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Hopscotch 2011: The post-festival festival

by Ryan Snyder

The Flaming Lips light up City Plaza. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

Early music geeks were known to slap the prefix “post-” on-popular music genres as a way to describe offshoots that held to the general aesthetic in a superficial manner, yet ultimately embraced a defiant, nonconformist sonic ethos. Post-rock. Post-punk. Post-metal. But can that tenet be ascribed to an event? With a philosophy that contravenes festival norms on practically all fronts, the second Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh says yes, it can.

In the American music festival boom of the last decade, there’semerged somewhat of a formula for a successful festival: Identify an underserved niche, book suitable bands on the cheap with some intriguing outliers, add a dash of epic sauce and pray to break even. Some have rolled the dice on more exotic lineups, but few festivals can approach the synthesis of diversity, esotericism and endearment that the Hopscotch Festival has achieved in only its second year. Indie rock sat opposite to chillwave, hours of successive black and drone metal felt like days, and more than a few people had their mental circuitry shorted by their first taste of no wave and avant-garde.

Chalk it up to an ideal. Whereas most music weekenders are curated, booked and administrated by organizations with full-time staffs devoted to the science of throwing a concert, Hopscotch is a little bit different. There was outside help, but its heart is derived from being organized and stewarded by newspaper staffers, musically knowledgeable and passionate ones indeed, but it’s clearly a labor of love nonetheless. It’s been stated that last year’s event lost a pile of money despite experiencing superb attendance, so what did they do? Grew the festival and pushed bravely forward, of course.

2011 brought more bands to more venues, and along with them even tougher decisions to make for this year’s sold-out crowd. To put it simply, Hopscotch was massive. Given the more than 150 acts on this year’s bill, the distance between some of the venues, and the stamina needed to outlast three days in an urban wilderness in 14-hour increments, decisions had to be made quickly and with certainty. Wavering in the middle of the haul from the Pour House to the Fletcher Opera Theatre would result in missing a sizable chunk of good music. Some venues had the advantage of being clustered, but even then accessibility was limited as, more often than not, that’s where the most severe lines were concentrated.

The Pour House seemed to be in a perpetual state of capacity — the wait to see Japandroids was just silly on Friday night — but next door at Tir Na Nog, you could bust out a B-boy windmill in the middle of vaunted New York emcee Beans’ set and not come close to hitting anyone. Maybe it was a product of the indie-music hype machine priming the pumps before the festival engine ever got rolling. Japandroids have been consistently well reviewed in the most music pubs, while the machine-gun-spitting Beans is a bit of an unknown even to those with their ears to the underground.

Other packed houses, however, were somewhat inexplicable. You’d be pressed to find 400 people versed in and appreciative of the music of Rhys Chatham in a large metropolitan area that’s not New York City in the early ’80s, let alone in one room in a Bible Belt state. The lavish, E-chord-centric extravaganza by the knotty maximalist Chatham was a shrine to the organizers’ taste-making prowess, but you couldn’t help but look over the glazed eyes in the house as 10 guitarists strummed the same maddeningly amelodic bars and think that there was at least some slightly posturing, slightly paranoid groupthink in play. If a cascade of droning riffs arranged to excess is your idea of nirvana, however, then Chatham was your messiah.

The credulousness of an audience such as this is almost a prerequisite when dealing with a lineup that comprises so many bands that insist upon discovery. One must freely give themselves over to believing in the idea of a festival like Hopscotch to get the most of the experience. Sure, Guided By Voices and the Flaming Lips were excellent draws on their respective headlining nights, but what then? There had to be some willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the music fan for their feet to have carried them into a set by voluminously mellifluent, yet a tad boring composer/skate punk Duane Pitre. Or maybe they just couldn’t get in to see the deservingly well-fluffed Toro Y Moi or Future Islands sets.

Hopscotch hits & misses

The Flaming Lips — It wasn’t the greatest Flaming Lips performance by most musical measures; a perfunctory set whose lack of enthusiasm was masked skillfully ina topcoat of blissful psychedelia. There was not a single track from their masterpiece The Soft Bulletin, but what made this show so magical was how the band turned Raleigh’s City Plaza — a monument to overpriced downtown real estate and franchised cuisine — into a surrealist circus. The wind tunnel created by the surrounding buildings thrust the giant balloons and snowstorm of confetti upwards like ash from a fire, and the Lips are always good for a sing-along. Earth — I missed them. It’s just what happens.

Budos Band — Budos Band is the sound of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Fueled by chocolate mushrooms and tall cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the Brooklyn afro-funk band were likely the last band standing at Hopscotch 2011.Their late-night Pour House set raged past 2 a.m. with a full house hanging with their demonstrably heavy sound every step ofthe way. All four primary percussionists played in the pocket in various deviations from the central groove, giving it a deliberate, almost doom-y quality with Jared Tankel spewing liquid magma from his baritone sax.

Daytime parties — You go, Raleigh. People were getting their mid-afternoon drink on at a Bukowskian pace Saturday at White Collar Crime for a superb set by the Bronzed Chorus. The band’s anthemic riffs set against majestic, pummeling beats and the sweeping sense of euphoria that accompanies every movement makes for fine imbibing music

No festival wristbands for day-party bands — Lame.

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The last of Guided By Voices? Maybe, butwe’ve been there before. (photo by RyanSnyder)

Guided By Voices — Was it or wasn’t it? The pre-fest press release claimed GBV’s Friday night headlining set wouldbe the band’s last ever with its classic lineup. Superchunk drummer and Hopscotch jester-in-residence Jon Wurster said it “could be.” Surely, we’ve been down this road before. Either way, the band’s set list was worthy of a farewell with what Wurster lamented as “only about 71 songs” in length, with at least that many cigarettes consumed onstage.

Apple Juice Kid — The Chapel Hill drummer and producer’s set was one of the best DJ sets of the weekend, especially when he dropped the marching band snare over Snoop Dogg and Outkast samples. Most entertaining, however, was his slack-jawed sidekick, bouncing in glee like a kid who made her first potty with every goodbeat she culled from her Mac.

Diversity — A miss, in attendees, not bands. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise given the severe racial divide that exists in the Triangle, but Hopscotch is a profoundly white festival. It will be interesting to see how this is addressed in future installments.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan

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The Bronzed Chorus give a blue collar effort at White Collar Crime. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

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