These annual ‘Artists to See at Certain Festival’ lists are something of a yearly ritual for me, but at times they can feel a bit like the written scriptures of Captain Obvious. Festivals have become so prevalent and, for the most part, homogenized in music culture that you can practically sing along to the announcement of any major festival the past couple years. Whoa, no way, you got Big Grams? Father John Misty too? …Wait, what, AND a main headlining slot from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis? Someone dial 9-1-1, I’m about to die of shock.
Really, though, I’ve basically accepted the fact that at the beginning of every year, the same 150 bands agree to play every middle- and top-tier music festival with slightly differing fine details, and that, unless one particular music festival has a really special artist no one else has that you’re dying to see, all these festivals are exactly the same, and you could probably put every major festival on a dartboard, throw a dart at random, and have roughly the same experience at any one it happens to hit.
However, in such a saturated and plethoric market, regional festivals that strike the perfect balance between big-name touring acts and local favorites and up-and-comers will always have the advantage. Of all local fests that take place during festival season, I’m usually most excited for Capitol Hill Block Party, since their coordinators are consistently fairly good at making their lineups stand out from other Seattle festivals. Sure, you’ve got some of the expected mid-tier festival-toppers like ODESZA and CHVRCHES, but there’s an admirable amount of local love in the lineup as well. While other local festivals may have all but abandoned their Pacific Northwest pride, the Block Party seems to be trying to keep the spirit alive.
With the Block Party under two weeks away, it’s time to roll through my picks for 15 artists you shouldn’t miss at Capitol Hill Block Party 2016. This year, I’ve decided to change things up a bit by giving you recommendations for five artists you should see per day, for you bourgeois folks that can afford to go all three days. As usual, I’ll be keeping it to the names a little further down the bill, since you don’t need me to tell you to go see Crystal Castles or STRFKR; that’s pretty much a given. Let’s get started.
(UPDATE: This article was written before the Red Bull Sound Select Stage lineup was revealed, so let me retroactively recommend that you also go see NAVVI, Manatee Commune and The Spider Ferns or else you’re a nerd.)
Cha Cha Stage, 5:45-6:15P.M.
I caught this band at last year’s VanFest, and heavy is certainly accurate. Even catching this instrumental trio at a stage-less small park in Middle of Nowhere, WA along with maybe 30 other people, Heavy Petting blew the roof off the place, offering the sort of crushing guitar riffs and skull-cracking drums you would hope from an unashamedly kick-ass rock band. They recently dropped a new record, Don’t Call Me Babe, which shows off their more melodic side, but don’t expect any playing around if you see these guys live.
Cha Cha Stage, 6:45-7:15P.M.
This somewhat artsy post-rock outfit was formerly known as Leatherdaddy, but eventually made the transition to calling themselves Merso, presumably because Merso doesn’t sound like a name they came up with while looking at sexual kinks on FetLife. Whatever you choose to call them in the bedroom, Merso is a band that certainly knows their way around a textured and well-realized, if not obtuse, genre-bender of a song. I find them to be a post-rock band in one of the truest senses of the word, taking sounds and elements you would typically expect from rock music, but applying them to a varied array of song structures and mixes of influences. It certainly beats the average third-wave post-rock band’s creative mindset of, “Well, This Will Destroy You did it and did it well, let’s do it exactly how they did it!” If you see Merso at CHBP, expect a lot of lengthy, slow-burning, almost Slint-y jams during their half-hour set.
Vera Stage, 8:15-9:00P.M.
If you want a fast, aggressive, instantly enjoyable modern rock band, don’t sleep on Toronto’s Dilly Dally. Their excellent 2015 LP Sore has gone tragically under the radar despite glowing critical praise across the board. Their sound isn’t exactly rocket science — there’s not a whole lot to the average Dilly Dally song outside of distorted guitar, bass, drums, and vocals — but their straightforwardness is to their benefit; it’s all they need to get across what they’re all about: kicking ass, writing great and catchy alternative rock songs, and spitting in the faces of anyone who says all modern rock music is shit. Lead singer Katie Monks’ vocals were most definitely an acquired taste for me, but once I got used to them, I hung on every word she shout-sung. Don’t miss out on Dilly Dally, whatever you do.
Vera Stage, 5:00-5:30P.M.
Among the first on the Vera Stage on Friday evening is Seattle’s own Pillar Point, keeping the ball rolling the right way with Scott Reitherman’s beloved summery, effects-heavy indietronica. Pillar Point has been having a pretty admirable come-up in the past year, releasing a buzz-worthy album, Marble Mouth, at the beginning of this year, playing the local festival circuit, and more recently, being tapped to support Ladyhawke on the West Coast leg of her latest tour. Pillar Point’s music has the instantaneous appeal you’d hope from a summer soundtrack artist, with sweet choruses and the sort of light, melodic vocal delivery a lot of modern indie pop singers tend to run with these days. If you’re going early on Friday, don’t miss out on Pillar Point.
Main Stage, 4:00-4:45P.M.
Local artists are set to tear up the main stage from the start of Friday up until MØ‘s performance at 7:45, and what better way to kick things off than with some Seattle indie-funk? A seven-piece musical outfit featuring three members of Seattle indie dance quartet Beat Connection, The Dip is a band whose output falls more on the soulful and funky side of the musical spectrum, trading in Beat Connection’s bubbly synths and Balearic feel for brass instrumentation and a classy demeanor, and the end result makes them a special treat. The band recently released an instrumental EP titled Won’t Be Coming Back, and while it may not have as much pop appeal as their self-titled debut from 2015, this band’s playing is tight, and their feel overall is a fairly pleasant one. Give ’em a shot.
Vera Stage, 3:00-3:30P.M.
It seems that it wouldn’t be a Seattle festival without Tangerine on the bill somewhere. I’ve caught the three-piece indie pop outfit live before, and though they don’t have the flashiest live performance in the world, they sound great, and put their back into recreating their summery guitar-pop jams live. Tangerine has always been the quintessential summer Seattle band; an outdoor stage on a hot day is the environment their gleaming guitar melodies and soaring vocals from lead singer Marika are meant to be heard in.
Cha Cha Stage, 8:45-9:15P.M.
This band was somewhat of a more recent discovery for me, and while they may not have the most original sound on the block, Acapulco Lips is another essential summer Seattle band. A pretty easygoing dream pop outfit with layered vocal melodies and steady drum beats, their sound overall is quite pleasant, and has the sort of vibe that’s best experienced live. It’s music that’s romantic in tone, and is the sort of thing where its vibe is felt hardest in the presence of other people. There’s not much else going on during their time-slot; keep them in mind.
Vera Stage, 6:00-6:45P.M.
If psychedelic, otherworldly textures and soundscapes are your thing, Woods is a Saturday can’t-miss. They’re a prolific folk rock outfit that’s put out a ton of albums since they formed about a decade ago. They’re one of those bands where you never quite know what you’re going to get when you go blind into one of their albums. They’ve flirted with experimental freak folk, psychedelic folk, and ambient folk, just to name a few styles they’ve embraced over the years. If you go to see them, expect to hear a lot of songs off their pretty good latest record City Sun Eater in the River of Light.
Neumos Stage, 6:30-7:15P.M.
Or, if Seattle post-punk is more your thing, then pop into the Neumos Stage around the same time to see the trio Duke Evers tear things up with their somewhat nostalgic approach to rock. A danceable and groove-intensive outfit, you can definitely hear a bit of C86 worship in the instrumentation, and some serious Ian Curtis callbacks in the lead vocals. While I’m yet to see Duke Evers live, they promise a high-octane and body-shaking live performance, and going off of their recorded material, I don’t doubt that.
Mommy Long Legs
Cha Cha Stage, 4:45-5:15P.M.
This recent string of lady-led punk bands coming out of Seattle is gaining a lot of notoriety in the national music scene, and while a lot of that recognition is attributed to Tacocat, Mommy Long Legs is one of the unsung heroes of this fertile scene. Their dingy garage-punk sound is one of the most primal in all of Seattle, with blazing guitars and lead vocals that’ll force your eyeballs into the back of your head coming together to create one hell of a punchy sound. Don’t skip out on them.
We featured this trippy local pop outfit in our Northwest Music Month feature last month, and for good reason. With not much recorded music under their belts outside of a couple EPs, the latest of which being the four-track Dreams of Mangoes, released last month, Colorworks has had a sturdy come-up thanks to their prowess and strong ear for sound. Some of the songs on Dreams of Mangoes are fairly catchy and have a strong pop sensibility to them, particularly lead single “Daydreams.” If you want to see someone pretty accessible and playful, check out Colorworks.
Barboza Stage, 5:45-6:15P.M.
A pretty down-and-dirty local grit-rock outfit, Suicide Squeeze signees Violent Human System (aka VHS) should satisfy the needs of any thrill-seekers heading out to the Block Party. If all the head-nodding alt-pop and atmospheric beat music doesn’t quite feed your urge for something heavy and unrelenting, these guys should do the trick. They’ve been steadily releasing music since 2014, and are a dependable noisy post-punk quartet. They’ll likely be playing a lot of new stuff off the newest LP, last month’s Gift of Life. Give them a shot.
Main Stage, 3:30-4:15P.M.
It was pretty disappointing to hear that alt-rapper Mick Jenkins was unable to perform at Capitol Hill Block Party this year, but hearing that he was being replaced with Clams Casino was probably the most exciting news I’d heard throughout the festival’s myriad announcements. In the world of hip-hop, Clams is probably the most influential producer of the 2010s so far. His production style is amazing, and his first two instrumental mixtapes are flawless releases if you’re into his atmospheric, shoegaze-y style. While I get the feeling that his forthcoming LP 32 Levels and the singles teasing towards it show Clams trying to somewhat simplify and morph his sound into more accessible songs, perhaps in an attempt to make him more fitting for a spot on the outdoor big-stage festival circuit, I think the change of direction will lead to some pretty interesting moments live.
Cha Cha Stage, 6:45-7:15P.M.
Seattle’s Charms is a local trio whose work consistently strikes the perfect balance between being cacophonous and tinnitus-inducing and being catchy and accessible. While other noise rock locals like Grave Babies and So Pitted have way more of a footing in noisy brain-hemorrhaging chaos, Charms have a strong sense of accessibility. The deep, brooding vocals carry a melody fairly well, and the lead distorted synths and crunchy guitars are more than just tuneless walls of anarchy. Expect to leave their set with ringing ears and a catchy song in your head.
Vera Stage, 3:00-3:30P.M.
A quickly-rising indie pop duo originally hailing from Seattle, Cardiknox is one of those bands that could please the ears of Top 40 radio listeners while also getting the OK from more hard-to-please underground listeners. Their pop sound is gargantuan without feeling overproduced, and some of their songs are pretty damn good. They’re mainly getting renown off the track “Wild Child,” which is a legit summer single, but there are a handful of other highlights on their debut full-length album Portrait. They’re worth a look.