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Notes from Hopscotch 2013

September 11, 2013

Just to explain my purpose here:

This is almost entirely for my own memory and reference. It’s an attempt to hang onto some of the stories and memories from an incredible weekend of music. Seeing dozens of bands within a few days, almost all of them new to me, can make it difficult to retain the experience, so I figured I’d write this shit down and Rick was nice enough to host it for me.

Another purpose is to promote and expose acts, places, and people that I want to share. My first experience with Hopscotch was in 2010, its first year. Due to poor planning, I missed out on the most of the days and only managed to catch Broken Social Scene and Panda Bear on the main stage. Which was great, but bittersweet as I only got a small taste of what happened that weekend. From all accounts, I fucking missed it.

This time around, I made sure to go for all three days. I’ll be doing the same next year. Here’s my roundup of all the bands I managed to see, as well as general thoughts and impressions about the experience.

For a great write-up from a person who can actually write, check out Gary Suarez’ article.

 

Thursday

Pull into Raleigh around 3:30 and head straight to Wristband City, which is tucked inside a ballroom at the Sheraton downtown. I half-expected a shit show, but I was wristbanded and out of there in less than five minutes.

Grab a pen and the schedule of shows and start looking up artists. One of my favorite things about Hopscotch is there are so many acts: up and coming groups, obscure solo artists, collaborations, side projects. It’s impossible to know them all, let alone see them all. So each day we’d do a little research and check out who we wanted to see.

Headed downtown to try to catch Body Games, one of two first official shows of the festival.

Unfortunately, with only two shows to choose from, people weren’t yet spread among all 14 venues like they would be the rest of the night. I got close to the front of the line at The Pour House for Body Games, but they reached capacity before we could get in. They started a one-out-one-in policy, which would’ve been great had it not been for all the VIP wristband-holders who kept showing up! We gave up and decided we should show up to the next show a little early.

Off to The Hive @ The Busy Bee Cafe for Ama Divers. Ambient drone chamber pop! No problem getting in, but once we’re upstairs by the stage, I realize the space is not ideal for Hopscotch’s purposes. The bar and the opposing wall kind of crunch the audience into a bottleneck towards the stage. Also, as pointed out by Devon Welsh of Majical Cloudz, the only speakers hang over the audience several feet away from the stage, so if you’re right up front, the only place where you can see anything, then you’re not hearing as well as people standing behind you. It’s weird. That said my favorite show of the festival was here. More on that later.

Also, their beer list completely redeems them for any flaws in their layout. Great big chalkboard of all sorts of bottles, but more importantly, Duchess on tap. Great to savor while listening to Ama Divers, which proved to be a nice introduction to the weekend. A mellow starting point, building towards complexity.

Briefly lost track of time, check phone to see the next show is about to start back at The Pour House. The Hive and The Pour House are two of four venues that are all on the same block. In fact, the furthest I ever had to walk between venues was only several blocks.

Schedule has DJ Paypal listed, but this dude’s setting up a keyboard. Oh, snap! It’s Gerrit Welmers, the keyboardist from Future Islands. His solo project, Moss of Aura was added due to Dauwd being dropped from the schedule (not sure why, I missed the announcement). Sad to miss Dauwd, but really stoked I lucked into seeing Moss of Aura. His summer-soaked synth pop dripped all over the dancefloor and warmed things up for the rest of the night.

Wasn’t sure quite what to expect from DJ Paypal when this dude comes out wearing a black baseball cap, huge dark glasses, and a t-shirt tied around his head, masking his entire face. The fact that he was hiding his identity seemed at odds with the message on his shirt: “I DON’T GIVE A FUCK.” Within seconds of him starting his first clip, this Ableton DJ had the entire Pour House going fucking apeshit with his hip-hop infused bass heavy edm.

British producer Lapalux was up next at The Pour House, so we stayed put once Paypal finished. Lapalux’ more chilled out R&B vibe was a nice recharge after losing our shit with Paypal.

Hard to believe the first night is already coming to a close! I talk my friends into heading over to King’s Barcade to catch Wolf Eyes. We get there just in time to buy some earplugs from the bar. Thank fucking christ because Wolf Eyes must be going fucking deaf. Shit was incredibly loud. Incredibly loud and a little disappointing. Decided to call it quits and head home.

 

Friday:

Friday marks the first night of Hopscotch’s Main Stage at the City Plaza. It’s a pretty ideal outdoor space, with a huge stage giving everyone great views and sound. This is where the headliners play, and fortunately, the shows start earlier in the evening and finish shortly after the rest of the venues start.

Opening the Main Stage festivities this year was Gross Ghost, a group I made sure to see after discovering it’s the current project of long time friends and fellow Roanoke Islanders Mike Dillon (guitar, vocals) and Christopher Hutcherson-Riddle (drums). The two have been making music together for years, which explains how they’re so damn tight rhythmically. Fun, upbeat, low-fi pop.

Future Islands was up next on the Main Stage. Sure, they claim Baltimore these days, but everybody knows Future Islands called North Carolina home before heading up North. Needless to say, they killed it. There’s no other performer like Sam Herring. Small room or huge stage, his energy perfectly fills any space.

We had some time to kill before Holy Ghost! was scheduled to start, and we were tired of paying $6 for New Belgium drafts. Kyle suggested we head to a newly opened brewery, so we set out for Crank Arm. Apparently, the brewery was only made possible after the owners first raised money via their pedicab company. By the way, hearing a woman with a thick North Carolina accent trying to flag down a pedicab by yelling, “RICKSHAWWW!” is hilarious for some reason. Their beer was delicious and the bar had cell phone charging stations. Would recommend.

The beer was so good we lost track of time and only managed to hear the last three Holy Ghost! songs. Which is really too bad, because the DFA Records synth pop outfit was easily one of my favorites of the weekend. Fortunately, they’re coming through 9:30 Club at the beginning of November.

Decided to stick around for the next act, A-Trak, an electro/club DJ who definitely lit up the plaza with huge drops and impressive turntablism. Stuck around for a bit before heading to the first venue show of the night at CAM.

My favorite venue, just in terms of comfort and space, was the Contemporary Art Museum. Huge open stage and dancefloor, great sound. My only complaints would be lighting (it was a little bright for the DJs/producers) and the staff member who was popping all of the smiley-face balloons during Ryan Hemsworth.

The lighting was fine for the first act I saw there, Helado Negro. This solo project, from one of the Savath y Savalas collaborators, has Roberto Carlos Lange singing, almost chanting, in Spanish over muted, fuzzy synth lines and dancey beats. His stage presence is hit or miss with audiences, apparently.

Back to The Hive for minimal edm producer Leech. Can’t help but feel like he got a little shafted on venue here. Had he been at CAM or Pour House, the crowd might have been a little more receptive. Instead, the coffe shop vibe of The Hive kept the audience from opening up.

Things got a little pushed back at Tir Na Nog and we weren’t able to stick around for Slavic Soul Party! which sounded like it would’ve been a lot of fun.

Instead, we headed back to CAM to catch Ryan Hemsworth. Hemsworth chops and remixes, layering hip hop beats with synths and warped out vocals. The dancefloor approved, with Hemsworth refusing to stop until well after the staff turned on the house lights.

 

Saturday

Late start today missing all of the main stage shows. Would’ve liked to see Spiritualized, but ended up heading straight to The Hive to check out Greensboro dance-pop group Casual Curious. This turned out to be my favorite show of the festival for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, Casual Curious fucking brings it. Funk and disco elements pop out from the horn section with frontman Lee Guselman’s smooth, light vocals commenting on the action. In terms of performance, they claimed this was barely more than “band practice” for the five-piece, but they sounded tight and confident, never getting lost in the extended grooves.

Caught the last 10 minutes of Horse Lords at CAM and was bummed I didn’t get to see more. Layered, mathy jams crossed over each other on top of machine-tight percussion. Really enjoyed what I heard.

As an Akron/Family fan, I knew I couldn’t miss Seth Olinksy’s side project Cy Dune at The Pour House. He belts out huge distorted stadium riffs with the help of two drummers and a bassist, reminding me of some of my favorite freak-out moments from A/F but refined and sustained and molded into power anthems.

Head still ringing from Cy Dune, headed to Majical Cloudz at The Hive. While I enjoyed what I heard of Welsh’s emotionally intense, musically sparse approach, I wasn’t in the right headspace to truly appreciate it. Once he invited everyone on stage with him, I decided to seek out something a little less demanding.

I’m happy with my decision to end the festival shows on a celebratory party vibe. DJ duo Gent and Jawns provided dancefloor fervor in the form of huge stadium electro, bringing Kings Barcade to a boil.

Personal notes:

Thanks to Kyle for letting us crash at his place all weekend!
Thanks to Chris for the ballin’ ass sunglasses! www.mrfunglasses.com
Thanks to The Humble Pig for making amazing pork tacos!
Fuck you to the guy who was flicking off the stage during Ryan Hemsworth’s set! Wtf? Just go somewhere else if you’re not into it.

 

Bands I meant to check out, but missed:

Body Games
Maple Stave
Boyzone
Dauwd
Merzbow
Pere Ubu
Deleted Scenes
Local Natives
Big Black Delta
Ahleuchatistas
UBT

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