Treasure Island 2013 Review & Photos: Is Molly Culture Killing Live Music?
Treasure Island 2013 is a festival that shouldn't necessarily be a festival. As an explosion of music fests have cropped up in recent years seeking to capitalize on the marathons of sound, organization and logistics have taken a bit of a beating. On this small patch of land between Oakland and San Francisco, attendees who battled through gridlock from striking public transport and bridge bottleneck found they had only one musical option at a time, and the entire festival grounds were limited to a very thin stretch of field for crowds to fit. It was cramped. It was weird. And music played on actual instruments was met with flaccid interest after a wildly enthusiastic play-button overdose of bass-drop beat buzzing.
EDM's connectivity carries a requirement of dismissal for any interpretation of the term "live" in musical performance. Midway through Disclosure's set, I realized that a girl had been singing the past three songs, but there was no girl onstage. One of the UK duo was playing one beat on a drum pad for every ten we'd hear, while his partner plunked along a painfully basic 4/4 bass riff over it. With novel condiment exception, almost nothing being played onstage was actually being played onstage – and the crowd was entirely unconcerned.
This cannot be called live music. This is a dance club on steroids. Atoms For Peace is going to obliterate this, I thought while catching my third "live" performance of the day, peripherally observing several eager, pre-licked fingers dipping into little baggies of white powder, lick-a-sticks for digi-kids. These mollygoblins are sure to see the difference for themselves, I was convinced, seeing authentic musicianship physically outshine a copy/paste clickfest on GarageBand or Pro Tools. Passing by the virtual reality booths and craft stands, a hysterical enthusiasm rippling through the crowd at the onset of a playback of Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us," punctuated by a series of mechanical blasts and dub-buzz beats, told me I may not be right about this.
The thought is inescapable, impossible to dress as another idea. I'm surrounded by Generation Pfizer, a youth awash in pharmaceutical behavioral correction/enhancement whose spectrum of sensory stimuli is so blown out that these kids' only recourse is to savor the disconnecting consciousness-purgatory buzz of endlessly repeated beats blasting from an iTunes playlist and out through the monitors. I watched no less than a dozen people running in place in the crowd. Just fucking running. In place.
This isn't about rock n' roll being dead or irrelevant, or the same stupid rut hip-hop lyricism has been stuck in for far too long. This is a tectonic shift of value for performance authenticity in music, encouraged and accelerated by a new generation of evolved recreational chemicals.
With Diplo leading the charge (and keeping every woman's attention locked within a square mile), Major Lazer brought the most intensely high energy of the day, with cohorts Jillionaire and Walshy Fire hyping the crowd at every turn through a sonic stew of beat-manipulated radio hits and singalongs. This, was before the twerk-a-thon, of course, which inspired crowd twerking, stage twerking and… christ just let me stop saying the word "twerking," please. Girls shaking their asses, for better or worse.
The drummer for Little Dragon is a savage. The intensity of his approach to the kit, as well as his variance of rhythmic design, gives an entirely new texture to the band's songs in live performance. With three albums and a handful of EPs under their belts, their variety of material to pull from allows for a sense of exciting unpredictability for fans. But the strongest reaction of their set came at the end, when frontwoman Yukimi Nagano led the quartet through a captivating, intensely percussive new song.
The band has apparently been writing and recording, and with any luck we'll find some pleasant surprises in 2014.
Now I'm watching 12,000 people dance to a guy drinking a beer in front of a laptop. No, really, we've got a 20-picture gallery of DJ Falcon looking at a Macbook. This is live music festival entertainment in 2013. A guy holding a beer touching a laptop every 2-4 minutes. Atoms For Peace played a crrrrrrushingly awesome set four hours later to the same crowd, who by then were painfully subdued and disconnected.
"I guess the ecstasy's worn off," frontman Thom Yorke sardonically offered midway through the star-studded group's performance. It wasn't the music, I bloody guarantee it. With two drummers providing a frantically danceable polyrhythmic backdrop to the dynamic, spastic weirdo duo of Thom Yorke and Flea, not to mention a spectacular light show, AFP's set was far and away the most impressive set of the night. Hell, it was the best on the mere principle of the fact that every sound we heard was associated with a physical activity taking place onstage.
Nigel Godrich's atmospheric multi-instrumentalism aided in ambience as Atoms For Peace played the majority of their debut album Amok and a highlight reel of Yorke's solo album The Eraser. High points included a stunning version of Yorke's "And It Rained All Night," the reimagined, accelerated U.N.K.L.E. track "Rabbit In Your Headlights" and, earlier in the set, an ethereally awesome rendition of their single "Default" after opening with "Before Your Very Eyes".
Closing with a second encore of "Atoms For Peace" and "Black Swan," AFP bid farewell to this strange little island. There was a new interpretive value to the chorus of "this is fucked… up… fucked up…," but it's unlikely anyone related to the lyrics in any way but complimentary. An achingly beautiful, rhythmically psychedelic beat-blizzard in live performance, Atoms For Peace is arguably the most enchanting band in motion this year. And I just watched 12,000 people yawn their way through it, after expending their enthusiasm on a play button.
With Sleigh Bells, Japandroids and Beck leading Day Two, a far more passionately powerful day is expected.
Photos: Johnny Firecloud