Beach balls; mid-set requests to turn up the sub-bass; “Dance Like the Russians Aren’t Watching” shirts for sale; a locally-sourced white rapper on the main stage that looked like a default avatar in a TeenNick browser game saying “skrrt skrrt” without irony; almost taking someone’s fucking eye out with third floor-tossed Otter Pops — you can say a lot of things about Capitol Hill Block Party, but you can’t say that it’s not an extremely Seattle event, one which encapsulates the beautiful turbulence of the city’s rapidly evolving and silently warring culture. Individuals sporting EDC hats with matching EDC backpacks are standing in a packed crowd next to wire-frame glasses indie kids that were more expected of the festival in its more formative years, but throughout the weekend these two seemingly contradictory parties were harmoniously joined in singing along to the popular cuts off Father John Misty‘s God’s Favorite Customer and appropriately moshing to Alvvays.
The ever-present alternative, cutting-edge nature of the kiddie-corner Vera Stage most likely helps lead to more music discovery among attendees than most other festivals of Block Party’s size, its showings providing a needed breather to the candy-coated main stage performers during downtime. I don’t know what it is about walking into a festival and immediately hearing someone playing a ukulele over a trap beat on the side-stage, following it up with Drake’s “In My Feelings,” but it lets you know you’re in for a really special day right off the bat. The Domino-signed post-punk throwback Flasher fired on all cylinders to a mostly phone-gazing crowd, forcefully lodging their loose, true-to-form punk riffs and upfront vocals into the ear canals of a captive audience. Tender, summery R&B songstress Amber Mark, sandwiched between Unknown Mortal Orchestra and introspective Seattle lyrical miracle Ryan Caraveo on the main stage, seemed to make the already sunny day considerably brighter just from her infectious presence.
88rising affiliate yaeji brought a mood-setting murky, but all the same body-moving set of nuanced deep house bangers, her chest-rumbling trap-indebted slow-burners like “drank i’m sippin on” and her sensual cover of Drake’s “Passionfruit” slowly melting into the speaker system like a gentle cloud of smoke amorphously filling our breathing space. What was first an ambivalent crowd no doubt parked there for Dillon Francis became a pit packed with a spellbound crowd moving every conceivable hip and pelvis to the untouchable rhythm of songs like “raingurl.” Later in the day, Welsh’s crystalline, mystical Kelly Lee Owens provided a magically double-edged set that managed to be intoxicatingly abstract and dance floor-ready simultaneously. Owens’ house-indebted tracks thrashed around at the same rate as Owens’ dark-as-night hair, her live vocals coming through the mic with a disorienting, aqueous delay that had to have made even the soberest attendee feel like they were peaking.
Capitol Hill Block Party’s modern iterations are just as good for music as they are for water cooler stories. Being nearly pressed to the barricade stage left during Cashmere Cat, he dropped a favorite SOPHIE track of mine, “MSMSMSM,” to which I naturally shouted SOPHIE’s name as loud as I could, as you do. As the song mellowed out into the sweeping high-pass filter interlude, a college-age guy in a Brockhampton long-sleeve turned to me and asked me if I had shouted that because that was a SOPHIE song. After explaining to him that it actually wasn’t a SOPHIE song and that I was just expressing hope that he would randomly drop a SOPHIE track, he and I went back to the most chill-harshing and lovably pathetic excuses for dancing either could muster. Luckily for me he followed “MSMSMSM” up with a song off SOPHIE’s newest record, “Is It Cold in the Water?,” which the guy next to me recognized as SOPHIE and looked at me like I was this generation’s Nostradamus.
Cashmere Cat’s penultimate set on Sunday was among my most anticipated performances of the weekend, but sometimes even excitement can’t prepare you for the sort of flesh-melting experience his set delivered for a full transcendent and orgasmic hour. Never in my history of being a poptimist did I ever feel like more of an insane person than when I would earnestly recommend Cat’s debut record, 9, to friends, touting it as one of the best pop-leaning records of 2017, them usually proceeding to either ask if I was serious or calling him any number of synonyms for lame or bad. Luckily, a good number of the album’s biggest highlights like the Ariana Grande-featuring “Quit” and the SOPHIE co-produced “9 (After Coachella)” — whose futuristic synths and cascading overdubbed disembodied vocals felt especially batshit in a live context — reared their heads alongside pit-opening renditions of earlier Mirror Maru-era singles like that EP’s title track and the unstoppable “With Me.”
Toronto’s Alvvays put their strongest foot forward with a set that ran through just about every song off their 2017 sleeper hit record Antisocialites, every song reverberating cavernously down the block. The nervous energy of frontwoman Molly Rankin made for some of the most enjoyable moments of the weekend as she would punctuate sad, lighters-up songs about being depressed as hell like “Forget About Life” with bitingly bubbly proclamations like, “How the fuck you all doin’, Seattle?” Nearly joining a crowd of drunk people all moshing to “Plimsoll Punks” and trying to shout the lyrics of “Archie, Marry Me” while a severely gone individual behind me kept shouting “Marry me, Molly!” felt like classic Block Party — certainly I couldn’t have been the only one to B-line through the crowd to the merch booth for an Alvvays shirt before Dillon Francis just based on their live strength.
The sort of environment Block Party conjures has never been for everybody, and in 2018 its appeal seems wide and appealingly jumbled as ever. Those in attendance of Brockhampton ruthlessly pushed the media barricade to the side during their set, forcing the media people to just stand there and take in a group of rowdy savants stress test the subwoofers of the festival’s speakers with “STAR” and any number of tracks off Saturation II. This immediately followed a fairly pleasant and unassuming set from London alternative pop duo Oh Wonder, the threshold going from a three out of 10 to just about breaking the Richter scale. No doubt the unpredictable festival will continue to see new developments in upcoming years as its organizers have to continue scrambling their brains to find a way to make laser light-accompanied electro house fit with subtle guitar-based indie rockers, but so far it’s made for engaging and endlessly entertaining weekends of fun, unadulterated fuckery.