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
Chancho En Piedra & Los Tetas
Photo by Jonathan Fritz
Saturday, 6:00 p.m., ACER Windows 8 Stage
The key word in “Familia Chilenita del Funk” – as Chancho En Piedra & Los Tetas are known when they’re operating jointly – is “Familia.”
At first, “Familia” might seem like a description of the familial nature of the bands, which both formed around the same time about 20 years ago and have maintained a friendly collaborative relationship in the years since.
You’d also be forgiven for initially thinking that “family” referred to actual nuclear family members. Lalo, the frontman for Chancho en Piedra, chose to wear a family-friendly pair of goofy Simpsons graphic shorts, an oversized pair of sunglasses, and a blue-plumed headdress. Tea Time, Los Tetas’ frontman, carried a small toddler on stage with him for the first 5-10 minutes of the set.
(…Hopefully you’d quickly ditch the notion that “familia” represented the prevalence of family values, though, either when the bands actually started playing or when you figure out what “Las Tetas” translates to in English.)
Actually, what “little Chilean family of funk” might most metaphorically represent is that the band embodies a portfolio of different styles of funk music – the likes of which are, perhaps not surprisingly, distinctly Chilean.
At the outset, Tea Time takes the lead, and the band’s output is Funk Rap. Through “Planeta” and “Medicina”, Tea Time veers as close as he can to the front of the stage to stoop over the audience and lead attendees in bobbing along to his crisp lyrical jabs. When Lalo takes over, the stage vibe flips over to funk rock. Lalo, blue plumes and all, brings a revived energy backed by faster and heavier guitar licks through tracks like “Chancho” and “Huevos Revueltos”. Though both sides of the collaboration share the same funk-trademark electric bass undertones, the resulting sounds are surprisingly disparate – perhaps, after all, Los Tetas and Chancho en Piedra are only distant cousins on the little Chilean funk family tree. –Josh Petersel
Photo by Jonathan Fritz
Sunday, 5:45 p.m., Kidzapalooza Stage
25 some-odd years ago, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles leveraged their success as TV, movie, and general cultural icons into forming a rock & roll band.
Though the Turtles are due proper credit for their ability to push toys and t-shirts, in the music arena, they’ve got nothing on the Heavysaurios. While the Turtles’ thick, three-finger mitts left little room for anything more than choreographed faux-rocking, the Heavysaurios leave their gloves at home (or cave), allowing them nimble access to their instruments of choice. The Turtles had interludes creating beef with the Shredder; the Heavysaurios actually shred.
“Estas siento, o estas de pie?” (Are you seated, or are you standing?) lead singer Mr. Heavysaurio beckons the crowd through his stylized bone-shaped microphone. The lead guitarist, Riffi-Raffi, is inexplicably using a confederate flag guitar – maybe being 65 million years old obfuscates your views on the heinousness of slavery? [update: a commenter has pointed out that the guitar is a tribute to Dimebag Darrell of PANTERA]– but nonetheless, it’s pretty special to see kids and parents sing along to “Quiero Leche” and dance over a genre of music usually reserved for scarred, pierced, and inked sorts of societal rebels.
It’s also worth mentioning here: Kidzapalooza at Lollapalooza Chile is HUGE. A venerable festival within the festival, Kidzapalooza touts entirely separate space for kid-friendly vendors, activities, jungle gyms, and of course, the stage. It’s hard to fathom how everything managed to fit under the same Parque O’Higgins festival grounds. –Josh Petersel
Photo by Jonathan Fritz
Sunday, 8:30 p.m., ACER Windows 8 stage
Going up against crowd-pleasers Calvin Harris and Cypress Hill led to a smaller crowd for London electronic maestro SBTRKT’s live set. Bringing his long-time collaborator Sampha, a drummer, and a Guitar Center’s worth of keyboards and gear, SBTRKT reconstructed and tweaked each of his songs from the bottom up, giving the audience a new, richer experience.
True to his namesake, SBTRKT kept the stage obscured in darkness (and his face behind his trademark mask) and let his music do the talking. The most energetic songs of the set, “Trials of the Past”, “Hold On”, and “Something Goes Right”, were aided by Sampha’s live vocals and interaction with the crowd.
SBTRKT’s constant jumping from synthesizer to sampler to the next electronic music-making machine kept the set interesting and sonically diverse, though those searching for a dance party should have gone to Calvin Harris. The choppy “New Dorp. New York” and a dreamy remix of Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower” showed off the breadth of the group’s diverse style, despite losing the attention of those who just wanted to jump around to “Pharaohs”. But that was a minority – SBTRKT pulled a cult following who wanted a more intellectual bent to their electronic music. This was part of his first tour in South America, but due to concert promoter issues at the next two Lollapalooza stops, this will be his only show in the circuit. Luckily for the Argentines and Brazilians, however, SBTRKT has plans to reschedule later in the year. –Jonathan Fritz
Photo by Jonathan Fritz
Saturday, 7:45 p.m., Acer Windows 8 Stage
Seeing St. Vincent live reveals a clear dichotomy present in Annie Clark. At first, she is like porcelain – delicate and polished, tall with a pointed chin. Her performance evokes the machinations of an antique wind-up music box. Throughout “Bring Me Your Loves”, Clark patters around the stage in 90-degree angles using quick, tiny footsteps. Between guitar licks during “Digital Witnesses”, she gesticulates spasmodically with her hands like a doll without the luxury of complex joints and flexibility.
Suddenly, then, from Dr. Jekyll comes Ms. Hyde: Just as the crowd is comfortably enrapt, Clark converts to rock mode, cradling – no, dominating – the guitar, revealing her years of practice through working with the likes of the Polyphonic Spree and David Byrne. Through the second half of “Rattlesnake”, Clark wails on her axe in a pose that draws to mind an action movie heroine staring down a fast-approaching apocalypse. In the face of such an oncoming fiery explosion, it seems Clark’s weapon of choice fires not bullets but thunderous chords of electricity.
It’s no surprise, consequently, that Jack White threw St. Vincent a shout-out during his set later Saturday night. Annie Clark is at peak powers right now, and St. Vincent live on stage is can’t-miss rock & roll. –Josh Petersel