Last weekend, Hopscotch Music Festival turned five. For three days, every September since 2010, Hopscotch has occupied most of Raleigh's venues with music that runs the gamut from accessible garage-rock to experimental noise, with all shades in between. This year there was a little less experimentalism and a little more EDM, and downtown Raleigh was packed with festivalgoers — venues had long lines early in the evening, and sidewalks were clogged with revelers from early evening until well after midnight.
There were highlights and let-downs, sure, and it rained like mad Thursday night. Still, Creative Loafing sent music writers and veteran Hopscotchers Patrick Wall and Corbie Hill to cover it. Here are their conversations from the weekend:
Thursday, September 4
CH: I got here a little late, what have you done so far?
PW: We got kind of a late start. We got here about 6 p.m., checked into our hotel, commiserated a bit and biked to Wristband City. I got the wristband and went immediately to City Plaza.
CH: Did you catch both De La Soul and Toon and the Real Laww?
PW: I caught the last three songs of Toon and the Real Laww, which I was excited about, because I thought I was going to miss them. I saw them maybe two years ago at a day party, and they're very fun. I saw most of De La Soul before the rain started and at that point I said, "I'm going to start my hopping."
CH: So do you think De La Soul is done for the night?
PW: I'd imagine you would hear them, because we're at Cabarrus and Wilmington, which is a block from City Plaza. I think they might have been - I don't want to say they were wrapping up, because they'd only been performing for an hour. It's a great look for Toon and The Real Laww, because they can say "I provided direct support for De La Soul." That's one of the things I like about Hopscotch — not that I live in the Triangle, but that there is a music festival that puts such emphasis on North Carolina music. Museum Mouth is from the Wilmington area; Deniro Farrar and Well$ are from Charlotte.
CH: Since I live here, I'm king of spoiled — it seems like a "Well, duh, that happens." But in most places that's not a "Well, duh."
PW: No. Not in a city like Charlotte. In Columbia, where I'm from, it's certainly not a "Well, duh," because we don't get those kinds of acts. De La Soul was great. They let the photographers right in the pit right as Plugs One and Two were walking onto the stage. And they got through their first song and they said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. We need all the photographers, just put your cameras away. Just be part of the show for a song. We'll let you stay a little longer." I've been in the photo pit for a couple of years, and that's probably the coolest photo pit I've been a part of. I think it shows their dedication to the audience.
CH: They seemed really engaged. And I compared that to Spiritualized in 2013, who seemed really cold.
PW: When you look back at Public Enemy in 2010, Public Enemy was the same way. I think it's part and parcel because that's what live hip-hop is based on, that kind of audience interaction is part of the live performance.
RT if you've ever squeezed your shirt dry in a CAM bathroom
— corbie hill (@afraidofthebear) September 5, 2014
PW: Captain's log, entry number two.
CH: We are soaked on this horrible planet.
PW: It has been incredibly moist today. It started raining at De La Soul, but I have to say — after Wild Fur, I went to see Last Year's Men and Museum Mouth, at Pour House and Slim's, respectively. When I got out of Slim's to try and go see the next band I wanted to see, the skies just kind of opened up on me. I tried wringing my shirt out. I wonder what kind of a damper this puts on things, because I think Hopscotch is built on the bar-crawl model of you see a little here, you see a little there. I don't think a lot of people buy the wristband and go "OK, I'm just going to go to three shows at Lincoln Theatre."
CH: About the same time as you got caught in the rain, I was headed to CAM. I tried to get into Museum Mouth, because I really wanted to see them, but the line was too long. I was like, "Fuck it, Ed Schrader's Music Beat is about to play, I need to go." So I was jumping across these huge streams of water running down the sidewalks and just got totally soaked. I have an umbrella now. I realized after two hours of running around in the rain that I had an umbrella in my car. So right now, Patrick and I are huddled under my wife's butterfly umbrella.
PW: What's been your highlight so far?
CH: Maybe Ed Schrader's Music Beat, because they were really demented and crazy. I really liked what little I saw of Last Year's Men. Wild Fur had a great set, too. I will say, when I was leaving Lincoln earlier, I saw someone coming in with an infant in a carrier at 9 p.m. for a full-volume rock band. I have two kids of my own. I question the wisdom of that.
PW: I have no kids of my own and I question the wisdom of that.
CH: I would hope there would be some kind of safeguard against that, where someone has the common sense to say, "I don't care if you have a wristband, you can't come in here. Your child is four months old."
CH: I wouldn't try too hard to get into Slim's because it's packed. Somehow Diarrhea Planet fit the entire band on the Slim's stage.
PW: As postage stamp small as that stage is, it's especially difficult to pack six people — with four guitar players — on that stage.
CH: And then you look at that room — it's a shotgun. I think it's 80 capacity or something like that. The capacity is really low, and it was well beyond that.
PW: A lot of the shows at Slim's, I think it works in their favor. It turns into communal punk rock and everyone's sweating on each other. That's kind of what they program there. For a band like Diarrhea Planet, I think it works.
CH: Yeah. They were saying, "We're back to our roots." How about you? You were stuck [at Lincoln Theatre] all night, which is weird for Hopscotch.
PW: I got stuck all night. It was due to circumstances beyond my control. It puts perspective on Hopscotch and helps me appreciate the hop-ability of Hopscotch. At Lincoln Theatre, I got stuck there for American Aquarium, White Laces and War On Drugs. Those are three very different bands.
CH: I stopped by Lincoln briefly on my way to see IIII, and I stepped in for a second just to see what was up, and it was in the middle of American Aquarium's cover of "Born to Run." It was pretty uninspiring.
PW: That set, as a whole, was not incredibly inspiring. I might have been in a bad mood, but there wasn't a lot of energy coming off the stage. People were into it, but that was probably their core fan base in Raleigh. That Springsteen cover, especially, was kind of abysmal. I appreciate that Hopscotch offers the opportunity to go "I'm not into this. I'm going to go see something else," because there's always the seven or eight bands playing within a four or five block radius. Maybe there's something you're into, maybe there's something you're not into. It offers a short walk to endless possibilities.
CH: So IIII.
PW: Please make me feel worse about myself and my night by telling me about how great IIII was.
CH: Well, I just stepped in a puddle, so it's justice to a degree. It's funny. I didn't talk much about Ed Schrader's Music Beat, which was very percussive and very wild. It's a guy on a tom and no shirt on, just shouting, and there's a guy with a bass. And it's wide open and it's loud and it's cool, and I saw that and I loved it, but it didn't have the feeling of "This is the moment of your night." Then I went to IIII, and it was arresting. I was in my seat until it was done. It was 14 drummers and two guys in the middle — it was synthesizers and one of them had a church organ. I wasn't looking at them — I was looking at the drummers.
PW: One of the best sets I saw this year was Man Forever at the Milestone. It was three drummers.
CH: So what happens tomorrow?
PW: I am super-excited about KEN Mode. Tomorrow there is a lot of hip-hop I want to see — I'm going to see Iron Mike Eagle tomorrow.
CH: I really want to see clipping., because two years ago I think it was I saw Cities Aviv, and that was one of the best Hopscotch shows I've ever seen. It was this insanely aggressive hip-hop set. There were very few people in there — he was consciously running people out. It was fascinating, the pure antagonism of that set — it was tangible. With clipping., I don't think it's gonna be that, but I think it's gonna be strong in the same way.
PW: Much like Cities Aviv, there's not a lot that's immediately accessible about it. For a lot of the hip-hop on the lineup — hip-hop is almost constantly in need of a capital-D difficult listen. I think clipping. being a much more sonically aggressive and antithetical for easy listening is good for the festival and especially good for the time slot. For me, it's one of the few conflicts I have that night. It's clipping. versus Sun Kil Moon — Mark Kozelek is a favorite songwriter of mine.
Friday, September 5
But at one point last night a dude tossed me a bandana with a venue map printed on it. A bandana.
— corbie hill (@afraidofthebear) September 5, 2014
"Everyone's favorite word, whether they know it or not, is 'orgiastic.'" 14. St. Vincent. #hopscotch14 http://t.co/TU8lmoqiot
— ptrckwll (@weekendsofsound) September 5, 2014
PW: I spent most of my day at the Three Lobed WXDU day party at King's.
CH: I saw that NPR put up some photos from that.
PW: NPR's been giving a lot of stuff some serious attention this year. Maybe this is just the shows I'm going to, but there have been a lot of shows that are one-in, one-out this year. Is Hopscotch reaching critical mass?
CH: I'm getting the same thing. Yesterday, going for Museum Mouth — first band at Slim's, I'm so accustomed to that being something I can get into. And a lot of the shows have been one in, one out from early on.
PW: Even at the tail end of Spoon, a lot of people were filing into the club shows.
CH: I remember 2011, the very time I saw the Caribbean — I like them, I listened to that record a whole lot. They played at Tir na nOg against Flaming Lips and it was dead. They played a really great show because they're professionals, but it was dead. And that's the model I'm accustomed to.
I do not understand the placement of Sun Kil Moon at Lincoln.
— ptrckwll (@weekendsofsound) September 6, 2014
CH: We haven't talked a whole lot tonight, but it's been an interesting night. I was at Tir na nOg watching Purling Hiss and Spacin' when I got a text from Patrick. You witnessed the aftereffects: Lincoln was kind of a shit-show.
PW: Lincoln was kind of a shit-show for Sun Kil Moon. I apparently had walked in after Mark Kozelek called the audience hillbillies. It was contentious as soon as I got there. It was a very tense situation, there was some back and forth between the audience that was not very nice and I was there about 30 seconds before he declared that he was ready to walk out. It's kind of a bummer, because it still sounded really good in there.
CH: Absolutely. It was this really good aesthetic: a really calm, super-duper mature folk-y, rock-y, art thing. Two drummers ...
PW: There was a keyboard player and a guitar player.
CH: And then he had a nylon string, spinning these long, in-depth stories — more in-depth than I care for. I like a little bit left unsaid, and he left nothing unsaid. Still a very good sound. By the time I got there, he was very obviously not on speaking terms with the crowd.
PW: If he is so temperamental — I was told there was no photography of any kind, no cell phones, no press photos, either — if you want to put those restrictions on it, why not put it at Fletcher, where it's a lot easier to control?
CH: A lot of people I was standing near were talking some really caustic shit about the band when obviously they could have just gone elsewhere. I think that there's a certain societal element, particularly at a festival, that feeds off that and wants to hang out and sling shit back.
PW: Definitely. People were heckling him to get off the stage; they were howling at him. One dude told him to get back on the turnpike. But this is the first real programming decision where I've questioned the pairing of artist and venue.
How about you? What did you see tonight?
CH: I caught clipping., and clipping. was really good. I got there, and the emcee just launched into this unaccompanied spoken word, and his timing was incredible. It's basically this industrial noise hip-hop trio, so there are moments where it just drops to pure noise and the emcee and I realized, during several of these portions, that I'm nodding along to it, but his vocal track is keeping the beat. The track itself is just a wash of sound, and he's keeping the beat. I was really impressed with his sense of time.
PW: As opposed to Open Mike Eagle, who we both saw and lyrically, and with his flow, works around the beat rather than keeps the beat.
CH: That's the traditional approach. It's a good approach and a good tradition. So I appreciated seeing two approaches, both kind of fucked with the mix, fucked with what's expected, but in totally different ways.
PW: Open Mike Eagle reminds me of Childish Gambino, except I don't hate Open Mike Eagle. It's a very young, very disillusioned, very jaded kind of rapper.
CH: I like it, too, because he's disillusioned, but he's still idealistic, whereas clipping., it was fucking nihilistic. It was brutally nihilistic, and then he would stop and laugh. It was so great - it was fun, but you were enjoying the nihilism: nihilism can be as enveloping and fun as the idealistic kid who's all, "Life sucks, but we're in this together!"
PW: Speaking of nihilistic approaches to things, KEN Mode was badass.
CH: It was solid. It was loud.
PW: I saw Priests at Deep South. Even with the air conditioning reportedly being broken, the place was pretty much full. I had to hop up on a table to try and get some photos.
Saturday, September 6
34. Late Bloomer, doing Charlotte right at #hopscotch14. http://t.co/B0tYmK9BzA
— ptrckwll (@weekendsofsound) September 6, 2014
PW: Right now we are watching Death.
CH: Right now we are watching a band called Death of A Band Called Death fame. A film that I have not seen, but Patrick was telling me earlier that he has seen the band before.
PW: I saw the band at SXSW last year. And I had seen the documentary before — I popped in and saw a good bit of it. Death is this kind of seminal band, being a black punk band from Detroit in the ’70s. I saw them on the SXSW schedule and I got excited. But I saw them, and they were terrible — they were sloppy, and they sounded bad. This is a much better set than the one I saw.
CH: It's such a hard band to put your thumb on. They're kind of metal, they're kind of funk, they're kind of hard-edged R&B, but they're none of those things.
PW: Especially in the context of this City Plaza show, being in between Valient Thorr — this ridiculous "from Venus" metal band ...
CH: Venus via Raleigh.
PW: ... and Mastodon. I think it makes for a good bridge; it makes for an interesting pairing. At the same time, I'm looking at the crowd. We're maybe 40, 50 feet away from them, and you can tell when a crowd is moving and when they're just standing there watching the band, and it seems like they're just standing there watching the band.
CH: I agree. It's the kind of thing where there are obligatory hands in the air when the guy does a guitar solo, but it's almost Pavlovian.
PW: You have to consider that Death's heyday was 40 years ago now, and I don't necessarily know that I have the credence to criticize their programming, but it seems an odd billing for City Plaza for sure.
CH: This is this thing where they've almost been forced into having a legacy while they're still relatively young — so these guys were in their 20s in the ’70s? So, they're still pretty young, so they're in this spot where they're simultaneously an exciting new band — a lot of people hadn't heard of them before the movie — and a legacy band. They can't be both, and people don't know how to react.
I don't want any beer or whatever but point me toward a venue that sells cantaloupe or grapes or something and we're gold #dehydrationscotch
— corbie hill (@afraidofthebear) September 7, 2014
Ryley Walker: "Man, I have a warrant out for my arrest in North Carolina. I shouldn't be here." Crowd laughs. "I'm not joking."
— ptrckwll (@weekendsofsound) September 7, 2014
CH: The last night of the festival, every year, I get my rhythm. I get to where I can hop with confidence. I figure I can stay three or four minutes and I'll stay and bounce — I did that a few times and I found some cool stuff. But then I went to see T0W3RS at the Pour House.
T0W3RS is Derek Torres, a local guy who's played under the name T0W3RS for a while now - a bunch of different incarnations, a bunch of different sounds. I am going to have a hard time describing this other than to say it was the best thing I have ever seen at any Hopscotch. I'm not shy to go to that level with what he has done. He has this massive band, six or seven people I think. Everybody is dressed to the nines, and there he is, and he's channeling this character. He's got these Michael Jackson dance moves out of nowhere, and he's channeling Beck, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger and Dan Bejar, all at the same time. He's developed this magnetic frontman persona that I have never seen him have.
PW: Yeah. I've seen him before at Hopscotch, but I've never seen anything like that.
CH: It was above and beyond. It was not just that Derek did an amazing job, it was that he pulled this shit out of nowhere. It was packed. There was a line around the block, and for good reason. The new songs are great - I'm still processing the entire affair. For the final song, these two women in skin-tight silver bodysuits with masks painted on came out with platforms, and they did this choreographed contortionist dance thing — one of them was Derek's sister, he said. The level of talent on that stage didn't make sense. I'm amazed that I saw that at all.
PW: See, why you gotta make me feel bad about seeing Ryley Walker and enjoying the hell out of it?
CH: I just had a religious experience.
PW: Ryley Walker was incredible. He brought out a cadre of Chicago jazz mainstays — guys like Frank Rosely, who's a great drummer, and Antwon Hatwich, who's an excellent bass player. The guitar player he had with him was excellent. I really like the record he put out this year, and it's very British folk-blues, kind of Fairport Convention, kind of Bert Jantsch type of stuff, but this just really opened it up, kind of into cosmic territory. It had a Chicago jazz-meets-Joni Mitchell type of vibe.
CH: What happens next?
PW: I'm ending my night at What Cheer? Brigade at King's for two reasons. Number one, my bike is there. Number two, for three out of five Hopscotches, I have ended the festival with a brass band. And I like having that kind of strange personal tradition.
CH: I think my best festival closers have been when I ended up at an under-attended show. In 2010, I closed with Pontiak at Slim's, and there were not a whole lot of people there and Pontiak is a really good band. I noticed pictures later of the big finishes, with Megafaun at King's out on the floor. That's cool and all, but, for me, I need to wind down a little bit. So maybe I need to wind down again from T0W3RS because... well, if I keep talking, I'm just going to say the word "T0W3RS" over and over again.
CH: We just came from Phosphorescent, which you saw more of than I did.
PW: I did. I saw I think, maybe, four or five songs. Played by himself. I really enjoyed Muchacho, the record he put out last year. He was playing solo, which I always think is a risky proposition, even for folky bands or space-y bands, which Phosphorescent can be at times - or at least things with a lot of moving parts. It was very slow and very pretty. I had come from White Lung, just around the back at the Kennedy Theatre. The transition from a band like White Lung, which is icy and very propulsive and visceral, to something like Phosphorescent, which is very slow and intimate and warm — those are the things I like about Hopscotch. You can very easily do that with very minimal effort and very minimal walking time.
CH: What I did was I transitioned from a show where everything went right, T0W3RS, to a show where everything went wrong, Nik Turner's Hawkwind. I ran into a guy I know on the street who told me that it took them forever to get everything set up, and the moment everything started — three minutes into the first song - a fuse blew. And Nik Turner, who is in his 70s, was just standing onstage looking a little helpless and the soundmen looked a little inept. Following that rumor, I went on in.
When I got there, they were playing. Right off the bat, I didn't like the looks of what the Nik Turner's Hawkwind experience is now. He's up there with a saxophone and he's kind of chanting some lines, and that's fine, and it all seemed very natural, it seemed like what he should be doing. But the band didn't seem to be all that inspired. They were all dressed up as rockers, you know?
PW: I think this ties into our earlier conversation about Death. Especially a festival like Hopscotch, which seems to pride itself in being so contemporary.
CH: You're telling people, "You're a legend. Come bring your legend to this." And then you put them in this venue that's a church, Vintage 21, on the far corner of the Hopscotch map, not close to anything, really. It's on the edge, and it feels like it's on the edge.
So the band is dressed like rockers, they're wearing their outfits. The drummer's not wearing a shirt - it's all like the idea of rock music rather than the activity of rock music, and it wasn't all that engaging. But then you had this stuff where, like, Nik Turner's got a saxophone and they cannot get it right — it's either feeding back or it's inaudible. The backup singers are coming in louder than him, it's embarrassingly loud — it just doesn't sound right in the slightest. Everyone in the audience knew it, everyone on the stage knew it, and it was just a sad scene.
PW: And I think that's less of an indictment on Nik Turner's Hawkwind and more on the sound and the venue.
CH: Yeah, I think so. I think they meant for people to go to it and see it in a church and have that be transformative, but you ended up in a situation where the idea was not matched by the infrastructure.
PW: And the execution. Whatever fucks up the execution, whenever idea and execution doesn't match up, that's always disappointing.
CH: Do we have any parting thoughts?
PW: What have we learned, Corbie Hill? What have we learned?
CH: I have learned that I still possess the capacity, jaded as I am, to be surprised - even by someone I thought I knew and understood. T0W3RS was one of those things where I realized that I am not going to find things that are known quantities here: I am going to find things that are new and amazing.
PW: I don't know what I learned this year. I think I'm tired beyond the capability of rational thought at this point.