Music festivals tend to be much better in concept than in execution – and most people who’ve been to one over the last decade or so would agree: you spend three days out in the middle of nowhere, paying premium prices to see shitty bands, and eat gross, unhealthy food, probably pre-made somewhere in Long Island City. To add insult to injury, many festivals play it safe, booking acts from the Billboard charts in the early 90s. I’ve seen too many washed up, uninspiring bands take a headline slot from a truly exciting, popular newcomer who deserves center stage.
Sweetlife Festival, now in its seventh year, is doing its damn best to address all of these (my) concerns. The festival has slimmed down to just one day, which is about as much as my old, decrepit body can handle. And the food vendor situation is outstanding: culinary partners include Erik Bruner Yang (Maketto), Jose Andres (Beefsteak), Spike Gjerde (Woodberry Kitchen) and Nick Weisman (DGS). Excited?
But what about the music, you ask? While critiquing music festival lineup announcements has become an activity unto itself, it’s hard to poke holes at this year’s Sweetlife Festival, unless you’re a fan of dad-rock (I see you, Grammy Award voters). It covers all of the bases: local acts, big crowd-pleasing acts with a pop sound, envelope-pushing auteurs and weirdos, upcoming hip-hop artists, and one deeply influential classic punk-rock act, led by the inimitable Debbie fucking Harry. This is one of the most exciting music festival lineups I have ever seen.
For your reading pleasure, a quick and dirty guide to the 2016 Sweetlife Festival:
The 1975: These British alt-rockers exploded onto the scene in 2014 with their self-titled album, and are apparently convinced that the only way to destroy Voldemort’s horcruxes is to play every single music festival in the United States. Seriously – they seem to be on every lineup, ever, but it’s hard to blame organizers. The music is catchy, they sound great when blasting their synthy brand of rock out to an open field, and the lead singer looks like he’s doing Jane’s Addiction cosplay at all times. Sleazy, yet safe.
Halsey: Halsey is so young! You can tell in her voice, and by the fact that she straight up lifted the chorus from Biggie’s “Juicy” unironically. However, she has some great hooks, and the live performances I’ve seen look and sound pretty great. Probably your thing if you’re into Charli XCX or Ellie Goulding.
Flume: One of the most exciting young producers out there. His original tracks and remixes are generally bangers, and he is getting better and better each year. Hope he gets to play after night fall – the visuals to his show at the 9:30 Club a few years ago were incredible.
Grimes: Claire Boucher is an amazingly talented weirdo with the voice of an angel and an obsessive’s attention to detail. She moves and sounds like she’s experiencing a sugar high, in the best way imaginable, and can also slam it the fuck down. Her new album, Art Angels, is inspired and influenced by so many things: 8-bit videogames, manga, electropop, thrash, and furry platform boots. You will not be disappointed.
Partynextdoor: Canadian R&B crooner/rapper signed to Drake’s OVO Sound and Warner Music. Great tracks, hazy and sensual vocals, aversion to spacing words apart.
Blondie: Blondie is a group, but Debbie Harry is its icon and soul. One of the most influential new wave and punk rock acts in American music.
Eagles of Death Metal: After the tragedy in Paris, it’s good to see these guys on tour again. No snarky comments here – just a great rock and roll band, and one I hope gets a warm reception from the crowd in D.C.
Mac DeMarco: True story – last Saturday night at 1 a.m., I found out Mac de Marco was slated to play a 7 a.m. show at Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right. In all seriousness, I, an adult approaching 30 years of age, considered going up to NYC on the very next train to catch this show, but nothing would get me in on time. That’s how good Mac DeMarco is live.
Thundercat: Somebody needs to give this man a MacArthur Genius Grant. As I said last year, Thundercat has played a significant role in shaping four of the most challenging and sonically dense albums of 2015 (and probably the entire decade): Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead!, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, and Kamasi Washington’s The Epic. That he managed to juggle his roles and responsibilities all while putting the finishing touches on his most recent release, the universally lauded prog-jazz/hip-hop release The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam, is an incredible feat.
DIIV: The drone rockers have a new album out, and it’s really good. They will build some guitar-driven walls of sound that will eventually get you dancing. So talented.
Prinze George: The local guys! The PG county kids might live in Brooklyn these days, but it’s great to see them making it. Gorgeous vocals, danceable electro-pop, and a shout out to the homecrowd. Excited to see them live.