“North Carolina, a state making national news of late for its legislative conservatism while proudly hosting to one of the most progressive music events in the country.” Music critic Gary Suarez observed in an article for Myspace last year this dichotomy that Raleigh’s Hopscotch Music Festival exists in. In light of recent headlines about Mark Kozelek’s comments during Sun Kil Moon’s set at this year’s festival, the thought bears noting that the Hopscotch experience can’t really be condensed into one audience. This was my fourth year attending the festival, and since 2011, I have witnessed large acts like The Roots, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Danny Brown, and The Breeders perform to large crowds. I have also seen outsider acts such as Merzbow, Wolf Eyes, Sunn O)), and Grouper play to (sizable) adoring rooms. The festival is diverse, both in audience and in content curation, and 2014 was no different. This year, I hopscotched from punishing noise to minimal techno to plaintive indie rock to over-the-top metal to rap, sometimes all in the same night, and every room was a story. I saw ravers vibe to Mark McGuire’s new age guitar bravado. I saw parents attempt to dance to the trap-hop of Lunice. I saw nerdy white boys mosh to the abrasive noise-rap of Clipping. What follows are my highlights from 2014.
Yvette at CAM Raleigh
Visceral noise-rock from NYC, the two-piece Yvette played to a dedicated crowd at the Contemporary Art Museum on Thursday night, and I believe that they’ll see more prominent stature with their next release. Their brand of unrelenting, abrasive guitar music (similar to Big Black or more recent bands like Dope Body) reveals Noah Kardos-Fein as a guitarist with furious stage presence (and an amazing pedal collection) and Dale Eisinger as a talented drummer who never plays like his drums are going to bite him. One of my favorite new bands from this year’s festival.
Lunice at Kennedy Theatre
Despite technical difficulties during the set, renown Montreal DJ Lunice headlined the Kennedy Theatre on Thursday and the crowd turned up. Over the course of a nearly 90 minute set, Lunice channeled his recent LA Boiler Room set and took the audience through various high-energy originals, as well as productions from his well-known collaborative duo TNGHT. There was also the requisite healthy dose of Vine-friendly rap staples, including remixes of Chief Keef and Kanye West. Other DJ’s should take note of the man’s stage presence: he consistently ran from his podium and emphasized beat changes with gusto, as if he were conducting a mini orchestra inside his MacBook. If Lunice never recorded a note of music again, he would have a promising career as a hype man.
Ghostt Bllonde @ CAM Raleigh
Raleigh act Ghostt Bllonde played a slew of day parties this year, but their true testing ground was playing a festival set Friday at CAM, where they opened early to a crowd that slowly filled in as the set went on. Frontman Marc Kuzio’s voice sounded strong and the band rolled through an energetic set of nostalgic 50’s-inspired rock, showcasing their pop chops and Kuzio’s undeniable charisma as a band leader. One of the more promising Raleigh bands to watch in the coming months.
Mark McGuire @ Lincoln Theatre
Formerly a member of beloved Ohio experimental guitar trio Emeralds, Mark McGuire showcased music from his solo albums Saturday at Lincoln Theatre. His new age inspired guitar music crescendos in a way that’s similar to Emeralds and also the psych-haze of guitar bands like Ducktails. The set, colorful strobe lights and all, served as a nice respite from the higher-energy acts of the night, but still glided along comfortably on Mark’s zen compositions.
Clipping @ Pour House
As they frequently do in their live sets, Clipping started their Hopscotch set by announcing to the audience that, lest there be any doubt, “it’s Clipping bitch.” By my count, their Pour House set Friday was the third time I’ve caught them, and this set was probably the most crowd energy I’ve ever seen them spit their brand of double-time noise rap to. While Clipping’s onstage presence can seem to question what they want out of their music (the set alternates between bombastic, straight-ahead pimp-rap and repetitive, beatless noise in a way that doesn’t always make sense) the audience energy safely covered any setlist missteps. I counted four crowd members on stage once, and watched a dance pit break out for “Get Up,” a song that’s largely based around a sample of an alarm clock going off.
Styrofoam Sanchez @ Prisma Video
Noise can be a strange, performative thing where the visual component is more significant than the music, and so it was with Styrofoam Sanchez, a noise band that played WXYC’s Saturday day party at curious new Raleigh art space Prisma Video. Styrofoam Sanchez claims to personify the “trash island in the Pacific gyre” meaning the giant floating patch of garbage in the Pacific Ocean that has received much attention in recent years. In true performance style, the three-piece wore giant, hellish masks made of Styrofoam, and whipped their crowns around at high speeds as they played a thirty-minute set of harsh noise, at one point whipping audience members in the face with their creations. The venue’s wall of TV screens behind them running the same looped advertisement video made for a very surreal and striking aesthetic.
Funkss @ Pour House
In the age of laptop DJ ‘s, it can be refreshing to see an all-hardware set, and Jake Funke’s opening set as Funkss at Pour House Saturday was a refreshing burst of gear-only minimal house that had the early crowd dancing. Shades of Detroit techno and early electronic pioneers like Basic Channel came through in the music, and people were grooving. I think a good sign with minimal electronic is when you’re leaving early to get to the next set and have to dance your way out.
Jamie XX @ CAM Raleigh
The final set of the festival, Jamie XX twisted Drake and Moderat cuts alike into a highly danceable set that kept the crowd moving and put CAM at capacity for much of the set. The light setup was hypnotizing and gave the whole room a disco flair that was the perfect ending to 2014’s festivities. A definite highlight was seeing How To Dress Well, who opened for Jamie that night, crowdsurfing during the set.