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Panorama 2017 Festival Review: Top 10 Sets

NYC's second major festival avoids sophomore slump with Frank Ocean, Solange, and more

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    Photos by Killian Young

    Regardless of how big Goldenvoice gets, its sophomore Panorama Music Festival still books with the personality of a smaller event. That’s not to say that it didn’t reach for the top, but what other major festival bills Belle & Sebastian in its second line? Or even Tame Impala as a headliner? While certainly one of indie rock’s biggest acts, with decent crossover appeal, too, thanks to Rihanna, the band still remains largely absent from most other festivals’ top spots. Panorama isn’t trying to be its island-mate, Governors Ball, and that’s musically to its benefit. By booking acts less obvious, less likely to be a major household name, Panorama presents itself as New York City’s alternative festival.

    So why didn’t Panorama sell out? Because it didn’t book Lorde. Because it booked Nicolas Jaar over Flume. Because Randall’s Island is annoying to get to, and without the aforementioned artists, you don’t get the eager high-school crowds. They came out on Friday for Frank Ocean, but Saturday and Sunday were noticeably leaner. Panorama’s decision to fill a musical niche is both a blessing (for attendees) and a curse (potentially, for its sustainability). No music festival in New York City has managed to become a cultural institution quite like Coachella or Lollapalooza. And because of that, the fight for Randall’s Island continues. Panorama, after two years now of stellar booking, is working to maximize its appeal without sacrificing its musical credibility.

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    This year’s headliners seemed to reflect New York’s collective mood over the last few months. Fed up with Trump and feverish from the heat, Panorama cherry-picked from the city’s well of emotions. Tame Impala and Nine Inch Nails, both musicians who rely heavily on their own insecurities and self-doubt to make art, were booked over acts more in line with the tired quest for “summer vibes.”

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    One half of Panorama’s headliners were some of music’s most conscious artists: Solange, Frank Ocean, and A Tribe Called Quest, all remarkable for the way they represent society through song. Their sets were exhilarating, but to call them fun would be to trivialize their impact. Seeing Calvin Harris is fun, but it’s wholly uninspired. Panorama’s collection of artists asked you to challenge the notion of how a music festival is supposed to make you feel.

    The weekend wasn’t just top heavy, though, booking solidly throughout. Rising stars like Mitski and Angel Olsen shared the bill with more established groups like MGMT and Spoon. What Panorama might have needed was one more tent – something for the smaller acts like Pinegrove, who aren’t yet able to fill the main stage. And potentially, the festival also could have used another installation. HP’s The Lab was interesting, but its payoff wasn’t worth the long lines. By and large, though, Panorama’s infrastructure was adequate (save for the floor caving in during Isaiah Rashad’s set). Stages were spaced out far enough so there was no bleeding of sound, and ample-size screens were present so that you could always see the artist. Food and drink were plenty, except for the inconvenience of hard alcohol being limited to only one fenced-in area. Parental chaperones did not seem amused.

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    So does Panorama Music Festival have a future on Randall’s Island? Well, it might if Goldenvoice continues to take risks in booking. To call headlining acts like Tame Impala or Nine Inch Nails a risk feels ridiculous. But eventually leaf subsides to leaf, and even a titan like Bonnaroo finally succumbed to booking youth-drawing acts. What Panorama has that Bonnaroo doesn’t is convenience. Arguably, it’s even more convenient than Coachella. People will come to Randall’s Island for music because it’s just off the 4/5/6 train. With a baked-in audience, all Panorama has to do is continue to differentiate itself.
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    10. Jamila Woods

    jamila woods photo by panorama nyc 2 Panorama 2017 Festival Review: Top 10 Sets

    Photo courtesy of Panorama

    Jamila Woods was one of Panorama 2017’s opening acts, a tough slot given the slim Friday workday crowd. After her performance, though, no one should be surprised to watch her rise in festival stature over the next several summers. As a relatively new artist, Woods’ performance wasn’t always perfect. But there’s something endearing about watching an artist grow before your eyes, gaining confidence with each successive song. By the time Woods got to 2017’s “Holy”, she was effortlessly delivering one of Panorama’s most underappreciated performances.


    09. Pinegrove

    Pinegrove highlights the absolute best of what emo can be. More Saddle Creek and less Fueled by Ramen, the group represents a time when the genre more or less meant what “indie” does today. Pinegrove sounds like your parents’ suburban basement, and their onstage aesthetic matches all the emotions that come with it. They’re surprisingly youthful for their sound, breaking character occasionally with a smile that showed an appreciation for where they were. These were clearly best friends who grew up listening to The Get Up Kids and begged their parents to drive them across the tri-state area for Jimmy Eat World concerts. What defined the set was how tight each song sounded live. Tracks from Cardinal felt fresh — like maybe whatever caused them to write “Old Friends” was going to be okay so long as they were all in it together.
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    08. Mitski

    The Pinegrove-to-Mitski transition had no chill. But both are such relentless talents that if you could emotionally handle them back to back, the result was worth it. Another artist in the early stages of her career, Mitski presented herself on stage with the reserved coolness of a PJ Harvey or a Björk. Her sound was forceful, with Mitski backed only by a guitarist and a drummer. It wasn’t until several songs in when she finally introduced herself, reminding the crowd that she was from New York City, before searing through Best American Girl. Mitski was alarmingly confident, songs like “Happy” and “I Don’t Smoke” sounding more powerful than they ever could through headphones.


    07. Nick Murphy a.k.a Chet Faker

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    Photo courtesy of Panorama

    You have to believe someone in the booking department threw a fit when Chet Faker announced he’d now be going by his little-known birthname, Nick Murphy. The negotiation that followed likely resulted in his former moniker’s parenthetical inclusion on most Panorama marketing materials. It mattered little to me since I’d never listened to either Chet Faker or Nick Murphy before. Quickly on Saturday, I learned that this had been a mistake.

    Murphy’s set could be best described as ambient hard rock, a perfect transition into what would shortly become Tame Impala’s headlining set. Though sparsely attended due to the cross-billing of Alt-J, Murphy spared nothing when it came to visuals and sound. What we heard was deep and resounding, a statement performance to make a new (albeit his actual) name for himself. That such music typically delegated to DJs could be made by a live band was remarkable. And what a welcome sight it was at the end to watch him trash his instruments, something a now cost-conscious music industry seems to have forgotten. Murphy thrashed with an intensity matched only by his music, throwing mic stands and kicking over amps. The perfect bookend to his thrilling performance.
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