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Landmark Music Festival 2015 Review: The Top 10 Sets + Photos

CHVRCHES and Drake make for memorable inaugural edition of D.C. festival

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    Nestled between the Potomac River and the Tidal Basin, the inaugural Landmark Music Festival boasted one of the most iconic locations in the United States: Washington D.C.’s National Mall. Steps away from the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool (and with the Washington Monument viewable from many stages), it was hard to believe a major music festival was happening in the heart of the nation’s capital. With the goal of raising awareness and funds for restoring the National Mall, the festival brought The Strokes and Drake as its first headliners.

    The weather, cool and cloudy for the vast majority of both days, seemed to threatened rain for the entire weekend, but thankfully only doused the crowd in a brief shower on Saturday night. While the downpour didn’t present a significant challenge for the grounds, C3 Presents did an admirable job at overall organization and fixing problems that came up on the first day, at least for a first-time festival. On Saturday, beer and bathroom lines were nightmarishly long; on Sunday, those queues were much more manageable. The grounds were medium-sized but manageable, although the northern part of the festival (Miller Lite, BMI, and Lincoln Stages) occasionally suffered from sound bleeding over when sets were going at the same time.

    Landmark Scenery - Killian Young (5)

    Photo by Killian Young

    Another notable perk of the festival wristband was that you could exit and re-enter up to three times a day, an option often not available to fans who forfeit access to other festival grounds as soon as they leave. And a recycling program, entitled “Rock & Recycle”, urged action from the crowd by putting a plausible system into practice: They rewarded each recycling attendee with a full recycling bag and a free festival t-shirt. As a result, there were many people searching for empty cans and bottles on the ground in pursuit of their prize. The festival also offered an astounding set of options for food, including some of the most beloved local eateries like Ben’s Chili Bowl, Toki Underground (a ramen place), Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, Curley’s Q BBQ.

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    Musically, the festival made an interesting decision regarding set times: At a minimum, the vast majority of artists performed for an entire hour. Overall, this was a successful decision as the smaller bands were able to showcase more of their music instead of getting boxed into a 20- or 30-minute set. And most of the lesser-known acts performed for closer to 50 minutes, giving fans buffer time to move from stage to stage and not miss any music. As far as sets go, audiences were treated to one of CHVRCHES’ first performances following the release of Every Open Eye, a career-spanning set by Drake filled with fireworks and pyrotechnics, and a fantastic homecoming for D.C. emcee Wale.

    The smart money’s on Landmark returning as a staple music festival for the capital in the future.

    –Killian Young
    Staff Writer

    BEST KICK-OFF

    EX HEX

    Ex Hex - Killian Young (15)

    Photo by Killian Young

    Ex Hex showed their hometown some love — the D.C. trio didn’t have to travel far to get to the site and delivered a brisk set to start off the day for many attendees. From the beginning track “Don’t Wanna Lose”, the band kept people’s heads bobbing with a fast and consistent groove. Whenever lead vocalist/guitarist Mary Timony and bassist Betsy Wright would face each other, bend their knees, lean back, and perform solos (such as on the song “Waste Your Time”), the crowd applauded. As for the band itself, all three members fed off the modestly sized-yet-enthusiastic crowd, who were looking to get their early dose of rock. –Sung Min Kim

    BEST FAMILY FUN

    THE HUNTS

    The Hunts - Killian Young (20)

    Photo by Killian Young

    With a lineup consisting of seven siblings (that’s Jessi, Jenni, Josh, Jonathan, Jordan, Justin, and Jamison — how’s that for alliteration?), good chemistry naturally comes with the territory for The Hunts. The Chesapeake, Virginia rockers churned out beautiful harmonies on song after song during their rollicking afternoon set, especially on “Valentina” and “Make This Leap”. The band drew heavily on their recently released record, Those Younger Days, with “Ages” serving as the powerful closer for the solid crowd that had gathered at the Roosevelt Stage. As a spirited folk crescendo gave way to speedy hand claps, the audience eagerly joined in for one final jam, becoming part of the Hunts’ extended family, if only for the hour. –Killian Young

    BEST DAY-DRINKING SOUNDTRACK / BEST COVER

    HOUNDMOUTH

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    Photo by Killian Young

    Houndmouth emerged during the sunniest part of Sunday, also when people took advantage of the (relatively) short beer lines. The four-piece Americana rock band’s breezy set made for a perfect soundtrack for some afternoon day-drinking.

    There were four members and just as many vocalists, but Matt Myers is labeled as their lead singer and stood out in regards to stage presence and a voice reminiscent of a stereotypical high-pitched rock star’s — not quite original, yet pleasant. An early highlight of the set was their hit single “Sedona”. Not only was it the most well-received from the get-go, but when the song arrived at its chorus, the entire crowd broke into the chant of “Hey little Hollywood/ You’re gone but you’re not forgotten”, loud enough that you could almost feel yourself transported out west. The band’s other songs — “Comin’ Around Again”, “Gasoline”, and “15 Years” — were also met with gleeful chants as the band displayed a balanced mix of instruments and vocal harmonies. –Sung Min Kim

    Houndmouth - Killian Young (9)

    Photo by Killian Young

    While fun novelties like covers aren’t uncommon at music festivals, it’s rarer to see a band close with a song that’s not their own. Houndmouth defied the odds, saving the best for last with their take on Dion’s number-one hit, “Runaround Sue”. Capitalizing on the strengths of their vocalists, the track became a relay of sorts for the rollicking cover of the doo-wop classic, kicking off with keyboardist Katie Toupin, then shifting to bassist Zak Appelby before Myers brought it home. Toward the end of the song, the instrumentals dropped out and Toupin took center stage, encouraging the crowd to clap, which the fans gladly obliged as they bounced along. The strong effort was not lost upon the audience, who loudly cheered for an encore. –Killian Young

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    BEST SET TO CLIMB SHOULDERS TO

    CHROMEO

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    Photo by Killian Young

    Moments before Chromeo stepped onstage, a loud, funky bass riff blared over the sound system that shook the bodies of anyone near the stage, an apt intro for what was to come. Once Dave 1 (a.k.a. Dave Macklovitch) and P-Thugg (a.k.a. Patrick Gemayel) stepped on the Miller Lite stage, they blasted the first track, “Intro”, and a “Chro-me-o…O…O…” chant (inspired by The Wizard of Oz) floated through the crowd. After that grand entrance, the Montreal duo delivered a bass-heavy set driven by their signature funk-meets-pop sound that has earned them a big following over the years.

    Dave 1 definitely earned a nomination for most charismatic performer. The band’s dance moves, the constant and consistent beats, and P-Thugg’s frequent use of a vocoder and talkbox all gave an impression of Daft Punk-like robot personas onstage at times. A main highlight of the set came when Macklovitch encouraged guys in the crowd to put “a lady on their shoulders” for their song “Over Your Shoulder”. For the next four-and-half minutes, the skyline consisted of a mix of gray and white clouds and women bobbing atop the crowd.

    Chromeo - Killian Young (25)

    Photo by Killian Young

    The sole gripe with the set was that the bass got overbearing at times to the extent that it masked other aspects of their music, specifically Chromeo’s subtly clever lyrics. But that hardly put a frown on any attendee’s face as the fans got a good time and then some. –Sung Min Kim

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    BIGGEST ANNOUNCEMENT

    THE STROKES

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    Photo by Killian Young

    The biggest bombshell of The Strokes’ set came at the very end of their performance. After briefly exiting the stage, lead singer Julian Casablancas returned for the band’s encore and said to expect the band being “back in the studio and shit. Fuck yeah, man!” The band then launched into “Take It or Leave It”, stirring a frenzied reaction from the crowd.

    But long before the encore, the Strokes played the blasé rock star card, turning up to their set 15 minutes late. The band as a whole sounded fairly tight, but at times Casablancas was near incomprehensible, also rambling through odd bits of dialogue in between songs. Choice lines included: “It’s been a long time since we’ve been in D.C., so thank you. And, uh, yeah. No one understands what I’m saying!” and “So we were having lunch with Obama, I was, like, respectfully, ‘What’s up with the drones?’”

    The Strokes - Killian Young (6)

    Photo by Killian Young

    To their credit, though, the band delivered solid renditions of most of the Strokes’ biggest hits, from “Last Nite” to “Reptilia” to “Under the Cover of Darkness”. And while the band sounded lackluster at times, the audience — one of the best of the weekend — more than made up for the deficit, cheering loudly and throwing their hands in the air, from the main set’s start (“Is This It”) to finish (“New York City Cops”). –Killian Young

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    BEST STORYTELLING

    MIGUEL

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    Photo by Killian Young

    With a live band prominently featuring a guitarist and bassist, sultry singer Miguel’s set played out like a deft blend of glam rock and R&B. On “a beautiful exit”, Miguel leaned back, intertwining with guitarist Dru Decaro, who performed a searing solo. And Miguel dropped to his knees and raised his arms to the crowd, declaring, “You’re my salvation” on “Hollywood Dreams” before strutting toward a cameraman and licking the screen.

    Throughout the set, Miguel also interwove a strong story about the inspiration behind his most recent album, Wildheart: the recurring question of “what the fuck is normal anyway?” His narrative meandered through his childhood as a biracial kid of Mexican and African-American heritage in Los Angeles (“What’s Normal Anyway”) all the way to dealing with the changes in his life due to his recent rise to fame (“Hollywood Dreams”).

    Miguel - Killian Young (1)

    Photo by Killian Young

    On “Waves”, an ocean of arms bounced in unison as Miguel hopped up and down emphatically on stage. He later brought out hometown hero Wale on “Lotus Flower Bomb” for round two on the main stage before closing with “Adorn”.

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    But the most powerful moment arguably came earlier in the set, when he led the crowd in an oath to celebrate their uniqueness: “I! Promise myself! To never succumb or conform! To the so-called norm! I will be myself! I will believe in myself!” –Killian Young

    BEST SET YOU (PROBABLY) MISSED

    BOOTS

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    Photo by Sung Min Kim

    If you recognize producer and singer-songwriter Jordy Asher’s moniker Boots, you probably looked up the credits to Beyoncé’s self-titled album. Largely unknown prior to its release, Boots has since gained fame for punching in creative control for other artists like Beyoncé, Run the Jewels, and FKA Twigs.

    With the same set time as CHVRCHES, Boots attracted one of the smallest crowds of the festival, but those in attendance were in for a treat. “Rocking” or “booty-poppin’” don’t do much justice to describe Asher’s set. Let’s try “face-melting.” Boots started the set with a series of wobbling bass riffs that accompanied Boots’ melodies, reminiscent of sounds from Beyoncé’s album. The track “I Run Roulette” from his upcoming album AQUARIA featured a booming synth, which evoked Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead”.

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    Photo by Sung Min Kim

    Accompanied by seizure-inducing lights onscreen, it was nearly a sensory overload, which managed to get even crazier once a fast percussion beat kicked in a minute into the song. A group of festival goers jumped and danced aggressively nearby the pit and did not stop until the end. Boots’ set gave a glimpse of what to expect when his debut LP AQUARIA drops — his sounds were atmospheric and smooth in its most fragile moments but ruthlessly crunchy and in-your-face at other times. Also his musical sensibility that relied on dissonant melody added more suspense and intrigue to make his overall sound haunting yet sexy.

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    Performing “Sheep/Lookin’ Muthafucka (Lude II)” from his WinterSpringSummerFall mixtape, Asher sang the first two lines “Cat’s out the bag/ no one remembers you…”. People who saw him at Landmark had a lot of reasons to remember him, though. The next time Asher stops by Washington D.C., expect more people to be around the stage. –Sung Min Kim

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