Here’s an understatement: Planning a successful music festival is hard.
It’s difficult enough to plan a music festival in the United States. Here, the fest circuit is a well-oiled machine, and it seems like you can’t go two weekends between March and October without a massive outdoor stage setup in a new city and plenty of the world’s biggest bands already raring to play for oversized crowds of crazed fans.
So who in their right mind would want to take on successfully porting the Lollapalooza Chicago experience to a place like … Santiago, Chile? In fact, Lollapalooza Chicago almost sounds easy compared to the South American Lollapalooza circuit (which careens through Buenos Aires and São Paulo in addition to this past weekend’s Santiago shakedown).
You have to bring 70 bands – including some of the world’s biggest, like Jack White, Kings of Leon, and Calvin Harris – together for a festival circuit a dozen flying hours away from your headquarters. You’ve got a tremendous local team on the ground in Lotus Productions, but there’s still a language barrier. You have to artfully blend local talent in with your internationally renowned stars to showcase both. You have to accommodate local rules and customs: Dogs, skateboards, and bikes are allowed inside festival grounds while alcohol sales are not. (Unless you’re in the Lolla Lounge VIP area – in which case, Corona has an entire sandy beach stocked with complementary beers waiting for you.) There are complications. Problems arise and bands cancel. The Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo branches of SBTRKT’s tour became untenable after his side shows in each city failed to pan out.
Many things are out of your control. It’s 2015 now, and like the proliferation of vuvuzelas at soccer matches over the past half-decade, selfie sticks have infested arena pits and obstruct and marginalize the view of the masses for the sake of inevitably unwatchable YouTube videos. The Chilean sun is brutal – hot enough that while The Specials pump out vintage ska jams, vocalist Terry Hall plays medic by tossing out bottles of water to parched crowd members during breaks in the set.
With that all in mind: Whether you’re planning – or attending – a festival like Lollapalooza Chile, you have to be a little flexible. You have to hope to get a little lucky that your Plan A works out, while simultaneously toying with a Plan B in the back of your mind. You have to sweat a little bit. But if you make it, you’ll both find yourself in awe of heretofore unheard of bands who just might be the next big thing, and you’ll find yourself in love all over again with the acts and bands you’ve been spinning since your mom bought you the CD in 1995.
Here’s another understatement: Lollapalooza Chile is out of this world.
Photo by Jonathan Fritz
Sunday, 1:30 p.m., VTR Stage
Speaking of artful blends of local and international talent, look no further than Astro: A Chilean band with a frontman, Andrés Nusser, who looks like a California surfer and who could challenge Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos for the shrillest falsetto in indie pop. Astro are no strangers to the international scene or even to Lollapalooza – they played an early set in Chicago back in 2013.
Nonetheless, Astro comes off as a wholly distinct – and overwhelmingly energetic – manifestation of Chilean sound. Reflecting quickly on what’s helped cultivate the band’s success, its live set, and its distinct tone, Andrés comments, “We’re always learning something from everyone. To watch Skrillex [on Saturday] – it’s a totally different live experience, but we still learned something from him I think we can use.” With their broad back catalog of international festivals, Astro has unquestionably had plenty of talented professors from countless sets from which to study.
Brand-new track “Carribean”, performed live for the first time on Sunday, was a standout. After a brief, thumping low-end start, the song takes off like a rocket ship into a flurry of blips and dreamy lyrics that make it clear that you ought to be on a beach right now, but leave you undecided as to whether that beach is in the nearby Chilean town of Valparaiso or inside of your old Sega Genesis. Either way – the song is catchy as hell.
Andrés hints that Astro might be continuing stateside on its tour sometime in July – with four months’ leeway, it will be interesting to see what new tricks they’ve picked up in the meanwhile. –Josh Petersel
Photo by Jonathan Fritz
Saturday, 2:15 p.m., d-BOX VTR Stage
James Murphy would be salivating if he were in the d-BOX VTR stage Saturday afternoon, and not just because of the delicious band name.
MKRNI (pronounced “macaroni”), a three-piece Chilean band, leans heavily on synthy electric beats that would sound perfect on a DFA Records compilation record: innately catchy and dancy. MKRNI’s “Dime Que Si” could be a Holy Ghost! track – take the latter’s “Wait & See,” curl back the tempo, and flip the lyrics from Male|English to Female|Spanish, and you’re most of the way there.
The d-BOX vtr stage is actually inside one of Lolla Santiago’s two indoor domed arenas. Not only does this offer MKRNI attendees a welcome reprieve from the blistering mid-afternoon heat, but it offers a window to escape from daylight and preview the night’s dance party to come.
Frontwoman Elisita Punto seems to have rejected a punchy, articulate dance routine and stage presence in favor of maintaining a much more relaxed – if not slightly irregular or awkward – rhythm on stage. It’s refreshing to see that it’s not just the fans who can submerge in the music and let their limbs and bodies flow organically to the beat. And it will be exciting to see what the future has in store for MKRNI. Given their preferred stylization & nomenclature, maybe a tour with SBTRKT (hopefully visiting us across the NTD STTS F MRCA?) would be a winning endeavor. –Josh Petersel
Photo by David Swanson
Saturday, 9:30 p.m., VTR Stage
Armed with a collection of tunes across his musical career with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and his recent solo albums, bluesy guitar hero Jack White returned to Chile to headline the first night of Lollapalooza.
Entering on a stage bathed in dark blue light surrounded by his backing band, White wasted no time blasting into the spastic “Icky Thump”, slicing through complex guitar work like butter while working himself into a fervor. His band was in top form, too, driving the beat of “Going Back to Memphis” and adding violin, mandolin, and other additional layers throughout the set.
White included a Hank Williams cover, “You Know That I Know”, thanking the audience for giving an unfamiliar, old American country song a chance – and the fans obliged. The chilled-out portion continued with a bluegrassy version of “We’re Going to Be Friends”, but White quickly brought the energy back for an invigorating rendition of “Missing Pieces”.
The band only took a quick intermission before kicking a seven-song encore off with The Raconteurs’ “Steady as She Goes”. The slow-burning “Would You Fight for My Love?” from last year’s Lazaretto flowed right into an extended, improvisational jam in “That Black Bat Licorice”.
White ended the show with global blockbuster “Seven Nation Army”, which the crowd had been chanting for earlier on numerous occasions. Tens of thousands of screaming fans lost control when the chorus hit and were hypnotized by White’s guitar one last time, exhausting every last bit of energy to close the first day of the festival. –Jonathan Fritz
The Smashing Pumpkins
Photo by Jonathan Fritz
Saturday, 6:45 p.m., VTR Stage
From the popularity of ’90s alt-rock shirts at the festival, it was no surprise to find a huge crowd at the VTR stage hoping for a medley of greatest hits from The Smashing Pumpkins.
Even though the band is more of the Billy Corgan Show these days (he’s the only original member left in the group, though guitarist Jeff Schroeder has played in the Pumpkins since the late 2000s), the Pumpkins added some additional musical firepower on this tour: Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine on the drums and Mark Stoermer of The Killers on bass. But from the onset of Corgan’s distinctive howl on set opener “Cherub Rock”, nobody seemed to care about band dynamics – the Pumpkins sounded as tight as ever, and they had everyone singing along to the booming hooks from “Tonight, Tonight” and “Ava Adore”. The band played songs from their entire catalog, including a couple from their latest release, Monuments to an Elegy.
“Drum + Fife” translated particularly well in a live setting, and the delay-skewered “Star-Spangled Banner” intro to “United States” was very Hendrix-esque in festival ostentatiousness. Breaking from the mosh pit in “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, Corgan dropped out and let the audience sing a few choruses before diving back into chaos.
On closer “Heavy Metal Machine”, Corgan’s lyrics “let me die for rock ‘n roll” were truer than ever – he’s been at it for over 25 years and can still summon the rage and energy to bring the band’s discography to life and melt the faces of young and old Smashing Pumpkins fans alike. –Jonathan Fritz