In case you live under a rock, Capitol Hill Block Party is a few short weeks away. If you actually live under a rock, let me know what your rent is like and if there are any vacancies.
No other event incites both excitement and loathing quite like CHBP. Locals roll their eyes and pretty young people with disposable incomes quiver with the anticipation of getting fucked up and dancing to Odesza. In fairness, CHBP gets kind of a bad rap. Yes, it’s inordinately expensive, and yes, in many ways it’s a vivid manifestation of the of commodification of Capitol Hill’s “culture” that’s slowly driving out the people who created that culture to begin with. But, it’s also a unique opportunity to see both big-name, international acts and local bands across multiple days and stages. For better or worse, Capitol Hill Block Party doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, so we might as well enjoy it.
We’ll be covering the festivities for you as the weekend unfolds, but in the meantime, I’m trying to plan which sets I’ll be catching. With SO MUCH going on all weekend, it can be daunting to try and figure out what to do and who to see, so I’ve tried to make it easier for you by presenting some of my picks for artists to catch.
Friday, July 22
Vera Stage, 5:00pm
Seattle is not a city that tends to breed electro-pop experimentalists. The dominant musical idioms are (still) rock and (more recently) hip-hop. But Pillar Point the project of Seattleite Scott Reitherman, whose electro-pop stylings sound like a much more cheerful take on the synth-heavy, industrialism of no-wave or EBM.
Astro King Pheonix
Another member of the local hip-hop scene, Astro King Pheonix is a smooth, insightful MC who epitomizes the kaleidoscopic, DIY nature of the Seattle underground hip-hop community. AKP himself is one of the harder-working artists in town, performing all the time, all over the place. On a weekend which often does little to highlight Seattle’s rich community of hip-hop artists, Astro King Pheonix’s set is a great opportunity to take in one of the city’s best.
Everyone keeps talking about the Seattle punk scene’s decay. Perhaps they’re right, but I have a hard time believing them when acts like Nail Polish hang around. Nail Polish write brief, angular punk brutalisms that take on gentrification (this is right up your alley, Seattle) and other bullshit faced by working-class creatives these days. Their set will almost certainly be rowdy and loud as hell, so in other words, really fucking good.
Honestly everything I have to say about DoNormaal I’ve already said except this: when she inevitably blows up, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Poet, artist, mystic, visionary, MC and activist, DoNormaal explores the seams between reality and dreams, and crafts songs that are at once visceral and spacious. Go see her.
Main Stage, 9:15pm
When Crystal Castles exploded onto the web in the mid-aughts with a series of singles and eventually their self-titled debut, they altered the landscape of popular music so fundamentally that the echoes are still being felt. The duo, made up of songwriter/producer Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass, pioneered a dark, witchy fusion of electro, no-wave and garage rock that ushered in the current era of glitchy, melancholy synth-pop that currently dominates Spotify playlists and “indie” club nights. Hell, most of this year’s CHBP lineup owes them a debt. The departure of Glass in 2014 caused consternation amongst fans and people with too much time on their hands (AKA me), but Kath and a mysterious new vocalist named Edith have begun putting out new material that promises, at the very least, an interesting live set.
Saturday, July 23
Mommy Long Legs
Cha Cha, 4:45pm
Mommy Long Legs may very well be the best band in Seattle right now. I KNOW I KNOW, those are fightin words, but I’ll stand by them. Their EP, Life Rips, is easily my most-listened-to local release. Watching them live is a whirlwind of wigs, ripped tights and merciless screaming. With musical middle fingers like “You can take your money, and put it in your asshole/ you can take your condo and put it in your bungalow,” they’re also willing to criticize the bro-ification of Seattle with more wit and aggression than anyone else. Mommy Long Legs rule.
Main Stage, 4:45pm
Generally, the category of “sex-drenched, gutbucket blues-rock” has been dominated by dudes -specifically dudes who could be described as “greasy” and hail from the Rust Belt. But no longer, because the ladies of Thunderpussy is here to scissor-kick you into a glittery, sticky stupor. Combining the swaggering, smokey sound of early White Stripes, and the sexual, alley-cat energy of peak Axl Rose (circa Use Your Illusion II, when people seriously believed that he could beat everyone up), Thunderpussy will fuck. you. up. In the best way possible.
Cha Cha, 5:45pm
The word “irreverent” is often abused by music critics, but in Dude York’s case, it seems appropriate. The local trio’s bratty, flippant approach to their brand of pop-punk is both refreshing and a ton of fun. The last time I saw them they played each other’s instruments and had a moment of silence for the cancellation of Nashville. Remember that episode of Even Stevens when they form a band and play on the roof of their school? Dude York feels kind of like that, but with more screaming and without Shia LeBouf.
Car Seat Headrest
Vera Stage, 6:00pm
Initially created as the solo project of singer-songwriter Will Toledo, Car Seat Headrest’s name belies its DIY beginnings. Toledo recorded much of the early material in his car because he felt more comfortable singing where nobody could hear him. The most recent releases have seen Toledo expanding the project to a full band and utilizing cleaner production, which leaves more room for Toledo’s articulate, sophisticated songwriting. The latest release, this year’s Teens of Denial, is easily one of the best albums of the year.
Jusmoni is one of the most innovative, genre-warping artists currently working in Seattle. Occupying the liminal spaces between R&B, electronica and hip-hop, Jusmoni crafts songs that thump and roil and float in equal measure, like future sex music. Plus she’s one of the few performers holding it down for South Seattle, an often un-heralded hotbed of creative activity. If you get tired of the punk or yupster synth-pop, stop by Barboza and let Jusmoni spirit you away to better world.
Bread and Butter
Cha Cha, 9:45pm
There’s really not a lot to intellectualize about Bread and Butter. They make great rock songs with bumpin melody lines that they deliver in a package of scuzzed-out-rock-dudes-having-hella-fun. The first time I saw them, the whole audience smelled and a guy dropped his beer glass then pretended that somebody else was responsible–in other words, it was a real life backroom rock and roll concert. I expect they’ll replicate that again, and I’m not missing it.
Sunday, July 24
Main Stage, 2:15pm
In recent years, R&B has become music’s most free-wheeling wonderland, home to some of the most the most innovative figures in the popular music landscape. Nao is continuing this tradition with her sweltering, wistful take on R&B. Originally trained in vocal jazz, Nao makes the kind of music that sounds sexy and mournful in equal measure. Get a little high beforehand and I’d imagine it gets even better, but that’s all hypothetical.
Main Stage, 6:00pm
If one of the themes of this year’s CHBP lineup is “slick, hipster-approved synth-pop acts,” another could be said to be “hyper-cool, genre-transcending, hip-hop artists.” Goldlink falls squarely into the second category. His far-out, dance-based rap is akin to fellow hip-hop polymath Anderson Paak and producer Kaytranda, all of whom are ferociously talented young men intent on blurring the dividing lines between genres. Breezy and decidedly cool, Goldlink will be great a few beers and several hours into your Sunday.
Main Stage, 7:15pm
STRFKR sound tracked a substantial portion of my high school career, so their inclusion on this list might be due more to nostalgia than anything. Growing up in Spokane, my options for meaningful musical experiences were pretty limited unless I wanted to see Insane Clown Posse or Tech N9ne, who came through seemingly every month. STRFKR was one of the few decent bands that came through my hometown. They played at a janky club called The Big Dipper that was popular with touring bands because it was actually up to fire code. All of that is to say that I will go see them, regardless of very forgettable recent releases, because they feel like small town ambition and cheap beer.
Main Stage, 8:45pm
As far as I’m concerned, Chvrches are the de facto headliners of CHBP. EDM fans can drool over Odesza, and folks who are probably cooler than I will no doubt flock to Washed Out, but for my money Chvrches are the big-name act to see this year.. If live recordings of their performances are anything to go by, they put on one hell of a show. Plus, lead singer Lauren Mayberry is the founder of feminist collective TYCI (Tuck Your Cunt In) and an outspoken advocate against online harassment of women and for women in the music industry. She will (obviously) be there shining like the beacon she is and hopefully becoming my new best friend. There’s really no reason you shouldn’t be there too.