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killer mike

Over the coming months, we’ll be highlighting a series of artists performing at Sasquatch Music Festival 2013 between May 24-27 at The Gorge Amphitheater in Quincy, Washington. Instead of a typical overview/introduction to each act, we’ll attempt to highlight what and how they’ll enhance the always wonderful Sasquatch experience. If you missed the initial lineup announcement, you can catch it here!

The Gorge has never been an especially great place to see hip hop, in part because of the Pacific Northwest’s general antipathy towards non-caucasian forms of the genre. That’s not to say that the residents of the Northwest’s urban locales don’t listen to non-white rappers, it’s just that, for the most part, they’d prefer someone, let’s say, a little less challenging. Coming straight out of Atlanta, GA, Killer Mike is the definition of challenging. A long time Dungeon Family (Outkast, Goodie Mobb, Organized Noize, etc. for the uninitiated) affiliate, the man born Michael Render has been challenging what it means to be both a Southern rapper and a “conscious” rapper for the better part of the past decade-plus. A critical darling in some circles, it wasn’t until this past year’s R.A.P. Music LP, entirely produced by El-P, that he became a wide-spread critical darling.

Stream: Killer Mike – “Reagan”

Last week, I was lucky enough to catch Mike at Paid Dues Festival and his performance stood out in stacked day that included performances from Black Hipppy, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib and Mobb Deep. Whether showing off his powerful, stark flow or going on an anti-Reagan screed, Mike owned the stage and managed to flip some controversial/heavy subject matter into an engrossing stage performance. If you’ve witnessed “political” hip hop on stage, you know that an overly passionate (*cough* Immortal Technique *cough*) performer can make the audience rather uncomfortable. Killer Mike manages to put forth thought provoking, anti-establishment ideals without making the audience uncomfortable, which is far easier said than done. I doubt that Mike will have a prime time slot on the lineup, but I promise you that his show will be one of the most powerful, long lasting performances of Memorial Day weekend.

Stream: Killer Mike – “Swimming” (Prod. Flying Lotus)

john talabotOver the coming months, we’ll be highlighting a series of artists performing at Sasquatch Music Festival 2013 between May 24-27 at The Gorge Amphitheater in Quincy, Washington. Instead of a typical overview/introduction to each act, we’ll attempt to highlight what and how they’ll enhance the always wonderful Sasquatch experience. If you missed the initial lineup announcement, you can catch it here!

Much fuss has been made about the supposed lack of “EDM” figureheads at major American festivals this year, critics pointing to Coachella’s lack of a Swedish House Mafia-type headliner or the fact that Daft Punk have not shown up on any lineups (again). To a lesser extent, Sasquatch fans have complained about the Banana Shack’s (dance tent) shift in focus away from boom-or-bust DJs (think Nero, Wolfgang Gartner in the past), some commenters even going as far as to lament the lack of electronic artists period. Woe is the life of a 16 year old. While we shudder to think about how much Sasquatch shelled out for Steve Aoki, it is true that the festival has moved away from the kid-friendly acts that have dominated the Shack in recent years and towards, shall we say, something a bit more mature. Illustrating that point, we’ve decided to put the focus on our favorite Catalonian producer, John Talabot.

Hailing from Barcelona, Talabot has been an integral part of the Catalonian club scene for years, formerly as a techno DJ and currently as one of its most prominent acts. In short, Talabot emerged in 2009 after a pseudonym change and has released music on German label Permanent Vacation, Young Turks and his own Hivern Discs imprint. Talabot released his debut LP, fIN, last year and has captured the hearts of dance freaks and indie kids with equal fervor.

Stream: John Talabot – “So Will Be Now” feat. Pional

Talabot makes disco-inflected music, but not like anything you’ve heard before. The drums are tough and cut deeper than most other artists of his ilk and his vocals (contributed by Talabot himself and oftentime collaborator Pional), synth work and various samples are often drenched in waves of distortion that seems to echo from the deepest depths of the mix. Basslines are equally drawn out and momentous, tightly wound balls of energy that carry all the funk of early electro producers like Arabian Prince and Egyptian Lover. Talabot’s insistence on eschewing the formulaic nature of (most) house music allows for his songs to not only be amazing DJ tools, but to operate as functional pop music. “So Will Be Now” and “Destiny” are the prime example of this and both have been lauded by Pitchfork and other influential publications for their ear-worm qualities.

Stream: John Talabot – “Destiny” feat. Pional

It’s no surprise that both “So Will Be Now” and “Destiny” are assisted by fellow Catalonian Pional who contributes vocals to several Talabot jams and often plays a huge part in his live set up. Unfortunately, Pional (as far as we know) will not be joining Talabot at The Gorge, a large albeit not all-defeating loss. Sasquatch doesn’t always make it 100% clear whether artists will be performing a live or DJ set (see: SBTRKT last year), but we’re going to go by the fact that there’s no “DJ” in parentheses next to Talabot’s name on the lineup and assume that he’s playing a live set.

Stream: John Talabot Live @ 10 Days Off Festival

So imagine this: Talabot manipulating a mess of drum machines and samplers on stage as the sun slowly dips into the Columbia River and before you even realize it, the vocals of “Sunshine” begin to eclipse a muddy heap of distortion and twinkling chimes and come to coalesce perfectly with the razor sharp kicks. You’ve been waiting for this moment of blissful satisfaction for the past hour  and when it hits, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the moment. Patience pays off after all.

It’s been almost two weeks since we first pulled up to the cow pastures of George, WA and well, our daily lives just don’t quite contain the same excitement we experienced during those four transcendent days at the Gorge Amphitheater. Nonetheless, we take great pleasure in rehashing our adventures via set recaps and photos. Sasquatch has come and gone, but memories of dusty walks to and from the campsite, an innumerable amount of mind-blowing sets and many, many pretty lights are oh so fresh in our minds. It’s a bittersweet moment as we conclude our coverage of the very best weekend of the year, but it also means that Sasquatch is only 350-something days away. Enjoy.

AraabMuzik (Saturday @ Banana Shack)

Active Child (Sunday @ Yeti Stage)

Star Slinger (Sunday @ Banana Shack)

SBTRKT (Monday @ Banana Shack)

Friday/Monday Photo Gallery

Saturday/Sunday Photo Gallery

AraabMuzik is something of an enigma. He’s managed to entice worlds as disparate as New York hip hop, dance festival crowds and the Pitchforkians. He’s worked with Dipset for years, crafting some of their most grimy bangers. He’s played alongside just about every major American dance act in the past six months at festivals across the country. The trance sampling Electronic Dream, an extension of the Dipset Trance Party mixtapes, was one of the most innovative albums that’s come out in quite some time. Besides the now ubiquitous drum patterns, I doubt anyone would guess that the guy who produced “Streetz Tonight” also worked behind the boards on “Salute”. His virtually unmatched production dexterity in the pop realm is what got him on festival stages, but his work on them has catapulted him into a higher realm of popularity. Utilizing his background as a drummer, Araab attacks two MPC’s on stage with remarkable aplomb. Most have seen the videos, but it’s quite a spectacle in person. That’s the issue with it though, it’s a spectacle.

I’ve seen Araab twice now and honestly, it gets boring after 20 minutes or so. After that 20 minute point, the show settles into a malaise of snares, hi hats and mediocre dubstep. Now this isn’t a rant against the ills of “brostep” or anything of that sort. I can enjoy some Nero or Rusko just as much as the next guy if I’m in the right mind state. But by the time Araab had worked in the fourth straight Skrillex song, he looked like a caricature up there, pecking away at the MPC pads. My issue with his set is mostly due to song selection. For god sakes, how do you only play one track off of Electronic Dream? But his MPC work gets old too. He’s not so much crafting beats, new or old, on stage as he is fuxing around with percussion over them. It’s a novelty. Breathtaking for 15 minutes. Trite and monotonous by 20.

That being said, the majority of the crowd remained enthused for the 45 minute runtime despite the fairly early start (5:40). Dressed in camo head to toe, he remained intensely focused on the pads in front of him, rarely looking up to see the crowd in front. He’s not much of a performer by his looks (he might be 5′ 6″), but he makes up for it by doing far more than just about any other DJ out there. Maybe I’m just a hater and Araab’s set is the greatest thing since the introduction of the airhorn into DJ sets. With his production chops though, I have faith that he can improve his live set into something more complete. Step off the Skrillex throttle for quick sec. Take a breath and maybe I won’t look like this in minute 40.

Photo by Bebe Besch

It seems to me that much of musical proficiency today (at least in the spheres that we tend to cover at The Astral Plane) is measured in an artist’s ability to produce bangers. You’re familiar with the kind I’m talking about; the type of song that can get a crowd jumping and screaming with up-tempo (or half-tempo) heaviness, a catchy rhythm and sonic depth. It’s sometimes hard to remember that not all good music has whomps or snare rolls. I became reacquainted with that important fact at Sasquatch this weekend, most notably after experiencing the ethereal miracle that was Active Child’s Sunday evening set.

The sun was just beginning to set behind the modest crowd at the Yeti stage as Active Child’s Pat Grossi appeared. Grossi exemplifies one of my favorite musical phenomena: an individual who doesn’t visually fit their musical sound. Grossi looks a little like a combination of a California frat bro and a Northwest hipster (think black wayfarers and khakis). However, that image was in stark contrast to the beautiful wooden harp placed casually on the left side of the stage, behind which Grossi immediately sat and began to perform. As we mentioned in our Active Child feature back in April, Grossi was trained in a boy choir and as a classical harpist, and both of those skills served as the pedestal onto which Grossi sculpted his set.

The first half of the set involved Grossi playing harp and singing in his signature falsetto, backed by his touring drummer and guitarist/bassist. The tone was calm and melancholy. Highlights of the first half included “You Are All I See” and “Hanging On,” both harp-heavy tracks featuring electronic drums and subtle bass, adorned with Grossi’s harmonious crooning. Halfway through the set, Grossi switched from harp to laptop, showering the audience with some of his more electronic and rhythm-heavy tracks, such as “Playing House,” with deep ’80’s dance drums in perfect contrast to his smooth vocals and echo-y synths.

The crowd was clearly a blend of first-time listeners, looking for a new discovery during a break in the schedule, and die-hard fans who knew every lyric. Both groups were equally entranced, swaying with eyes closed as the incredibly unique sounds washed over them.  The set was a beautiful respite from the performances over the weekend that could be so easily placed into one distinct genre, and Active Child surely garnered many new fans after the set was over. Perhaps Active Child doesn’t make you bang your head up or flail your limbs around as though you were having a seizure, but that’s not always the point. Here, the intention is clearly the conveyance of pure and delicate emotional sound, a concept that is astoundingly rare but especially poignant. Looking back at the faces in the crowd after the set was over, it was clear that a connection had been made between artist and audience, and that is all any musician can hope for.

Photo by Bebe Besch

There weren’t many artists more suited to play Sasquatch than Star Slinger due to his grizzly appearance. The Mancunian producer/DJ eschewed his trusty MPD32, instead opting for two Technics and put on a whirlwind display of turntable mastery. Star Slinger has cemented himself as one of, if not the, best hip hop producers in the UK, but he’s still relatively unknown on this side of the Atlantic. Once he took the stage in the Banana Shack though, there was no doubt he was going to make his presence known. Starting off slow with a few selections from Volume 1, Slinger quickly turn’t it up playing “Chain Dumbin” featuring Juicy J and Project Pat and the crowd followed in a starkly un-family friend fashion. Before long thousands of white people were doing the Larry David to Sound Pellegrino Thermal Team’s “Pretty Pretty Good” and chanting “Kobe Bryant from the Lakers, now that’s paper” to Juicy J’s cult hit “Who Da Neighbors”. There aren’t many DJ’s out there that can effortlessly, and I mean that, transition between off-kilter club cuts (“Pretty Pretty Good”) to blissed-out summer jams (“Mornin”) then back to trappy hip hop tracks (“Bad Bitches”). Although the crowd was on the smaller side, they were easily one of the more in tune with the music crowds, chanting every word with aplomb.

We’ve been a little bit slow rolling our Sasquatch coverage out, but don’t fret, the tap is now open.

SBTRKT took the stage at 8:00 on Monday and after some disappointment over Sampha (who is as much a part of SBTRKT as Jerome is) not being at The Gorge, we settled into what would be one of the most entertaining and eclectic sets of the weekend. After witnessing the live set at Coachella, I was ready for the DJ set and Jerome took to his MPD32 with visible enthusiasm. Bestowed in his trademark mask, he proceeded to drop selections of house, garage and dubstep. Songs ranged from well known hits like Dada Life’s “Kick Out The Epic Motherfucker” to Boddika’s “Grand Prix”. On the originals front, the Drake assisted version of “Wildfire” predictably got the crowd amped, prompting the masked man to play it again towards the end of the set. “Hold On” and “Ready Set Loop” were also crowd favorites. While often light hearted (his hand seemed to get stuck on the air horn pad a few too many times), the set also functioned to introduce American fans to a number of British artists in the house and dubstep realms and was a much-needed break from the often monotonous electro and progressive house sounds that usually pervades dance tents at US festivals. The lack of Sampha took some emotion out of the set as the two usually vibe especially well in a live setting, but Jerome did more than his part as a DJ. To conclude, here is a video of Madeline and I dancing in the crowd.

So Sasquatch is only three days away. Seems like only days ago that we began to cover the festival. In anticipation of the festival, we have joined forces with Portland’s own Rustu to bring you the one and only Sasquatch 2012 Mix. It’s that time of year folks and whether you’re into Apparat or Active Child, this mix is the perfect primer for your weekend. Even if you’re not planning on attending the most perfect of perfect music festivals, passing on this mix would be a (major) mistake. Give Rustu some props over at his Soundcloud and get hyped for the weekend. Stream/download below and find the full tracklist after the jump.

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Eight weeks ago, the Sasquatch Music Festival lineup was released to much fanfare. Like all festivals, some hated the lineup while others loved it. For the more levelheaded, it appears to be a very balanced lineup with a deep undercard. From here on out we will be underscoring the lesser-known Sasquatch artists by highlighting a different artist each week. Beyond delving into each artist’s bio, sound, etc., we will attempt to give some insight into what will make their performance at Sasquatch so amazing.

Purity Ring is Megan James and Corey Roddick, two twenty-somethings who have been dabbling in a variety of genres since their early teens. Roddick was previously a member of the experimental electro-pop group Gobble Gobble, and James has been trained as a pianist since age sixteen. Not much is known about the duo, but they make music that is unlike most of the material floating around the Internet these days. Though their repertoire is relatively slim, having only released three songs over their year-plus-long existence, their work is complex, intricate, and clearly effort-driven. In an interview with Pitchfork last summer, when asked to explain the group’s few-and-far-between track releases, Roddick explained:

“When you are releasing a constant stream of music, it can cheapen the work– we want each song to linger with people. We also spend an incredibly long time on a track. I have tons of files on my laptop that aren’t finished; sometimes I’ll start something and come back to it later.”

Their style is incredibly unique, and includes rhythmic tributes to Roddick’s love for Southern hip-hop, backed by both purely electronic instrumental elements and fantastic lyrical imagery in the muted, mixed-in female vocals. The lyrics are presented in an almost childlike vocal tone, evoking a sense of discovery and exploration within the hazy verses.

Purity Ring’s releases began with their single “Ungirthed,” back in January of 2011. The track is sticky and many-layered, doused in a brassy bassline and adorned with bits of chime-like treble, all neatly wrapped around Megan James’ sweetly electronic vocals.

Their next track, “Lofticries,” was the b-side on their Ungirthed 7″. “Lofticries” is a work of slow-paced, catchy genius, carried through by a simple drum track and heavy shades of deep, warped synth and almost-vocal melody. This one will get stuck in your head. The lyrics seem as though they describe a dream sequence:

“You must be hovering over yourself
watching us trip on each other’s sides
Dear brother, collect all the liquids off of the floor
Use your oily fingers
Make a paste, let it form

Let it seep through your sockets and earholes
into your precious, fractured skull
Let it seep, let it keep you from us
Patiently heal you, patiently unreel you.”

Purity Ring’s third release came out in August of 2011, and appears on a split 7″ with Canadian art-rock outfit Braids. Fans of AraabMusik and Clams Casino will enjoy the instrumental hip-hop feel of this one, but the chopped-up vocal track gives this a sound all its own.

Somehow both calm and insanely energetic at the same time, Purity Ring’s music is so complex it takes several listens before you feel you’ve heard all the layers in any one track. But the ear-pleasing intricacy of the group’s production style will make you want to listen over and over again. Their Sasquatch performance will take place in the Banana Shack, and will undoubtedly include lots of eardrum-pounding bass and dance-provoking synth and rhythm. Presumably, their set will include more material than the three songs we have heard from them thus far, so you won’t want to miss the chance to hear more from the talent within this group.

Seven weeks ago, the Sasquatch Music Festival lineup was released to much fanfare. Like all festivals, some hated the lineup while others loved it. For the more levelheaded, it appears to be a very balanced lineup with a deep undercard. From here on out we will be underscoring the lesser-known Sasquatch artists by highlighting a different artist each week. Beyond delving into each artist’s bio, sound, etc., we will attempt to give some insight into what will make their performance at Sasquatch so amazing.

Apparat aka Sascha Ring is an electronic musician from Berlin. You could probably tell that he was European from the photo above. Beyond his stereotypical European DJ look though, Apparat is one of the more versatile artists in the game. You see, Ring became Apparat 11 years ago in techno-dominated Berlin. Like so many others in his position, he began making techno, but soon became bored with the direction it was moving in the late 90’s. In 1999, along with T. Raumschmiere, Ring started up Shitkatapult Records with the goal of releasing the type of music “we wanted to release.” Eschewing genre ties at an early point in his career was a telltale sign for Ring, as we’ve seen over the past decade.

Apparat’s early work, Multifunktionsebene and Duplex, were both heavily influenced by Ring’s techno background and Berlin surroundings, but also included elements of ambient and early IDM. In 2005, Ring collaborated with Ellen Allien, another offspring of the German techno movement on Orchestra of Bubbles. Like Apparat’s solo work, the album harkened to the 90’s techno era, but also took influence from modern electro and featured Allien’s vocals on many tracks. Orchestra of Bubbles pushed both artists into the spotlight outside of Germany, and along with Modeselektor, helped define a growing techno-influenced, yet distinctly ambiguous, form of electronic music.

In 2007, Apparat released Walls, a drastic change in direction from his previous work. Essentially abandoning the techno that had dominated his previous releases, Walls instead takes more from synth pop acts like M83 and The Antlers. For the first time, Ring flexed his vocal muscles and results were pretty spectacular. The album was widely hailed as one of the year’s best and showed, once again, Ring’s versatility as a producer, and now as a vocalist as well.

2009 saw Apparat rekindling his relationship with the now wildly successful Modeselektor to from Moderat. The trio released an EP in 2002 but due to some form of creative differences, took a seven year break before rejoining forces. The self-titled result, recorded entirely with analogue equipment in Berlin’s legendary Hansa studios (where Bowie recorded Heroes), is a mixed bag of styles, but ultimately highlights both Apparat’s and Modeselektor’s individual talents. Apparat’s vocals and ability to create ambient soundscapes that are immense in both sound and feel, yet rarely solely fall into the ambient category, instead borrowing from glitch, electro and other genres, are heavily featured on the album. Modeselektor’s innovative ability in the studio to use analogue equipment like no other makes the album what it is. Moderat is a scattershot attempt to fuse two artists styles that is far from cohesive, but in the end, quite enjoyable. In the two years after the release of Moderat, the trio toured the world endlessly, and experience that would exhaust Ring and eventually spur a distinct change in his sound.

Fast forward to 2012, Apparat is playing guitar and singing on stage. There’s a band behind him, yet unlike his previous tours, both as a solo artist and as Moderat, they are not manning analogue synths and keyboards, they are all playing acoustic instruments. The electronic sound is still there in some sense, more in the layering of the instrumentals than anything, but the music is more organic and takes place far from the sweltering clubs Ring made his home in for so many years. Most of the tracks comes from 2011’s The Devil’s Walk, an album that maintains those classic Apparat atmospherics, but repositions them into an acoustic framework. After touring for two years as Moderat and DJing for years, Ring got sick of the dance music scene. He got sick of spending hours in the studio crafting music on his computer. He got sick of playing what the crowd wanted to hear and not what he wanted to play. Eventually, he got sick of the people associated with the dance music scene.

Apparat is scheduled to perform in the Banana Shack (the dance tent), although his newer music would translate better to an outdoor stage (maybe around sunset). Nonetheless, despite eschewing the dance community, The Devil’s Walk is no snooze fest and will surely get people off their feet. They might be swaying as opposed to fist pumping/flailing uncontrollably, but that’s not a bad thing in my book.