Twenty freaking years. That's how long this ridiculous party has been going on in Capitol Hill. Every July, we all march up the hill and pack out the block for a madcap weekend of music and festivities at the Capitol Hill Block Party. $1 Rainiers at Sam's, free snacks everywhere, the Bus trying to get the youth to sign up to vote so our country doesn't dive into chaos next year... actually, I guess it's not really that unlike any other weekend up in Capitol Hill. Just this weekend in July, the block between Broadway and 11th on Pike is as full as you'll ever see it, and there's even more people underground! This year's festival combines an electronic-heavy headlining banner with a punk undercard, which is, if you think about it, a pretty spot-on representation of where the city is at right now. Block Party began its 20th year celebration today with a fantastic group of acts. Local talent like DoNormaal, Zoolab, and Nail Polish brought it at Neumos with a lot of fun surprises. Meanwhile, Head Wound City brought a double shot of hardcore brilliance to both the Vera and Cha Cha Stages, while DJDS closed out the Vera stage with a solid set of house magic. Check the KEXP blog all weekend long for plenty of photos and rapturous affection.Taking to the Neumos stage early in the day were local punks Nail Polish. The three man team of Sloane Flashman, Aidan Fitzgerald, and James David Scheall puts forth some of the most unorthodox rock and roll you'll find around the block in recent history. Pulling from no wave influences and hosting a plethora of mathy punk textures, Nail Polish songs range in length from thirty seconds to five and a half minutes, depending on today's particular execution. The boys were in top form today, bringing some fantastic energy to the festival early in the day. Plus, as the band said themselves, "everything is better with dancers". After two songs of introduction, a pair of interpretive dancers joined the band on stage, turning their punk throwdown into a modern art catharsis. With each and every song finding new ways to take to heart crunching bass chords and off-kilter guitar solos, Nail Polish's festival presentation gave fans a special treat, while welcoming new listeners in the door with open arms. By the time the trio wrapped up, Neumos was packed out. Nail Polish received all credit due with a fantastic early afternoon set.
Seattle hip-hop artist DoNormaal has ridden a strong trajectory this year into the public eye, and I can hardly think of anyone on the local scene who deserves it more. After dropping her full length debut Jump or Die last year, she's played around town incessantly, including one particularly awesome gig opening up for Santigold to a sold-out crowd at the Neptune. DoNormaal does plenty to win you over - her highly individual mixture of slam poet delivery and on-stage solidarity makes it so that she doesn't bend to the will or whim of the crowd. Rather, you often find yourself sucked into her bubble and finding a higher plane of existence waiting for you. Then, add in J-Nasty's fantastic DJ work and a guest spot from Raven Matthews on "Chocolate Delight" and "Jasper Horses", and you have yourself a party. Neumos packed out for this excellent set as they should, and when DoNormaal jumped into the crowd to rock the title track of her record, the crowd jumped with her. This was a fantastic exhibition piece for DoNormaal to a largely new crowd - we can only hope it takes her to the stars from here.
Within the span on a mere 3 hours, Head Wound City showed Seattle exactly why Capitol Hill Block Party is the most telling music event that happens in the city each year. There is plenty of change going on in Seattle, with gentrification and upheaval pretty much every direction you look, but underneath, if you look hard enough, the strong, relentless punk roots are still there. If you aren't familiar, Head Wound City are hardcore gods. Jordan Blilie and Cody Votalato (also of the Blood Brothers), keep the front end energy boiling hot, while bass god Justin Pearson (also of the Locust) lays a visceral, unflinching foundation, and Nick Zinner (also of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) fills any remaining bandwidth gap with equal parts sound and fury (also, for the record, usually Gabe Serbian of the Locust is ripping the living daylights out of the drums, but we was not able to make this date). Their new album A New Wave of Violence is a worthy addition to your record collection, and it will proudly throw down harder than anything else its sitting beside.
Tonight, Head Wound City took to the Vera Stage head to head against Crystal Castles on the Main stage, with zero hard feelings whatsoever. Justin Pearson even made a joke about it, ripping out about three seconds of DFA 1979's bass throwdown "Dead Womb", which Crystal Castles sample on "Untrust Us". The crowds packed in slowly, many of its members not knowing quite what to make of the brutal display in front of them, total and uncompromising bloodlust packed in between matching brand new condo buildings with proud owners watching from the safety of closed windows. Here in front of the band, we had the festival's most dedicated metalheads, no doubt making the journey tonight for this moment alone, plus or minus a few other great local rock acts today like Nail Polish and Heavy Petting. But a great set is a great set, and as Head Wound went on, the crowds packed tighter, waiting to see what wonders would take place next, wondering if somehow, the weirdness of the festival setting would fade and the moment would be encapsulated in the shared visceral energy herein. The set went off without a hitch, 30 flat minutes of punk fury, lean as a rail, drenched in sweat. Then, like a terrifying archangel bringing good news, Cody Votalato stepped up to his microphone. "See you guys at Cha Cha at 11." Heads turned. Gasps echoed through the audience. If this wasn't good enough, holy shit, Head Wound City at the Cha Cha for an otherwise unannounced late night throwdown - truly, it does not get better than this. An hour later, Head Wound descended the red steps and painted the Cha Cha walls with the same new wave of violence they did upstairs. And yet this time, it was a party of exactly the right caliber. Head Wound's encore set was the best party of the day by a mile, and there's no way a single fan went home without a smile on their face. This is the magic of Capitol Hill Block Party. While those that just want to digest the new and shiny and see their face on a jumbotron can do all of that to their hearts' delight packed into the narrow corridor of the main stage, there are miracles happening in packed out red rooms where, if you get punched in the pit and drop your $4 Tecate tallboy, somebody with a radical t-shirt is probably going to buy you another one. Thanks to Jordan, Justin, Cody, and Nick for reminding us just what that magic looks like in Head Wound City, USA.
Head Wound City at Vera Stage:
Head Wound City at Cha Cha:
Following Head Wound City's wave of destruction, Los Angeles electronic act DJDS (or DJ Dodger Stadium) cleaned up the Vera Stage for one more act before the first night's close. In a lot of ways, the production duo of Samo Sound Boy and Jerome LOL provided the perfect counter to the acts that had come before. Many festival-goers had either just participated in two very different forms of heart-pounding exhilaration, depending on their chosen stage (neither Head Wound nor Crystal Castles give you much room to breathe). But the experiment house production of DJDS finds a way to focus on passion and brightness, letting soaring soul and euphoria cut through the dark fold that so often encompasses the dance genre. Opening with their own house edit of Kanye West's "Low Lights" (which DJDS co-produced for his new album) spilling into their own "Love Songs", the energy built so naturally that the crowds couldn't help but flock to the sound. The build through "Love Songs" held most of its album-length seven minutes, letting the crowds pack in and let the energy become second nature before moving forward. There was very little in terms of a light show or other needed distraction. Rather, just two dudes doing exactly what they do best, going back and forth between tracks, each carefully and patiently executed after the other. Nothing felt rushed about tonight's DJDS set, and nothing felt like a gimmick. Listening to DJDS's new album Stand Up and Speak, you can hear that the two producers value nothing above mood, letting the natural and effervescent warmth that can come from house music permeate through their sound. It's hard to replicate this in a live setting, due to the many unconstrained factors weighing in on your performance. But with undying focus and a common goal, Samo Sound Boy and Jerome LOL worked through an excellent hour-long set, coming to a climax with the fantastic "You Don't Have To Be Alone", a festival-wide moment of community at the end of a long, eventful day. Whether you were continuing into the wee hours of the night or headed home to rest for the next day, DJDS sent off their crowd with ample amounts of positive energy. To quote their and Kanye's "Low Lights", truly, "it feels so good to be free".
Nail Polish had dancers. DoNormaal had guest spots. The local talent at Neumos certainly had no end to flair with their Capitol Hill Block Party presentation this year, and closing out the scheduled programming for the evening, electronic act Zoolab was certainly no exception to this rule. Amplifying his usual electronic set to new levels, Terence Ankeny was joined onstage by Kingsnake, the Seattle drumming duo, who complimented every minute of his set with full bodied percussive texturing. Zoolab's take on the electronic sphere finds an interesting niche between IDM and pop, never lacking in complexity, but also never finding itself so distant that newcomers have trouble finding a footing. But as even Crystal Castles would admit on the main stage, live drumming really does make all the difference, and having not one, but two drummers on stage backing the kaleidoscope of synthesized sound before us, and Zoolab has never sounded fuller. Terence gave slight cues to Kingsnake throughout, but for the most part, the three transitioned between tracks seamlessly, rocking the no holds barred thirty-five minute set straight through without any hiccups. Terence played through the best of his own material, plus a remix or two (do you know anyone who would ever complain to a highbrow house remix of Kelly Clarkson? I sure don't). Behind him, Zoolab featured eye-popping visuals from camera-carrying hawks in Dubai to jet pilots on the verge of space. I feel like both of these spectral endpoints fit Zoolab's sound pretty well. Terence may be a wizard of the mechanical sphere, but adding Kingsnake gives him a more organic feel. Either way, he's in the clouds and taking you with him.
Zoolab x Kingsnake:
Check back to the KEXP blog for more Capitol Hill Block Party action!
Music lovers across the Northwest are pretty pumped for this weekend's Capitol Hill Block Party, and you'd be hard pressed to find a bigger bunch of music nerds than the KEXP DJs. (We mean that as a compliment!) So, who are your on-air hosts excited to see at the festival? Find out below!
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