Coverage by: Trent Lira, Rupal Mehta, Waylon O’Day, and Madeline Robicheaux
I’ll be honest, I did not think that the hip-hop/punk trio from Sacramento, California would make it to the festival. This isn’t unwarranted, the group has had a long history of not showing up to gigs, and breaking up then reuniting shortly thereafter. With that being said, that made this set all the more important to the people who gathered to watch them perform at the main stage.These guys really are kind of a toss up in a lot of different ways, so any chance to see them could easily be the last. MC Ride, arrived onstage behind a huge white screen, met with the screams of the audience when he pulled off his shirt, indicating to the audience that it was about to get lit. Zach Hill, the drummer and Andy Morin, the keyboardist/synth player accompanied Ride onstage, and proceeded to give the crowd exactly what they wanted. The group opened with the energetic “I’ve Seen Footage,” off of 2012 LP, The Money Store, my personal favorite album. That was followed with extremely danceable and thrashable “Get Got,” my alltime favorite song from the group. Most of the material they played seemed to be off of The Money Store, much to my pleasure. Other songs performed of the album were “Hustle Bones,” a close second to “Get Got,” in my humble opinion; as well as “The Fever (Aye Aye),” “Hacker,” and “Lost Boys.” The group also played the crowd favorite “Guillotine,” which caused a mosh-pit to ensue, as well as “No Love,” off of 2013’s No Love Deep Web whose cover featured a certain male sex organ. The band left a good fifteen minutes before their set time was up, which personally did not surprise me, I was just glad they decided to play, although I think the crowd would’ve really enjoyed the extra fifteen. After their set, Bun B came onstage commenting on how “Death Grips fucking killed it.” I guess when the biggest name in Houston music says you killed it, you did just that.
This was the set I was looking forward to the most, the last time I had seen Flylo it was in Austin at Fun Fun in 2014 just a week after he released his latest album, You’re Dead, which he played in it’s entirety including other classics from his huge discography. Steve Ellison arrived on-stage and asked the crowd how they were feeling tonight, and asked if they were ready for Kendrick, which the crowd responded with screams of joy. Ellison then said that Kendrick was right off-stage, which was met with even more screams of joy, until Flylo said “Haha just kidding, y’all fell for that shit!” Ellison quickly retreated behind one of the two projection screens he had onstage, and became the enigmatic Flying Lotus. His stage set-up made him look as though he was in a three-dimensional space onstage, the visuals produced by Strangeloop and Timeboy, respectively. Before kicking off his set Flylo said over the microphone “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH YOU’RE DEAD!” before throwing down the intro track off You’re Dead, “Theme,” which immediately immersed the audience in images of dismembered bodies in an existential space. He then moved into “Fkn Dead,” and off to the rest of his uncharacteristically heavy techno set. Although he had said “Man, I was excited for this festival,” prior to his set beginning, I didn’t think he would be mixing as much. He moved into festival-friendly renditions of the Thundercat collab “Descent into Madness,” before dropping what was probably one of the more surprising songs of his set, a sped up remix of Missouri City’s own Travi$ Scott’s “Antidote,” which quite honestly had me on the verge of tears just due to Flylo’s mastery of composition and ability to feel the pulse of a crowd. Other songs included a remixed version of “Getting There,” which was featured on the “Grand Theft Auto V” soundtrack, the game itself had a station called “Flylo Radio,” which Ellison personally curated the music for. He also performed “Clock Catcher,” personal favorites “MmmHmm,” and “Zodiac Shit,” all of which were off his arguably most successful album, 2010’s Cosmogramma. The drumbeat from “Camel,” could be heard at many times during his set, as did other elements from his coming-of-age album Los Angeles. Mid way through the set, Flylo asked the set if they wanted to hear his Grammy nominated collab with Kendrick Lamar, which instantly gave the crowd more energy than they had shown during the earlier part of his set. he initially played the instrumental to “Never Catch Me,” making the crowd raise their hopes of an early K.Dot sighting, before cutting it off about twenty-four bars in saying that Kendrick isn’t coming out, and that he had fooled Houstonians once again. He still went on to play the song commenting at the end, “That shit is nominated for a Grammy, that’s cool.” He then ran through about ten minutes of some hard-core techno that I couldn’t physically find a beat to move to. After that was over, he asked the audience if they wanted to hear some Captain Murphy, his rapper alias, asking if the crowd even knew what that was, which judging by their yells of excitement, they knew all too well. He came out from behind the scrim after starting the beat to “Between Friends,” telling the audience “Ay, yo, my boy Earl Sweatshirt is in the house!” which led to huge screams of excitement due to the fact Flylo and Early Man had collaborated on the track, before Ellison dashed the audience’s hope one last time when he said “Aha! I got y’all again!” The first time I saw Flylo I fell to the same trick, so I was much wiser this time. After “Between Friends,” Flylo asked audience members if they had anything to smoke, which prompted a huge rush to the barricade and ended with Flylo grabbing a blunt from a lucky fan. “This is the shittiest lighter, I swear.” he said as he tried to light the blunt before moving into a weed ballad under the guise of Captain Murphy. After that it was back to being behind the scrim where for the rest of the set, Ellison would pump out eardrum rattling techno that I never expected from him. Towards the end of his set Flylo said, “I’ll be back next year, and you better be ready to turn up again!” before playing the last section of his mix. The concert is not exactly what I expected from Flylo, and it was definitely more music festival friendly. This was unexpected because the eclectic lineup never seemed to aim to please a massive audience, but rather a niche one, however Flylo definitely appealed to the mainstream EDM listeners, much to my chagrin. I’m a huge fan of Flylo because of his mastery of production and composition in the realms of free-jazz, IDM, and experimental electronic, and all I really got was a bunch of ecstasy-fueled noise. Some of his biggest songs like, “Coronus, the Terminator,” and “Dead Man’s Tetris,” were left out, which made me and a lot of other die-hard Flying Lotus fans around feel sort of duped. The positives I took away from the performances easily outweigh the negatives, as it was the most fun that I had at the entire festival, and was one of the only sets that made me forget I was surrounded by thousands of inebriated strangers. Overall, my love for his music is not at all diminished, neither is my desire to see Flylo whenever humanly possible. I still stand by the notion that his concerts of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The ebbs and flows of patrons camping out at the Red Stage took place all day, those that came to see K.Dot perform showed their devotion very early on, much to the chagrin of fans of the undercard like myself. His lengthy stage set up included a five piece band consisting of a solo-prone guitarist, a super funky bassist, a perhaps overly-energetic drummer, and a keyboardist. One the back of the stage, a quote from David Friley read “Never Trust a N*gga With Cornrows,” ironic because of the Compton native’s choice of hairstyle, although Kendrick came onstage laughing at the quote so I guess it’s all in good fun. Kendrick was met with the loudest applause I had seen the whole weekend, but understandably, he is arguably the best rapper alive, not only commercially but critically. With his latest album, To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar reached Tupac level heights in terms of the subject matter he was rapping about. He opened his set with the jazzy interlude “For Free.” Next was “Wesley’s Theory,” which was barely recognizable from the album version, “Institutionalized” also came off in a similar fashion. Crowd favorites “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” and “Money Trees” all went off flawlessly and had the crowd going crazier than I had seen all weekend. Kendrick took a break between nearly every song, which really made the set drag on to someone like me, who had been standing since 4:00 for a chance to see the Compton rapper. The lengthiest break took place after K.Dot played “m.A.A.d city,” and asked audience members to come on stage and try and rap the first verse of the song, which is extremely rapid fire, if you’ve somehow never heard it. The first person on stage was a white guy wearing a Rocky shirt who made the crowd cringe when he tried to excite the crowd with shouts of “RIP DJ Skrew,” and “RIP Pimp C.” The guy had no clue what the words were but he did drop a surprisingly good freestyle, although a n-bomb out of the clearly over-served man’s mouth made me bury my head in my hands. Next up was some girl from who knows where, that said she was “representing the females.” Thankfully, Lamar cut her off eight bars into her freestyle after she clearly showed she had no ideas of the words. Then another girl came onstage, and that one was even worse, finally one girl came onstage and kind-of-sort-of rapped the words to the song, although she kind of just hit the tail end of couplets. Finally, Kendrick moved on to play “Backseat Freestyle,” and “The Art of Peer Pressure,” off of his hugely successful sophomore effort, 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. Other songs included “i,” “u”, “The Blacker the Berry,” “King Kunta,” and “Hood Politics,” all off TPAB. Kendrick left the stage early unexpectedly, but it was obvious he would come back out, he closed out DFN with the hugely successful “Alright,” before closing with “A.D.H.D.” off of his debut full-length release, Section.80. Despite the hype this really was a let down, Kendrick seemed to pander to the crowd more than playing actual music. Without that thirty minute ameateur rap battle Kendrick could’ve at least played the President’s favorite song, “How Much a Dollar Cost,” or the Knxwledge produced “Momma,” both of which are extremely relevant. Despite asking the crowd if they had been listening to him since 2009, he only played one song before the GKMC release. With most artists, I will give them a break if they don’t play a certain song, cause they have lengthy discographies, or limited stage time, but neither of those two factors apply to Lamar. He had an hour and a half to really show his chops, and he didn’t, it’s as simple as that. Where was “Hol’ Up,” or “Fuck Your Ethnicity”? Both of which could easily be said to be better than some of the tracks on his two latest releases, I mean “Rigamortus,” and “Blow My High (Members Only),” put him in the national limelight, a year and a half before people were diving in swimming pools full of liquor. I can understand not playing deep cuts like “Michael Jordan,” “Ignorance is Bliss,” or “Average Joe,” which are respectively awesome tracks. In my opinion, Kendrick Lamar has completed embraced his mainstream status, and shows it by giving more attention to the audience than his music, in terms of live performance. That’s all well and good, but if you’re going to ask people if they are really fans, then why not test them and see if they know your deep cuts? In all honesty, I enjoyed his set while it was happening, but in retrospect I felt like K.Dot could have done a lot more to make his performance a memorable one for those who took the time to camp out at the Red Stage. I mean the whole bringing up audience members to rap m.A.A.d city has been overplayed for over a year, and it really slows down the energy of his set, and more importantly wastes time that could be used to, I don’t know, play music, instead of having sloppy drunk patrons steal the show. Overall, I’m glad I finally got to see Kendrick Lamar live, although I don’t think I’ll be seeing him again. You have to give him his dues for his career and his showmanship, but when it comes down to it, if you go to a concert you go to see music, not some dude burning time. He is the best rapper alive, but by no stretch of the imagination the best live act alive, I’ll leave that to the Flaming Lips and Flying Lotus.
Is he a bird, is he a man, or a guy that just really knows how to make some amazing music? I’d side with the latter. I had seen him perform once, my good friend from high school’s brother, who goes by SpPank, frequently produces the visuals for the H-Town native’s music. The Biology and Chemistry major even fashioned his own synthesizers for his set at the Blue Stage, some of which were shown on DFN’s Instagram page weeks before the festival. If you have somehow missed FLCON FCKER, you need not worry, as he frequents a lot of local haunts, such as Fitzgerald’s, Numbers, and The Black Barbie. The crowd on hand was a bit larger than the Blue Stage’s Saturday opener, Millennial Grave, something that I will not only attribute to the headliners of the day, but to his local mythology and mysterious nature. He came on stage with a gold mask that completely covered his face and gave him an avian look, he also had a sleeve of some sort that was also gold and had the same sort of patterns. Behind in the soundbooth his visual artist wore a similar mask, although his was silver. Both of their masks were extremely detailed, and well fitted, you could actually see FLCON FCKER on-stage moving his eyes and sometimes his eyes behind the somewhat stiff looking mask. Most of the music was trance like, until about five minutes into the set, when he let the booming bass of 808’s and 505’s grace the audience’s ears, behind him the visuals showed glimpses of Houston landmarks and freeways. His set went flawlessly, easily transitioning from deep trance into experimental haus into straight techno. FLCON FCKER is a real H-Town Hero, make sure you catch this guy before he hits the big time, and is touring the world. I am personally hoping to see him at the main stage at next year’s Day for Night Festival.
Children of Pop
This Houston pop outfit had an eye-catching set on the Blue Stage. Coming out in white and black robes, it set the vibe for the rest of the show for sure. Featuring stunning visuals on the screen behind them and new tracks played from their new album like “Girls Like,” they fit in perfectly at this festival. The crowd was vibrant and supportive throughout the set and moved to every song.
Look, if you’ve never heard of Holly Herndon, it’s okay, I myself had never heard of her until I was at Vinal Edge and they had it playing over their loudspeakers in the store. Her music is being hailed from tons of music critics to be the most crucial and sonically advanced music of 2015. Her music is heavily focused on social issues such as systematic inequality and neo-feudalism, although you most likely wouldn’t catch that if you just casually listened to her music. Her stage set-up is one of the most interesting and confusing I have ever seen, save Flying Lotus’ always exceptional setup. She was on stage behind her Apple Macbook and what looked to be a channel mixer, sampler, and a small MIDI Launchpad. Also onstage with her was another man, whose name was never addressed, he stood at the other edge of the table with his laptop, and was responsible for the exceptionally odd visuals. Prior to her set kicking off, the man on the laptop typed various messages onto the screen which was projected onto the scrim at the back of the stage. He wrote various messages thanking the audience for coming out in so many numbers, and how long it took them to finally make it to Texas. The last message he typed was a simple one, “AS WITH EVERY SHOW ON THIS TOUR THIS IS DEDICATED TO CHELSEA,” Chelsea is a real person, Chelsea Manning, the trans-woman U.S soldier that was given thirty-five years of prison time for espionage related to the Wikileaks scandal. The set opened with the first song off of her most recent full length release, Platform, entitled “Interference.” From the first song on the visuals took you from a normal bedroom to a galaxy full of asteroids in the form of blocks or Ramen noodles and ears of corn. All of the visuals would start at the screen of a laptop showing the man operating the visuals standing before it, before taking you to a different setting, and would always end again at the screen of another laptop. It was truly a mind-f*ck, but then again I couldn’t comprehend what was happening in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind until about the fourth viewing. The effect of the music was significantly diminished due to microphone issues that plagued the first three-quarters of the set, making a lot of them sound almost non-resemblant of the original studio recording. Despite these setbacks, Herndon pushed through playing almost all of Platform, including personal favorite “Chorus,” as well as some off of her 2012 debut LP, Movement. Overall, Herndon worked with what she had, and did so in good spirits, smiling towards the crowd whenever the sometimes ground-shaking bass peaked or when her microphone sent a wave of feedback into the house. This honestly was one of the most sonically challenging performances I had ever witnessed, in terms of me really absorbing what was being done on-stage, but please do not let that deter you from checking out this talented artist or from catching one of her mind-bending performances.
Although this Houston born DJ had to play during while Kendrick Lamar was playing the mainstage, he still proved why he was chosen to play this festival. He kept the crowd hyped and dancing throughout his hour long set. He played “internet-famous” remixes of his such as “Black Widow,” “Look at my Dab,” “Throw Some Ds,” and “Still Tippin.” The crowd may small, but they were hungry for every beat drop and booming bass moment that Prismo had to offer. I think it’s really great that they let a local DJ close out the night and play a mainstage. Prismo also played this year’s Free Press Summer Fest and is quickly rising to internet popularity with his remixes. He’s one to watch for the future.