We’re only four weeks into 2017, and yet we could already map out the summer. There’s nothing really shocking about that, though. By now, it’s become customary for major festivals to drop their lineups before Walgreen’s even has a chance to start stocking Valentine’s Day goodies. And really, it’s a relief in the sense that we get to plan ahead and start to put the pieces together on how the entire festival season is going to look.
So far, it’s a pretty mixed bag. That’s not to say there aren’t some intriguing lineups — what the hell do you think this list is for? It’s just that nothing really leaves us looking like this:
Aside from a few banner names, most of the festival offerings look pretty similar. Chance the Rapper is headlining everywhere. So is Frank Ocean. And if you thought Kendrick Lamar was ready to step away from festivals to hit the studio, think again. Of course, none of us are complaining about seeing these names atop the posters; it’s just that they don’t exactly scream 2017. Where is St. Vincent? Isn’t Sky Ferreira putting out an album? Aren’t Gorillaz coming back?
Perhaps we have to wait for the second half of the year to find out — you know, when the Lollapaloozas, the Pitchforks, the FYFs, the ACLS, and the Voodoos put out their lineups. Or maybe, and let’s hope this isn’t the case, more acts have opted out of festivals to tour on their lonesome? Again, it’s too early to find out. The good news is that we have more than enough lineups to sift through, and there are some must-attend events coming up in the months ahead. To help us pare down the offerings, we even teamed up with our good friends over at Your EDM.
10. Middle Lands Festival
MVP Headliner: At a festival as unique as Middlelands, the lineup almost comes second to the experience itself … almost. There’s no headliner distinction on Insomniac lineups, so you have to look a little harder, but they’re there: Major Lazer are known for their showy performances. So putting them in a medieval festival setting is almost guaranteed to bring about exciting results.
Best Gets: But as anyone who’s been to an Insomniac festival knows, sometimes the best sets don’t come from the headliners. To everyone’s surprise, Jurassic 5 was booked for Middlelands, as was Rae Sremmurd, Rich Chigga, and Pouya, representing a strong hip-hop showing that you wouldn’t ever expect. Then there’s still Phantogram, Bonobo, Lido, and more to contend with, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Added Value: To make things even more interesting, Middlelands booked popular actor Kristian Nairn for the festival, better known for portraying the character Hodor on Game of Thrones. Nairn is actually an accomplished producer and DJ and somewhat of an ambassador to the festival, making it all the more authentic.
Can’t-Miss Rookies: And there are even more rising artists you can’t afford to miss, like Elohim, Quix, MSCLS, Pham, Carlyle, Moksi, Sikdope, and more.
Final Thoughts: With Insomniac and C3 Presents, the promoter for festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, teaming up together, there’s no doubt that Middlelands will be one of the best music festivals of the year for electronic music, or at least one of the most unique. And with an extra camping component added, you can expect a lot of themed activities to be going on well into the night.
09. Governors Ball
MVP Headliner: Tool might have a younger generation turning to Wikipedia, but there might not be an act with a more dedicated fanbase in music today. Take into account the fact that the group hasn’t played NYC in 11 years, and you have the makings for a single set that could move tickets regardless of the rest of the lineup.
Best Gets: With the release of the best album of his career in December, Childish Gambino was pegged by many to be a fixture on festival lineups this year. But that hasn’t been the case (maybe blame the Han Solo movie for that), and Gambino’s set at Governors Ball, along with appearances from the likes of Phoenix, Mark Ronson Vs. Kevin Parker, Wu-Tang Clan, Charli XCX, and The Avalanches all stand strong for the New York event.
Added Value: Chance the Rapper is one of the hottest new headliners for the year and figures to bring a massive set as he closes out the first night of Governors Ball. A strong mid-tier, which includes Rae Sremmurd, YG, Air, Cage the Elephant, and Lorde, bodes well for music fans coming out to the three-day fest.
Can’t-Miss Rookies: Electronic wizard The Range is magnetic live and figures to win a lot of new fans on Randall’s Island. On the other side of the spectrum, Los Angeles rising stars Muna figure to become fixtures of music festivals as their career continues, and this might be a good time to get in on the ground floor.
Final Thoughts: With a competing festival taking place just a month later, the remarkable thing about both Governors Ball and Panorama is that they both managed to put together festivals better than many others that don’t have to split the talent pool in two. Following the rainout on the final day of last year’s fest, Govenors Ball is hoping things run smooth and that the festival can rebound. With this lineup, they’re off to a good start.
MVP Headliner: It’s a tie between Nine Inch Nails and A Tribe Called Quest with the latter having a slight advantage. Both aren’t booked anywhere else in North America, and both are supporting new material. But aha, here’s the difference: Whereas Nine Inch Nails couldn’t exactly muster up the magic for its recent Not the Actual Events EP, Tribe put out one of the best albums in their critically acclaimed discography last year with We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service. How they’re paired side by side should present quite the scheduling conflict for any attendees with a love for industrial and hip-hop.
Best Gets: It’s pretty wild that in addition to both NIN and Tribe, Panorama also have Frank Ocean, Solange, and surprise headliner Tame Impala. That’s a stacked bill on any given year, but especially now seeing that Ocean and Solange are coming off of two major releases and Tame is currently the most intriguing rock act on the planet. Seeing how Stranger Things will likely be back on Netflix around this time, Austin electronic masterminds Survive will be a nice touch.
Added Value: The range of talent is one of Panorama’s better strengths. It’s a colorful smorgasbord of brazen hip-hop (Vince Staples, Tyler, The Creator, Isaiah Rashad), stellar rock ‘n’ roll (Cloud Nothings, Spoon, Angel Olsen), addicting synth pop (Future Islands, Justice, MØ), and even cutthroat electronic music (Nicolas Jaar). Sure, there’s some festival fat that’s everywhere this summer — see: Glass Animals, Vance Joy, DJ Shadow — but it’s offset by these more muscular inclusions.
Can’t-Miss Rookies: It’s always a relief to see female acts being represented on any festival lineup, and this bill puts a spotlight on some incredible up-and-comers, specifically Los Angeles fuzz pop trio Cherry Glazeerr, British alternative multi-instrumentalist Bishop Briggs, Brooklyn-born wizard behind the decks DJ Heather, and Chicago R&B stunner Jamila Woods.
Final Thoughts: It’s apparent that Goldenvoice wants to keep Panorama separate from Coachella. With the exception of a few names, there aren’t too many overlaps with the Indio juggernaut. In fact, one might argue Panorama’s the cooler of the two given that Coachella has mostly become a populist adventure. And considering that Panorama lands between Chicago’s own Pitchfork Music Festival and Lollapalooza, the festival is in quite a prime position to grab the best of the best — and they did.
MVP Headliner: Ultra is known as one of the biggest electronic music festivals in the world for a good reason: It gets the best acts. Booking Justice for 2017 is easily one of the biggest grabs in dance music right now, coming quickly after the release of their new album. And with Daft Punk’s Alive 2017 tour still just a rumor, Justice is the next best thing.
Best Gets: It’s also great to see The Prodigy back on the lineup this year after having to cancel their performance last year. Adding Sasha and John Digweed is a powerful acknowledgement of techno and its resilience at a typically “EDM” festival, but Resistance has always been one of their strongest stages. Rounding out the headliners with Ice Cube and Underworld also shows a diverse appreciation of music, even at a festival like Ultra.
Added Value: And as always, there are plenty of sponsored stages for you to happen upon. Between the live stage and A State of Trance, not to mention UMF Radio, Ultra Worldwide, Resistance, and more, you’ll be seeing a lot of acts you either never thought you’d see or have never even heard of before.
Can’t-Miss Rookies: Ultra hasn’t released a second phase of the lineup just yet, so it’s hard to say who’s going to be on the undercard worth seeing. That being said, Ultra is notorious for blowing up producers, e.g. Kandy, who rocked the 7UP stage last year to become the most trafficked set at the stage all weekend.
Final Thoughts: As one of the most highly regarded electronic music festivals in the world, there’s almost as much negative attention put on the festival as there is positive. However, anyone who’s been to Ultra can attest to the crazy parties and wild crowds, and most of all, the insane production of the festival each and every year. And considering 2016 was such a massive year for Ultra, we can only expect them to go even bigger in 2017.
06. Mad Cool Festival
MVP Headliner: Three rock titans take over each day at Mad Cool, but there’s absolutely no missing the Foo Fighters. Even when he’s broken, frontman Dave Grohl is a total beast on stage, and this time he’ll be sans crutches, which means he’ll be back to his old self, hopping around like Bugs Bunny on meth. Here’s hoping their new album is more Saint Cecilia EP and less Sonic Highways.
Best Gets: Considering North American festivals have all but given up on rock, it’s nice to see veterans like Dinosaur Jr. and Rancid on lineups again. Unlike their peers, J Mascis and co. translate very well to the festival setting, namely because the band’s amps are traditionally set to “Bludgeon.” And with Green Day nearby, perhaps there will be two Armstrongs around during Rancid’s set.
Added Value: Because it’s such an assuredly lean lineup, there really isn’t too much fat to skim off, which means every act has to count, and they kind of do. Diamonds like Ryan Adams, Wilco, and Spoon are all supporting new material and will undoubtedly put on some can’t-miss sets that will likely rival the three headliners. And hey, you can always dance off the riffs with Röyksopp.
Can’t-Miss Rookies: CoSign rockers Wolf Alice were already worth seeing two years ago, but now that their hit, “Silk”, has been soundtracking the T2: Trainspotting trailers, there’s an added oomph to their sets. Don’t miss Deap Vally do their thing, either.
Final Thoughts: One common misconception among festivalgoers is that lineups need to be bigger and broader. Not always; after all, you can only be at so many places at once and conflicts suck. What many forget is that experience is key, which is why there’s something so alluring about Mad Cool Festival’s bite-size lineup. This is a very focused and well-curated weekend, one that speaks to a certain kind of listener and one that should warrant a friendly, like-minded crowd. That’s pretty great.