Oh, Bumbershoot 2016… Never before have I ever seen a festival lineup (across all regions) as divisive as this year’s outing. Any online discourse directed at this year’s Bumbershoot lineup can either be summed up with “This lineup is pretty awesome!” or, “This lineup is the reason the United States is in shambles, and anyone who doesn’t agree that this lineup is completely inexcusable should never be allowed to listen to music again.” Granted, I’ve never seen a Bumbershoot lineup everyone can agree is solid given the bias so many people have towards the festival’s modern iterations regardless of quality, but the negative reaction to this year’s lineup is so vitriolic that I almost wonder if the organizers should go into witness protection.
And I’ll give it to you, you can really tell those that curated this year’s lineup were trying to draw in the mainstream youth audience and the PLURR EDM festival-going crowd way more than they were the more common Seattle indie-alternative crowd that’s usually drawn to Bumbershoot. Sure, Father John Misty, Explosions in the Sky, Tame Impala, Death Cab for Cutie, Andrew Bird, these are all names that carry weight among indie music diehards, but when they’re sharing equal billing space with major label plants like Fetty Wap, G-Eazy and Halsey, it probably makes the indie darlings’ presence just seem trivial. Furthermore, like last year, the lineup also has its fair share of older names whose fans aren’t going to want to see the bulk of the big pop stars, and the fans of the big headliners probably aren’t clamoring to see The Blind Boys of Alabama or Michael Franti and Spearhead, even if they may be renowned and popular artists among their own circles. Take it from someone who was at the Bumbershoot 2016 lineup reveal party, they didn’t exactly conjure a huge amount of fangirl-ish squealing and screaming. Maybe if they started selling $90 pre-faded Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy shirts at Urban Outfitters.
However, I’ll be controversial among my music writing peers and say that I actually like this year’s Bumbershoot lineup. Is it the best lineup Bumbershoot‘s ever had? Not by a long shot. (Something tells me 2013’s lineup was lightning that’ll likely never be able to strike twice.) Would I buy a weekend pass if I wasn’t a part of the pampered music outlet press? I don’t know, I’d have to think long and hard about that one. But as an advocate of music festivals being diverse and interesting, I can’t fault Bumbershoot for wanting to go with a lineup with this many different musical flavors. While, yeah, if some of the major headlining names were coming to town just by themselves, I would sooner go to a live performance of the Kidz Bop Kids covering Velvet Underground’s Squeeze in its entirety with an opening slot from the animatronic Chuck E. Cheese band before I went out of my way to see them, I think the amount of variety in the lineup is a good thing for a music festival at Bumbershoot’s level.
Today, I’d like to share with you my picks for 15 musical artists worth checking out at Bumbershoot 2016, since there are a lot of good and worthwhile bands on the bill. Though, as I’ve said, I’ll concede that the lineup isn’t as good as ones of years’ past (though it definitely blows last year’s lineup out of the water), to act like the entire lineup is worthless and highlight-free because of a dozen or so meh-to-awful headliners is a bit silly and sensationalist. As with last year, I’ll only be culling from the smaller-text bands, so those of you that clicked off the flyer in rage after seeing the big-text headliners might want to read further to see what else the lineup has to offer. While I could sit here and write paragraphs about how excellent J. Tillman is in the live setting, or how cool Porter Robinson‘s live performance looks, you already know of the big names on the bill, and don’t really need me to blow even more smoke in their direction. Let’s begin.
Saturday on KEXP Stage, 4:10-4:50P.M.; Sunday at KeyArena, 4:30-5:00
…I’ll get the easy one out of the way right now. Manatee Commune is awesome, you probably already know how awesome Manatee Commune is. Go see him at Bumbershoot. He dropped a really good EP fairly recently that’ll sound great in the live setting. Do it.
The Flavr Blue
Sunday on Fisher Green Stage, 4:30-5:10
Another really obvious pick. I talked at length about why The Flavr Blue deserves your undivided attention and love in my Artists to See at Capitol Hill Block Party 2015 article, and after seeing them at CHBP, I can confirm their excellence in the live setting. The Flavr Blue is the Seattle electro-pop band most other Seattle electro-pop bands wish they were. They’ve got the one-two punch of having easily one of the top 5 best singers in Seattle, backed up by two of the best producers working in Seattle. They too dropped a pretty damn great EP not too long ago that I’m sure will also be great fuel for the live setting. A Bumbershoot 2016 can’t-miss, without a doubt.
Saturday on Starbucks Stage, 5:20-5:50
While they don’t have the most original or game-changing approach to indie folk in the world, Escondido is a pretty charming acoustic duo out of Nashville. They have all the sweetness and catchiness of their more overproduced indie folk contemporaries, without feeling disingenuous or like they’re desperate for radio play. Just enough reverb is added to their sound to give their songs their own romantic allure, without sounding too depending on this added atmosphere. “Try” alone is easily one of the best songs to come out so far this year, across all genres. They sit surprisingly comfortably between a band like Cocteau Twins and Of Monsters and Men.
Sunday on Starbucks Stage, 8:00-9:00
Even as someone who can usually only stand to listen to jazz music when it’s playing inconspicuously in the background of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, I’m floored by the music Kamasi Washington and his band creates. With pretty close ties to electronic music savant Flying Lotus, Washington is pretty clearly cut from the same cloth of experimentation, with his extremely layered, technically marvelous and musically creative playing and compositions. When a straight-up jazz guy manages to completely win the hearts of the indie rock blogosphere, you know you’re doing something notable. Though you’ll probably be getting a somewhat watered-down version of the live Kamasi Washington experience at only 45 minutes, considering most of the songs off his breakthrough record The Epic are between 8 and 14 minutes, his set is still a must-see.
The Pink Slips
Sunday on Fisher Green Stage, 3:45-4:15
I can usually take or leave most grunge revivalist bands; often times I find their approach to recreating this music weak, nailing down the fuzzed-out distorted aesthetic of this music while not even coming close to writing songs as good as the bands they’re trying to sound like, ultimately sounding like mid-90s post-grunge throwaways like Seven Mary Three or Candlebox at best. Luckily, though, there are bands like The Pink Slips that relive the past while injecting new life into this worn-out style. It’s interested to hear a band that mixes grunge elements so prominently with alternative dance and dance-rock song structures, with Nirvana being as obvious a comparison as a noisy dance-r0ck act from the 90s like Curve.
The second huge selling point of The Pink Slips is definitely the vocals brought by Grace “GRAVE” McKagan, who just sings and shouts her lungs out on every song by this project. They’re just a really fun band to listen to all around, and I’d have to recommend you check them out live, as I’m sure they have a lot to offer. The Pink Slips is the best musical project a McKagan has been involved in since Guns ‘N Roses.
Saturday on KEXP Stage, 5:30-6:10
I’m dying to see Lemolo live in concert. For the past couple years now, mainbrain Meagan Grandall has been one of my favorite voices and songwriters in Seattle music, culminating with the breathtaking album Red Right Return, which ended up being my favorite Pacific Northwest-released album of 2015. Lemolo just makes such beautiful and expertly-crafted dream pop music that puts other modern dream pop acts to shame. After hearing and reading extremely positive things about their live performances, I’m chomping at the bit to catch this project live, and I urge you to do the same.
Friday on Fisher Green Stage, 4:30-5:10
It’s always cool to see a local (British Columbia) band with such an interesting sound and mix of influences get major attention on a national scale. Bob Moses has had a pretty incredible past couple years, with appearances on the Ellen Degeneres Show, a livestreamed set at this year’s Coachella, and glowing attention from publications worldwise, just off the heels of a few solid EPs and a promising debut record, Days Gone By. Duo Jimmy Vallance and Tom Howie mix together elements of electronic dance music and organic, folk-y bluesy instrumentation in a really creative way, and are really sharp songwriters. I’m particularly fond of the sexy and hypnotic song “All I Want.” Definitely one to see if you want to dance to some infectious 4/4 beats without too many basic synth stab presets blaring in your ears.
Saturday on Starbucks Stage, 7:20-7:50
Some pretty immediate and punchy lo-fi garage rock coming out of Spain. Hinds‘ debut record Leave Me Alone dropped earlier this year, and really left a mark on the indie rock world, with its simple, fiery garage rock riffs, and in-your-face dual vocal dynamic. One-dimensional though their sound is, these girls definitely know how to write one hell of a catchy song, and bring a lot of youthful energy to every song they pen. It’s party music for people whose idea of gettin’ down is getting drunk on the beach off cheap beer with several of your best friends. I’m hoping Hinds’ live renditions of these songs are as fun as they are on record.
Saturday at KeyArena, 6:00-6:40
Futuristic beat-meister TOKiMONSTA is definitely one of the more enticing electronic music acts on the bill. Jennifer Lee has been making headway with her boundary-pushing approaches to instrumental hip-hop and beat music on records like Midnight Menu and her well-received early EPs, as well as for her energetic live and DJ performances. With a fairly solid recent EP, FOVERE, one of the more hard-hitting releases in her extensive catalog, you’re bound to hear some of these very hyped tracks in the live setting. Don’t miss out on it.
Saturday at Fisher Green Stage, 5:30-6:15
If you enjoy comedy music and also enjoy being taken aback by completely surreal experiences, Seattleite Reggie Watts isn’t one you’re allowed to skip out on at this year’s ‘shoot. I’ve only ever caught online clips of the sort of antics that take place at his live musical performances, they seem like the sort of thing where you won’t walk away from it as quite the same person. With not a whole lot to his live performances outside of a mic, a digital sampler and a keyboard, he creates these very simplistic, yet hilarious and zany improvised songs. While it’s probably something you have to have a certain taste for, I’m pretty excited to catch this guy’s performance, myself.
Friday on KEXP Stage, 6:40-7:20
I want to give Chastity Belt a nod, mainly because I’ve been dying to see the Seattle four-piece punk’d-out rock band for a year or so now, but every chance I got to see them has fallen through. I’ve heard nothing but good things about their live performances, and though I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of Time to Go Home, the band’s latest and most successful record yet, it struck me as the sort of record whose material is best heard in the live setting, with high-energy performances and an enthusiastic crowd. Still, songs like “Cool Slut” are killer, and the quartet is one of my can’t-misses for the festival.
Saturday at KeyArena, 5:10-5:50
I think this performance will be best if brotherly duo Hippie Sabotage aren’t forced to play to the kandi rave KeyArena crowd, because to my ears, the band’s music merits more pleasant head-nods than it does the desire to jump all around while being mesmerized by a five-figure laser light show. Like other post-chillwave projects like Slow Magic, Hippie Sabotage is a pretty easy-on-the-ears beat music project, whose music perfectly soundtracks the feeling of being outside in the middle of summer when it’s hot but not too hot, and you’re taking in the sun, and in that moment, everything is just okay. They’re pretty solid, I recommend checking them out.
Fly Moon Royalty
Friday on KEXP Stage, 4:10-4:50
I was glad to see Fly Moon Royalty on this year’s Bumbershoot flyer. One of the bolder names in Seattle music, Fly Moon Royalty has made a name for themselves because of their instantly recognizable approach to neo-soul and R&B. The consummately powerful and commanding vocals of singer Adra Boo are backed up with classy and tasteful instrumentals from Action J. I caught a live performance of theirs at last year’s PrideFest, and though it wasn’t the most flashy or high-octane performance in the world, the songs all came together live in a really compelling way.
Saturday on KEXP Stage, 3:00-3:40
“Minimalist rock” is a hard style of music to pull off successfully, and lucky for us Seattleites, Pony Time is easily the best band in our area working with this style. With not a whole lot to their sound outside of a bass guitar, drums and vocals, Pony Time writes and crafts catchy and immediate lo-fi garage rock that revels in its own awesomeness. The band doesn’t feel minimalist in the same way that someone like The Field is minimalist. They aren’t simple and repetitive to challenge your preconceived idea of how to structure a song, they do it because sometimes a great rock song doesn’t need more than just a guitar and some drums in order to kick ass.
Sunday on Fisher Green Stage, 5:35-6:15
Easily one of the most enchanting projects in the Emerald City. Singer-songwriter Shaprece‘s approach to alternative R&B is undeniably gorgeous, layered, and striking, and often has a certain air of experimentation and innovation to it. With her great singing ability backed up by one of the best producers in modern electronic music, IG88, her more recently-released tracks like “Unwind” can follow complicated rhythms and grooves, or be laced with unconventional samples and pieces of instrumentation. Though I’ve yet to see her in her own full live performance, I caught her when she came out to sing a couple songs at IG88’s Decibel Festival 2015 performance, and it was a ravishing display. With her debut full-length album COALS set for release sometime this year, I’m hoping we get to hear a lot of material from it live.
With that, we round out 15 musical artists I think deserve your attention at this year’s Bumbershoot festival. Honorable mentions also go out to Flatbush Zombies, So Pitted, Anderson .Paak, The Front Bottoms, and Maiah Manser, all of whom also should be checked out. If you’re sad I didn’t recommend your favorite smaller-text band, well, you already know to see them; just check out the ones you aren’t as familiar with. Leave your favorite Bumbershoot 2016 band in the comments below, and until next time, try not to have an aneurysm.