In late April, North Coast Music Festival unveiled the lineup for its sixth incarnation. Just a glance and we were sold. The bolded text that stretched across the top section of the poster revealed two of the best available acts of 2015. Personally, I would’ve been satisfied with just D’Angelo and The Chemical Brothers, but the folks at NCMF didn’t stop there. The weekend offered a medley of sounds across R&B, funk, electronic, hip-hop, and the distinct noodle of a jam band or two.
Friday began softly, with several artists trying to engage an audience that didn’t quite show up until the later evening. Saturday was all smiles, especially after an early morning drizzle dulled the forecasted heat. And Sunday, well, Sunday The Chemical Brothers played one of their first US shows in over four years.
Sure, we saw a few more scantily clad teenagers and muscle-filled bro tanks than we would’ve liked, but hey, no one is perfect. In amongst the drooling zombies smoking DMT at Shpongle were plenty of true music fans, and it is with all of you that we share our 10 favorite moments.
Best Local Flavor
Chicago-bred funk septet The Heard know how to bring it. In 2014, they held down a well-received year-long residency at Lincoln Park’s Alive One, a personal favorite stop for me each Thursday night. Their performances are airtight, with a pocket deep enough to swim in. And although the crowd was firmly footed on the concrete basketball courts of the 847 Stage, as opposed to the large park district pool next door, the metaphor still feels right. Now instrumental funk — or improvised music of any style for that matter — often runs the risk of feeling flabby, or directionless, like a freshman liberal arts student with rich parents. That is not the case for The Heard: they are lean and solely exist to groove. Their set was a perfect jumpstart to a day of similarly veined music, allowing fans to glide into Macy Gray and Galactic, The Roots, and D’Angelo with nary a hiccup. –Kevin McMahon
Most Calculated Bass Drops
“Three, two, one!” yelled the Australian duo. In case we weren’t sure when the bass was going to drop, they made sure to let us know. At least three times.
To appease fans that chose to sweat with them instead of vibe with Widespread Panic Friday night, Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen spun a diverse set of blistering remixes. Fan favorites like “Bonfire” and “Internet Friends” were interspersed with bombastic renditions of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “By the Way” and Swire-featured “Ghosts N Stuff”. Strobe lights strobed. The crowd thrashed. The bass did indeed drop. Knife Party didn’t push any limits with their live performance that evening, but they did make the ground shake. –Danielle Janota
Most Severely Under-Attended
Local chill dudes Ne-Hi played one of the festival’s few straightforward indie rock sets, and they slayed for the entirety of their 45 minutes, but unfortunately there were maybe four dozen people there to see it. Maybe it was the 2:30 start time that did them in, but whatever reason people had for not showing up in droves, it surely wasn’t good enough to miss one of the most exciting young acts coming out of Chicago during a time when Chicago churns out exciting young acts like an exciting young act factory. If given the chance to see these guys play, do not sleep on that opportunity. Their live energy is infectious, and they’ll surely be around for a while. –Pat Levy
Most Surprisingly Energetic Set
Having seen Tycho live a few times in the past, I had an idea of what to expect from their mid-afternoon set on Sunday, but instead I was pretty blown away by how energetic the band was on stage. Maybe it’s just the difference between a venue and a fest, or maybe they knew that the audience they were playing to was expecting something more upbeat. Whatever the reason, Tycho ripped through an hour of ambient rock with a vigor that the genre usually doesn’t see. The San Francisco outfit puts out a totally different vibe with more intensity, and it was a welcome detour from what I was expecting. –Pat Levy
Best Sunset Set
Portugal. The Man
Hailing from Wasilla, Alaska, Portugal. The Man are no strangers to a beautiful sunset. As such they were the perfect guides to take North Coast through its final decent into darkness. Beginning with the harmonized “ooo’s” of “Hip Hop Kids”, the band ironically set an indie precedent for the transition to nighttime. Bassist Zachary Carothers brought energy to spare grabbing the tambourine hanging from his mic stand with notable exuberance when a song called for it. Overall Portugal. The Man’s music stayed very on brand, leaning towards the more danceable end of the indie rock spectrum. The crowd was receptive, especially as they rounded the performance with hits like “Modern Jesus” and “Purple Yellow Red and Blue”. The audience might have all been waiting for The Chemical Brothers, but Portugal. The Man were more than adequate placeholders. –Kevin McMahon
Best Use of Turtles Humping Gif
Trippy Turtle really takes his name to heart, with nearly every visual aspect of his live performance referencing turtles. He wears a turtle hoodie, his laser light show was all green, and the video board behind him played nothing but gifs of turtles, occasionally interspersed with gifs of lettuce. If you like turtles, obviously this is for you, but if you care more about the music than the presentation, Trippy Turtle still has you covered. He garnered some Chicago support by dropping Twista mid-set and followed it with a remix of Keith Ape’s “It G Ma”, which sent a small but dedicated section of the crowd into an absolute frenzy. As far as members of the Mad Decent roster go, Trippy Turtle might be the most perfect for the North Coast setting. He’s delightfully weird and makes exactly the type of EDM and EDM-flavored remixes that people come to North Coast for. –Pat Levy
Most Adept Sampling
Gold Panda has made waves across multiple oceans since his debut LP, Lucky Shiner. From gleaming, melody-driven electronica a la Kieren Hebden to more club-ready techno with splashes of breakbeat, producer Derwin Schlecker wears many hats. Facilitated by his favored Akai MPC 2000, this eclectic sampling palate gave a worldliness to the music emanating from each speaker in his set Friday afternoon. Non-traditional instruments, distorted vocal clips, and weird shit you know he just overheard and decided to record all had their place in his one-hour performance.
One element his music did not incorporate was gratuitous use of deeply pitched 808 base drum kicks. Perhaps because of this, the energy was noticeably flat as his performance began. Luckily, as the show progressed and the crowd filled in like so many bees to a honeycomb, the push-pull from DJ to audience finally took root. Once there, it was easy to appreciate the skill behind those knobs. –Kevin McMahon
Stage Most Likely To Blast Off Into Space
The Glitch Mob
A year and a half ago, I wrote that The Glitch Mob’s production style was destined for live EDM warfare. Beneath the lofty trees of the 630 Stage, I found that statement to be truer than I ever could’ve imagined. Like the flag-waving crowd that gathered in support of their fearless leaders, the Mob came prepped for a galactic battle. Turbine-shaped drums surrounded the trio, exhaust-like fumes burst from the stage, and several soundboards faced the audience – giving them control of this sonic spaceship cockpit. Fueled by the crowd’s adrenaline, they pummeled through power ballad after ballad without letting Mobsters or themselves catch a breath. Because of the high energy and distinct live aesthetic, they probably would have been an even more compelling Friday headliner than Knife Party. –Danielle Janota
Most Powerful Moment
Michael Archer aka D’Angelo just might be the smoothest dude on the planet. Costume changes, casual mic stand play, and his penchant for being fashionably late all punctuate the enigma that surrounds him. D’Angelo slinked out from behind the stage speakers at 9:06 p.m. wearing a Mad Max-style overcoat tattered to accentuate his muscular physique. Conjuring up the crowd’s volume with the simple raising of his hand, D’Angelo and the Vanguard launched directly into “Ain’t That Easy”, the opening track from 2014’s soon to be legendary Black Messiah.
After witnessing D’Angelo’s Bonnaroo set earlier this year suffer the depressing effects of sound bleed at the hands of Bassnectar, I was admittedly nervous. To my surprise, the stage mix was perfect, and by perfect, I mean incredibly fucking loud so there was no chance of Steve Aoki interfering. Each instrument came through the PA system with crisp individuality, especially the lead classical guitar line that flutters about “Really Love”.
The most powerful moment of the concert — and the entire festival for that matter — came during “The Charade”. Perhaps the most charged of all the songs on Black Messiah, the song stuck out like an emotional sore thumb live as well. Archer had the audience raise their fists in solidarity for the victims of police brutality, and, after a moment of silence, launched into the paradoxically funky track. With The Vanguard tightly behind him, one could feel goosebumps swell on the forearms of the audience as they took it in. D’Angelo moved about the stage, taking time for a moment with each performer. I was personally struck by tenderness in the second D’Angelo took to rest his head on the shoulder of Bassist Pino Palladino. “The Charade” is not a song that preaches; it is a song of understanding and mourning for lives swallowed up in a struggle that often feels futile. However, it is also a song of unity and empowerment, ending with hope. All these things D’Angelo conveyed in one song, a moment everyone could take home with them. –Kevin McMahon
The Chemical Brothers
Nothing could have prepared me for the way I was steamrolled on Sunday night. When the first fluorescent green lasers burst from The Chemical Brothers’ stage, a palatable energy permeated the air. North Coast was one of the few lucky US festivals that scored a performance by the UK producers this year, and as a result – we knew it, The Chemical Brothers knew it – this was a special affair.
There was never a dull moment as psychedelic, often terrifying projections pulsed onstage. In just an hour and a half, I spied with my very wide eyes: jungle animals, architectural blueprints, a giant disco ball/satellite, and two towering Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. The duo seamlessly transitioned through a solid selection of tracks from their extensive catalog, emblazoning the crowd with newer hit “Sometimes I Feel So Deserted” and, of course, the pivotal banger “Galvanize”.
The Chemical Brothers put on the most dynamic set of the weekend, and it’s visionary acts like them that keep North Coast such a hidden gem. “Ooh that’s scary,” remarked a thrashing fangirl next to me as a diabolical clown laughed on screen. Yes, yes it was. And I couldn’t get enough. –Danielle Janota