Revelry 2014 packed with indie-pop, rap standouts
In its second year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Revelry Music and Arts Festival brought over 20 artists to play at the Memorial Union. Read on for coverage from The Daily Cardinal Arts staff.
Revelry came to its climax when Dillon Francis, the main-stage headliner, followed Waka Flocka Flame and pushed the massive Langdon Street crowd to a level of hype and excitement that far exceeded my expectations. He played a coherent set, each song thriving off of the energy of the previous one. Francis teased the crowd by playing only brief portions of his two most popular songs, which got the crowd anxious and moving, while allowing him to spend more time playing new mixes and original tracks that haven’t achieved the same level of notoriety.
Dillon had the Langdon Street crowd wired; anyone standing totally still would have stuck out like a sore thumb. In addition, Francis’ visual display accompanied his set well without going over the top. Bright white lights flashed on the front side of his booth, swelling with the constant rise and fall of his music. Dillon Francis was the most notable act of the night; his show certainly raised the bar for next year’s festival.
Waka Flocka Flame
This was probably the wildest crowd I was a part of at Revelry—which is odd because Waka was also probably the most disappointing show I saw. Let me preface: it was a great time. It’s hard to beat hands waving to Waka’s drill hits as the sun set.
But I can hit “enter” on my laptop from home. Waka strolled around the stage occasionally mumbling words into the mic in Timberlands that looked more like a piece of modern art than boots with his dreads flopping. The light show helped add some extra flare, creating a striking image of Waka and his dreadlocks glowing red. The large, shirtless DJ behind him helped pump up the crowd as Waka rocked out. The crowd loved it. Before permanently leaving the stage, an encore introduced a recently released EDM-infused tune that Waka recorded with Steve Aoki, fittingly named “Rage the Night Away.” I’ve never been to a trap rap show before, so maybe I’m just new to how they’re supposed to go. But watching the Atlanta-native run the concert was entertaining. And you can’t ask for much more than that.
“If you ever want to be genuinely scared by a performance,” a friend of mine jokingly remarked at the show, “then you should see CRASHprez.” In the best way possible, he was absolutely right. UW rapper Michael Penn, performing under the name CRASHprez, took the stage immediately following a performance of the national anthem dressed in black with an American Flag draped across his shoulders and an intimidating stage presence. Backed by local producer Ian Carroll, who works under the name *hitmayng, he opened the set with his new single “Thom Yorke is Black,” calling upon the crowd to get up close and personal for what he called a “family affair.”
CRASHprez owned the stage with incredible energy, and this passionate performance was no coincidence. CRASHprez’ lyrics, which touch on controversial social and racial matters that are very important to him, inspire a genuine sense of aggression. He extended this rage to his audience by matching his profound lyrics with catchy, aggressive hooks that had the whole crowd jumping and singing along with him. However, aside from the energy and rowdiness of his live shows, what sets CRASHprez apart is his incredible talent as a writer. He ended songs with acapella features that stunned the audience and put goosebumps on my arms, especially when Lord of the Fly joined him on stage to close the set. CRASHprez exemplifies the potential of hip-hop as a deep and meaningful art form. As he proclaims in one of his own songs, “This ain’t no watered-down hip-hop shit for your friends.” Michael Penn is a Daily Cardinal contributor.
The ever-so-charming Caroline Smith wrapped up the terrace stage performances with a routine full of indie pleasantness and R&B soul. Smith comes off as the pretty standard indie-folk singer, but the bubbly artist brings an element of groove to the table that was surprisingly funky. The focus on heavy bass lines and backup vocals gave the band a unique atmosphere, reminiscent of the style adopted by artists of the ’60s like Marvin Gaye and The Supremes. This soulful, nostalgic experience was met with a blend of modernism by adding the sound of upbeat drums and electric guitars to contrast the moody blues sound, and even included a surprise cover of Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Smith adds a theme of female empowerment to her music that feels as righteous as it is entertaining. But heavy themes were set on the backburner for the night, as Caroline Smith successfully put on a show that was good for the soul and a blast to be a part of.
Communist Daughter, The second act of the day to grace the main stage, welcomed the arriving crowd with an eclectic sound spanning the entire spectrum of indie and alternative rock. The band’s name is derived from a song of the same name off of Neutral Milk Hotel’s classic album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and the band’s live show seemed to draw on the influence of this haunting, melancholy brand of folk-rock. However, even the group’s slower songs were more energetic than their namesake’s, highlighted by powerful drumming and a three-guitar approach that allowed the band to transition seamlessly from layered clean guitars to a grungy yet controlled blend of distorted and clean guitars.
Originally from the Twin Cities, frontman John Solomon started Communist Daughter after taking a break from music due to his struggles with addiction. But from chaos comes order, and in this case Solomon’s art reflects his own personal journey. His lyrics are extremely thoughtful and emotional, complimented by solid harmonies with vocalist Molly Moore.
It’s not hard to win over a Madison crowd when you come on stage sporting a Badgers hockey sweater—and it only went up from there. G-Eazy rocked a smile throughout the entire set. The 24-year-old Gerald Gillum was having a blast on stage, dancing to bring the crowd in and playing his hits. He was joined on stage by a live drummer, which gave the songs a formidable kick and saved the show from falling victim to a lame hit of the play button. Every so often the young rapper would stop between songs to admire the crowd before him, giving the impression that he was genuinely thrilled to be playing the festival. This was coupled by clever set-ups to transition to the next song on the setlist. His music is a bit of a dorm-room pleasure that I rarely hear outside a game of beer pong, but G-Eazy’s atmosphere was perfect for Madison’s new springtime music festival.
Sky Ferreira’s debut album Night Time, My Time was a critical success for the young pop star last year, making for one of Revelry’s most highly anticipated acts. Unlike the angsty, spotlight-fueled antics of her fellow tour artist Miley Cyrus, Ferreira acts like an artist who has been through an arduous career of music. But Ferreira’s less-than-spunky presence was masked by her ability to belt out a wholehearted performance.
Lacking any submissiveness to the upbeat norms of electro-pop, Ferreira’s style on the surface seems a bit absent of heart. But her emotional value can easily be heard in her delivery. Her ability to maintain vocal strength throughout the entire set easily proves Ferreira’s unwavering talent and desire to perform. With an already limited discography, it was a bit strange that “I Blame Myself,” one of Ferreira’s most popular songs, was left out of the set. But closing with the well-liked “Everything is Embarrassing” was the next best way to wrap up one of this year’s most stellar shows.
Singer-songwriter Angel Olsen left a strong impression. Her soaring vocals mixed with intensely personal lyrics created a combination to be admired on her most recent record Burn Your Fire For No Witness and its precursor Half Way Home. When she took the Revelry stage with her garage country band behind her, Olsen let these strengths do the talking.
They kicked off the show with Half Way Home’s “Free,” a song with a groove straight from early ’60s R&B. She sang her way through biting vocals, her operatic voice taking over during the coda. The entire set flowed with those same themes—her vocals told touching stories as she hummed through slow burners and belted emotionally striking garage songs.
Sometimes the band were easy to notice—Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ “Hi-Five” had Olsen’s guitarist running her song through wah-filled distortion and a slide guitar rolled through “Lights Out,” where the drummer’s repetitive tempo changes sometimes stuck out. Other times, the band couldn’t even be heard. Olsen took on songs like “Miranda” solo, giving them the emotional feeling that only one person pouring their heart over a six-string can produce.
Before closing the show, Olsen happily introduced her backing band and thanked the crowd. She then kicked into high-gear, playing an electrified “Sweet Dreams” with roaring power chords and heavy-hitting drums filling. It was an incredible ending, a perfect summation for the emotional power behind Olsen’s music.
Lord of the Fly
Being set in the early afternoon as the festival was still gaining steam, Lord of the Fly performed in front of a crowd of no more than 30. But the enthusiasm exerted by UW sophomore Daniel Kaplan would have made you think he was playing for thousands in Madison Square Garden. The peaceful terrace setting was the perfect arena for the juxtaposed performance of Lord of the Fly. Making it clear that he was causing a ruckus, he greeted the terrace viewers with bass and rowdiness. The performance seemed very taxing on the young artist, leading to many lyrical droughts brought on by fatigue. But Kaplan’s underwhelming stamina wasn’t an obstacle that would deter the rapper from putting on a performance with all of his heart.
Following the euphoric climax brought to the main stage by headliner Dillon Francis, the enormous Langdon Street crowd dispersed, most saying goodbye to Revelry until next year. A select few, however, made their way out back to see Chicago band Gemini Club headline the terrace stage, bringing the final bit of closure to Revelry 2014 for those who weren’t quite ready to stop dancing. Following Dillon Francis is not an easy task, but Gemini Club played with such energy that the terrace was more crowded than I had seen it all day. The band plays a fun blend of alternative rock and electronic music. They layered energetic synth melodies over tight drumming and strong vocals—reminding me of bands such as MGMT and Twenty One Pilots—while also drawing on a indie-rock influence. Gemini Club had the terrace dancing freely to upbeat songs including “By Surprise,” and my personal favorite, “Sparklers,” giving the 2014 Revelry Music & Arts Festival the intimate and light-hearted sendoff it deserved.
My Gold Mask
In the mix of electronic, indie and hip-hop artists at Revelry, My Gold Mask brings a style that resonates with the ’90s punk scene which the duo from Chicago grew up listening to. The performance began a bit shaky, represented by what seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm. But as the set progressed, MGM mustered up the energy their sound desperately needed. Vocalist and drummer Gretta Rochelle led in assembling the band’s liveliness with powerful vocals and commanding drum beats, while guitarist Jack Armondo replicated the garage band sound via scratchy guitar riffs and uneven rhythms. MGM effectively generated the rough, punk ambiance without sounding too over-the-top. Rochelle’s quirky vocal style maintained the punk girl attitude, but also sampled her range of angelic vocals enough to show there was some beauty behind the gruff. After a slow start, MGM showed their true colors and brought the right amount of energy to fashion an enjoyable performance that was unique to the rest of the festival.
Netherfriends is composed of one man: the eccentric, mutton-chopped Shawn Rosenblatt. However, his energy and intricate use of loop pedals could animate an entire band with a depth of sound parallelling any of his indie-pop contemporaries. Jumping, falling and running across the stage is exemplary of his attitude, as he creates unique music across the country and enthusiastically urges his fans to do the same. Rosenblatt recently finished a “50 States 50 Songs” project that he shared with the crowd on Saturday, though the majority of the music he played came from his March release, P3ACE. Netherfriends spins indie-pop with a slyly dark tone on his newest album, channeling shades of Sonic Youth and the younger AWOLNATION. It’s a little unfair to say that Netherfriends put on a great show considering it’s a one-man band—it was satisfyingly fun compared to bands of any number.
The funky baselines and ’80s synth-pop groove of this Minnesota indie duo had the whole crowd moving beside Lake Mendota. Strange Names sent off trippy indie-pop vibes that engulfed the audience and exaggerated the beauty of the lake. Playing songs off of their first two EP’s, a self-titled 2012 release and the 2013 release, Minor Times/Once an Ocean, the new-wave band did not disappoint with their performance at dusk. It would be fairly difficult for any band that can string together a few notes to mess up a concert on the banks of the lake, but Strange Names exceeded expectations—especially for a band with about six officially released songs.
Lucki Eck$ followed Lord of the Fly and CRAShprez on the terrace stage and the contrast was remarkable, his style consisting of more slow paced vibes. Instead of energetic shout-choruses and heavy hype, the 17-year-old rapper from Chicago had a very calm and sensitive stage presence. He rapped about deep personal matters to slow instrumental tracks that place more importance on lyrical content than flashy showmanship.
In recent years, Chicago has been a powerhouse for innovative new hip-hop talent. While Lucki raps and sings with strong flow and emotion similar to that of other Chicago rappers, his music lacks the melodic, jazzy, upbeat instrumentals made popular by Chicago artists such as Chance The Rapper and Dally Auston. Lucki Eck$ released his mixtape, Alternative Trap, just a year ago—at age 16. He’s already gaining traction nationwide, most recently sharing the stage with Danny Brown. He leads his audience to listen to hip-hop in a new light, showing us that music can be powerful without the glamour of elaborate instrumentals and catchy hooks.
Bronze Radio Return
Bronze Radio Return brought their indie rock/folk rock mix with a crowd-friendly flare. Lead singer Chris Henderson more than once turned the vocals over to the growing Revelry crowd. Songs like “Melting in My Icebox” had the mic turned on the crowd, the audience being coaxed into chants of “turning into water” with the rest of band.
The group were more than just indie/pop-rock tropes, though. On cue, banjo player Craig Struble would trade his banjo for a pair of harmonicas, blowing the way through his fair share of solos and striking leads. During the "SHAKE!SHAKE!SHAKE!" cut “Blurry-Eyed Worries,” guitarist Patrick Fetkowitz took center stage next to Struble, matching each other note-for-note in a folk-inspired duel.
When the dust settled, Henderson introduced Bronze Radio Return's closer— the hand-clap inducing “Down There.” The crowd joined as the members of Bronze Radio Return harmonized their way into a glowing folk-stomper of a coda. They left Revelry's main stage with humming amplifiers behind them and a roaring applause in front of them.
Promised Land Sound
Nashville country rockers Promised Land Sound were the first act to take on the festival’s main stage. Taking their name from the immortal Chuck Berry tune, Promised Land Sound pulled no punches when it came to paying tribute to where they came from—Crosby, Stills and Nash could be heard in the harmonies. Harvest-era Neil Young came out in the melodies. High-fretboard blues shredding channeled the Allman Brothers. They even covered Johnny Cash's “I'm an Easy Rider.”
Although their set was short, it was refreshing to hear those classic sounds echo over the amplifiers. Promised Land Sound matched the grooves of their Nashville forefathers, their songs calling back to the “boom-chicka-boom” Luther Perkins guitar and the drum rolls of a 1970s rock jam. They didn't have a lot of songs, but few bands could have captured that classic country rock sound quite as well as Promised Land Sound did.
—Michael FrettSubscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter