This past weekend, Seattleites converged to partake in three days of indie bands, food trucks, and lots of alcohol. True to its name, Capitol Hill Block Party (CHBP) is less of a festival and more a party that happens to have music.
While other fests this summer have focused on landing the “best” and “greatest” and artists with “legacies,” CHBP went the other direction and opted to look ahead. Aside from The War On Drugs, Spoon, and Angel Olsen, most of the bands performing on the main stage had some sort of electronic or dance element to its sound. DJ sets were plentiful but it was hardly a sign that CHBP is moving toward being the next Paradiso. It’s just a reflection of what’s relevant and trending.
Shy Girls’ opening set on Friday set the tone of things to come. Vocalist Dan Vidmar crooned over soulful, throwback R&B beats both sultry and groove-oriented. Later, Seattle production duo ODESZA would take the dance vibes even further, mixing tracks back and forth. The set ended abruptly, however, when one of its laptops fell on stage (somewhere a rock purist likely made a snarky comment about all of this).
While there’s no direct equivalent, the solo DJ set is sort of like a solo acoustic performance. All is riding on this one person to be engaging, with no back-up and nothing to hide behind. Acts like Star Slinger compensated with fun lively beats and lots of flashing lights. Manatee Commune took the “more is more” approach by impressively jumping between laptop, guitar, and drums. But XXYYX, aka 18-year-old Marcel Everett, excelled with the most stripped back set of all. Though his setup was modest, Everett crafted off-kilter yet accessible beats with jazzy undertones, sometimes even slipping into slow jams.
Hundred Waters may not have been the most hyped band of the weekend, but the group’s blend of ambient production, ethereal vocals, and fleeting elements of mainstream electro-pop proved to be deeply moving. The crowd erupted in applause near the end when the band’s vocalist Nicole Miglis brought out her flute. A flute playing against drum pads and synth loops might sound odd, but the band was able to interweave the sonic textures tastefully, with dreamy results.
But all this doesn’t mean indie rock and punk were completely lost on the lineup. Spoon’s Friday night headlining spot saw the group delivering a career spanning set, each song still feel fresh and in step with modern indie rock. If anything, it was a testament to the band’s still-prevailing influence on the genre. Elsewhere, though it was scheduled opposite of Chromeo’s massive dance party, Portland punk rock outfit The Thermals played a blistering set complete with stage dives and mosh pits.
“Glad to see you all still care about rock & roll,” Thermals’ bassist Kathy Foster joked as the band played to a sparse crowd. The comment elicited several “Fuck Chromeo!” rally cries from the crowd. The only other time a genre divide seemed prevalent was during The War On Drugs’ hazy, sweltering, guitar-fueled appearance. While half the crowd bobbed heads and went into appropriate trances during the scorcher “Red Eyes,” the other half took selfies and pontificated on when A$AP Rocky would come on stage. Someone inflated a condom and tossed itaround the crowd like a balloon.
The weekend’s two A$APs (Ferg and Rocky) brought some of the most energetic and excitable performances of the weekend, with both collaborating during Rocky’s set on Sunday night. Each emcee had their own misstep, however. Ferg coming out in a bullet proof vest and gun shots after a speech about gun control was in hilariously poor taste. To a lesser degree, Rocky having his DJ blast “Smells Like Teen Spirit” while yelling “Give it up for Nirvana!” was too pandering. But hearing Ferg’s “Shabba” twice in one weekend is a typically a good sign of heavy partying—and hella fun—at hand.
Portland industrial-rock artist EMA bridged the gap between the electro and rock worlds prevalent at CHBP. Opening with the doom and gloom of “Satellites” from her latest record, The Future’s Void, the band’s set only got more intense from there. Frontwoman Erika M. Anderson howled scathing commentaries on “selfie culture” during tracks like “Neuromancer,” ironic given the prevalence of cellphones out during her set. When someone in the crowd shouted out that she was beautiful, Anderson shot back saying that she wanted to be grotesque and said she wanted venom to drip from her teeth and wanted a “man eating snatch.”
Leaving CHBP, heart full of promise and stomach full of cream cheese hot dogs, it’s hard not to think of it all as an anomaly. It is three days that seem illogical, literal dancing in the streets. As the hangover fades, memories of dubstep wubs and flying condoms will still be there to remind attendees it wasn’t all a dream. Click through Anna Erickson’s shots of Saturday’s happenings in the gallery above.