer and God Lives Underwater – there was still a magic to going to the festival your first year, finding your way around while walking away with at least a couple new favorites.
One of the loudest complaints heard among the old guard has been Bumbershoot’s increased tendency towards what’s buzzy, of the moment, but most importantly what’s new and recognizable, which has put less and less of an emphasis on its legacy acts since its increasing major festival direction. It’s been severely misplacing huge draws for a couple years by relegating them to side-stages usually reserved for the festival’s mid-carders, which themselves have seemed to be often watered-down to a predictable crop of the handful of local bands you’ve probably already seen at other Seattle shows, and about a dozen FM indie radio up-and-comers you’ve never heard of but happen to sound just like the last wave of radio-spun summer “anthems” from the last festival circuit. Bumbershoot 2017’s sole headlining legacy act being Weezer was the festival’s “hold my beer” moment, which probably shouldn’t make this year’s lineup come as much of a surprise.
“Legacy acts” seems most to be code for “washed acts” lately than ever before. The unstoppable Blondie (who get an honorable to-see mention) in their bold end-of-third-row position fills the fest’s needed quota of at least one older rock legend, but the only other two artists that were active prior to the year 2000 in these first four rows are Lil Wayne, an unstoppable warrior in the rap game whose set will undeniably be a hell of a time, but who’s been shunned by his label and given blue balls on finally dropping his long awaited Tha Carter V, and timeless hook wizard Ludacris, definitely a draw for those already going, but most likely not a name that’s going to make you jump out of your seat for a pass.
At this stage in Bumbershoot’s life, it hardly feels appropriate or necessary to write out suggestions for worthwhile artists I think you should check out at the festival since the Venn diagram of people that go to Bumbershoot because they nerd out over and love music and people that go to Bumbershoot to go to Bumbershoot, a circle once upon a time, has more or less been split off into two non-intersecting ones in the modern festival economy, one circle mostly decrying the other while the other looks on in giddy excitement. Getting up on a soapbox to eagerly defend Bumbershoot feels wasteful as you’re practically just defending the corporatism that many lambaste Bumbershoot for giving into, but it’s not like Bumbershoot deserves particular condemnation or is guilty of much more than doing simply what’s needed to adapt and not bleed out and die in the modern sub-dystopian major festival hellscape we’ve found ourselves in, as the gaunt suit-wearing geriatrics at the top profit the most off the sound of the youth and bleed the public of any sort of middle-ground. People talk about how much better Bumbershoot used to be, but Bumbershoot the past couple years hasn’t been much more than a reflection of the state of things as a whole. We can’t do anything to change it. Let’s celebrate. Put on your happy face, here are 15 artists you should see at Bumbershoot 2018.
Let’s Eat Grandma
A shot of indietronic synthpop, two shots of mercurial art pop, with a plate of psilocybin mushrooms on the side. The exploits of this boundary-pushing UK duo have been difficult to predict, starting their trajectory off with a hallucinatory menagerie of Cocorosie-esque freak folk and enveloping psychedelia on 2016’s I, Gemini. With the slew of singles they’ve dropped his year (most notably the clanging, industrially-tinged “Hot Pink,” produced by SOPHIE) having sharpened their sound considerably, embracing and honing the more immersive and synth-driven elements of their sound, it’s the perfect time to catch the duo before they go on to do even bigger things.
Dark, gritty, but all the same sturdy and kaleidoscopic experimental beats lay an unfriendly foundation for L.A.-based rapper Jpegmafia‘s rapid-fire delivery, whose lyrical content is defiantly colorful and bursting with quotables. After early blog hype thanks to his relentless style that demands your attentions and fails to dislodge itself from your mind, the goth rap savant set the underground in a riotous blaze with the release of his futuristic sophomore full-length album Veteran. Whether he’s name-dropping Lena Dunham and Sub Pop in the same verse, beating that shit like John Lennon beat his bae, or eagerly imagining the day Morrissey finally croaks, Jpegmafia’s tracks demand repeat listens to fully come to grasp with them, and are profoundly catchy enough to keep you coming back.
London on da Track
London on da Track is one of those producers whose tag alone is enough to know a song is about to be a hit. Though the prolific mainstream hip hop producer has little material with his name at the forefront, his expansive, distinct beats have laid the foundation for other artists’ best material, from some of the best tracks on Young Thug‘s Barter 6 to his dark, ominous instrumental on Kodak Black’s viral “Roll in Peace.” If you want to get real dumb, here you’ll find some of the loudest and most banging content of the weekend.
Depending on your tolerance for sugar-coated, relatively inoffensive indie pop, seven-piece UK-via-Maine outfit Superorganism may take a bit to warm up to you. Their most shoppable single “Everybody Wants to Be Famous,” a track whose fun-house aesthetic is reminiscent of Neon Indian’s most playful offerings, admittedly wouldn’t sound particularly out of place playing while shopping for discounted cardigans at Zara or in an American Apparel commercial, with the eccentric, young vocals of Orono Noguchi standing out the most among the Naked and Famous-sized chorus and squelching synths. But give their stuff a chance and let it fully sink in and their careful ear for sound, which adds radiance and abstract personality to the world of Noguchi and her band-mates, will surely make for an intoxicating listen while shit-faced off festival beer.
Dr. Octagonecologyst, Kool Keith’s first full-length unleashing as his off-the-wall Dr. Octagon persona, is a record removed from stylistic trends, from convention, perhaps from reality itself; enshrouded in a claustrophobic, grainy warmth, Keith uses the extra space afforded by his minimal, smooth production to lay unorthodox flows with otherworldly, sci-fi lyrical themes. Certainly a set that demands less of your body and more of your mind. Plug your mind into the collective consciousness with us.
Lush sounds from all over the electronic music world come gently washing in from every direction, from twinkly trance-like synths to whooping future bass synths, all presented with an appealingly headphone-worthy grandeur and reverb. It’s easy to imagine tracks like “Hey,” with its high-pitched and chopped-up lead vocals and fast tempo, playing over 240p anime music videos on YouTube in the late 2000s, a claim only some of the best songs throughout time can make. Meanwhile, songs like the throttling, rave-ready “Drop It” are songs impossible to listen to sitting still. Recommended if you like a good workout.
Kelela‘s Take Me Apart was a much-needed crossover gem for the previously abstract and left-of-dial pop and R&B visionary after stunning the world with transporting and snappy singles off her debut Hallucinogen EP for Warp Records, tastefully matched with genuinely weird pieces of pop music helped brought to life. “LMK,” an R&B smash-on-arrival with a winning lead vocal melody and cutting post-breakup lyrics, was an excellent first taste of the record. Take Me Apart was great if for nothing else than its boundless atmosphere, but with one track after another that find one of the best balances of catchy and experimental we’ve heard in underground pop, it’s a landmark moment for the still-strong and ever-evolving R&B scene.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
I won’t lie and say that Melbourne’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, a sun-damaged jangly indie pop quintet punctuated by the deadpan heavily-accented vocals of the band’s three main singers and guitarists, is trying to reinvent the condom or is gonna be the hero that pulls mid-fi playlist indie out of the drudges, but the songwriting strength Rolling Blackout C.F. is too good to deny. Listening to their viral track “French Press,” reminiscent of summery guitar-pop acts like Craft Spells and Allah-Las, it’s no wonder Sub Pop signed these guys, with it featuring one of the catchiest choruses in indie rock in the past couple years. “Talking Straight,” set to land on the band’s full-length debut later this year, adds a charming post-punk flair to their sound. They’re certainly a good festival band, especially if Seattle decides to stay sunny that day.
The awe-inspiring sincerity of Cherry Glazerr makes them the sort of contemporary indie darling you sort of want to give a big hug. 2017’s Apocalipstick cheerfully foregoes deeper meaning, pretension, and your bullshit in favor of songs not meant to be sung along with as much as fearlessly shouted. Having caught their 2017 Capitol Hill Block Party performance, I can attest to their peppy and infectious sincerity translating to a live show you’ll walk away from a more confident soul.
While Bumbershoot most certainly isn’t lacking for rappers on the cutting-edge dispersed throughout its lineup, its careful attention towards rappers that are on the come-up that haven’t been yet artificially boosted by an XXL Freshman spot or good meme attached to them should be commended. Texas rapper Maxo Kream has been bubbling up for a couple years now, with features from the likes of Lil Uzi Vert, Joey Bada$$ and Playboi Carti on his solo tapes, as well as attention-grabbing features on tracks from $uicideboy$ and The Cool Kids. Punken, his debut album, is home of some of the most ear-pleasing and winning production of 2018, with Kream holding his own flow-wise.
While as a policy I tend to only feature smaller names on the bill with festivals like this, as Bumbershoot puts less and less of an emphasis on its smaller-name acts with each passing year, I feel I’m entitled to break that rule as well, at least long enough to tell you that T-Pain is a criminally underrated pop music maestro that you should go out of your way to see. Come on, act like you can’t still put on “Buy U a Drank” and enjoy just how goofy and fun the song is. His hook on Flo Rida’s “Low?” Classic. T-Pain playing Bumbershoot is a test of who attending is a truly an intellectual and who’s just faking it.
A listening experience not dissimilar to closing your eyes in the sunlight and letting the light beam over your lids, not enough for it to hurt, just enough to feel its warm glow and glisten. Yuno‘s sturdy “No Going Back” is a show-stopping first impression for the blissful indie pop project, with a gauzy tenderness to the instrumentation and falsetto lead vocals selling the track’s timid beauty. Comprised of equal parts live instrumentation and rich synths and digital drum programming (especially on latest single “Why For”), Yuno sounds refreshingly modern and delectably nostalgic simultaneously.
The sultry, tingly intimacy of Tinashe‘s instrumental palette and sonic aura should immediately jump out to you on first listen if her understated, shyly melodic vocal delivery and sharp hooks don’t. Her decidedly stripped-back, but swathing production, a familiar fusion of R&B, trap and contemporary pop, wraps Tinashe’s vocals in a gentle breeze like winds gently brushing against a coast, while Tinashe sits at the water in monochrome lamenting what could have been. For the real emotional ones out there.
Like a lot of artists on the 2018 Bumbershoot lineup, Kailee Morgue‘s music, largely pop by nature, has the sort of larger-than-life ambiance and resonance that sounds massive and heavenly on headphones or on an enormous live sound system, her songs connected like several threads across one long, plush dream. “Medusa,” an early forerunner single for Morgue, features irresistibly catchy lead vocals and a beat that, while radio-friendly, is cavernous and oddly dark. Morgue’s set should prove an engrossing, if not off-puttingly dour and spellbinding time.
Seeing Thugger on the lineup not far from Lil Wayne is kind of funny considering the former is the artist Cash Money seemed to have in mind when delaying Carter V, but Young Thug is such a cultural phenom that he’s perfect for a summer festival, with enough unforgettable tracks under his belt to make a jukebox-esque live set while having to make a lot of painful cuts. Getting to hear singular tracks like “Pick Up the Phone” and “Wyclef Jean” in the live setting will hopefully prove one of the highlights of the festival as a whole, if he shows up.