5 Bands that SEE ROCK LIVE quite enjoyed at Northside 2017
Words & Photos by Mar Sellars
Northside Festival takes over the Brooklyn north neighbourhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Although around for less than a decade (est 2009), the festival has grown fast from a 50-act line up in its first year to 350 bands in 2017.
It’s not your usual music conference either. On the first day, I head down to 90 Wythe Ave. to grab my pass. I arrive where I think that address is but only find open bars with bouncers and bands playing. I ask one bouncer if this is where I pick up my festival pass…
“You got ID?”
“Yes, but is this where I pick up my pass?”
“Uh huh, I need to see your ID though.”
I make my way into a packed bar of people drinking and watching a band perform. This isn’t your normal stagnant, fluorescent-lit hotel lobby or conference room you normally pick up a festival pass at. Looking very confused, I weave my way through the crowd of drinkers; I notice a woman holding a huge handful of badges and ask her if this is indeed where I get one of those. “Oh yeah, the table is just at the back” she replies. OK then. It’s hour one and I’m already getting the feeling this festival is different, this festival is chill.
Amber Arcades is the special project of Annelotte de Graaf, a former UN worker in Holland. de Graaf entered the music biz in 2013, when she traveled to NYC and self-recorded an album using her life savings. Her music caught the attention of Heavenly Recordings, who released her debut album in 2016 and the rest is history. For the past 2 years, Amber Arcades has been a regular feature at festivals all across Europe.
Tonight’s Northside set is a special show, not only because it’s a rare appearance on this side of the Atlantic but because Ben Greenberg, the guy who recorded both her records, is in the audience and seeing the songs played live for the first time. The show is running late, the crowd is sparse but the die-hard indie pop fans are there to bop along to de Graaf’s guitar jangle and sweet melodies. She’s made at least 20 more fans by the end of the set.
Hoops are a band who are best enjoyed on a bright sunny day. Heavily oozing and dripping with reverb, delay and processed guitar and vocals, it’s that laid back slacker sound that is so now. Walrus has it, all the bands in Australia have it — You know what I’m talking about.
Baby’s All Right is packed, I barely squeeze in but somehow manage to find a spot where even a shorty like me can see! Hoops are already playing, the crowd is loving it, and these Indiana boys are loving the packed house. Looking at the band, you can tell they were the geeks in their mid-west high school who probably got picked on and now are playing to a bunch of hipsters in Brooklyn. If only their high school bullies could see them now!
Hoops are musically super tight, the songs transfer well but some of the vocals on newer songs come off a little flat. Their vocals work better on the older songs. Most bladder-wrenching part of the set is when frontman Drew Auscherman exclaims, “I really need to pee” while drinking water at least 6 songs before the end. My bladder feels for him and is glad I’m much closer to the toilets.
NYC is the place I discovered Downtown Boys at the final CMJ in 2015. They were a surprise and a very pleasant one. I picked them as one of my 5 bands to watch of that festival and I’m happy to say they have recently signed to legendary label, Sub Pop. Downtown Boys are actually 3 boys and 2 women, a punk rock assault of political and challenging ideas, sporadic guitar, tumbling drums, all topped off with a healthy dose of saxophone. They are a band that definitely needs to be seen live. And now more than ever, they are a band that is needed — challenging the racial, gender and conformist norms of American society. Every song is started with a call to arms: fighting toxic masculinity and white supremacy. Downtown Boys are Trump’s natural predator and they will eat him alive.
Is it nepotism to write about a band you work with? I would say yes, if the band wasn’t Partner. However, I come to these fine folks as a fan first and an eager supporter. This was their second Brooklyn show and this time at infamous Baby’s All Right, a Saturday afternoon rock gig in a dark club. A bit of a weird setting, but the 50 or so people who made it were wowed by Josée’s solos, Lucy’s plummeting rhythm guitar and funny stories about roommates. Partner are best described as post-classic rock. They’re funny but they are not a joke, they shred and they proudly rock. If you haven’t seen Partner yet — do yourself a favour. They play for free at the AlternaQueer (TD Village Stage Church & Wellesley) June 23 9pm as part of Toronto Pride.
By Sunday, most industry people have left town and the only remaining attendees are the locals. It’s a very chill day with only a handful of afternoon shows that are gladly welcomed, as the temperature is hitting 36°C across the ‘burg. Closing out the festival Sunday afternoon is a punk rock extravaganza featuring Toronto’s own Pup. The proud Canadians play in direct sunlight and humid heat — massive shout out to their drummer! Despite all this, the band give’r their all, and guitarist Steve Sladkowski is repping a Vancouver Grizzlies jersey and I love it. I cycle home afterwards to take my second shower of the day and rest after a weekend of bands and buds.
Northside, I’ll see you in 2018. Till then — stay chill.