How did Voodoo 2016 fit into the continuum of Voodoos? Of Summer festivals? And how was the weekend at Le Plur?
Sunday at Voodoo felt a little like the last day of high school. The festival only had a few hours left in it, and so did the summer festival season. On Saturday, Saint Motel and Shakey Graves announced that their sets were the last of their tours, and I’m sure the same was true on Sunday for a number of the acts. Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals have been one of the winners of the season as he found an audience around the country one mid-afternoon set at a time. He’s now taking some time off before he resurfaces at yet another festival-like show, Power 106’s Christmas Jam in Inglewood, California.
Voodoo has always been connected to the summer festival circuit, but it has never been as thoroughly a part of it as the festival was this year. In the past, Voodoo’s efforts to reach out to the Jazz Fest audience (or present New Orleans’ music to Voodoo’s younger core audience) and reach older audiences (or expose Voodoo’s core audience to their music’s forerunners) added components that other summer rock festivals didn’t have, but those successes were often artistic at best. Last year, it was fun to see Public Image Ltd. with another 60 or so people, but few looked young enough to learn much from the show.
That more personal approach to booking made Voodoo distinctive, but the festival also felt loosely focused as a result and its impact relied heavily on headliners. This is the first year that Voodoo was presented by C3, which also puts on Lollapalooza in Chicago and ACL in Austin, and perhaps because of their involvement, this year Voodoo was part of a summer-long conversation about popular music, even if we were only there for the Peace Outs. Festivals have become a way to reach music listeners (and potentially buyers) now that radio doesn’t hold sway like it once did, and some careers have benefitted from them the way Paak’s has. Cage the Elephant has done a lot of audience-building through festivals this year and in the past, and the perfectly average Tory Lanez has similarly expanded his following beyond what his Hard to Be a Hustler narrative merits.
Fans of guitars and rock had to be heartened this Voodoo to see that rock got out of its grave and walked this weekend, and bands such as Bully, Nothing but Thieves, Seratones, The Breton Sound, and Cage the Elephant showed that there remain a lot of ways to use them. It was also possible to watch those bands play, see them draw well, and think that rock really remains a financial force to be reckoned with. If those people went to Le Plur 10 minutes later, they’d have seen that the crowds were bigger, wilder, and denser for electronic music than anything other than the headliners. On Sunday night, The Chainsmokers really were the headliners above Arcade Fire based on the draw.
One Austinite who goes to ACL found Voodoo familiar in the way things are done, but a big upside of this year’s festival was that it was simply more professional. The improvisatory feel that in the past gave Voodoo personality was replaced by a basic ease. There were no computer freeze-ups or problems getting in, and the more orderly layout not only made the festival easier to wander, but by putting Le Plur and the Altar stages in less open-ended spaces, crowds at those stages tended to pack together and create the vibe that those shows were events. With the Altar dark when bands performed on the side stages, not only was soundbleed not a problem but the audiences at those stages were large enough that the buzz that comes with a crowd all enjoying the same thing at the same time was often palpable. The excitement for Saint Motel, Bully, and Seratones was palpable, particularly as people were obviously hearing hearing something new that blew them away.
My Spilt Milk contributors Raphael Helfand, Emily Tonn and Ryan Knight helped cover Voodoo. Here are their notes from the weekend.
- The Chainsmokers have been all over the radio and festival lineups this year, and their hit single "Closer" (feat. Halsey) current sits atop the Billboard Hot 100 list. That made The Chainsmokers a fitting choice to close the Le Plur stage, and as soon as Grammatik’s set finished, an already tightly-packed Le Plur stage experienced an influx of frat guys with girls with flower headbands on their shoulders. The Chainsmokers set began with one of them calmly reciting the lyrics: "So baby pull me closer in the backseat of your Rover / that I know you can't afford, bite that tattoo on your shoulder. / Pull the sheets right off the corner of the mattress that you stole / from your roommate back in Boulder, we ain't ever getting older.” After teasing “Closer,” the duo put off actually playing the song until later in the set.
The Chainsmokers were chameleons, and mixed pop that went into trap, hip-hop that went into dubstep, with original tracks thrown in sparingly. A special moment was the use of the drop in "Roses" at the end of another pop song. These type of unexpected musical shifts and mashups are part of what make electronic music fun and exciting. However, toward the middle their set, their drops became heavy in dubstep or drum & bass. The experienced listener of electronic music can appreciate these elements and sometimes enjoy them, but the demographic of The Chainsmokers' fanbase is much different from that of Excision or Bassnectar who specialize in dubstep. The Chainsmokers didn't seem as conscious of the fact that most people are on the fence about their feelings toward EDM. A lot of people do not see it as an umbrella term that encompasses various different styles, and see it only as dubstep and techno. Those who came to the show expecting to hear the light, dynamic sound of The Chainsmokers’ hits on the radio left scared off or alienated. (Ryan Knight)
- The Preservation Hall Jazz Band played twice on Sunday at Voodoo: an early afternoon set at The Altar, and a much more low-key one in the evening inside the Toyota Music Den. The setting could not quite be characterized as intimate due to the aggressive Toyota advertisements peppering the small tent. There were even real cars inside, which added to the claustrophobia factor in an already cramped space—but the band made it their own, welcoming a surprisingly large and seemingly local flock with the comforting sound of brass.
About half way through the set, tuba player Ben Jaffe welcomed surprise guests Tank and The Bangas to the stage, noting that they were the winners of a vaguely-defined Toyota-run competition whose finalists also included Faubourg Fouligny and New Breed Brass Band. (In the press release for the show, the gig was plugged as “the opportunity of a lifetime,” which is a little condescending considering the fact that at least New Breed and Tank and the Bangas are already New Orleans staples and have played at Jazz Fest, but I digress.) The tiny stage immediately became overstuffed with talent, adding the six Bangas to Preservation Hall’s six-piece group.
Tank and The Bangas only stayed for one song, but they stole the show. The Bangas took charge while Preservation Hall took a backseat and enjoyed the ride. Lead singer Tarriona Ball stood front and center, belting out the hyperactive “Boxes” while her band provided her a spastically charged instrumental backdrop with some occasional input from the Preservation Hall folks. The whole thing felt like a gracious changing of the musical guard. (Raphael Helfand)
- A very dynamic Gramatik proved himself to be a master mood manipulator, flipping from genre to genre, showcasing his eclectic ear and ability to turn any musical idea into a banger. His instrument interludes on piano and electric guitar between the intensity of the dubstep every couple of songs added a layer of soul and funk to the set unlike any other EDM artist this weekend. (Emily Tonn)
- A petite Alison Wonderland brought the EDM flavor back to Le Plur after DJ Mustard. Her set was the first big night show of the evening and seemingly transformed the open park into a packed club. The live DJ spun from behind her light-pixelated booth and played her own and other artists’ bangers from start to finish--particularly Justin Bieber’s What Do You Mean Remix was one of the best from her set: “I’d like to thank Justin Bieber for letting me fuck with his songs!” (Emily Tonn)
- There were a lot of festival patrons dressed as either Yolandi or Ninja of Die Antwoord throughout the day, and the South African hip-hop duo’s crowd support reflected this kind of dedication at their show. Surprisingly the show was well-rounded, and blended familiar electronic music sounds which catered to various fans' tastes. Although their aggressive demeanor and ethic sound may not be as well suited to their studio albums, their live performances are refreshing in that you are guaranteed to see something unique. The choreographed dancers, for example, are like conductors for the rowdy vibe that Die Antwoord is all about. The visual production was much like the absurdity seen in their music videos, and it spooked the Le Plur audience. (Ryan Knight)
- Excision was ruthless, playing harder, heavier EDM and dubstep than any other act of the day. Their crowd was explosive, with neck-breaking headbanging and disorderly dancing, completely responding to Excision’s rave. If it weren’t for Die Antwoord, they would have been the best act on Le Plur.
Die Antwoord threw down the best freak show of the night. Their show was absolutely liberating and brazenly low brow, but with genius trashy-rave music. The South African group brought more energy to the crowd than I saw in their previous set at Austin City Limits, so props to New Orleans for keeping up with the absurdity that is Die Antwoord. Their show was mental and was the highlight of my night, and I can’t find many people who saw the show who disagree. (Emily Tonn)
- Porter Robinson is on his second year touring for his narrative album Worlds. He has expectedly fine-tuned his performance and now does the mixing and singing himself. Although the sound was something Porter Robinson fans have been hearing for a while now, he always manages to create an emotional atmosphere. The album tells the story of how each of us is connected to each other through the Internet, and that two people can feel like they are in the same place even if they are physically on different continent. While What So Not created a vibe that was more intense and bass-heavy, Porter's performance gave the Le Plur audience a light-hearted, optimistic feeling. (Ryan Knight)
- A DJ Mustard performance is like listening to Q93 for an hour. He played as many top 100 hip-hop songs as he could during his time slot, which most people in the crowd knew every word to. This performance, however, was one of the most energetic of the day, and most crowd-inclusive. (Ryan Knight)
- The Weeknd opened with "The Hills," a song America has heard too many times. Unfortunately, he spent most of his performance pushing newer songs that have gotten the most radio play. This actually served to alienate most of his fans that have listened to him since he released House of Balloons back in 2011. He did only two and a half songs from The Trilogy, excluding "Wicked Games." He played the first part of "High For This" and later performed "The Morning." Predictably, "Starboy" was the song that he wanted the crowd of thousands to leave with, and the new single is clearly a sneak peak of the electronic rock n' roll sound that he is moving toward. Because of that, the performance felt more like an ad for The Weeknd than an emotional live performance. (Ryan Knight)
Finally, Jazz Fest has now been put on notice. Everybody who attended Voodoo knows that there are better, faster, less revolting bathroom options than Port-O-Lets.