Photo by Robert Altman
Welcome to Festival Outlook, a new supplemental column that will provide more in-depth analysis for the rumors found on Consequence of Sound’s Festival Outlook. In this installment, Michael Roffman and Frank Mojica define what makes an act a “rare get” and determine this year’s 10 best across North America.
Michael Roffman (MR): Well, here we are, just hours after Bonnaroo has closed its gates. I can’t help but feel this year’s festival season has been sort of a blur. Don’t you agree? In fact, maybe it’s just where I’m sitting — a comfy couch with Fargo in the background — but I just don’t get the sense that many people are as jazzed for festivals as they were in previous years. Does it feel that way to you? I think it could be that I’m just jaded and my all-time favorite band has already burned down the mysterious red curtain (ahem, The Replacements).
But really, I think I feel that way because festivals, to me, have always been an opportunity to see the rare gets. The acts you keep thinking about but never get to see onstage. Now that The Replacements have six or seven setlists to their name, Talking Heads still haven’t surfaced (even as a rumor), Kate Bush refuses to use her passport and will stay at home, and Hüsker Dü are nowhere to be seen … I guess the lack of a real, genuine “rare get” is why I’m feeling so passive-aggressive about the season this year. So, this list should be an intriguing one. What say you, Frank?
Photo by David Hall
Frank Mojica (FM): I have to agree. There have been “rare gets” this year, but nothing that would inspire me to fly around the world or even the country just to see. As far as reunions go, the best ones that are actually feasible have come and gone. Sure, I would have gone for Cibo Matto, but they did play Los Angeles and surprisingly weren’t on a single festival lineup. Talking Heads or Lush would generate some true excitement from me, but I don’t see either ever happening. As for Kate Bush, I don’t even want to think about it. England always gets the best tours.
OutKast’s first show was a mixed bag, and that reunion tour is the exact opposite of rare. The Knife was on my bucket list, and they finally played Coachella this year, and it didn’t live up to the legend of the Silent Shout show or the Fever Ray tour. It was fairly fun, but ultimately forgettable and far too much effort to make an empty statement. In the two months since Coachella, I’ve barely thought about it, while I still remember the Fever Ray show from 2010 daily. I’m grateful that Slowdive and Slint are coming to Los Angeles later this summer for FYF, though. For me, my travels this season are about convenience or adventures with friends, rather than that once-in-a-lifetime set in a field in the middle of nowhere.
Do rare gets even matter for the majority of festivalgoers nowadays? Consider the poor turnouts for The Replacements and Neutral Milk Hotel at Coachella and also those festivals that are short on rare acts but still sell a lot of tickets.
Photo by Kris Lenz
MR: Good question. From what I’ve gathered, I feel that rare gets are more about passionate choices on the promoter’s behalf than any financial capability. I think back to our discussion with Governors Ball founder Jordan Wolowitz from earlier this year. When we asked him about his dream lineup additions, he contended that he tries to avoid making such lists, eventually admitting he would “love to get” the Talking Heads, adding: “Long shot, I know, but … you never know. A reunion in NYC would make a lot of sense, right?” It’s a small quote, sure, but it offered a peek into what’s going on in the heads of all these promoters. Granted, Talking Heads isn’t in the same league as The Replacements or Neutral Milk Hotel and certainly not Slowdive … but his attempt to go for what we all know is a “white whale” of a get proves that it’s still an essential factor of a lineup. But yeah, I argue it’s all about the passion of whoever’s behind the controls.
Really, all anyone needs to do is book a Calvin Harris or a Zedd or a Skrillex, and you can move tickets. We know this already. Not too far back we also argued that mid-tier acts like Lorde, Chance the Rapper, or HAIM could headline a decent-sized festival, namely because these are the acts the mainstream, average festivalgoer wants to see. The thing is, let’s say one festival books only those acts, never attempts to grab a “rare get,” and continues to push only its successes. Are we going to keep writing about them? Will the brand find an identity? Do they differentiate themselves from anyone else? I would say no to all of the above. However, that still doesn’t fully answer your question: do the rare gets even matter? I’d say 10 years ago, absolutely. I remember flying to Chicago in 2005 just to see the Pixies, Billy Idol, and a then-rare performance of Weezer at Lollapalooza. I didn’t care about a good number of the other more popular acts because I knew they’d be everywhere else. Well, except for Arcade Fire.
Photo by Ted Maider
So, to answer your question, I’d say the promoters care about them, but a select group of festivalgoers care about them, too. And in the long run, that small sect speaks volumes about what face that festival will wear. Now, here’s one thing: What exactly qualifies as a rare get? And how long before they become a staple?
FM: I figure an act qualifies as a rare get depending on a combination of three factors: the last time the band in question played the country (or beyond), the frequency of gigs on the current tour, and the likelihood that they will play again later. Outkast is certainly a staple for 2014 due to their 40-festival plan, but I’m sure there won’t be any more shows next year or beyond. Acts like Pulp and Blur remain near the top of the rarity chain due to the shortage of performances during their brief reunions and the infrequency of their U.S. appearances before the returns in question.
Someone like Elton John qualifies as a rare get to some extent in the festival world because only Bonnaroo has him, but due to the long history of touring, he isn’t as scarce as someone like Slint. Similarly, an artist that isn’t touring anywhere in 2014 with the exception of a few festivals, like Frank Ocean or even Metric, counts as a rare get, even though they just toured a year or two ago and will certainly next year. The one-off (or two- or three-off) may be a safer way to draw a crowd nowadays than a reunion because they are easier to book, and attendees are becoming increasingly ignorant of legacy acts.
MR: That’s about the way I see them, too. By that measure, there are a number of rare gets then this year that don’t exactly get tagged as a “reunion” or a “nostalgia act.” You mentioned Frank Ocean. Here’s a performer that wasn’t really that notorious of a live sensation a couple of years ago. If you recall, he only appeared at a handful of big performances throughout 2012, and he’s since spent most of 2013 and 2014 in solitude, fine tuning his follow-up to the brilliant channel ORANGE.
I think he’s probably this year’s strongest get for any festival, and here’s why: 1. He’s an engaging, young performer who’s incredibly talented in a multitude of ways, 2. He’s pushing forward a genre in a style that’s been universally agreed upon by critics and listeners, and 3. There’s still so, so much mystery to him. He’s the opposite of what many might consider a rare get; he’s the elusive, much-talked-about Big Hype that only a few people get to see. So, Bonnaroo is lucky to have him, especially so early in what will undoubtedly be the next stage of his career.
Not even Death from Above 1979, who has a highly anticipated new album forthcoming and only a pocket of dates ahead, qualifies as such. In their recent announcement, Sebastien Grainger said, “No matter what Jesse and I do, on whatever scale of success it’s sat on, there’s always some kind of reference to Death from Above. It’s only frustrating because it’s so lazy. So, we’re putting out a Death from Above record and if the press is like, ‘It’s not what we expected,’ or however they react to it, it’s like, ‘Well, you’ve been fucking asking for it.'” In other words, the new album was a by-demand sort of thing, and although he later contended it’s what will keep their future brighter, it still goes back to the idea that they’re simply back because the millennials wanted a chance to see them. Still, they’re an essential rare get this year, but a far more different beast than Ocean.
Photo by Robert Altman
One similar spin, though deeply rooted in the “nostalgia tag,” are The Strokes. Technically, they’re back and showcasing material off 2013’s Comedown Machine, but really, most of the festivalgoers to see them will wait through “Happy Ending” or “Welcome to Japan” for “Last Nite” or “Reptilia”. Having said that, you can’t really fault them for their fans, but when critiquing rare gets, it’s certainly an attribute that separates them from, say, Frank Ocean. I’d still place them pretty high, especially given the recent reviews and setlists that have come through. Hell, I’m still kicking myself for missing their Governors Ball hometown gig. Thanks, Dan Caffrey. Just kidding.
Looking ahead, towards the fall especially, are there any other acts you think might give some 2014 festivals an edge? Well, at least until they’re spread out over every festival come 2015.
FM: FYF has really impressed me with their collection of rare gets. The Blood Brothers reunion, plus Slint and Slowdive? This festival is really putting some of the big ones to shame. At this point, I feel the surprises have already been let out of the bag, and now it’s time to see how they pan out.
MR: Absolutely. I think from here on out it’s safe to consider FYF as the location to find these rare gets — both small and large. Remember how they grabbed My Bloody Valentine last year? And Desaparecidos and Refused the year before? In a few weeks, we might have to update our power rankings for North America’s music festivals. Hmmm.
For now, I think we have a good idea on where we’re going with this list. Let’s start this up, shall we?
10. King Diamond
FM: A total out-of-left-field headliner choice for Fun Fun Fun. A truly scarce opportunity to hail Satan in style.
MR: Hey, who knows how the 58-year-old rocker will go over with the Austin audiences (or any, for that matter), but if there’s one place deserving of having the Danish metalhead, it’s Fun Fun Fun. I’d love to see this segue into Judas Priest.
9. Massive Attack
FM: Massive Attack tours so infrequently, so their return is an especially welcome one. They look likely for Treasure Island, but aside from that, they are only doing European festivals and Corona Capital.
MR: I’d be more partial to them, personally, if they had anything to support. However, they’re still one of the better live acts of the last 20 years, especially visually, so I do think they’re a suave smoking gun for a number of locales.
8. The Replacements
Photo by Max Blau
FM: Remember when they were supposedly only doing Coachella this year? Even with the added appearances, this reunion tour is rather unpredictable, so fans need to seize whatever opportunities they get.
MR: I think every reader by now understands my obsession with this band. Fandom aside, though, you can’t ask for a better reunion right now, what with their onstage banter, setlist changeups, and left-field guest appearances, even if the luster of their name isn’t as strong as it was, say, this time last year.
Photo by Amy Price
FM: Did you know Television has only played the Los Angeles area once? They would have been a major get for Coachella or FYF, but I guess that second LA show is the one that got away. This year the only festival in the U.S. to get them was Big Ears in Knoxville.
MR: I didn’t know that. Russell, did you know that?
Russell Finley (RF): No, I did not know that.
FM: Slint is the epitome of the niche reunion few people seem to know or care about, but those that do are excited. It’s been seven years since their last tour, so their handful of appearances this year are much appreciated.
MR: Agreed. Even if they’re not for everyone, post-hardcore acts are becoming more and more popular, and we all saw how successful Converge was back in 2012. I, for one, will sign up for one of their shows.
FM: It’s been 20 years since Slowdive last toured, and the only places to see them this year (so far?) are Pitchfork and FYF, which is unfortunate, but at least they are back together again.
MR: Okay, this isn’t exactly at the same level Pixies were back in 2004, or My Bloody Valentine was in 2008, but this is a must-see of the year and with so few appearances, it’s a shoe-in for an ultimate rare get.
4. The Blood Brothers
FM: Did anyone see this reunion coming?
MR: Nope. One of this year’s best surprises. Now, here’s one question: Will they be any good still?
3. The Strokes
Photo by David Hall
FM: The fewer Strokes shows there are, the more time Julian Casablancas has to do solo sets, so let’s please get more of the Strokes because … yikes.
MR: Hey now … I’m very intrigued by his Voidz work. I think there’s something to be said about their work, which seems to be in the transitional stage. If you can sort through their erratic onstage mixing — which might be the problem — there are plenty of hooks and enough intriguing sonic experiments going down. I’m pretty anxious for their album, to be honest. Then again, I’m more than partial to Casablancas.
So, yeah, I’m baffled I haven’t been able to see The Strokes yet. The setlists have been wonderful, the bootleg videos sound promising, and they really have nothing to lose. No obligations, only themselves. In other words, the most exciting position they’ve been in since their return back in 2010.
2. Death from Above 1979
FM: Their reunion came out of nowhere and so did the just-announced second album. I’m sure they will be all over the place again next year, though.
MR: I’d argue this would be No. 1 if I didn’t feel like this had to be tagged as a nostalgic. With a new album down the line, there’s a sense of mystery to the duo again that waned with their onslaught of reunion gigs back in 2011. Let’s just hope the album doesn’t suck.
1. Frank Ocean
FM: So, Frank Ocean didn’t debut any new songs at Bonnaroo, but clearly fans were excited to see him nonetheless and will be again at Pemberton.
MR: That’s putting it mildly. The lack of new material is disappointing, sure, but not exactly. It was his first big hurrah coming back, so why would he risk cracking his foundation with new material? Instead, he stuck to his ever-reliable batch of R&B songs, a genre that insofar has belonged to the likes of Banks and Sam Smith this year.
Here’s the thing: While both of those performers are supremely talented, Ocean eclipses either artist with intrigue in just about every field (lyrically, musically, contextually). Yes, Bonnaroo was a soft return, but I’m convinced he’ll start teasing new sounds in the near, near future. Right now, he’s just a familiar enigma, but nonetheless an enigma.
That right there is why we (should) attend music festivals.