North Coast 2014: Top 10 Moments + Photos

Festival Review


    This past Labor Day weekend, North Coast Music Festival descended upon Chicago’s Union Park for a fifth time with a lineup largely comprised of past performers. Regardless, the festival didn’t disappoint as festivalgoers, willing to take “summer’s last stand,” were treated to three days of incredible music, a lively atmosphere, and beautiful weather. Seriously, they couldn’t have had better luck after every weatherman in a 20-mile radius said it would rain.

    By some divine intervention, North Coast’s fifth anniversary prevailed over any soggy forecasts and continued to establish the festival as one of the most diverse and entertaining in the city. Unfortunately, our coverage team was too busy checking out shows to party ’til we fainted with Kid Cudi, but we were still lucky enough to experience 10 moments that we won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

    –Pat Levy
    Staff Writer

    Best Non-EDM Drop



    Photo by Jonathan Earley

    It’s a daunting task to open a festival, but one that hip-hop jazz trio BadBadNotGood tackled with the amount of humility you’d expect from a band in an early slot only with none of the restraint that goes along with that humility. Picking through tracks off each of their three self-titled LPs, the three Toronto natives entertained maybe 200 people at the start, a number that nearly tripled by the end. This was, in all likelihood, due to the group closing with undoubtedly their biggest hit, the Tyler, the Creator/Gucci Mane mash-up and jazz interpretation, “Bastard/Lemonade”, which they stretched from its original seven-minute runtime into 10 minutes of buildup, punctuated by many thanks and a request to be smoked down if spotted around the fest. It was nice to start off the fest experiencing a drop that wasn’t drenched in bass. –Pat Levy

    Most Likely to Convert EDM Fanatics

    Little Dragon

    Little Dragon

    Photo by Derek Staples

    Maybe it’s all the criticism, but the EDM community has fiercely insulated itself from the pop realms. While Spring Awakening and Perry’s Stage during Lollapalooza allow for continued isolation, there’s little choice but to explore the larger musical world when wandering around North Coast. Following the booty-bass exploits of J.Phlip and live electro of Future Rock, bodies began to gather around the synthpop of Sweden’s Little Dragon.

    Performing ahead of Grandtheft and Adventure Club, the slower jams off Nabuma Rubberband offered a respite before the nightly intensity. Swaying to the neo-soul delivery of Yukimi Nagano, it’s the exposed low end during a track like “Killing Me” that enabled the momentary metamorphosis from basshead to dream pop aficionado. With Fredrik Källgren Wallin’s bass riffs rattling the sound system, Nagano’s charming onstage antics peaked at a new intensity.

    When the turn down finally comes, Coasties now have a new mix for the repertoire. –Derek Staples


    Best Use of a ’90s Sample

    Ookay’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”


    Photo by Derek Staples

    During NCMF, this was a highly competitive category. A title that could also have been won by Norwegian future-bass specialist Cashmere Cat for the use of the Spice Girl’s “Wannabe” had Ookay not had such a deep array of nostalgia. Ripping through this angst-driven single near the beginning of his set, the San Diego-based DJ also rinsed some Red Hot Chili Peppers deeper into the performance. More about keeping the floor moving than debuting the freshest cuts, these alt-rock singles were disbursed through a selection of garage (Disclosure), Dutch House, Lil Jon rips, trap, a joke about Dillon Francis’s recent run in with an RC can, and a child’s tune about ratchets (“If your ratchet and you know it clap your hands!!”). The sound of hands clapping was also deafening. –Derek Staples

    Worst Show to Turn Up At/Best Show to Escape

    Washed Out


    Photo by Lilian Cai

    Washed Out’s drowsy chillwave separated the crowd at Union Park right down the middle. There were the diehards eager to hear more of Ernest Greene’s easygoing synthpop, and then there were those wearing Kandi bracelets who evacuated immediately. Altogether, it was the most uneventful set of the weekend; so laid-back, in fact, that it barely felt like a festival gig. But that’s a compliment, as the afternoon daydream offered a brilliant respite from the glut of Molly-gumming teenagers chugging rum from a water bottle they stuffed in their pants. In hindsight, I don’t think I saw more people drinking wine all weekend. Who am I? –Pat Levy

    Most “I Don’t Get This” Moments

    Future Islands

    Future Islands Sat 2

    Photo by Derek Staples

    By now, it would seem that most of the music-listening world would have some familiarity with the genre-bending work of Baltimore’s Future Islands. Ninety-percent synthpop and 10% doom metal, much thanks to the signature delivery of frontman Samuel T. Herring, the vibe matches the vocal-driven dubstep that was once popular only a few years ago; however, hundreds of those in attendance (possibly just holding a spot near the front for Cashmere Cat and Adventure Club), just didn’t “get it.”

    However, the exodus had nothing to do with the ability of the collective. Herring only continues to develop his actual singing ability, adding further power to when he does bring forth that growl. As the crowd grew more sparse, that just meant more room for the indie-minded to move to new singles, including “Spirit” and “Back in the Tall Trees”, plus fan-favorite “Tin Man”. While most of the fest was about losing one’s mind, Future Islands offered the opportunity to look further inside. –Derek Staples

    Best Multi-Stage Show

    Action Bronson

    action bronson

    Photo by Lilian Cai

    Action Bronson brandished a royalty-inspired swagger at North Coast. His movements were more authoritative and his flow more measured, leaving less room for the occasional trip-ups that we’ve come to love as a Bronson trademark. But one thing that almost always happens at any of the rapper’s gigs is how he leaves the stage to interact with his fans — whether it’s traipsing through the crowd like a prizefighter or heading to the Port-o-John to take a piss. For North Coast, he hit up the adjacent stage, proving that no one stage can contain the amount of talent and energy he retains. Traveling aside, the highlight of the set was Bronson’s new single, “Easy Rider”. The crowd’s reaction proved that if the rest of his forthcoming album, Mr. Wonderful, is anything on par, then Action Bronson’s ascension to the top of the game is all but assured. –Pat Levy

    Best Moment To (Respectfully) Grab a New Dance Partner

    The Nth Power’s “Only You”

    The Nth Degree

    Photo by Derek Staples

    Although described as “Electronic Dance Music”, much of EDM is damn near impossible for dancing. Which, to its discredit, has led to a new generation of raver that sees jumping around, moshing, and grinding as actual dance moves. With Nicky Romero and Kid Cudi drawing the vast majority of the Saturday night audience, The Nth Power could work their magic on the 100-or-so souls who were still hungry for the groove following STS9’s early set. With the dance floor/basketball court almost abandoned, it finally meant adequate room to find a new buddy and get down to the collective’s funky exploits.

    The enchanting “Only You” pulled bodies together. The track’s harmonics and visceral delivery enveloping the newly connected spirits in a tidal wave of love. Most will never meet again, but for only a few moments, groups of individuals were brought together to share this moment. A moment that grew more intense as drummer Nikki Glaspie (Dumpstaphunk, Beyoncé) and West African djembe master Weedie Braimah (Toubab Krewe, Kreative Pandemonium) worked themselves into a world. –Derek Staples


    Most Totems Per Capita


    Griz Totems

    Photo by Derek Staples

    Useful and customizable, totems have littered the jamtronica landscape over the last few years. While some festivals have placed limitations on the rage sticks, NCMF welcomes the DIY artform and the spirited individuals behind their creation. And no act pulled more totems than the Midwest’s own GRiZ (Grant Kwiecinski) during the extended holiday weekend. From Kanye West to a starry-eyed Stewie, memes were out in force to bask in the saxophone-fueled bangers of GRiZ. Like Lettuce and Big Gigantic before him, Kwiecinski blends the sounds of hip-hop, funk, and jazz (triggering original edits of “Superstitious”, “Twist and Shout”, and “Tequila) to keep a heady dance floor moving. A 2014 festival regular, the flow was tight. Uplifting sax motifs splitting his massive bass lines, only coming up for air to reciprocate the energy of the sweaty audience. And no matter how far one shuffled away from their crew, the totems acted as a beacon of salvage once the final metal trill rang through the speakers. –Derek Staples

    Festival MVP

    Riff Raff

    riff raff2

    Photo by Lilian Cai

    Emerging from a cloud of smoke with a majestic pink mane and his trademark self-confidence, RiFF RAFF proved that North Coast is a festival built for someone like him. His oddball persona fits in more here than almost anywhere else, the Neon Icon reigning over his neon utopia with uninhibited swag. He arrived to his 5:45 p.m. set fashionably late but immediately swung into high gear, mixing it up with mostly his own tracks and a few features tossed in for good measure. Proving his versatility, he mixed two Neon Icon tracks with crowd favorites, crossing up “Aquaberry Dolphin” with Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood” and Vine sensation “Tip Toe Wing in my Jawwdinz” with The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”.

    RiFF’s announcement that he was, in fact, “the white Derrick Rose in Versace clothes” drew an audible laugh from the entire crowd, as did many of his more quotable lyrics. Seeing RiFF RAFF at North Coast is like being right in the middle of a crowd of middle school boys watching Anchorman; it’s an audience ready to quote their favorite lines back, in love with what they’re seeing and irony-free. While watching Ron Burgundy with a bunch of pre-teens might actually suck, watching RiFF RAFF with a bunch of crazy fans definitely does not. –Pat Levy

    The Most Politically Energetic Greatest Hits Set Turned VIP Yacht Party Night

    Talib Kweli

    talib 6

    Photo by Lilian Cai

    It’s not every day you get to witness a hip-hop pioneer such as Talib Kweli work his magic. It’s also not every day you get to hang out with Talib Kweli at his official yacht party.

    The Chicago summer heat was beaming on the 312 Stage, and Kweli came out to prove his lyrical mastery. With nearly 20 years of hip-hop under his belt, Kweli showed the young crowd that he indeed figured out the rap game long before Saturday’s headliner in Kid Cudi. With help from DJ Spintelect, Kweli fired through his career catalog and ignited two-step dancing with his undeniably infectious beats. Before going into his closing segment, which naturally ended on a high note via “Get By”, Kweli shared his conscious by urging his captivated audience to become more actively engaged in fighting against police brutality, referencing the ongoing events occurring down in Ferguson. The crowd’s rapturous response gave Kweli an extra adrenaline boost that lasted well after his last step off the stage.

    Talib Kweli DJ Set at Quay 2

    Photo by Jonathan Earley


    After his set, not only did I have the pleasure of meeting Talib, I also had a wonderful conversation, ranging from his recent tour with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and independently releasing his latest release, Gravitas, to balancing his musical career and family duties. His CNN interview was brought up, as I allowed him free reign to speak his mind about Ferguson, police brutality, and modern racism, without being cut off. Even though it was my first on-camera interview, it certainly was the most refreshing chat I have had in recent memory.

    Apparently, Talib thought our conversation was great as well. Shortly after parting ways, his manager got in touch with our festival press team and invited myself and Rachel Delehanty to join Talib’s crew for the night. What came next was a mixture of wonder, adrenaline rushes, and awe. We danced away to a near 75-minute intimate DJ set by Talib at Quay in the Near North Side, shuttled out to Navy Pier, and strolled on up to the Spirit of Chicago to embark on a two-and-a-half-hour Lake Michigan journey full of jam bands, boogie dancing, and lyrical flow masterclasses from the man himself. When your night ends with sharing laughs and hugs with Talib and his crew, then being dropped off at your lowly abode at 4:30 a.m. by a professional SUV chauffeur, that is when you truly count your blessings for all the small moments in life. –Jonathan Earley


    Photographer(s): Lilian Cai, Derek Staples

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